Catholic World News News Feature
My observation on Cardinal George's comments June 03, 2004
[ Editor's note -- Fr. Wilson is responding to an address given by Cardinal Francis George to Pope John Paul last week during their ad limina meeting. The text of the address has been published by Zenit news service. Fr. Wilson first posted his response as part of a discussion on Mark Shea's blog, "Catholic and Enjoying It". ]
Well, I must hand it to Francis Cardinal George. This is quite a statement of our situation as a Church, and, to judge from most of the comments here, it is very persuasive.
The institutional Church, in the schema put forth by the Cardinal, is a victim of cultural and societal circumstances beyond its control. The Cardinal very briefly acknowledges, for example, "the failure of adequate oversight by some bishops" with regard to the current scandals, but he doesn't even mention something which cripples my ministry and the ministry of priests across the nation daily: the staggering loss of credibility which has resulted. Instead, he proceeds to discuss the encroachment by courts and legislatures on the Church's freedom, our inability to "shape a public conversation," media bias. And, of course, internal divisions in the Church -- the Church as "an arena of ideological warfare." Church as Victim of an array of circumstances comes across loud and clear. Indeed, I think he regards the Bishops as victims!
Rarely have I seen a set of comments which so missed the heart of the matter. Are these the concerns which the Cardinal thinks are our most serious considerations? Over the last thirty years of what we have fondly thought to be an age of Renewal, we have seen a sixty percent decline in Mass attendance -- eighteen percent of Catholics assist at Mass on a given Sunday in my Diocese of Brooklyn, nineteen percent in New York, sixteen in Chicago, by pre-Scandal figures.
Religious Orders are collapsing before our eyes; Catholic colleges and universities are secularized, Catholic health care has been secularized to the point where a woman who has given birth in a Catholic hospital often finds herself offered a sterilization procedure.
Two-thirds of Mass-going Catholics cannot distinguish the Catholic doctrine on the Eucharist -- the very heart of our Faith -- from Protestant heresies. Forty years ago, we junked an effective, consistent method of passing on Catholic doctrine for coloring books, free-thinking, free-wheeling and finger-painting. We have raised two generations of religiously illiterate Catholics, and we're starting on the third. The Archbishop of New Orleans points out that virtually all of our high school Religion texts are junk and should be trashed, and people sit up and say, "Wow! Didja hear that?" But the Bishops knew that thirty years ago, gang. Thirty years ago. And they marginalized in their "kooks" file parents who complained about their children's textbooks. And Cardinal O'Connor pointed out the defective nature of Religion texts to the whole NCCB eight years ago, and someone else will a decade from now. None of these problems were caused by the courts, the legislature, or the "monstrously evil" Boston Globe .
Evangelical churches are filled with former Catholics. The country is rife with liturgical abuses, and liturgy which in its mediocrity does not begin to realize the goals of the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council.
And as we find ourselves facing a brutal cultural battle -- the nature of Matrimony and family is in danger of being legally and societally redefined to embrace sodomy, the whole meaning of the gift of sexuality is thoroughly misunderstood and actually thought of as a recreational activity -- we find ourselves as a Church in the position, if we're honest, of having to acknowledge that we're not really even trying to get our message across. Really, honestly, not even trying. Most Catholics never, ever, hear a sermon about contraception, stem-cell research, abortion, homosexuality. Pretty much everyone knows the Church's position on these things -- the "bottom line" thou shalt not -- but that's because the secular media gets that message out there. But the secular media doesn't offer the Church's rationale (and why should they?), which means most Catholics are simply not formed in the Faith on these matters.
I realize that there are people who will react to these comments by saying, "Why can't you just be grateful if a bishop says something good and helpful in itself?" I must simply, respectfully, reply by saying that I do not find Cardinal George's comments helpful at all; I find them harmful. They are well put, they obviously are well thought through and they do address real problems. But they do not address the heart of the matter.
As I have said elsewhere, I find myself increasingly perplexed. Why is it that, after these confusing forty years of bogus "Renewal," with decaying Religious Orders and empty seminaries and religious illiteracy throughout our land -- problems that weren't caused by the media, or the courts, or the legislature -- we are still waiting for a Bishop to stand up, sound the alarm, and say, "We are in a crisis . We have been for forty years. Let us ask the help of God, and of our blessed Lady the Mother of the Church, to address it, and bring about a renewal"?