Saturday, March 17, 2012

Question for Catholic Centrists: How Will You Address Your Role in Alienation of Catholics from Church?

I've blogged a number of times recently about what seems to me a crucially important question: how do those Catholics who remain with the church, and how do the pastoral leaders of the church, intend to deal with the ever-increasing phenomenon of disaffiliation of American Catholics from the Catholic church--or, as some folks now put it, of "deconversion" from the Catholic church?  My recent reflections on this important issue are here and here.

As I've noted repeatedly on this blog (and so I won't rehearse this matter at length or provide links now--this research is easy to find on this blog and in many other places), as of 2004, Pew Foundation data indicated that one in three American adults who had been raised Catholic has left the Catholic church, and  one in ten American adults is now a former Catholic.  As commentators have noted, if all those former Catholics constituted a denomination, that denomination would be the second largest Christian denomination in the U.S.

I am not aware of similar studies since 2004.  My intuition is that the numbers have grown--even considerably--since 2004.  My intuition is that they may well be growing larger right now due to the outrageous partisan political behavior of the U.S. Catholic bishops in recent weeks, their attack on the human rights of gay and lesbian persons, their attacks on the healthcare needs of women, etc.

And my intuition is that the number of Catholics walking away may also be increasing due to the complicity of influential "liberal" Catholic centrist media and academic commentators with the bishops in their recent immoral actions in the public square.  For my own part, I can say I'm very much alienated by those centrist fellow Catholics who continue to provide cover for the bishops in their immoral actions.

I have been angered by their willingness to keep a self-defeating tribal-parochial mentality alive in the Catholic church, when Vatican II called on us to begin dismantling that mentality and to engage secular culture in a less defensive and more positive way.  I am angered that they persist in calling on "us Catholics" to invest energy in fighting enervating and unneeded culture-war battles about issues that have long since been resolved--e.g., whether contraceptive use is morally permissible or even a positive moral good.

I've been disheartened by the belligerence of centrist Catholics who refuse to admit that they made a seriously wrong decision in endorsing the bishops' religious liberty crusade, after the bishops' own intractable belligerence gives those centrists every reason to admit they were wrong.  I've been disheartened by the lack of grace in the way the bishops' centrist co-belligerents keep right on pressing the bishops' arguments, even now.

A graceless, stubborn intransigence . . . . And a graceless, stubborn intransigence which extends to the many brother and sister Catholics who do not view the issue of contraception as these centrists do.  Many of whom have already been alienated by the hostility of the pastoral leaders of the church to survivors of clerical sexual abuse, to women, to gays and lesbians . . . . Alienated and wounded, and in need of grace.  Not belligerence.

Not war.

And so I'm interested to read one of those Catholic centrists, Michael Sean Winters, now writing at NCR about what used to be called "lapsed Catholics."  Winters recognizes the pastoral urgency of addressing these brother and sister Catholics and their needs.

What I'd like to ask him very plainly though, and what I'd like to ask all the other centrist Catholics who continue running interference for the U.S. Catholic bishops in their immoral and unpastoral behavior in the public square, is the following:

What do you intend to do about your own complicity in the actions and attitudes that are driving many people from the Catholic church, and giving it such an egregious black eye in the public square these days?

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