Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Father Reese on accountability

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 19, 2011

Father Tom Reese has discovered the Pew Forum’s figures showing a startling exodus from the Catholic Church in the US. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, the former editor of America sums things up:

One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening. [emphasis added]

Well, Father Reese, what about an institution that lost two-thirds of its members? In the US, the Society of Jesus went from 8,400 members in 1965 to 2,650 last year. The decline continues with no end in sight. Yet the American Jesuits have not only refused to study the problem of catastrophic decline themselves, they have gone out of their way to knee-cap scholars whose explanations were unflattering.

Just ask Peter McDonough, the co-author of Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits. The late Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, was not terribly fond of the book; he criticized its implicit liberal bias. Yet Cardinal Dulles still recognized Passionate Uncertainty as “a wake-up call” for the Jesuits.

Other Jesuits, McDonough reports, were not nearly so friendly in their assessment of a book that offered an unusually candid look inside the Jesuit order. In fact Jesuit officials circulated “talking points” critical of the book, and discouraged favorable reviews. McDonough does recall one Jesuit scholar who gave the book a favorable review. But then an interesting thing happened:

At about the same time, John Coleman, a prominent Jesuit sociologist, emailed me with a copy of a positive review of Passionate Uncertainty that he had written, warning me that a number of Jesuits were “working over-time” to discredit the book. Tom Reese, SJ, the editor of America, had approached John about doing a review, but when John said that he liked the book, Reese spiked the review and solicited one from Sr. Katarina Schuth, whose negative review, coincidentally resembling the “talking points,” soon appeared in America. [emphasis added]


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Apr. 27, 2011 4:25 PM ET USA

    What is it Jesus said about fools and children understanding what the wise cannot?

  • Posted by: - Apr. 27, 2011 2:27 PM ET USA

    This reflects the "Fruits of Vatican II".

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Apr. 20, 2011 10:47 PM ET USA

    The problem is not out there or over there or with the Bishops or the Jesuits...or the Franciscans or the layity. The problem is ours. As long as we continue to accept our culture as it is the longer the problem will continue. People are leaving the Catholic Church because God is no longer real to them. What else can it be? Faith wavers. Being Catholic and espousing Catholic teaching are two different things. We need to reclaim our identity and live authentic faith filled lives.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Apr. 20, 2011 10:40 PM ET USA

    I suspect most who change to Protestant, change to "born-again-Christian Churches," that is to more conservative Churches. Most mainline churches show the same phenomenon.

  • Posted by: Obregon - Apr. 20, 2011 2:52 PM ET USA

    Father Reese is right, but the point of Mr. Lawler is clear, one should not throw stones on a glass house when one's vulnerability is so obvious. If the bishops have failed to find out why so many Catholics have left, the Society of Jesus has failed to do the same, so, what gives Reese the moral authority to be critical of the Bishops on this issue?

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Apr. 20, 2011 7:39 AM ET USA

    But even though it may not be coming from the most righteous of people, Father Reese is right -- the bishops have not discussed the exodus and it is something that should be done.