NYT: U.S. Catholics in Poll See a Church Out of Touch

NYTimes:U.S. Catholics in Poll See a Church Out of Touch.”

Roman Catholics in the United States say that their church and bishops are out of touch, and that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

Seven out of 10 say Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican have done a poor job of handling sexual abuse, a significant rise from three years ago. A majority said that the issue had led them to question the Vatican’s authority.

Even Catholics who frequently attend Mass said they were not following the bishops’ lead on issues that the church had recently invested much energy, money and credibility in fighting — artificial birth control and same-sex marriage.

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49 comments

  1. Perhaps the most important finding:

    Benedict, a soft-spoken scholar and a church traditionalist, had apparently made little impression on American Catholics in his eight years as pope. Half of those in the poll said they either had no opinion of him or had not heard enough about him. Nevertheless, 4 in 10 had a favorable opinion, and only one in 10 unfavorable.

    Although the Papacy (and Hierarchy) may be visible and have important effects on the employees of Catholicism, they are largely invisible and have little direct effect upon the average Catholic. Catholics often give them lip service approval because of their positions. When they become visible it is usually through negative events like the sexual abuse scandal, the bullying of nuns, politicians, etc. And then Catholics tend to have a temporary negative opinion of them until their usual invisibility brings them back to the default opinion of approval because of Catholic pride.

    I don’t think that selecting a Pope on the basis of his ideology (right or left) or on the basis of his managerial skills, or even his communication skills is likely to improve the role of the Papacy and the Hierarchy.

    The modern Papacy when it functions well functions as a catalyst, i.e. its facilitates a process without entering into it.

    The outstanding example was +John XXIII as a catalyst for the Vatican Council.

    Both +Paul VI and +John Paul II through their travels were catalysts for raising an awareness of Global Catholicism.

    +John Paul II was also a catalyst for the fall of Communism.

    +Benedict XVI tried and largely failed to be a catalyst for the New Evangelization of Europe.

    Recent Popes have largely failed to be catalysts for regional endeavors. +John Paul II shut down much of the post Vatican II vibrancy of the Church in both North and South America.

    Perhaps a non-European Pope could become another symbol and catalyst for Global Catholicism. However other than being a symbol of the universality of Catholicism, I doubt that the Papacy has much to offer to Catholics in the Pews or regional management of Catholicism.

    Perhaps the best managerial tactic of the Papacy would be to let regional problems be solved regionally rather than at Rome, or through Roman efforts to dominate regional assemblies. The various regions of Global Catholicism face very different problems which will not be solved by a one size fits all program out of Rome.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #1:
      On the New E, two things. First, I think the project has barely begun. And two, for it to succeed, it will need to address JP2’s shutdown of the New World. Do these guys believe that non-conservative believers will reappear en masse from the nones? Who’s alienated from the institution? Maybe the New E is just a showpiece for history.

      Agreement on the last paragraph, but little hope it will come to pass, except by the movement of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Asked whether the pope is infallible when he teaches on matters of morality and faith, 40 percent said yes, 46 percent said no, and 14 percent said they did not know . . . Seven of 10 Catholics polled said the next pope should let priests marry, let women become priests and allow the use of artificial methods of birth control.

    What an astounding testament to the success of catechesis by American bishops and priests over the last 45 years. Of course, it’s been obvious for some time that such attitudes have been a desired feature, not a bug, of that catechesis.

    I question a lot of things about this Times poll (the results of which must be very pleasing to the Times editors), ranging from the questions chosen (all not surprisingly on moral, none on dogmatic, questions, save infallibility), the wording chosen, and the how the sample pool of “Catholics” was determined. The numbers shift in a more orthodox direction only slightly for self-identified weekly mass attenders, which is more striking. But the fact that very many self-identified American Catholics dissent from a broad array of Church teachings is not a surprise to me. I can see evidence of it readily enough in my local dioceses.

    1. Richard Malcolm @ #3

      “What an astounding testament to the success of catechesis by American bishops and priests over the last 45 years. Of course, it’s been obvious for some time that such attitudes have been a desired feature, not a bug, of that catechesis.”

      Well, now the claws come out, don’t they? Tell us what you really think, Richard!

      A desired feature? Really?

      It’s sad that you should not believe in the good faith of the main body of the bishops and priests over the past forty-five years.

      No wonder you are a traditionalist. You think everyone else is lying or acting in bad faith! Or, upon reflection, would you perhaps like to withdraw or nuance that statement?

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #13:

        Hello Rita,

        It’s sad that you should not believe in the good faith of the main body of the bishops and priests over the past forty-five years.

        Well, Rita, I’ve seen too much over the years not to be selective in positing good faith. When good men are booted from seminary for (say) opposing women’s ordination after being asked directly by a seminary rector or instructor – and no, not because they were otherwise psychologically defective – when some of the same diocesan officials make no secret of their opposition to such teachings; when we’ve seen instances of open defiance of such teachings in episodes like the 1968 Baltimore priests’ revolt and the Canadian Winnipeg Statement . . . what other conclusion is to be drawn? It’s the same conclusion that Bishop Eldon Curtiss drew, publicly:

        “It seems to me that the vocation “crisis” is precipitated and continued by people who want to change the Church’s agenda, by people who do not support orthodox candidates loyal to the magisterial teaching of the Pope and bishops, and by people who actually discourage viable candidates from seeking priesthood and vowed religious life as the Church defines the ministries.”

        This is less the case now, but for many years, it was, by many accounts, quite common in American seminaries.

        Let;s go back to this Times poll. Given its wording, sample and question selection, it very likely exaggerates lay opposition to Church teachings, but I don’t doubt that it’s high. Prevailing secular attitudes undoubtedly account for *some* of it. But when they’re omitted or soft-pedaled in RCIA, or when laity are told in confession not to bother confessing contraceptive use, we can zero in on clergy as one cause.

        Do I wish to withdraw my statement? Not a bit of it. Not least because I’m not accusing every single person in the Church of this behavior, as ought to have been obvious.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #16:
        Hi Richard,

        Honestly, I don’t know what you are talking about when you refer to this concerted effort to promote the ordination of women or to penalize conservative seminarians for having conservative views. This is totally not my experience, and I haven’t been living under a rock. On the contrary, the opposite has been the case as I have observed it, and if there was a seminarian booted as you say, my response would be to evaluate that as an incident not as a trend that can be held responsible for the views of more than half the Catholic population. We can all point to incidents of mismanagement in the Church; the question is, what lessons do we draw from them.

        From what you’ve said here, you’ve chosen to impute bad faith to the great majority of bishops and priests (going back to your original statement) on the basis of a conspiracy theory, and further to draw the conclusion that the faithful are believing what they believe because they’ve been led astray by their bishops and priests. I still think that’s sad, and not worthy of someone of your intelligence. As others have pointed out here, there are many alternative explanations available: people have minds of their own, and independent thoughts that aren’t put into their heads by the hierarchy; the explanations of church teaching offered in good faith have been insufficient or unpersuasive; broad social trends have not been taken into account enough when approaching the issues, etc.

        On another note, about the survey, I found it quite remarkable that there is a solid majority voting against the zeitgeist with respect to abortion AND capital punishment. Both! This makes it impossible to say that Catholics simply mirror the wider culture in the US, because the general opinion on these issues would be the opposite. Cardinal Bernardin must be smiling…

  3. Polls of this type do reflect on the work of those who’ve administered the post V2 renewal in our country. They’ve lost two generations and the younger generation have grown up without regular sacraments. The work of the Church today is evanglization from the ground up.

  4. I take it that Richard believes that if bishops and priests had more clearly articulated the Catholic faith over the past 45 years that the Times poll would reveal different outcomes. I think not. We teach that the Pope, as Peter’s successor, may teach what the church believes on matters of faith and morals in an infallible manner. Modern and well educated people simply don’t believe that any human being is incapable of making mistakes even in important matters that affect the lives of others. Sex abuse and the subsequent coverups comprised a moral matter, and the folks don’t believe the pope and the bishops did a good job because they are still perceived as being more interested in the reputation and prerogatives of the institutional church than righting wrongs. So, are the pope and the bishops mere human beings like the rest of us or are they closer to being Godlike?
    On birth control, we say that every act must be open to human life so that efforts to block that are intrinsically evil. The folks want to know where celibate men acquire such wisdom when their own experience of human intimacy admits of many inconsistencies and failed attempts. Can we claim that holiness of life is open only to those Catholics who internalize and practice this teaching? Yes, the road to eternal life is narrow and the road to hell is paved with good intentions but can man live on bromides alone?
    I pray for pope who will cast aside the trappings of office and privilege and like his Master come down and walk among us, leading all who follow to the kingdom which is at hand and whose time is right now!

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #6:

      Hi Jack,

      I take it that Richard believes that if bishops and priests had more clearly articulated the Catholic faith over the past 45 years that the Times poll would reveal different outcomes.

      That is, in fact, precisely what I am contending.

      I am not claiming that adherence would be 100%. I am contending that, had there been vigorous catechesis by priests, bishops, lay ministers, teachers – and, yes, parents – the results would look significantly . . . well, better.

      And yes, it helps when more of the same actually walk the walk, and not merely talk the talk. Abuse scandals have hurt.

      There were seminaries in this great land where openly admitting that you believed in papal infallibility or opposed ordaining women would result in your rapid dismissal. Given the kind of priests that resulted, these results don’t surprise me.

      Modern and well educated people simply don’t believe that any human being is incapable of making mistakes even in important matters that affect the lives of others.

      No one believes that the Church is *impeccable.* We have too much evidence, from the Apostles to Cardinal O’Brien, to know that this is not the case. And that means they can make mistakes, even deeply sinful mistakes, in policies.

      But the mere failure of humans, even our priests, cannot be enough to bring a teaching into question. Imagine if we dispensed with celibacy in the Roman Rite – which we could do, consistently, since it is only a discipline, not a doctrine (and there are, after all, married Roman Rite priests right now, including one in my own Ordinariate parish). If such a priest committed adultery – or if his wife did – would that discredit the Sixth and Ninth Commandments? Do we need to be married to know that such a thing is wrong?

      To submit to Christ does require a certain self-denial: to take up our cross, and follow Him. That is a harder message today, especially where sexual matters are concerned.

  5. The infallibility question is as poorly expressed as the “real presence” question was by Newsweek (I think it was Newsweek) a number of years back.
    I would have answered “no” because the Pope isn’t ALWAYS infallible when teaching about faith or morals – it’s only when he’s teaching ex cathedra to define a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals that must be held by the entire Church. The misunderstanding is an example of the “galloping infallibility” (Newman?) phenomenon. I remember that early on after he was elected, Benedict XVI stated explicitly that the pope is infallible only in very rare circumstances.
    Since the Roman rite now includes other baptized Christians in its definition of “Church” the final component of infallibility as defined by Vatican I seems to be a bit shaky as well. For example, we still refer to millions of people who don’t believe in the Immaculate Conception or Assumption as Church.

    1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #7:
      I beg to differ with your final paragraph. On the one hand, my baptism in the Lutheran tradition is seen as valid by the Roman Catholic church (were I to become Roman Catholic, I would not be re-baptized); on the other, I am not officially welcome at the family meal of the Eucharist when it is served in Roman Catholic settings.

      The phrase “separated brethren” is most commonly used to say “folks who are separated from Rome,” but it becomes offensive when used in paragraphs like this from Unitatis Redintegratio [Decree on Ecumenism] (#3):

      Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life – that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.

      That last sentence isn’t saying I’m separated simply from Rome, but ultimately from God. At best, the most charitable reading of the Roman rite says I’m included in the definition of “Church” in some broken, half-way fashion.

      This distinction is one that a fair number of lapsed or former Catholics mention to me as a part of their dissatisfaction with Rome. They no longer believe the claim of the Catholic church to be the exclusively correct Church of God. This paragraph and others like it proclaim institutional infallibility, and the more this is proclaimed, it plays into the confusion you speak of with regard to papal infallibility.

      1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #15:
        I wasn’t claiming a full unity – I merely meant that when the term “Church” is used in the Vatican I teaching on papal infallibility it meant only those who were in full union/communion with Rome. Much of UR is written in the scramble that resulted from the broader/wider use of the term (and recognizing the validity of other baptisms, and instructing – as the RCIA does – that those coming into full communion are NOT to be referred to as “converts” since they are already members of the Body of Christ). The portion of UR you quote shows the scramble with the “full” benefit of salvation. Is there a partial benefit of salvation? Partly saved in Christ?

      2. @Alan Hommerding – comment #18:
        Alan,

        What do you mean when you say UR was written “in a scramble”? The document was very carefully written, and its terms carefully crafted. They have to be understood within their historical context, of course, and the debates on the Council floor which influenced them.

        As far as the language of fullness goes, this has been — like the idea of a hierarchy of truths — the opening for a great deal of fruitful movement in the direction of acknowledging the real existence of the Church outside of the borders of Roman Catholicism. The “full” means of salvation would include, according to the Catholic view, seven sacraments, the pope, etc., which are not exactly preserved as such in other traditions. But here is where the discussion has gone since that time: to look at so-called “analogous structures.”

        Honestly, it disturbs me that this would be brushed off as idiotic. It’s the very basis on which a great deal of progress in understanding has been built.

      3. @Rita Ferrone – comment #22:
        Rita – I didn’t mean that the document was written in a scramble; more that there is some scrambling to preserve (in my view) an exclusiveness about the Roman rite that is hard to preserve once you’ve acknowledged the validity of other Christian baptism and those members as being members of the Body of Christ. I understand the language of fullness in terms of ecclesiology, but find it hard to apply to salvation language. If someone baptized outside the Roman rite is validly baptized, then that person is fully saved in Christ. “You’re saved – but not FULLY saved – as you would be in our rite” seems like a scramble to me.
        Back to the point about papal infallibility – one of the tenets (as I understand it) of this infallibility as defined by Vatican I is that any doctrine defined infallibly must be believed by the whole Church. The understanding of who “the whole Church” is has changed in the intervening years – the progress you make note of – and leaves us in a situation with infallibly defined doctrines that are not believed by the whole Church. They might be believed by all Roman rite Catholics, but that’s a different statement.

      4. @Alan Hommerding – comment #27:
        If I may, please allow me to clarify one piece of this: it’s not the Roman rite we are talking about here, nor the Latin Rite, it’s the Catholic Church. And, of course, it is ecclesiology.

        Furthermore, according to Catholic doctrine, salvation is not assured to anyone who does not persevere in faith until the end. Catholic doctrine concerning divine election is clear. We do not claim to know definitively, you are saved / you are not saved, of ANYONE who is now living, Catholic or not. It was the contention of Calvinists in the Reformation that one can have certain knowledge of one’s own salvation. That view was anathamatized at Trent.

        So is baptism worthless? Of course not. We are talking about theological language and precise meanings. But you will note that the exact expression in UR is “admit to the communion of salvation.” You will also note that fullness is used with respect to means, not to what one does with those means. UR also humbly notes that although endowed with the full means of salvation, we do not always live by them as we should. An entirely permissible inference therefore is that there can be better Christians outside the full communion of the Catholic Church, because they DO live as they should by all those means which are available to them.

        Sorry to be the bearer of so much bad news today. 🙂

      5. @Rita Ferrone – comment #30:
        Rita – I think that, by and large, we are having something of a violent agreement – I don’t think you’re bearing bad news at all. I certainly wasn’t intending to take a Calvinist (in the 16th c. sense of that word) view of baptism; nor to view baptism as an easy in or cheap grace or any of that.
        In my simplistic way, I was just wondering about myself baptized Roman Catholic and a brother or sister in Christ – let’s say Rose who lives next door to me – baptized Protestant who both strive to live faithful lives according to the Gospel. I understand that UR thinks I have a fuller means to attain salvation, but at the end of the day … ? My salvation is fuller? I guess my view of living for eternity in the reign of God includes Rose, and not just because she makes the most awesome biscuits ever.

      6. @Alan Hommerding – comment #27:

        Well said, Alan.

        Rita, you wrote “First of all, the statement is emphatically NOT saying that you are separated from God. When you read it in conjunction with UR3, it’s absolutely unfair to draw that conclusion. How can it be that your sacraments “aptly give access to the communion of salvation” and yet you are separated from God? No. That’s just not a judgment that can be sustained on the basis of the text.”

        The sentence I quoted — For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. — doesn’t have to be read in conjunction with UR3. It is from UR3. If UR3 had omitted its fifth and final paragraph (of which this sentence is a part), it would read much as you would like it to read. But that last paragraph starts with “Nevertheless” and proceeds to put limits and restrictions and caveats on the otherwise warm ecumenical words that came before it.

        Rita, “only” is an exclusive word, especially when attached to salvation. If (as UR 3 claims) I am separated from the Catholic Church, and if (as UR 3 claims) the Catholic Church is the *only* place in which one can benefit fully from the means of God’s salvation, then UR 3 is indeed saying I am separated from God.

        UR may have been a milestone in ecumenical progress for the early 1960s, casting aside real misjudgments about other denominations, but it is hardly the end of the road. I’m grateful for the movement that took place when it was promulgated, but the continued use of “separated brethren” over the five decades since then remains paternalistic and offensive.

        (And pardon my use of exclusive language, but that, too, is the language of the document, in more ways than just ecclesial.)

      7. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #33:
        Well, Peter, you seem determined to put the worst possible interpretation on what I’ve said, and what the document says, and this being the case, I can’t stop you.

        But you are still not reading this accurately, I am sorry. It’s not a question of “what I want” but of what’s in the text. Again, I am sorry that you are determined to take offense. I never said UR was the end of the road, nor do I believe that. I know what the word “only” means, you don’t have to patronize me. And if you would like to find fault with “exclusive language” in a document written before such a thing as “inclusive language” was even a notion discussed, it shows again that you are taking this work out of its historical context.

      8. @Rita Ferrone – comment #36:

        UR may have been written before inclusive language was an issue, but “separated brethren” continues to be used in official Vatican statements, speeches, and documents even today. I was noting the oddity of my use of the term beyond simply quoting a historical document.

        From UR3:

        Nevertheless, our separated brethren, whether considered as individuals or as Communities and Churches, are not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished to bestow on all those who through Him were born again into one body, and with Him quickened to newness of life – that unity which the Holy Scriptures and the ancient Tradition of the Church proclaim. For it is only through Christ’s Catholic Church, which is “the all-embracing means of salvation,” that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation.

        Can you see how a phrase like “separated brethren . . . are not blessed” might lead someone to take offense?

        For the bishops of the Catholic church to say “we are all brothers” but then immediately go on to say “but we refuse your invitation to us to dine at your table, and we refuse to allow you to dine at ours” is a bit of an oxymoron. It is true that by virtue of baptism, and our shared understanding of it, we are members of one family. Is it not sad, and a scandal, that we cannot share in the meal that Christ gave to the whole family?

        This is part of what I referred to earlier, when I spoke of the pain that some lapsed and former Catholics have toward the Catholic Church. They have seen baptized non-Catholic friends and family members turned away from Catholic altars, and have tired of apologizing for their priest, their bishop, and their church.

      9. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #33:

        Peter, UR does not speak of the fullness of salvation, but the fullness of the means of salvation. A person mau be saved by reading God’s Word, but a person who reads God’s Word “with the Church” has another means that helps him to salvation. The salvation is the same, at least in this context, though one person has more that will help lead to that goal.

        There are still problems in UR 3. How can one part of the Church, the Catholic part, have unity while another part does not? Can the hand say to the eyes I do not need you? Perhaps there is some element of unity in the Catholic Church that is not present among Lutherans, but it is less than the unity Christ prayed for. That unity requires Catholics and Lutherans together, and it is a shame that the text misses that point

      10. @Jim McKay – comment #39:
        By the lights of UR, am I a part of the Church, even though I am not in communion with Rome, or am I not part of the Church?

        My reading — and I’m happy to be corrected — is that UR wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, it says that by virtue of my baptism, I am indeed part of Christ’s body. On the other hand, it says that I am separated, and not fully part of the Church. Your comment about the asymmetric understanding of unity (“we’ve got it, but you don’t”) seems to indicate I’m reading UR correctly on this.

      11. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #41:

        Peter, there is a bunch of guys meeting in Rome right now looking for someone who can answer questions like yours. I hope they find someone because I don’t have any more of an answer than you do to this dilemma.

        I sometimes think of it as like a jigsaw puzzle. When you put two pieces together, there is unity. It is a step toward completion, the full unity of all the pieces in one picture. The Catholic church is a lot of pieces joined together, and its essence is the being joined together, communion. But we are pilgrims on our way to that big picture and we have to recognize that there are other pieces already joined that are also on a pilgrimage to creating that big picture. In being joined among themselves, Lutherans have the same unity that Catholics have, even though that part of the picture is not yet joined to the Catholic part. And as a Catholic who values unity, I am happy for the unity that exists with you because it is part of the unity of the big picture. Your chunk of the puzzle may even tell me this is not just a picture of hills, but of the Crucifixion. It might tell me that Mary stands below the Cross. Any number of things might be gained from seeing Lutherans joined together in Christ that might help me appreciate how Catholics are joined together in Christ. There are still gaps between us, but we are united as two parts of the big picture even while we are separate.

        I would take it further. Every joined pair of pieces, every married couple, is joined together by the same Spirit that joins the Church together, even if they are two communists or Confucians. Buddhist joined by compassion are parts of the ultimate picture, because the Spirit of compassion brought them together. But every analogy has itts problems, and this one may also break down if we press too hard trying to fit mismatched pieces together.

      12. @Jim McKay – comment #39:
        Jim,

        You’ve put your finger on the unity / disunity theological problem here. One of the four marks of the Church is unity. It’s not the church if it doesn’t have the four marks. This is serious. Yet clearly the Church is divided as a visible reality. Protestants get around this problem by defining the Church as invisible. The invisible church is the real church, therefore that is where unity resides, it can’t reside elsewhere. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics just regarded Protestants as not the Church. It was easy.

        Catholics after VII, on the other hand, are committed to a both/and, visible and invisible concept. Prior to Vatican II, the emphasis was much on the external forms. This was not re-calibrated lightly. The revision in SC 2 of the visible / invisible pair to read “visible yet invisibly equipped” is a symptom of resistance to the “invisible church” concept of the reformation. Its introduction at all, even in a modified form, if Jungmann is to be believed, was for ecumenism.

        Commitment to the “visible church” AND acknowledging that those outside the visible boundaries can belong to it, leaves Catholics with a problem. How do you have unity, as a mark of the Church (a gift), and not have unity, unless you abandon the ground of visible, external forms? The result is as you describe — a split concept: on the one hand a “real though imperfect unity” with those outside its visible boundaries; on the other, reassertion of the gift of unity being fully available within the the visible structures of the Catholic Church.

        Personally, I think the communio idea, as it’s stated here, is a bit of a pretzel. Much more helpful, to my mind, is JM Tillard’s masterwork on communion, Church of Churches. No space in a combox to do justice to it, but it’s again fruit of the longer discussion that UR began.

      13. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #15:
        Hi Peter,

        You said above:

        “That last sentence isn’t saying I’m separated simply from Rome, but ultimately from God. At best, the most charitable reading of the Roman rite says I’m included in the definition of “Church” in some broken, half-way fashion.”

        First of all, the statement is emphatically NOT saying that you are separated from God. When you read it in conjunction with UR3, it’s absolutely unfair to draw that conclusion. How can it be that your sacraments “aptly give access to the communion of salvation” and yet you are separated from God? No. That’s just not a judgment that can be sustained on the basis of the text.

        The document was very finely tuned to say no more and no less than it says. To maximize one phrase out of a whole presentation really does not do justice to it.

        Language about “fullness” seems to offend you. I would point out, however, that if you look at the history of dialogue, this is actually a landmark concession, and a breakthrough from positions which posited an absolute character to the divisions which exist.

        The fruitfulness of UR is vast for the development of dialogue in the post-conciliar period. It was fought over tooth and nail at the Council by people who wanted to move forward toward unity against those who wanted to maintain the status quo ante. I’m sorry you don’t value what this document represents.

      14. @Rita Ferrone – comment #21:
        Oh come on, Rita. How else is someone supposed to read it, unless they happen to possess your very detailed knowledge of the historical background to the document and its formulation? The question for me is: does the RC church still stand by this? Yes. Has it moved beyond it? No. Why shouldn’t “language about fullness,” as you call it, offend? I suppose it’s unfair to “maximize” as you say, the phrase Peter quoted. But how is the assertion “not blessed with that unity which Jesus Christ wished” to be understood if not as a kind of arrogance? Not blessed? Says who? The Roman Catholic Church presents itself as the universal arbiter of unity in Christ. Some may find that offensive. Please correct me If there have been subsequent documents that move beyond this language.

      15. @Damian LaPorte – comment #45:
        Damian, there’s no “come on” about it. Documents of lower standing have pulled back from it, and what I am trying to do is stand forward for the better. If you are looking for a way of making sure we go backwards, fine, forget about the positive content. Insist that this is a blindly arrogant rant. The choice is yours.

  6. Richard, I see that you are certainly in earnest with your convictions. Most Catholics, I trust, believe in the truth addressed by the 6th and 9th commandments. They know adultery is wrong. But few are convinced that this commandment has little or anything to do with other sexual behaviors which church leaders insist are always immoral. I know of “good” Catholics who are living together prior to marriage. Why do I call them good? Because they regularly participate in Mass, appear to be loving their neighbor, and give evidence of believing that marrying in the church will truly make a difference in their lives. I endeavor to tell them why the leaders of the church believe that pre-marital sex is sinful. They listen quietly to me as if I were a beloved uncle who wants the best for them but doesn’t understand life in the world they regard as real. I add that we have no chastity police as I recommend they practice abstinence while practicing other forms of intimacy.
    Almost no one confesses the practice of birth control. Not because they haven’t heard or don’t know that the leaders of the church regard it as really (intrinsically) evil, but because they don’t believe that in their heart of hearts. They think of themselves as doing the best they can in a very imperfect world. I can assure you that while I have spoken about the importance of integrity in marital intimacy, I am not telling anyone that if they don’t refrain from the practice of artificial birth control they can count on going straight to hell and should henceforth abstain from receiving Holy Communion. I will speak of the benefits that couples who practice natural family planning tell me about. I will encourage their pursuit of virtue including that of chastity. I can do that only because I endeavor to practice it myself.
    Self denial and cross bearing must take place within a cultural context. Today’s popular culture is extraordinarily inimical to the practice of christian virtues. Our task is to engage that culture.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #10:
      I’m not certain if many parishioners would be inclined to confess to using b. c. or any other sin unless they were certain their confessor was one with the magisterium on the issue.

  7. Richard affirmed:
    I take it that Richard believes that if bishops and priests had more clearly articulated the Catholic faith over the past 45 years that the Times poll would reveal different outcomes.

    Does that mean that the ordinary universal magisterium has not consistently taught that only men may be ordained? That constant teaching is the basis for JPII’s definition, so calling it into question certainly raises some problems.

  8. Having witnessed many homilies and many religious education sessions from the late 1960s into the early 1990s where Church teaching was taught with clarity and fervor, I feel fairly certain that the issue was not the lack of clarity or fervor.

    1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #14:

      Hello Karl,

      I can only suggest that your experience has been different from mine. I can think of the the number of diocesan parish homilies where I have heard a word about abortion or contraception on both hands, with fingers left over, over the last couple of decades. RCIA and CCD programs that I have seen seem, at best, uneven. And even a good homily is not sufficient. It’s about a complete package of spiritual formation.

      Part of the difficulty is that even when the teaching is provided, the reasoning for it is not. It is not enough to say that X is wrong? The explanation, both from reason and revelation, must also be given.

      I am not one of those sorts of traditionalists who thinks that had there been no Council, no post-conciliar upheaval in the Church, that we would not have faced these problems to some degree. Society went somewhat mad in the 60’s, and the Church is not hermetically sealed off from society. But some parts of the Church did not resist the madness; they staged a a largely unconditional surrender to it.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #17:
        My experience has more aligned with Karl’s. It is not an experience of perfection on the part of homilists, catechists, and others. But I have not been hampered from searching for the truth, as many people indeed feel.

        I think there are two problems, Richard, with your worldview. First, the notion that rationalism can or should guide the Christian faith experience: as long as people absorb the proper information, they will toe the line of virtue. At worst, it reduces being a believer to following a recipe. We know that God surprises us constantly, and that human failings will topple the most educated, self-assured believer. Saint Paul confessed it. We should take it seriously.

        Roman Catholicism is a rich and varied banquet. It is not needful for one to gorge on dozens of courses to be nourished, though a broad palate cultivated over years might be a good idea.

        The second problem is your buying into some kind of generational exceptionalism. Good or bad. The WWII generation was “great.” The 60’s were “mad.” Rubbish. Each age has its own good and bad points. The 60’s had Vietnam and the Peace Corps. The 40’s had a stern defense of the West but also lynchings and interment camps.

        Best practice is to focus on the situation in the present and not live in the past, be it the 1960’s, the 1860’s, or whenever.

        More to the point, the institution is in dire need of reform, one might say a rupture from the past. Its witness is one of careerism, secrecy, indulging personal appetites, and in chasing away believers by the tens of millions. It erases good work done by evangelists the world over. Many in the curia and the episcopacy preach the antigospel. And the sad thing is, they don’t even know it. At least St Paul had the personal awareness to lament the bad he did despite the good intentions of his mind and heart.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #19:

        Hi Todd,

        A few points:

        1. I don’t mean to make this excessively rationalistic – to make it a question of pure inputs and outputs. But if people are not getting the information, there’s far less chance they’ll have a chance of integrating it. And the reality is that in many parishes, the Church’s sexual teachings were soft-pedaled or even left out. I know of (mainstream) parishes where this happened, and I am not alone. I also know of Catholics told not to worry about confessing it in the confessional, and I am not alone.

        I actually do agree with you that simple teaching (no matter how well thought out, or passionate) is not enough. There’s a larger spiritual formation that needs to take place, and it begins, at least for cradle Catholics, in the home, not a CCD class. And it’s clear that that formation had not been taking place in many Catholic homes, even before the Council. There’s no other way to explain the eruption we saw take place in 1968.

        2. To step back a bit to what I said earlier: What were lay Catholics to conclude when nearly every priest in the archdiocese of Baltimore signed a petition dissenting from Humanae Vitae in 1968? When bishops publicly bring it into question? This will seem harsh, but…at some point, when do we say it is unfair to speak of a “treason of the clerics?”

        3. I’m always careful about generational characterizations. A traditionalist could hardly (and would hardly) call the WWII generation the “greatest” since it was that generation (and the Silent generation), and not the Boomers, that brought us the Council and implemented it. You can find good and bad, or rather, all theologies, in every generation. The most one can say is that until the 50’s, there was at least a chance at good formation on a large scale, by virtue of sound teachings.

        I think you and I agree on the need for major structural reform, even if, I suspect, we would disagree on some of the specifics.

      3. @Richard Malcolm – comment #23:
        Thanks for engaging, Richard.

        On the matter of sex, I think society is a little too sex-soaked, and many elements of the Church are a little anti-sex-soaked. There are at least six other serious sins to consider, and it is worth pondering that certain persons (and others) might be happy Christians (and others) are distracted by lust, while the other six might have freer reign.

        I think there are many ways to explain post-1968, the prime one being is that it was decades in the making. Even pinning the crisis of the 20th century to 1914 overlooks the simmering sins of 19th century Europe: corruption, slavery, exploitation, colonialism, racism. Ever read Dickens? Actions often have long-lasting consequences.

        As for your number 2, questioning HV is not treason. It’s just questioning. 2002 was far more of a crisis. HV was a blunder not for being untrue, but because it was so badly promoted. And landing in the middle of the so-called Sexual Revolution didn’t help.

        I would posit that Catholic formation before the Council was exceedingly poor, at least in the US. Why? Anti-intellectualism in seminaries, far fewer clergy, and minimally trained laity. US Catholics before 1960 had three good things going for them: 1. schools, where they could be found in cities and towns, and 2. by extension, women religious. 3. Most importantly, a Catholic culture existed, somewhat reinforced by ethnic enclaves that put more emphasis on being Catholic and doing Catholic things than knowing the faith.

        My sense is that lay Catholics today are, on the whole, better formed and educated, more in tune with liturgy, Scripture, and the sacraments (including a belief in and experience of the Real Presence.) But we lack the supporting culture that reinforced the faith on a day-to-day basis.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #24:

        Hello Todd,

        Thanks, likewise:

        1. On the matter of sex, I think society is a little too sex-soaked, and many elements of the Church are a little anti-sex-soaked. Somewhere in here there’s some common ground between us. Even I am not demanding a pulpit that thunders against abortion and condoms every week. But I do know that sex is a lot harder to escape in the popular media than it ever was before.

        2. I think we both agree that there has never been any “Golden Age” for either the Church or Western Civilization. The Victorian Era certainly was not. But 1914 really did, I believe, knock a lot of the wind out of European Christianity, shaking its confidence deeply. That said, it was pre-1914 Christian Europe that produced the cataclysm of 1914. Either way, we are agreed on this much: 1968 was a long time coming down the pike, in terms of the ideas and cultural trends that help make it; what it lacked until then was the Pill and penicillin, along with television.

        3. Formation before the Council is more complicated. All the factors you relate are true, and yet they are not sufficient explanation. Theological uniformity may have come at the price of some anti-intellectualism (the wake of the anti-Modernist campaign), but it did ensure that spiritual materials and theological works would be, at worst, mediocre, and not outright heterodox. Ethnic Cultural Catholicism of the sort you relate had its pluses and minuses: It was vulnerable to a kind of legalistic pelagianism, ready to blow away with the first strong cultural wind, but it also provided a support structure and a fighting chance for those open to a deeper faith. Suburbanism helped doom it.

        4. I’m not prepared to agree with your last observation. But part of the reason is that I didn’t live through that past age, so comparisons are difficult. There is a small subset of laity that might be better educated; the rest swim, and drift, in very hostile currents.

  9. I haven’t time yet for a thoughtful reply to Rita, but while I’m here, I happened across an observation about this poll by Leon Podles over at Rod Dreher’s blog, which Rod thought worth highlighting:

    I have been reading about popular Catholicism in the medieval and Counter-Reformation periods, and it has made me less alarmist about the current situation.

    Peasant societies had their own ideas about sex and marriage, and largely ignored the teachings of the clergy on the sacrament of matrimony, on the sin of fornication – and on the seriousness of homicide.

    The clergy tried to repress the animal spirits of young men (half the male population of Dijon at one time seems to have engaged in gang rape) by preaching self-control and condemning anything that might excite young men, including fireworks and dancing. I feel sympathy for both the Jansenists who wanted Catholics to be morally serious, and for the populace, who wanted some joy in their short lives of hard work.

    Moralists can sometimes sound like kill-joys, but we need them, and the clergy often have that unenviable and unpopular role. But if they want to be as rigorous as the Curé of Ars, they had better be as austere as him, or no one will take them seriously.

    Of course, as Rod notes, the one thing that Americans simply do not do is asceticism.

    But I think that Podles has a point about consistency. Rigorous priests had better be driving old cars and wearing clericals that look a little threadbare. Rigorous bishops had better have austere rectories. And by all means be scrupulous about the sexual strictures.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #25:
      “(T)he one thing that Americans simply do not do is asceticism.”

      It’s tough to be an ascetic in the land of milk and honey. Although Americans have been willing to endure privations for a greater cause.

      I appreciate the nod to orthopraxy, a far more convincing witness than orthodoxy.

      It might bear more reflection, but I think the place to begin rigor, discipline, and austerity is with the self. As a parent and a long-time church minister, I’m far more inclined to render mercy to the people in my care.

      That said, I’m all in for the hierarchy to tackle greed, which is far more the sin of the 21st century than sex, and if anything, even more pervasive in the bureaucracy.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #26:

        I appreciate the nod to orthopraxy, a far more convincing witness than orthodoxy.

        It might bear more reflection, but I think the place to begin rigor, discipline, and austerity is with the self. As a parent and a long-time church minister, I’m far more inclined to render mercy to the people in my care.

        There’s nothing more lethal to parents trying to inculcate religious belief and practice in their children than failing to actually live that belief every day, every minute. Children pick up on that very quickly. Junior will be more reluctant to attend Mass if Dad does not bother – and does not bother to take it seriously and reverently when he does.

        So in this example, your point about beginning with the Self is well put. The Cure of Ars was surely an orthodox priest, but it was his living witness, pervading every moment of his existence, that drew so many to his confessional and his masses.

        That said, I’m all in for the hierarchy to tackle greed, which is far more the sin of the 21st century than sex, and if anything, even more pervasive in the bureaucracy.

        A good point – and I could add to it by noting that nothing has perpetuated the Sexual Revolution so vigorously as corporations with money to be made off it, something that social conservatives too often lose sight of. But greed has become something of the warp and woof of the American way of life. And we can be more judgmental of those with less than the most aristocratic Victorian.

  10. This has been an interesting discussion to follow. I don’t want to derail it, but it might be helpful to consider the ways in which some elements of contemporary American culture are extremely ascetic – especially so in the class of Americans who have by far the greatest access to all the ‘milk and honey’. If we are to respond to them, we’d do well to keep that in mind in our evangelization. Simply because they don’t or loosely identify as something, doesn’t mean they haven’t embraced a pseudo-gospel of a sort and appropriate practices.
    Some Examples:
    1) general physical discipline for the sake of bodily perfection that encourages extraordinary measures of bodily control through exercise, dieting ( which in the extreme cases of disorder puts medieval monastics to shame), and even physical mutilation through plastic surgery (to which some people become psychologically addicted – take that flagellants).
    2) If Helen Rittelmeyer is correct (see February’s Firstthings), anxiety to perform better may be a driving force in interest in sex, especially among those who perform so well in other areas. Once again, the desire to be better results in certain disciplines and training.
    3) More difficult to measure, but I think warranted, pursuing success in a career requires ascetic practices like sacrificing time with family and friends and for some, even sleep. Interestingly, charitable activity is also a sign of career success.

    What I think is interesting about this, is that describing this kind of activity as vanity, lust, or greed fails to account for the discipline that it took to pursue these interests so far, to the point where many practitioners might not find the charge that they’re being sinful comprehensible because the association of sin and self-indulgence.
    They’ve really sacrificed for their cause, adopting the appropriate ascetic practices for the doctrines they’ve embraced, mindfully or not, which holds salvation comes in this life through physical, sexual, social/economic perfection (

  11. The expulsion of progressives from the upper hierarchy is so lamentable because the ability to conduct a balanced discernment is severely compromised. Richard and I, for example, would probably come to a wiser via media than any two cardinals, these days. In a parish, we could be part of a serious and respectful (hopefully) engagement with a wide set of views that would have much more hope for fruitfulness than anything undertaken by any 2 cardinals.

    The problem with the hierarchy is deeper than ideology. They lack the vision. They can’t diagnose problems accurately. Unchallenged viewpoints get reinforced by a psychological feedback loop.

    The institution isn’t out of touch because of any single political stance. It’s a John 9:40-41 moment for them.

  12. I am curious about this assertion that seminarians were regularly “booted” for praying the rosary, or expressing interest in the Tridentine Mass, or stating that women could not be ordained.

    Richard, can you say more about your evidence for this? Do you know, personally, seminarians who had to go “underground” because of their conservative beliefs? Seminarians who, otherwise intellectually and psychologically and pastorally sound (and how did you assess this soundness?) were sent home only because they espoused traditionalist views?

    Yes, this assertion floats around the blogs, but it all seems very indirect. There is Michael Rose’s book, Goodbye, Good Men, but even a very conservative priest has reviewed it (in a blog called Culture Wars, no less) and concluded that Rose exaggerated and relied heavily – not exclusively – on a single disgruntled seminarian, whose views have been discredited.

    So is there any truth to the claim that large numbers of traditionalist seminarians were “booted” or even harassed for their beliefs? Can anyone support it?

  13. Like many social scientists, it seems clear to me that religious competition in the USA, Latin America and Africa has led to a more vibrant Christianity. Large monopoly churches, such as Catholicism and some Protestant established churches, tend to promote more of a nominal than a vibrant Christianity.

    The “spiritual” dynamic in both Catholicism and Protestantism comes from the periphery and the grassroots through founding of new religious orders and sects rather than from the top and the center.

    So I question the value of organizational unity, and wonder whether the ecumenical attempts to have con-celebration among churches are really wise and really reflect the “unity” that Christ and the Holy Spirit desires.

    The bottom line for me is that a baptism is a baptism is a baptism. We are all baptized into Christ even if we spend decades praying alone in the desert. How important various Christian communities are (families, neighbors, congregations, schools, associations, denominations, etc.) varies considerably from Christian to Christian as does the role of various practices (Scripture, Divine Office, Eucharist).

    The role of denominations which became important during the Industrial era is definitely on the wane now in the post-industrial era as all of us are having families, co-workers, small Christian communities etc. who come from many denominational backgrounds and who no longer hesitate to migrate not only from one congregation to another but one denomination to another, or even style themselves simply as “Christian”.

    Personally as long of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Ecumenical Patriarch, and the Roman Pontiff have their present cordial relationships I don’t care if they ever give communion to one another.

    At the local level however I think all ministers of all Christian communities ought to give communion to any Christian who seeks it. Just give them the benefit of the doubt. Allow families who want to go to communion together to do it. I am not promoting that all ministers should invite everyone. I think they should encourage people to know the denomination and the congregation first. But ultimately not stand in judgment of the other person. Let that person make the decision before God and their neighbors.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #43:
      “Allow families who want to go to communion together to do it.”

      This makes sense. As long as non-Catholic spouses recognize the Eucharist, there shouldn’t be any problem with intercommunion. The unity of the domestic Church is a sacramental one, whereas the bond between Rome and a non-Catholic in a Catholic family is not.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #44:
        Todd, I’m quite surprised by the casual definition of “recognize” that you employ to endorse intercommunion. Alllowing as how the CCC does recognize that salvation outside of communion with the Church is posssible subject to God’s grace, it seems to me that intercommunion is an issue that is null if proper catechesis to a sacramentally valid marriage has been taught, assented to and testfied, and at that point rejected. Should a spouse or children who’ve not been received into the sequence of sacraments desire to receive “communion,” it seems to me that they should publicly witness (via process to authentic) and actual Communion via Creed, etc. How can you see any wiggle room in this escapes my imaginings.

      2. @Charles Culbreth – comment #46:
        Hi Charles,

        My definition of “recognize” is actually more involved than that. If the non-Catholic recognizes and accepts the Real Presence and Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, that should be enough. It is for non-Catholics who find themselves absent from their own Communion’s sacramental experience.

        It’s an involved subject on which I’ve given a lot of thought and study, especially from my experience in rural America where access to the liturgy and sacraments is difficult for any number of believing Christians.

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