The Faithful Are Abandoning Ship
“Crisis of faith” is a popular term bandied about to describe what is going on in the Church today. The Catholic Church had been the faithful’s arc of safety and spiritual refuge up until recently. The crisis of faith among the faithful and our clergy is alarming. Conflicting statements and policies coming from the Vatican are causing angst. Moreover, the insidious indifference and contempt for the faithful by some clergy has led many faithful to abandon ship.
Blaming the Faithful
The Bishop of the Trenton Diocese published an article in the Monitor which has been nagging at me. The article was a weak attempt to explain the dissolution of some parishes and the establishment of cohorts. The article appears to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the faithful. The excuses for the current Church crisis were legion, however, the article focuses on the laity’s ignorance of the faith as the primary cause. I took objection to the bishop’s scapegoating of the flock for many reasons. The first was the disingenuous reason for the dissolution of parishes and lack of resources. The primary reason is the more than three billion dollars paid out by the Church due to the sex scandals. Three billion dollars the faithful sacrificed from their sweat and blood to give unto the Lord which was obviously woefully mismanaged.
Bishop Claims Catholics Are Ignorant About Their Faith
The Bishop’s assertion that the current Church crisis is due in large part to the ignorance of the flock about the Catholic faith was most upsetting to me. If that is the case, perhaps it is the fault of the shepherds who water down the truth and give saccharin and inane homilies instead of catechesis.
The bishop pointed out the following:
“National research studies among baptized Catholics born after 1980 dramatically bear out the developments we see locally. When society replaces faith and religion with secular alternatives that are directly opposed to Church teaching and practice, Catholics do not know how to respond, defend against or resist such alternatives. They have become “cultural Catholics” or “Catholics in name only.” This is not to say that they are not good people doing good things but, rather, they are simply uninformed about their faith and the influence that faith should have in their lives as Catholic individuals and as Catholic communities within the local Church.”
As the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live would say, “Isn’t that special?” Why don’t Catholics know their faith? Why are Catholics not participating in the life of the Church? One major reason is the faithful are no longer encouraged to evangelize and another reason is that too many Catholic parishes are cold, segmented into cliques and very unfriendly. Pre-Vatican II the churches were packed and the liturgy was in Latin. I doubt the laity was any more knowledgeable about the faith then than they are now. The Bishop proffers that society’s allure today is stronger than the Church. That is a poor excuse for failing to evangelize the community. It is an admission of spiritual abandonment. It reminded me of Jesus’ parable of the hired shepherd who abandons his flock to the wolves.
Lack of Vocations
The Bishop also laments the lack of vocations. However, under his direction, the Trenton Diocese implemented higher education levels for diaconate candidates. Furthermore, I understood that there was a freeze on ordaining deacons. It is my understanding that the bishop thought there were too many deacons. If this is true then I have to question the genuineness of his concern. Impediments to vocations and active ministry by the hierarchy have a chilling effect on vocations.
Optics Matter When Churches Close And Money Is Tight
Then there are the optics of the princes of the Church with a “company car and driver” living in the lap of luxury. They are constantly requesting money under different campaign slogans which anyone with a brain can see were concocted by a marketing firm. Enthusiastic slogans and calls to generous giving are force fed the faithful in lieu of a homily. The latest affront is the “The Faith to Move Mountains” campaign. After all, a three billion dollar payout does strain the budget.
Words of Encouragement?
The article continued:
“With these sobering spiritual realities confronting us in the Diocese of Trenton and beyond, and the constantly shifting Catholic demographics within the four counties of the Diocese — Monmouth, Burlington, Ocean and Mercer — it simply does not make any sense to cling to sentimental memories of “the way we were;” or to nostalgically fantasize about a return to “the good old days.” Time moves forward and it is not possible to go back. We must forge ahead to meet and embrace the future with a living, dynamic and active faith.”
Translation: Don’t bother to evangelize. It is a lost cause. The message to the faithful is clear. The Bishop thinks your sentimentality is a fantasy and it’s time you faced reality and move on. The parishes you and your families sacrificed to build over the last century will be sold to developers. There was no dynamic call to evangelize and move mountains. No wonder we are getting smaller, the general is waving the white flag of surrender. Parishes nationwide are being advised by highly paid marketing firms. I suspect the three billion dollar payouts could have been used to support those parishes being closed.
It’s All About The Dollars
There seems to be a lack of discernment coming from the top. Pastors with serious personality and/or psychological issues are put at the helm of some parishes by this Bishop and others like him with devastating effects to the faithful. So many people I speak with in my parish and surrounding parishes are beside themselves with grief at what they see as a shell of what the Church was. It is viewed as a husk to vacuum up the faithful’s money. The pastors and priests are distant, disconnected, unconcerned and lack faith. The newest gimmick is weekly envelopes designed so that they can be mailed in. The message is clear: ‘if you don’t come to Mass at least mail us your money’. There is no serious effort to evangelize. As Joe Pesce’s character in Casino intoned, “it’s all about the dollars”.
The Faithful Have Choices
What can the faithful do? Our complaints and entreaties will be attacked as anti clerical, unfaithful, misguided and crazy. We will be dismissed as fanatics or ignorant malcontents. Or we will be shut out in silence. The usual mindset in the Church is, “if you ignore them they will go away.” And, in fact, many are going away, hence the empty pews. One pastor actually claimed the empty pews and declining donations were due to parishioners dying off. Reality check: people are voting with their feet. The bottom line is that the Church is not a democracy. Changes come slowly. In most cases, the sincere faithful will not get any satisfaction or change. If your pastor is less than what he should be, switch parishes. If your bishop lost his mission or is just a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pray for him but do not abandon ship. Pray for the Church. Pray for our priests. Organize a rosary rally among the faithful for the clergy. Offer up your sufferings. Don’t give up. Stay on mission and seek out clergy who are still faithful.
St. John Bosco and Our Lady Help of Christians
St. John Bosco had a vision of the Church. He saw the Church depicted as a ship in rough seas with the Holy Father at the helm. The ship was anchored by the Eucharist and Our Lady Help of Christians. We need to take refuge in the Eucharist and under the mantle of Our Lady. The Church Militant must remain strong even when many of our pastors have abandoned us. We need to stay faithful and to wait on the Lord. The chastisement the Church is experiencing from within was predicted by many saints. However, we know how this story ends. The Mystical Body of Christ, the Church will prevail. The gates of hell will not win. Just remember St. John Bosco’s vision and stay in the boat. Our Lady Help of Christians, pray for us.