Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In the News: Richard McBrien on Quality of Pastoral Leadership and Exodus of U.S. Catholics from Church, Spiegel on Bishops' Use of Church Resources

And now two more recent articles: first, Richard McBrien’s latest essay at National Catholic Reporter, which catches my eye because it connects important dots as we (but not the bishops: more on that below) think through Pew data showing that a third of American Catholics have exited the Catholic church in recent years. 

McBrien links the exodus to the abysmal quality of pastoral leadership in the Catholic church in the U.S. in the restorationist period in which first John Paul II and now his successor Benedict have appointed bishops primarily on the basis of their unquestioning party-line loyalty, and not because of their pastoral (or intellectual or ethical) acumen.

McBrien writes:

If anyone wants to know why there has been so much hemorrhaging from the Catholic church in recent years (the Pew Study of U.S. religions has put the number at 3 in 10) and why there is so much demoralization among those who have thus far remained, we need look no further than the general pattern of appointments to, and promotions within, the U.S. hierarchy over the past three decades.

And he’s right. People are leaving in droves not because (as the Catholic right alleges) they want lax, undemanding doctrine and lax ethical guidelines.  They’re leaving in droves to find good pastoral leaders

The current regime is not providing those and it doesn’t intend to provide them.  Not when it puts fidelity to the party line—to any sneeze or cough of the Vatican—above pastoral skill, sound intellectual preparation for leadership, and moral soundness. 

No one’s studying the Pew data, of course.  No one in the church’s current regime is doing so, that is.  It’s too embarrassing, too much of an indictment of restorationist Catholicism.

Better to pretend that the exodus is not taking place, that those leaving are detritus that deserves to be washed out of the pure church, and that cinching up our belts and making hard-line statements about vulnerable minority groups like gays and lesbians will carry the day . . . . Emphasis on pretend.

And, as an aside—but a strongly related one—I highly recommend Anna Catherin Loll and Peter Wensierski’s recent eye-opening article in Spiegel about the wealth of the Catholic church in Germany, and how many German bishops are using that wealth.  As Loll and Wensierski note, while bishops routinely pass on the costs of economic hard times to the laity, they themselves continue frequently to live very high on the hog, indeed.   For the laity, closed churches and schools and loss of jobs in Catholic institutions.  For bishops, lavish new palaces and retirement homes.

Something’s wrong with the picture of pastoral leadership in the restorationist moment of Catholic life.