Sunday, October 30, 2016

How many Catholics are there in the U.S.?

There are 69,470,686 registered Catholics in the United States (22% of the US population) as of 2015, according to the American bishops’ count in their Official Catholic Directory 2014. A Pew Forum report counted only 50.9 million adult Catholics as of 2014, forming about 20.8% of the U.S. population. This is down from 54.3 million and 23.9% in 2007 (Note, this survey did not include children under 18). How does one account for the discrepancies between the Pew survey and the bishops’ tally? Certainly the bishops counted children under 18 in their statistics, which comes from a census done in most parishes every October, the so-called October count. I have never known a priest to under count the house.

When considering the closing of churches, most of us assume that to lose population in a parish is to be at risk. The survey also found that the Catholic population is aging. There is a higher percentage of the elderly than the young. In addition, young people who are raised Catholic are much more prone to leave the Church than are the elderly, Hispanics are particularly prone to leaving the Church when they migrate to this country, abandoning it not for atheism, but for Evangelical and Pentecostal forms of Christianity. In 2007, 58% of Hispanics in the United States identified as Catholic.

In 2015, less than half of Hispanics (48%) in the US identify as Catholic. These numbers are pretty grim. My own take is far grimmer than that of the Pew survey. People who self-identify as Catholics divorce and re-marry at the same rate as non-Catholics. They abort the child in the womb at the same rate as non-Catholics. They practice artificial birth control at the same rate as non-Catholics. They live in concubinage (that’s a ten-dollar word for shacking up together) at the same rate as non-Catholics. And a lot of them go to Mass and Holy Communion at the same rate as non-Catholics, which is not at all.  About 1/4 of Catholics go to Mass on a regular basis, and as far as I am concerned if you don’t go to Mass you are not a Catholic. You may have a heartbeat and a baptismal certificate but you are not a Catholic. I admit that my refusing to acknowledge the Catholicism of people who don’t participate in the faith flies in the face of the “once Catholic, always Catholic” standard so cherished by Catholic statisticians, but I would maintain that this very attitude is part of the problem. We refuse to let them go, and when people say “I know some pretty bad Catholics”, we just shrug our shoulders.  It’s like counting a dead carp floating down the river as a fish. It has ceased to be fish. It has become a stench. Here’s a real stinker:

There is an organization called “Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good” which claims to be a non-partisan, Roman Catholic, non-profit 501(c) (3) organization in the United States. Its aim is to promote, “the fullness of the Catholic social tradition in the public square”. The organization was founded in 2005 by Tom Perriello, but just recently uncovered e-mails linked to a politician named John Podesta to the organization as one of its founders. Podesta, in a private email claimed to have founded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in order to organize Catholic opposition to Church teaching, particularly about gender issues and abortion. Apparently these faithful Catholics think that the Church oppresses women. One of these liberators of women from the shackles of Catholic medievalism is one Eric McFadden. Allow me to quote the Catholic news agency:

Dublin, Ohio, Jan 14, 2009 / 09:22 pm (CNA). -
The former director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for the governor of Ohio was arrested Wednesday for his involvement in an online prostitution ring. Eric McFadden, who has also formerly served as the president of the organization Catholics for Faithful Citizenship and spokesperson for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, will face seven prostitution-related charges tomorrow in court. Eric McFadden, 46, the former head of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives for Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, was arrested this morning and faces two counts of promoting prostitution, two counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor, two counts of pandering obscenity involving a nude minor and one count of compelling prostitution, 

I would simply venture that Mr. McFadden may not be the one to reform the way the Catholic Church treats women. I would also venture that perhaps he is not really a Catholic, except that he perhaps had some Catholic ancestors who are currently rolling in their graves. Let me retool the statistics with my own narrow-minded and judgmental methodology.  If Pew is right and there are 50 million Catholics in the country, and if I am right that only the 1/4 of Catholics merit the name by actually participating in church, then there are only 12 or 13 million Catholics in the country.  That’s 4% of the country. That means there is no Catholic vote.

I am trying to point out by means of all these statistics and stories is not that we are about to undergo sweeping changes. The sweeping changes have already happened. We just haven’t acknowledged them. We continue to believe that we are an important element in society. To the vast bulk of the American population we are at best an irrelevance. More often than not we are a frightening throwback to the days of the rack and the thumb screw.   

Just this past Sunday, dressed in Roman collar and black suit I was on my way to some reception or other in a shopping mall restaurant and people just gaped as if Darth Vader was walking by, save for one fellow who looked at me and grimaced as if he had just eaten something past its expiration date. So what to do? Sell the real estate? (which I suspect is quietly happening everywhere in the country.)   

I am so tired of thinking that if we demanded less, they would all just come home. I was told 50 years ago that those who left would all come home when they settled down. Now we are waiting for their grandchildren to come back to the faith. It just ain’t gonna happen. Demanding less and less hasn’t worked. Perhaps we should try demanding more, like demanding that the person who claims to be Catholic actually be Catholic by striving to follow the demands of the Gospel even if, as in my case, imperfectly.

Next week: smaller may be better.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Things seemed better in the old days...

Maybe you don’t want to read this. It’s a little pessimistic)

I suppose it is the right of old men to reminisce. I have been thinking of the world of my childhood. I grew up in a suburb that is now rather elegant, but when I was a child it was almost the end of the train line to downtown. It wasn’t quite rural, but Groucho Marx and his brothers once had a chicken farm there and we did go picking sweet corn in the next town over, which has also become a rather pricey place to live.

Life was as it was always meant to be. We would sit on our front porches on hot summer days, because those days were pre-air conditioning and some of them even pre-TV! At night we would quite literally “watch” the radio.  There was one telephone in the front hall. It was black. There was one car in the garage. It was old. In summer, all the kids would rush out of the houses after breakfast and chores, and sometimes morning Mass. We would hike in the forest; play in the street or in the parish parking lot (which we called the playground). We would pick mulberries in summer and apples in the fall. We would skate on the old mill pond in winter, or go canoeing on the creek in summer. There were ball games and camping trips and dances in the school hall.

We were not rich, and no one in our neighborhood was rich. We were seven kids, and most of the people in our neighborhood had families that size. Clothes were patched, and handed down and we ate a lot of hamburger and tuna casserole. Everything except the drugstore was closed on Sunday and after church life was the Sunday funnies and napping on the worn old sofa in the front room and perhaps going outside after a big Sunday dinner to play “ghost tag” in the twilight and maybe even catch lightning bugs.

The war had been over for a decade, but we worried about the godless communists. Life revolved around the parish and things deemed to be the way they were supposed to be. They were the way they had been before the wars and the way they would always be. I had no idea that the civilization that so valued friends, faith and family, had died 30 years before I was born and I was just enjoying a memory, a ghost of a world that may once actually have existed, but was now evaporating like a morning mist.

Europe and her colonies committed suicide in the first and second world wars. The monarchs and the potentates threw it all away out of greed and arrogance. Women lost their unique dignity as mothers and teachers to become industrial wage slaves as their husbands went off to kill and die for the glory of the cause, the nation, and the wars to end all wars. Certainly there were sweat shops cotton mills and rural poverty and the dignity of woman had been assailed, but what was new was that the masculinization of the world was now a virtuous thing. The enslavement of women by the industrial revolution was made virtuous by war. After all, everyone had to do their part for the war effort, and mother dearest became Rosie the Riveter. The violence of a century of war made the domestic virtues of peace seem obsolete.

Masculinity was in. Femininity was out. Women are and always have been the mainstays of culture. The authors, the scientists, the explorers may have been men, but the creators of stability have always been women.  What good is a civilization to the homeless? When there are no women, there is no civilization. There has never been a feminist movement. There has been a masculinist movement. The things men do are important. Doctors, lawyer soldiers, these are important. A wife and mother?  What good is that? So it is war that has killed western womanhood, and thus killed civilization. Where there are no women there is no future. Only a woman can give life. We are facing perhaps the greatest crisis in the history of humanity. For the first time in human history the population is beginning to shrink, not because of war or natural disaster, but because of a failure of motherhood.

Beginning around 2050, it is quite possible that the population of the world will begin to shrink, and to do so irretrievably. When there are no children there is no economy. Economies are what allow people to do things like eat and live in buildings. Like the pied piper of Hamlin, the lure of wealth and power, the lure of war, and masculine aggression have stolen all the children leaving a dying civilization of old people. 

We in the Church are living in as much of a fool’s paradise as I did in the 1950’s. With the death of European civilization, the Church in Europe has also died. She died in the trenches of World War One, when men blamed God for the disaster they had caused. They came back with shaken faith, and now perhaps four percent of Europe and her colonies all told, believe in the Catholic faith in any realistic way. The Church flourishes in Africa and Asia, but not in sad, suicidal Europe and her suicidal children in her former colonies. 

We in the European/Colonial Church still fool ourselves by carrying on business as usual. I wonder how long it is before a person who has died realizes he is dead? It seems some ghosts linger for years. I suppose they go to ghost meetings to discuss the situation.

Happy Halloween.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How do I answer those who say that Science has proven there is no God?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

How do I deal with atheist friends who say that Science has proven there is no God?

Yours ever, 
Bea Liever

Dear Bea,

Just tell them they are wrong. God most certainly exists. In English, God is defined as the Supreme Being. Just ask them, “You mean there is no Supreme Being?” Don’t ask them about a creator or an almighty spirit or a Flying Spaghetti Monster, for that matter. Is there a Supreme Being? 

God is simply the greatest reality. If the universe is somehow self-creating and self-perpetuating, then I suppose the universe is God. Perhaps this Supreme Being is an unfeeling unthinking cluster of cosmic forces. Perhaps God is existence itself. The question is not, “Does God exist?” God exists by definition. The greatest reality is, by very definition, God. So the real question is not, “Does God exist?” The question should be, “What is the nature of God?’

I am an adherent of a strange religion that claims the essence, the heart, of the Supreme Being came into the world 2,000 years in the form of a Jewish carpenter. He was born in a barn and was publicly executed as a troublemaker by the civil and religious authorities. Not only was he publicly executed, but he was tortured to death over the course of about six hours. This all powerful Supreme Being was pinned to a cross just as a scientist might pin a beautiful butterfly to the backing of a display case. Why would I or anyone else for that matter think that this blood-spattered loser was the Supreme Being?

Simple He rose from the dead.

We hold that he was life that couldn’t die. 500 of his followers claimed they saw him after he came back to life. Most of them were so convinced that they were killed for claiming that it was true and they never recanted or backtracked. They preferred death. He has been appearing ever since. I know two or three people who claim to have seen him. I have never seen him, at least in human form, but I feel his presence around me and know in my heart that he is very much alive. If you look a little more deeply at this absurd religion that says God could be abused and victimized by a tyrannical government you may just find the most beautiful idea in history. The all-powerful Supreme Being became powerless for the sake of love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son… (Jn 3:16)

I once heard a story about a poor girl, a Christian, who, having received a scholarship, attended a summer camp for children of privilege. Late one night, sitting around a campfire, the girls were talking about the luxuries they enjoyed. One girl talked about her father’s yacht, the next mentioned her father’s polo ponies, and so on. As the boasting went around the circle, the less privileged girl wondered what she could say. There was no worldly status or luxury in her life. Then she remembered the greatest thing she had. 

When it came her turn to speak, she simply said, “My best friend died for me.”  Her friendship with the Risen Jesus of Nazareth made all the luxuries of the rich seem like cheap baubles. They had things. She had love.  My absurd religion teaches that the Supreme Being, the greatest force in the universe, the creating power that called everything into being, is Love, self-sacrificing Love. We believe that, not only is the supreme reality true love, but that it can be had simply for the asking. It is available to anyone and everyone if a person simply says and means something like, “Lord, I want to know you and to give my life in exchange for yours.” Forget the yammering of philosophers and fanatics for a moment. It really is that simple. Let the greatest reality inside or outside the universe love you. You will most certainly learn to love Him in return.

The Rev. Know-it-all

PS When they challenge your absurd medieval religion, ask your atheist friends if they want to pray with you. They might back off or they might say, “Okay.” Have them close their eyes and then you simply ask God to bless them in words an eight-year-old might use. Say something like, “Dear Jesus, thank you for letting me know you. My friend wants to know you too. Help him (or her) with the problems they face and give them real peace. Thank you.” I’ve done this countless times and more often than not, the results are amazing.