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April 20, 2005



Thanks, Amy. I made a comment on some other blog that I didn't understand why everyone assumes that the "springtime" of the Church was necessarily going to be equated with larger numbers of Catholics. Didn't receive a positive response. Glad to see I'm not the only one willing to admit the possibility that that may be how things play out.

Rod Dreher

That's actually what then-Cdl. Ratzinger said about the "new springtime" in his 2003 EWTN interview with Raymond Arroyo. Excerpt:

...And my idea is that really the springtime of the Church will not say that we will have in a near time buses of conversions, that all peoples of the world will be converted to Catholicism. This is not the way of God. The essential things in history begin always with the small, more convinced communities. So, the Church begins with the 12 Apostles. And even the Church of St. Paul diffused in the Mediterranean are little communities, but this community in itself is the future of the world, because we have the truth and the force of conviction. So, I think also today it should be an error to think now or in 10 years with the new springtime, all people will be Catholic. This is not our future, nor our expectation. But we will have really convinced communities with élan of the faith, no? This is springtime — a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith.

Raymond: But, smaller numbers? In the macro?

Cardinal: Smaller numbers, I think. But from these small numbers we will have a radiation of joy in the world. And so, it’s an attraction, as it was in the old Church. Even when Constantine made Christianity the public religion, there were a small number of percentage at this time; but it was clear, this is the future. So we can live in the future, just give us a way in a different future. And so, I would say, if we have young people really with the joy of the faith and this radiation of this joy of the faith, this will show to the world, “Even if I cannot share it, even if I cannot convert it at this moment, here is the way to live for tomorrow."

As for me, I want no one to leave the Church. I do want priests and bishops to start preaching the Gospel and the Catholic faith as if they believed it. A non-Catholic journalist friend said to me today that he's been to a number of Catholic masses in connection with his beat in recent years, and all of them "seem lifeless and dispirited, like people were only there out of habit."

I credit this reporter's powers of observation.

Loren Z

There is a large number of people who have already left the church in spirit. It will only be a short time before they leave the church in body.

This is nothing to rejoice over, it is a simple fact. I agree with the pope that Christianity is to get to be a smaller community of faithful and devout and from there we will have the opportunity to grow.

You cannot pretend there is a big tent when there is a group who openly reject the church and all it stands for as it is. And as far as kicking people out, it will be imperative that the soul-destroyers (the devil's 5th column) that exists within the church in all it's institutions will have to be removed from any positions of influence and authority. They can always repent but should be considered damaged goods.

Rod Dreher

Oh, as I was writing that, one of the readers of the Dallas Morning News blog wrote to comment on one of my Benedict posts there. Read this and take it extremely seriously. This is exactly what this question is about:

My friends who claim to be Catholic but never step inside the church except for maybe Easter and Christmas are very disappointed in the pope. But my question to them - is are you really even Catholic? I don't get why people who are not devout and don't want to be devout, want a pope that thinks their way. Shouldn't the pope serve the people who actually care about the church? I mean there are other liberal religions that tolerate abortion, gay priests, etc... Why don't they go join those religions?

I have investigated joining the Catholic church b/c I like its tenets which 50% of my friends who claim to be Catholic don't seem to even
understand. But what has prevented me from joining is the fact that everyone I know who claims to be Catholic - practically none of them
are devout or even believe what the religion says. Why would I want to bring my kids to a church where everyone is living together, having
pre-marital sex, pro-choice and don't even believe half of the tenets of the church? I know church is a hospital for sinners and everyone should be welcome, but it is also a community of like-minded individuals.

I have been to 5 Catholic weddings where the people are living together and promise to want to raise their kids in the faith when they know they are not going to go to church. I just don't get it. Seems like a joke to me and almost sacreligious.

Catholicism has killed itself by being so tolerant of people who don't really believe the religion.

Mormons have it right. It demands so much of you to be a Mormon, you are either devout or you aren't. And if you're not devout, you would
not claim to be Mormon.

[Rod again:] That question -- "Why would I want to bring my kids to a church where [the worshipers] don't even believe half of the tenets of the church?" -- haunts me, literally, day and night as a Catholic father.


OK,let's start again. Jackboots vs. kum-ba-yah.
Winner take nothing.

daniel duffy

From rebecca Nappi's "Journey to Vatican II" blog:

If we frame this pope selection as the conservatives winning and the liberals losing, it sets up a dynamic that will widen the church "schism" even more. This morning on the Don Imus show on MSNBC, Catholic League president William Donohue was positively gloating. He was saying how "progressives" now have the choice to accept the harder line or basically choose another, more liberal faith tradition. It reminded me of the strident rhetoric in the 1960s by the hawks: America, love it or leave it. Hey Mr. Donohue, I wanted to say, we're not going anywhere. We are church, too.

Let me go one record as saying that Mr Donohue is but one example of a Right Wing Catholic who possesses a meanness of spirit and vindictive judgemental streak more suitable to the Pharisees condemned by Jesus than to a loving Christian.

How do you people manage to be vindictive, mean and defensive even in your hour of triumph?

daniel duffy

And as far as kicking people out, it will be imperative that the soul-destroyers (the devil's 5th column) that exists within the church in all it's institutions will have to be removed from any positions of influence and authority. They can always repent but should be considered damaged goods.

So Loren, would you care to start by kicking out Cardinal Law?



Is William Donohue running this blog? Is he commenting? Then who are "you people?" Was my post evocative of what Donohue said? Please explain, preferably in an email to me.

Zhou De-Ming

The text of the homily in Italian and English.

The only reference to "smaller and more faithful to the Gospel" in this homily might be:

And we must bring a fruit that will remain. All people want to leave a mark which lasts. But what remains? Money does not. Buildings do not, nor books. After a certain amount of time, whether long or short, all these things disappear. The only thing which remains forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity. The fruit which remains then is that which we have sowed in human souls - love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching the heart, words which open the soul to joy in the Lord. Let us then go to the Lord and pray to him, so that he may help us bear fruit which remains.

The article Amy cites has at the end: "Ratzinger has written that the Catholic Church of the 21st century must likely reconcile itself to being smaller and less powerful in geopolitics while leaving less room for internal dissent." But there are no references.

I have seen various references (like John Allen) which say things like:

Ratzinger’s governing metaphor for the church of the future is the mustard seed – it may have to be smaller to be faithful, what he calls a “creative minority.”

But still no clear references.

The "creative minority" phrase seems to come up most in Ratzinger's talks on Europe, such as this reported in Chiesa.it:

"We do not know what will happen in Europe in the future. The Charter of fundamental rights may be a first step, a sign that Europe is deliberately seeking again its soul. In this, we must agree with Toynbee that the destiny of a society always depends upon creative minorities. Christian believers should conceive of themselves as such a creative minority, and help Europe to recover the best of its heritage, and thus be at the service of all of humanity."

I just don't see where this comes to any sort of exclusivism.

Could somebody provide some clear references to where Pope Benedict XVI (or as Cardinal Ratzinger) actually spoke about the church smaller or remnant in an exclusionary sense?

Oh, I see Rod posted something already about smaller. But even there is seems to be talking about future growth ("springtime--a new life in very convinced persons with joy of the faith") in terms of quality rather than future growth in quantity.

I still don't see any exclusivism or asking for anyone to leave. I do see a call for deeper conversion (a very Benedictine idea, by the way).


Started this Catholic war is.

James Kabala

The ideal outcome, of course, would be for "bad Catholics," "cafeteria Catholics," or whatever you want to call them to become true Catholics. I suppose that for them to leave the Church is better than for them to corrupt it from within, but it should never be regarded as the ideal outcome.

daniel duffy

Sorry Amy, I should have written "How do those people..."


Who isn't a bad Catholic, James?


Now, why did this come to mind?

(a song by Tom Lehrer)

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks;
To hate all but the right folks
Is an old established rule.

But during National Brotherhood Week,
National Brotherhood Week,
Lena Horne and Sheriff Clark are dancing cheek to cheek.
It's fun to eulogize
The people you despise
As long as you don't let 'em in your school.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It's American as apple pie.

But during National Brotherhood Week,
National Brotherhood Week,
New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans 'cause it's very chic.
Step up and shake the hand
Of someone you can't stand,
You can tolerate him if you try!

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews!

But during National Brotherhood Week,
National Brotherhood Week,
It's National Everyone-Smile-At-One-Another-Hood Week.
Be nice to people who
Are inferior to you.
It's only for a week, so have no fear;
Be grateful that it doesn't last all year!

Tom Harmon


I think your post misses a very important pastoral point. There must be a different way we approach the folks who struggle with and have doubts about Church teaching but try to be obediant and the people who outrightly reject Church teaching. Someone very close to me struggles with same-sex attraction and the Church's position on homosexuality,. She doesn't understand the teaching, she struggles with it, but she also tries to be an obediant daughter of the Church, and assents to the Church even in this very, very hard issue. It is an honor and a blessing for me to know her. But there are others who reject Church teaching completely and have neither the will nor the desire to to be obediant and to let the Church teach them. How ought we to approach these different types of people, pastorally? Before giving my own ideas, I'd like to hear others'.


My take on this question is that we're probably in for a smaller church one way or another. (aside... whatever side is perceived to be with less influence will blame the other). Most churches I attend have a pretty high average age. As these folks leave us, there will be fewer folks in the pews (by their choice). If at this point, we are a muddled mess of contradictions or heresy, it will be hard to come up with much of an excuse for even existing. In this situation, things go from bad to worse.

If on the other hand, we find a reasonable common orthodoxy to unite around, there will be a faith to hold onto and rejoice in even if we are an embattled minority. This is what I think BXVI means by the mustard seed.

From this mustard seed, a vibrant orthodoxy will be able to evangelize because in opposition to a post-modern world in pain, we will have the only real answers.

Keep in mind that although these events are described in sequence, there is no reason that they cannot happen simultaneously.

Rod Dreher

Well, that's funny, WRY, but it's only meaningful in this context if the Catholic faith is not about holiness, but about everybody getting together.

This matters to me profoundly, not because I relish the thought of booting anybody out of the Church, but because I want to become a saint, and I want my children to be saints -- by which I mean I want us to become holy and go to heaven -- and it is hard for that to happen in a Church where the only thing that seems to matter is that warm bodies show up.

I could survive it on my own, perhaps, through gritted teeth. But I consider nothing I am asked to do more important than helping my sons become holy Christians. I hope it doesn't come to the point where I feel that I have no choice but to leave Catholicism to preserve the Christian faith of my children. If you knew how badly I dreaded the prospect of that day...

Zhou De-Ming

Well, the NatCathRep lead editorial for April 29 (how's that for prophecy?) says:

The record may be unsettling, but we look to the future with hope, trusting that Benedict XVI will moderate an earlier view he spoke that accepting a smaller church, a "creative minority," would be preferable to a church in which every jot of doctrine is not perfectly received.

Again, there is no reference. But, as I mentioned above, the "creative minority" idea is borrowed from historian Toynbee. It is not talking about throwing out people who don't have "robotic" (to use NatCathRep's image) obedience to doctrine.

I have a feeling that this is just taken out of context (because the context is never referenced), and being used as "scare tactics" to smear our new Holy Father Benedict XVI, painting him as someone ready to start throwing people overboard (or have them walk the plank) from the Barque of Peter.

I just don't see that. I see him calling for inward conversion more than outward growth of numbers and organizations and buildings and powers.

Charles M. de Nunzio

"... What struck me today, frankly, as I was scrubbing potatoes - was that the "orthodox" sometimes want to have it both ways. They tout the power and beauty of orthodoxy as a force that is attractive - orthodox dioceses have more vocations, orthodox religious orders are growing, mainline churches are in decline, etc.

But then they hop on Ratzinger's remnant allusions with vigor, as well.

I suppose it could be both ways, but I can't work that out right now."

Trees are pruned that they may yield healthier fruit more abundantly. The weeds in fields and gardens are extripated or killed in order that the good harvest be as abundant as possible....

There is no doubt whatsoever that the thing that ought to be first desired is the conversion of the erring and sinful. But when they prove themselves intractable in their errors, impervious to grace, and determined to poison others besides themselves in the cause of their own wicked self-justification, then they become only chaff fit for the fire. It is not just little children about whom our Lord was concerned when He spoke of millstones for those who scandalize the "little ones."

This gets back to an earlier post here today about the intended spirit of Vatican II. The Apostles themselves did not hesitate to condemn and even excommunicate when milder forms of correction did not suffice to redress emerging errors and problematic Christians. So, then, did their successors down the centuries. How did human nature so radically change that this became a pastorally unwise strategy in 1962?

Dave Mueller

The post that you shared from your friend was very relevant. Struggling with sin is one thing, but rejecting the teachings of the Church outright is another.

Tom Harmon is right...there is an urgent need to evangelize the pew-sitters. I think it needs to start from the pulpit, and could take the form of homilies about the authority of the Church to speak in Jesus' name...based off of Matthew 16:18-19, Luke 10:16 or other passages.

In the absence of this, it is easy for the pew-sitter to make his own opinion paramount. To be blunt, 90% of Catholics don't really have any solid idea of what the Catholic Church teaches about Herself, and we all swim in a Protestant/individualist sea. This means that, by default, they are going to view the Church through that Protestant/individualist prism, i.e. "I'll take all the input and then decide for myself. *I* am the master of the universe."

Mark Thompson-Kolar

Comment from a former Catholic (now a conservative Lutheran). I'm possibly an example of how lukewarm believers inside the Catholic Church damage it. I spent much of my High School and College years around very lukewarm Catholics and heard a lot about the Big Bang, and how the Bible might not be true. Clever discussions about how the Red Sea really didn't "part." Knew almost nobody of deep devotion to the faith, and almost no one who attended church regularly except my much older relatives, who complained about the Latin being gone. Heard nothing about the Bible after 5th grade CCD (except the readings in church, of course). The last Catholic Mass I attended had the priest using "Her" to refer to God. That was the last straw. At 20, I decided I had to find a faith that preached the Bible, studied it and didn't seem filled with people who acted ashamed of their church life. I look back at that time and believe I acted in great haste and would probably do things differently, but the recollections of how lukewarm everything felt is stark, especially when I compare it to most of my Protestant worship experiences in conservative congregations, where Jesus is proclaimed crisply and solidly. There certainly is a degree of lukewarmness and liberal weirdness in *every* denomination, including all the Lutheran ones I've been members in, but when the lukewarmness overwhelms the core doctrines, it's huge trouble for the serious believers. I truly mean no offense here; I hope no one takes this message as Catholic-bashing; it's not at all meant as that. Just my experience of 15 years ago that led to my exodus out.

Fr. Ronald M. Vierling

Alot to respond to in this thread.

The Church, in praxis, has always been composed of believers, half-believers, and hangers-on. The difference today, however, is that the half-believers and hangers-on claim official status in the Church, as if partial acceptance of the creed or the moral doctrine was sufficient for both salvation and 'good' Catholic status.

Rod, concerning liturgy, I could not agree more with your non-Catholic friend. I have been a resident priest in three different parishes (I am assigned full-time to Catholic education) over the span of the past nine years, and the liturgical life in all three has been strictly ho-hum: solemnities celebrated as if it were a Tuesday morning Mass in Ordinary time. No progressive solemnity here. For most Catholics, their sole contact with the Church is Sunday Mass (if even that). How sad that in most parishes the usual experience of Catholics is a banal, 'get them in and get them out' liturgy. I can readily understand why some of the faithful either fall away or find their spiritual nourishment elsewhere.


I don't think that Benedict XVI would deny that the "missionary thrust ... belongs to the very nature of the Christian life." I don't think that he would deny that this means that we must work for Christian unity, since Jesus prayed, "that they may all be one...so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21). I don't think that he would deny that this also means that we must actively recognize the "'seeds of the Word' present in various customs and cultures," since they are preparation for a "full maturity in Christ" (Redemptoris Missio).

We must, then, hope and work for a larger Church because we believe, concerning the Gospel, "all people are searching for it, albeit at times in a confused way, and have a right to know the value of this gift and to approach it freely" (ibid). We cannot avoid the sometimes disconcerting, risky, and unpopular obligations of proclamation, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue in order to concentrate on some sort of institutional hygiene or security.

I believe that Benedict XVI is saying that we simply must realize these obligations without being preoccupied about our immediate success, which, at least in Western Europe, might remain maddeningly elusive in the short term. There is something very profound about this.

In his enthronement sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said something on which I have spent a great deal of time reflecting:

"About twelve years ago, I was visiting an Orthodox monastery, and was taken to see one of the smaller and older chapels. It was a place intensely full of the memory and reality of prayer. The monk showing me around pulled the curtain from in front of the sanctuary, and there inside was a plain altar and one simple picture of Jesus, darkened and rather undistinguished. But for some reason at that moment it was as if the veil of the temple was torn in two: I saw as I had never seen the simple fact of Jesus at the heart of all our words and worship, behind the curtain of our anxieties and our theories, our struggles and our suspicion. Simply there; nothing anyone can do about it, there he is as he has promised to be till the world's end."

Jesus is "simply there; nothing anyone can do about it," and we are to remain faithful to this Presence, even if our efforts are not yielding positive newspaper headlines - even if the Church appears to be shrinking. If we have learned anything over the past few days it is that Benedict XVI is not a Nazi. Interestingly, Fr James Alison has written about how Christian liturgy differs from Nazi ritual (the Nuremberg rally), because we recognize that Jesus is "simply there."

Fr Alison writes, "In a Nuremberg rally the purpose is to create a sense of togetherness, of new belonging, so as to inspire something to happen in the future." But, in Christian worship, "The struggle is over; the kingdom has been inaugurated and obtained." Alison continues, "In the Nuremberg model, the central apotheosis has to be produced by careful orchestration, a deliberate build up of fascination and mimetic intensity in the worshipping crowd, so that in their eyes the Führer really does acquire an aura and a divinity." But Christian worship believes that Jesus is "simply there," and does not need a manufactured achievement nor an apotheosis. The Nuremberg model also builds up "the unanimity of those who feel themselves victimized," through the "propagation of a comforting myth" about having been betrayed by scapegoats - Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals. Christian worship strips away our "comforting myths," by revealing that our scapegoat was the Son of God.

So Nazi (and, perhaps more generally, "pagan") worship needs to be confirmed by the sense of ineluctable forces, the promise of a mythic future, a ritual apotheosis and a consoling revelation, all held together with chthonic enthusiasm. Thus, we have Bruderschaft, marching bands, uniforms, and intoxicating music. Christian worship disdains all of that - we know that Jesus Christ is "simply there," and all we ever need to say is "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed."

This means that we can remain faithful as we continue our proclamation and dialogue, even if the Church seems to be presently growing smaller. We should not wish this, but it should not disrupt our faith in the Risen Lord either. Jesus is "simply there; nothing anyone can do about it, there he is as he has promised to be till the world's end," even if the crowds and media are absent.



Cornelius AMDG

I suspect that Rod may well end up leaving the Church. Not that I think such a move would be necessary to raise his sons as holy Christians. The Church is far from perfect but there are clearly places within the Church (even if they are sometimes few and far between) where he could find a community sufficiently orthodox to preserve his kids' faith. (I have 3 small children, and I think about this issue often.) And if he were to leave, it would be a real loss to the Church. I fear he will leave, however, because he seems obsessed with the imperfections in the Church and the imperfect people in the pews next to him, to the point that he is losing nearly all appreciation for the good that is actually present in the Church. His intellectual love for the truth of the Catholic faith is becoming a stumbling block for believing what Jesus promised -- that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Not against the "faith", mind you, but against the Church. Leaving the Church to save one's faith is unthinkable to a Catholic.


It matters to me profoundly too. I have a little boy and I want him to grow up in the faith. But I will NOT tell him that Father is a jerk. Or that he'd better watch it because some priest might abuse him. Or that the bishops are all bad and that the people in the pew beside him are hypocritical subversives. You really do give the impression sometimes that this is what your children must hear. I can't imagine how they could hear that and remain Catholic.
I know I don't have to tell you that you are your children's first teacher in faith. May I suggest that they will not form their attitudes by how well you teach the catechism but by how they see you express you own attitudes toward the church?
You mention leaving the church. Would you allow me to ask - in love and charity - whether one who makes this statement is already halfway out the door? Is everything really riding on Benedict XVI? I'm afraid you are going to be disappointed. I don't say that with glee, because I want no one to leave the church. But Benedict cannot do it alone. He needs us. He needs our joy lived out in the world. I truly believe many positive things are going to come from this pontificate.


Charles Nunzio terms unbelievers "chaff fit for the fire." So much for the dignity of all humans.


From Pope B's homily for the cardinals today, via the comments on jimmyakin.org:

"....The death of the Holy Father John Paul II, and the days which followed, were for the Church and for the entire world an extraordinary time of grace. The great pain for his death and the void that it left in all of us were tempered by the action of the Risen Christ, which showed itself during long days in the choral wave of faith, love and spiritual solidarity, culminating in his solemn funeral.

"We can say it: the funeral of John Paul II was a truly extraordinary experience in which was perceived in some way the power of God Who, through His Church, wishes to form a great family of all peoples, through the unifying force of Truth and Love. In the hour of death, conformed to his Master and Lord, John Paul II crowned his long and fruitful pontificate, confirming the Christian people in faith, gathering them around him and making the entire human family feel more united.

"How can one not feel sustained by this witness? How can one not feel the encouragement that comes from this event of grace?"
"Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel stimulated to tend toward that full unity for which Christ hoped in the Cenacle [Upper Room]. Peter's Successor knows that he must take on this supreme desire of the Divine Master in a particularly special way. To him, indeed, has been entrusted the duty of strengthening the brethren.

"Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that Peter bathed with his blood, the current Successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly toward the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition; this is his compelling duty. He is aware that to do so, expressions of good feeling are not enough. Concrete gestures are required to penetrate souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that inner conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road to ecumenism.

"...It is before [Christ], Supreme Judge of all the living, that each of us must stand, in the awareness that one day we must explain to Him what we did and what we did not do for the great good that is the full and visible unity of all His disciples.

"The current Successor of Peter feels himself to be personally implicated in this question and is disposed to all in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism...

"The Church today must revive within herself an awareness of the task to present the world again with the voice of the One Who said: 'I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.' In undertaking this ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to bring the light of Christ to shine before the men and women of today: not his own light, but that of Christ.

"With this awareness, I address myself to everyone, even those who follow other religions or who are simply seeking an answer to the fundamental questions of life and have not yet found it. I address everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in a search for the true good of mankind and of society.

"From God I invoke unity and peace for the human family and declare the willingness of all Catholics to cooperate for true social development, one that respects the dignity of all human beings...."


Anyway, it doesn't sound like the Pope is preparing to throw the bums out. He wants to wake the bums up and bring them inside, more like.

So much for evil evil Pope B.


Rod is truly struggling with the contradiction of believing deeply in the faith as carried by Popes JPII and now BXVI (and carried by tradition and scripture from the apostles) and then finding everyday dissent or more often disregard in the actual Roman Catholic churches that he attends. This is a real problem that many of us face.

He does us all a service by bearing witness publicly to his struggle and asking for our support and encouragement. It seems he only wants to find some small place in this huge church that he can practice the faith as it is clearly defined and raise his boys there. In addition (and if I'm putting words in your mouth please correct me Rod) he would like his bishop to encourage these efforts instead of threatening to curtail them.

If you really think that this it too much to ask for, I respectfully ask you to reconsider.

I for one would consider it a loss if he finds that he has to leave the Church.

Patrick Rothwell

"Why would I want to bring my kids to a church where everyone is living together, having
pre-marital sex, pro-choice and don't even believe half of the tenets of the church? I know church is a hospital for sinners and everyone should be welcome, but it is also a community of like-minded individuals."

I guess its hard for me to relate to this objection because (a) I'm used to this sort of thing because I grew up in a non-Catholic church which had all sorts of believers, half-believers, and Walter Pater-esque agnostics who liked the quaint liturgy and (b) the entire sacramental system of the Catholic Church is predicated on the fact that 99.99 percent of the people in the pew don't practice their religion perfectly or are "cafeteria Catholics" at various times. Not only is Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism like this, but so is Orthodoxy in Orthodox countries (I think) and state Lutheran churches. I understand the objection, but it just doesn't correspond to my experience of "Church."

I suspect that lurking behind the assumption of Rod's friend is a Reformed Protestant ecclesiology, not a Catholic one. I think that it is a working assumption of many Catholics in the United States as well, which is not surprising given that we are - at heart - a Reformed Protestant country.

Franklin Jennings

I was going to post as anonymous, but I may as well say it out loud with my name attached. I am NOT a bad catholic.

I am a terribly, dreadfully, horrible one. Period, end of story.

I hope our hostess will forgive intemperate things I have said in the past, as well as anyone else I have hurt or offended. I cannot remember what I said, but I know those things were intemperate, not to mention mean and nasty.

I'm just so sad a hero of mine, JPG, had to pass away for me to realise what a truly rotten catholic I am.

To the very core of my being.

If anyone can spare a few seconds for an ejaculation or two in my favor tomorrow morning at 8:45am (eastern time) I will be forever in your debt. I'll be returning to the confessional and trying to shoulder my share of the load. I am sorry for letting go these last many months and letting all of you down. I hope my brothers and sisters can find it in their hearts to forgive me for what I have done to them, the rest of the world, and most importantly, to Our Lord and Lady.

I'm going back to lurker status now, but prayers are always very much appreciated.


Regarding "chaff fit for the fire," and the claim that one's salvation just might depend upon the banishment of the "lifeless and dispirited":

"For the saints, 'Hell' is not so much a threat to be hurled at other people but a challenge to oneself. It is a challenge to suffer in the dark night of faith, to experience communion with Christ in solidarity with his descent into the Night. ... One serves the salvation of the world by leaving one's own salvation behind for the sake of others. In such piety, nothing of the dreadful reality of Hell is denied. Hell is so real that it reaches right into the existence of the Saints. Hope can take it on, only if one shares in the suffering of Hell's night by the side of the One who came to transform our night by his suffering. Here hope does not emerge from the neutral logic of a system. ... It must place its petition into the hands of its Lord and leave it there."

--- Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (1988), 216.

Zhou De-Ming

I don't buy the "chaff fit for the fire" thing. Too extreme.

Sure, the Church has penalties (real penalities!). They are classified as "medicinal" and "expiatory" (Can. 1312), but these, even excommunication, are all within the Church, all within the vine. But no cutting off and throwing into the fire.

St. Augustine, on Psalm 52, speaks of both good and bad in the Church, and that none will be chaff thrown into the fire:

Despair we not then of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven, when we see them engaged in any of Babylon's matters, doing something earthly in republic earthly: nor again let us forthwith congratulate all men that we see doing matters heavenly; because even the sons of pestilence sit sometimes in the seat of Moses, of whom is said, "What things they say, do ye: but what things they do, do not: for they say, and do not." Those, amid earthly things, lift up heart unto heaven, these, amid heavenly words, trail heart upon earth. But there will come time of winnowing, when both are to be severed with greatest diligence, in order that no grain may pass over unto the heap of chaff that is to be burned,... So long as then now it is mingled, hear we thence our voice, that is, voice of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven (for to this we ought to aspire, to bear with evil men here, rather than be borne with by good men): and let us conjoin ourselves to this voice, both with ear and with tongue, and with heart and work.

That sounds like a good approach to me. Let us "bear with evil men here," and conjoin ourselves to the voice of the citizens of heaven "both with ear and with tongue, and with heart and work."

Cornelius AMDG

I'm sorry, Steve, I just don't buy that there is not one orthodox parish (Novus Ordo, Eastern Catholic, or indult traditionalist) or one lay movement (Opus Dei, Legionaries of Christ, etc.) in the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area that is good enough for Rod to raise his kids as holy Catholic Christians. If he does feel that way, he will never be satisfied with the Church and will ultimately leave. As I said, I think that would be a great loss for the Church.

Jimmy Huck

Hello, all - I have only cursorily read through this and previous comment boards on the topic; but I want to make it very clear that I am one of those "back pew" Catholics (in the sense that I, as a "faithful dissenter" from some of the Church's teachings, find myself supposedly on the "outs" with orthodox hardliners). I also want to make it clear that I will also be attending Mass regularly, partaking of Communion, and participating in my faith in ways that I always have. My attitude is that the universal Catholic Church, Benedict XVI's desires or prognostications notwithstanding, will just have to continue to tolerate my presence and my voice, and let God do the judging of the state of my soul, because I ain't going away and I won't be silenced. The Catholic Church is my church, too. I'm sorry if that bothers anybody, but that's just the way it's going to be.


Welcome back, Franklin.

Mitchell Hadley

In reference to Mark Thompson-Kolar's comments on having left the Church - Mark, I see no anti-Catholicism in your statement. Although I dislike using the word "victim", in a way you and those like you are victims of bad teaching. The great scandal in the Church over the past decades has been how good people like you have been, in a sense, "driven" out of the Church by those who purport to represent Catholic teaching, but who either intentionally or unintentionally misrepresent what the Church actually teaches. I have had friends like you who have left, and in a way it's hard to blame them, when they hear a priest praying the "Our Mother and Father," when they make the Sign of the Cross "in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier."

The culpability of those who leave the Church under such circumstances is, I think, mitigated - it is those whose misrepresentation leads to their leaving who bear the bulk of the culpability. A priest once said that a person is guilty of apostacy when he leaves the Church, knowing that it teaches the truth. But you've never been presented the true teachings of the Church.

It also marks a failure on our part - for we have an obligation to present this truth, and every time someone leaves because of bad teachings or examples, it means we've fallen short in some way.

The whole thing makes me sad, and as always I extend an invitation to anyone who feels this way to come to our church, St. Agnes in St. Paul, or any other orthodox parish. Give us a chance to present the true teachings of Catholicism, which you've never had a chance to appreciate. Don't give up on us yet.

Fr. Ronald M. Vierling

Pity the poor martyrs who shed their blood for nought. If only they knew it was possible to 'dissent' and not jeopardize one's salvation, they could have kept their heads. Aren't we lucky to live in a age of cheap grace? The narrow door has been transformed into a flood gate.


Franklin --

I am praying for you. Please pray for me, also. I'm a sinner, too.

Re: Pope B's first homily

I really feel that Pope B's first homily was rejecting his old idea that the Church would contract. He seems to feel that JPII's funeral was a sign of the way God wants him to go -- towards uniting the Church, pulling in all Christians and all people, giving them love and telling them the truth at the same time.

That doesn't mean the idea of small mustard seed communities is gone. There's a lot in that homily that sounds like he wants all of us to work on _being_ those small mustard seeds, with the Eucharist giving us the strength to do what must be done.

Rod --
Be not afraid. I really believe that things are getting better. I know they are in my parish. There are probably a lot more mustard seeds in your parish than you know. God willing and the creek don't rise, some of the most lackadaisical will become the most fired up, and some of the most foolishly proud will become the most humble. Stick it out and let God work through you, and you'll see great things; and someday, if you keep hungering and thirsting for justice, you will get your fill.

Sr Lorraine

Hi Franklin,

I'll pray for you tomorrow. I don't know why you think you're such a bad Catholic, but the blood of Christ will wash it all away.

Cornelius AMDG

"I suspect that lurking behind the assumption of Rod's friend is a Reformed Protestant ecclesiology, not a Catholic one. I think that it is a working assumption of many Catholics in the United States as well, which is not surprising given that we are - at heart - a Reformed Protestant country."

I think that's right. As Mark Shea has noted, it's a common Protestant belief that the early Church was hunky dory, only to fall to corruption later under the Pope. But take a real, hard look at the divisions, errors, sins, and heresies in the early Church that St. Paul describes and responds to in his epistles. Really look at them and ponder the state of the early Church. Things were a horrible mess from the start. I don't think you can say that things were any better then than they are now. But that mess didn't stop the Church from being an instrument of God's grace and from growing exponentially in faith and numbers.


[I suppose that for them to leave the Church is better than for them to corrupt it from within, but it should never be regarded as the ideal outcome.]

No, not ideal. But a realistic outcome. It isn't ideal that people who die in mortal sin are cast into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his Angels. But many realistically are. Free will is a bitch.

[Charles Nunzio terms unbelievers "chaff fit for the fire." So much for the dignity of all humans. ]

Any dignity a human has comes solely from God. Jesus termed unbelievers 'cockle' fit for the fire also. See Matthew Ch 3.

[Why would I want to bring my kids to a church where [the worshipers] don't even believe half of the tenets of the church?" -- haunts me, literally, day and night as a Catholic father.]

[Rod - This is why I take my children to a Tridentine Indult Mass. My first responsibility is to save my kid's souls, not be pastoral to some oversexed, confused, apostate twit sitting on the pew next to me. I'm a Catholic father, not a missionary, and children are impressionable. There is such a thing as scandal and a proximate occasion of sin. Say an extra Rosary for them and let God handle their doubts and wacky ideas. That's what He's there for after all.]

Donald R. McClarey

"I'm going back to lurker status now, but prayers are always very much appreciated."

Welcome back Franklin! I've missed your insightful comments. I will certainly pray for you, as I hope you will pray for me. All of us poor sinners, humble beggers of God's grace, need all the prayers we can get.

"Pity the poor martyrs who shed their blood for nought. If only they knew it was possible to 'dissent' and not jeopardize one's salvation, they could have kept their heads. Aren't we lucky to live in a age of cheap grace? The narrow door has been transformed into a flood gate."

Well said Father! My sentiments exactly. How much of the spiritual turmoil and misery of our times is because, although people say with their lips "I can reject the teachings of the Church and still be a good Catholic", they realize with their hearts that this is an absurdity, and they are only attempting to fool themselves?

Rod Dreher

As Mark Shea has noted, it's a common Protestant belief that the early Church was hunky dory, only to fall to corruption later under the Pope. But take a real, hard look at the divisions, errors, sins, and heresies in the early Church that St. Paul describes and responds to in his epistles. Really look at them and ponder the state of the early Church.

If the point of this is to say, "Look at history, and be aware that corruption and unbelief has always been part of the Church," that's fine. But too often I hear that as an excuse for indifference; I'm not accusing you of that, it's just that I get so tired of the old "the gates of hell will not prevail against it" line deployed as an excuse not to care about what's happening.

If I were outside the Church, and saw what that woman who wrote to me did -- that Catholicism doesn't seem to make a difference in the lives of the people who profess it -- I think I would conclude quite rationally that the salt had lost its savor. I keep hearing that one reason Evangelicalism (to which I have no attraction, let me be clear, though for which I do have a lot of respect) is growing so fast in Latin America is that men get involved in those churches, and they stop drinking, they stop beating their wives, they start taking care of their families, and so forth.

There is a deep fatalistic current in Catholicism, I've found. It's as if people take their faith for granted, assuming it's always going to be here.

Jimmy Huck

"Pity the poor martyrs who shed their blood for nought. If only they knew it was possible to 'dissent' and not jeopardize one's salvation, they could have kept their heads. Aren't we lucky to live in a age of cheap grace? The narrow door has been transformed into a flood gate."

Padre, I don't need your pity (nor your un-pastoral sarcasm), rather your prayers. See you at the Communion rail on Sunday.

Rod Dreher

(By the way, I'm not going to say anything more about leaving the Church. It was careless of me to start any speculation about that; it distracts from the point of the thread.)

Jimmy Huck

"Well said Father! My sentiments exactly. How much of the spiritual turmoil and misery of our times is because, although people say with their lips "I can reject the teachings of the Church and still be a good Catholic", they realize with their hearts that this is an absurdity, and they are only attempting to fool themselves?"

First, how nice that you know my heart so well as to render me a fool. Second, how doubly nice that the "misery of our times" is because I am a "dissenting" fool. Now that, I must say, is rich!

Mark R

The Church is not meant to be an enclosed entity within the larger framework of human society, she is meant to be human society. We may have the model of a smaller Church, however, because the vast majority of human society may not be listening to the call. Maybe we who consider ourselves orthodox are not practicing what we profess, or actually, truthfully believing what we profess, and thereby being poor examples to the world.
I for one plead guilty.

Donald R. McClarey

"First, how nice that you know my heart so well as to render me a fool."

Jimmy Huck you know the distinction between a fool and fooling yourself. If you do not then you are a fool, and I doubt you are.



Go on and do so, no one is saying otherwise. I'm assuming that since you are striking the noble dissenter pose for our benefit that you conciously reject some core tenent of the Catholic faith. Well, what do you want? A parade? If you want to lie to yourself and claim that you actually are a Catholic when from your posts its clear that you don't even truly see yourself as a faithful Catholic it's no skin of anyone else's nose. However, are you by any chance a priest or deacon or CCD teacher? If so, do you go out of your way to undermine the faith of others? If so, I guess all I can say is "What a schmuck!"

Praying for you,



It seems conversions occur mostly through the heart rather than the head. That means that possessing truth is not as effective one would think. This requires us to love more because love draws.

Zhou De-Ming

Dear Rod,

You really need to stop looking so much at the people (in the pews and behind the altars) and spend more time contemplating Christ. Really.

I spent over 20 years in evangelical Protestant Christianity. Your last comments really sound confused, because

(1) Conversion, a genuine religious turn, changes people ("they stop drinking, they stop beating their wives, they start taking care of their families, and so forth.") I've seen this happen with people coming into or newly "revived" in various Protestant Churches, and people coming into or newly "revived" in the Catholic Church. It is not the Church that makes the difference, it is the individual's life in and with Christ.

(2) Duplicity. I have seen plenty of evangelical Protestants, as well as Catholics (and Buddhists, by the way) for whom their faith "doesn't seem to make a difference in the lives of the people who profess it." I think Catholics and Buddhists are a little more honest about it. I know many evanglical Protestants who, in order to maintain an appearance of sanctity to remain in their church, live "double lives." This is very unhealthy.

There is no "perfect" Church here on earth in our time. The church without "spot or wrinkle" of Eph. 5:27 is something we are working toward, as Christ sanctifies us (Eph. 5:25-26). But it is not yet. Now we get to live with weeds and wheat together, as our Lord wills (Mt 13:30).

And it is the endless search for a perfect Church now that, without a safeguarding ecclesiology, leads to endless Church hopping and also, worse, to endless divisions in the Protestant world, as successive generations of leaders decide "we can do it better," and start a new division.

Contemplate the face of Christ. Build a holy home with your family. Love the Church, and bear (not beat) the weaknesses of your brothers and sisters.

Rich Leonardi

Padre, I don't need your pity (nor your un-pastoral sarcasm), rather your prayers. See you at the Communion rail on Sunday.

Spoken from that lovely spirit of self-assertion, truculence and pride that we've come to know and love from American Catholics.

Regarding your defiance at the Communion rail, be careful, Mr. Huck; God is not mocked.

Sherry Weddell

First of all, the Catholic church in the US is growing steadily, in sheer numbers anyway. We’ve grown 135% since 1950 and are growing right now at an average of 10% every decade. There are 9 million more Catholics at Mass on a given Sunday in 2004 than there were in 1950 (the percentage of Catholics attending Mass has dropped but the overall numbers have grown so much that there are 42% more Catholics in the pews on Sunday than in 1950). There were 850,000 more US Catholics in 2004 than in 2003 (18.8% of them were adult converts) and there is simply no reason to believe that this trend has come to an end. It is a trend that is completely unique in the western world.

We have to remember that talk of steep numeric decline is limited to very specific areas of the Church – Europe, Australia and New Zealand and Canada. It is not true for the US, Africa, Asia, or Latin America. It is, therefore, something of a parochial concern although, understandably, acutely felt for those of us who live or have affinity with the affected areas.

Secondly, there has been, over the past 60 years a massive but largely unheralded work of parish-based evangelization of lay people by lay people in the world – something that has never happened before in the history of the Church. It has been especially powerful in the US. Starting with the Cursillo movement in 1944 in Spain (8 million people have made Cursillos to date) and its many off-shoots; the Life in the Spirit Seminar (coming out of the charismatic renewal and has been attended by 60 million around the world); Christ Renews His Parish (started in Toledo in 1969, over 1 million have attended); Evangelization Retreats (Idaho); SINE (Mexico City); Light of the World (Rockville, IL); Christian Experience Weekends (Dubuque, IA), etc, etc. I have personally interviewed hundreds of Catholics (and Protestants – a number of whom have become Catholic as a result) all over this country whose lives have been radically transformed by going through one of these retreats. And this is in addition to RCIA, which has produced an annual “crop” of 160,000 adult converts every year since 1994.

None of these retreats are traditionalist in orientation but they are definitely evangelizing. People come back to church, start to tithe, to read the Bible, to pray, to fill every class in the parish and diocese, begin to serve, begin to discern vocation, etc. as a result. People start new apostolates, leave their dot.com careers to work with the poor or to commit themselves to evangelize and form other lay apostles, wealthy businessman commit their businesses to Christ and give away fortunes (as did the man whose house guest I was this past weekend). It is happening now – at this very moment – in ordinary parishes in this country to hundreds of thousands of ordinary Catholics.

I don’t know how it happens that I meet people like this nearly every weekend for the past 8 years and yet, St. Blog’s is filled with the conviction that the Church is in an unprecedented nosedive that will have us back in the catacombs within the decade. It simply isn’t true in the US. Is there a tremendous amount of work to be done? Absolutely. Is there a crisis in priestly and religious vocations? Sure, although the new generation coming up is most impressive. Are the majority of adult Catholics in this country intentional disciples? No, probably not. But many millions are and God is doing wonderful things through them. It is a repudiation of the work of the Holy Spirit to say otherwise.

Sr Lorraine

Rod's point that the historical perspective doesn't excuse us from caring is a good one. But still, looking at history helps a lot. I think it was St. Jerome who said, "The world awoke and groaned to find itself Arian." At one point, the majority of bishops were Arian and the few orthodox ones like Athanasius were hounded and sent into exile. Things were a lot worse then. The Council of Nicea was supposed to solve the problem, but Arianism only spread more after the Council (hence Jerome's remark). So it's not surprising that after Vatican II so much confusion and turmoil has spread. Yes, we should work hard to better the situation. But the faith WILL always be there, as Christ promised. He never promised the flock will be big, but he said he will always be with the Church.

Rich Leonardi

Sherry: Those stats get saved to the hard drive for my next op ed. ;-)

Donald R. McClarey

"But many millions are and God is doing wonderful things through them. It is a repudiation of the work of the Holy Spirit to say otherwise."

Thank you Sherry for bring accurate optimism to this discussion. I know I am often too focused on the problems within the Church and overlook the great successes.


Zhou, what Rod is getting at (if I may extrapolate from what he wrote), is that most parishes don't seem terribly interested in whether or not the people in the pews ever undergo conversion, ever experience "a genuine religious turn" that changes them. That's what's so frustrating.

Donald R. McClarey

"bringing accurate optimism". I need to bring a grammar check.


Wasn't there a Malachi Martin novel (maybe Windswept House?) which ends with the new Pope announcing that he will not compromise or go along with arrangment(s), even if it means boiling down the church to its smallest true cohort?

Sr Lorraine

One other point. It would help a lot if priests knew how to preach better and really broke open the Scriptures for the people. A catechist I knew told me last week about her experience in training other catechists. Some parishes here do a separate liturgy of the word for children. Anyway, she's trained them to go deep into the Scriptures and explain them to the children. Well, in one parish a problem arose: some of the parents were going to this children's liturgy of the word because they were getting more spiritually enriched by it than by the pastor's homilies! Some non-Catholic parents even started to enter the RCIA. The pastor was a little miffed, but his preaching skills were not good. Anyway, it shows that people are looking for the Word of God.

Rod Dreher

Zhou, what Rod is getting at (if I may extrapolate from what he wrote), is that most parishes don't seem terribly interested in whether or not the people in the pews ever undergo conversion, ever experience "a genuine religious turn" that changes them. That's what's so frustrating.

Yes. Benedict, in "God And The World," spoke of "things that everyone can see and that are signs that tell us, yes, sanctity is here, and it gives people renewed strength."

We need those signs. I need those signs. Life is hard to bear without them.

Zhou De-Ming

"...most parishes don't seem terribly interested in whether or not the people in the pews ever undergo conversion."

I disagree. Every Mass is a call to conversion, and not only a call, but a way.

No doubt, some don't hear the call. But this is not just a Catholic problem. As I said, I worked for a couple decades in various evangelical Protestant churches. Children are born, and grow in these churches. Conversion is not automatic. These communities are full of stories of the PK (Pastor's Kid) and MK (Missionary Kid) who are the most reprobate and unbelieving.

You cannot force conversion. It is a gift. I believe the Eurcharist is the most constant, clear call to conversion. The communion procession is one of the greatest signs of sanctity in the universe.

Also, in the evangelical Protestant world, the conversion event fades for many, and they go back. I have seen this, the return to drugs, the return to alcohol, the return to adultery. Conversion must be constant, must be renewed. Again, the Eucharist is the best approach I have seen to this, and the sacrament of reconciliation. I know many evangelics who "convert" and "revert" and have nothing but depression and disappointment because their faith community does not have good means to deal with their failures.

Contemplate Christ, especially in the Eucharist.

Frank Sales

What with his post-traumatic stress disorder and nervous anxiety about his sons, I wonder how Rod can function on a day to day basis. I truly wish for him the peace of our Lord. What works for me is to stay in the Church, model Christ as best I can for my kids, teach them the best I can, pray like crazy and trust in God. Lying awake and fretting about predatory priests and the malign influence of lukewarm Catholics doesn't seem to be the most productive activity.


Remember that Benedict XVI presented himself as a champion against a "Dictatorship of Relativism". His was an uncompromising offer to the college of Cardinals. Many said his hard line would doom his chances of being selected. He was elected on only the second day of the conclave. I'm 30 years younger than he and I don't think there is a chance that I could stand up to the challenge he has before him.

Let's offer him our prayers and hopes and work in the vinyard. And how about a little time.

Cheeky Lawyer

I believe the Pope speaks of the smaller Christian community in either Salt of the Earth or the Ratzinger Report. And Rod provided the link above.

Daniel H. Conway

Mr. Dreher,

I actually think that you have little to fear. Your children have should have few complaints, souds lke you are teaching your children about the richness of your faith. The "little Church" is the first church of you children. Isn't that what JPII said. And you seem to offer much to them.

Please believe that even if the lead character of Greene's "Power and the Glory" presides over the most vanilla Mass in all of American history, Christ is in the Eucharist, and this is the greatest, most Holy event in the world.


I find an interesting contrast between the Church's desire for "respectful dialogue" with other faiths and the utter contempt for "secular humanism"-or-what-have-you.

There are secular humanists who are relativists. There are also those who are sincerely seeking to find, and live in, the truth. Vaclav Havel. Albert Camus. George Orwell. Nils Bohr. Richard Goldstone.

(some of these people may hold some religious faith--but their overall orientation is quite secular. And yes, I realize some of them are no longer living, but they died not long ago, and some of them ARE alive.)

Where they disagree with the Church--they don't think it's all relative. They think the Church has got it wrong.

James Freeman

I think Franklin Jennings' post is the most enlightening on this whole thread. It certainly puts a lot of things in perspective.

I was just reading a Christianity Today web commentary by Dick Staub about the deficiencies of contemporary-Christian music being dwarfed by the bigger deficiency God pointed out in himself.

I'll let Staub tell his own story here:

So I arose that morning after the panel armed with these three "C's" (cocooning, counterfeit and commercialism), smug and satisfied with my rationalization about why I was so feisty and negative about CCM the previous night.

And then God showed up.

That is where the fourth C showed up, and it wasn't about CCM. It was about me: Conviction.

What I realized that morning was how absolutely prideful it is for me to tell God what kind of tools can be used in shaping people. One of my fellow panelists that night, an artist, confessed that she had become a Christian through a "cheesy Christian novel," adding, "I hate those things." It reminded me of Lauren Winner who similarly was warmed to faith by a Jan Karon novel and bemoaned the fact that it wasn't Dostoevsky or something literarily substantial that wooed her to God. And one young man in the audience at our panel discussion professed to be uninterested in the aesthetic of the "artistic" groups being promoted as lyrically and musically valid, and instead came to Jesus through the praise-and-worship scene.

Here is what God wanted me to understand: The truly amazing thing is that he could use me. I am free to state my concerns about the spiritually and aesthetically bankrupt faith and culture around me, so long as I don't lose sight of the spiritual and aesthetic flaws within me. The truly amazing thing is not that God does not rise up and smite CCM. The truly amazing thing is that God does not rise up and smite me.

It is called God's grace, and understanding this makes a person humble. And not being humble is one thing I consistently do really well.

Which reminds me of G.K. Chesterton, who once responded to a newspaper's essay contest that asked what's most wrong with the world. Chesterton's award-winning response, just two words long, was true and applicable for me today. His answer to what's wrong with the world?

"I am."

See, I figure I'm in good company with Staub and Chesterton. It's only through God's grace that I'm even a Bad Catholic (TM), and only by His mercy that I've not been turned into a Krispy Kritter.

It's a horrible temptation to storm out of somewhere because the liturgy is vapid, the music is dumb and my fellow Catholics indifferent or invincibly ignorant. And just when I start feeling really good about myself and bad about Everybody Else (TM), I usually do something stupid, intemperate, vile or downright wicked.

Which is a powerful tonic in a paradoxical way.

Floyd Ferguson

Hmm. Bad Catholic versus Good Catholic. Since, unlike angels, our eternal destiny is not a one shot deal done forever at the moment of our creation, it seems like we are all in this together praying and hoping for the grace of final perseverance, and, one suspects, that from the point of human beatitude after the pains of purgation the relative difference between the knee calloused True Believer and the knotted sinner struggling to give up adultery on the Friday's of Lent may just not be all that much.

God, have mercy on me a sinner, comes to mind.



I don't know where you're getting your numbers from, or who you are counting as "Catholic," but they are very misleading. You quote a slew of numbers out of context in an attempt to create a rosy impression of the state of the church in America. For instance, you cite 160,000 adult converts per year. That number may sound impressive in isolation, but in a nation of almost 300 million people it's a drop in the ocean, and is certainly greatly exceeded by the number of people the church loses annually to death and disaffection. The three major national studies of religious identification have all found that the proportion of the American population that identifies as Catholic has remained relatively steady over the past few decades, despite continuing large-scale immigration from traditionally Catholic countries, at around 23-26%. If it were not for this massive influx of new Catholics every year from Mexico and other countries, the number of self-identified American Catholics would certainly be declining in percentage terms, and probably in absolute numbers as well. And the number of people who identify as Catholic is certainly much higher than number of practising and believing members of the church, since many self-identified Catholics are Catholic only in a nominal sense. Even amoung those who continue to call themselves Catholics, fewer and fewer are assenting to and obeying the teachings of the church.

John Griffin

Sherry Weddell

Where did those stats come from? I'd like to use them in the future if they are accurate and verifiable - I'm not accusing you of anything, please don't misunderstand me.

I just want to make sure I can back up what I offer to some other (doubting) person. Thanks.

And, after lurking through all the previous posts, I'd like to throw in my two cents worth.

Sure, I'd like to see a purer, more articulate, more respectful, more rewarding Church and Liturgy and Clergy and Laity. Sure, I'd like only to be surrounded by saints at Mass. I'd also like to not be subject to temptation and, more importantly, not give in to temptation as often as I seem to do.

Guess I'll have to pray for strength and guidance for myself and everyone else, pray for forgiveness for myself and my transgressions, and pray that all others see and hear the true Word of God in this lifetime.

As for the rest of my perfectly perfect wishes, guess I'll have to wait and hope that Heaven awaits for me where I shall surely find them.

Thanks all for your thoughts.


I belong to a parish where the liturgy is completely hopeless--no reverence, no focus, bad preaching, lazy self-congratulatory lovey-dovey folks more intent on chatting than praying. It made me crazy. I complained all the time and wondered how long I could take it. One Sunday as I was gritting my teeth and wondering how the Lord could stand it, He said to me. "I am here" He meant He was in charge and if He was there, I could relax and trust Him. It wasn't my problem. My job was to be faithful. I am reminded of another incident where I was working with people who swore a lot and I found it very hard not to dislike them for it. He said to me: "I put you here to love them not to judge them."



"Contemplate Christ!" Thanks to Zhou De-Ming for hammering this home.

I think some of my problems come in when I try to base my faith on other people's faith, instead of in the person of Jesus Christ.

Of course, I don't admit I'm doing this. But when my concern becomes judging the orthodoxy of other Catholics, that's what I'm doing. When I get upset about someone calling me a cafeteria Catholic, that's what I'm doing. When I question whether I really feel "at home" in a certain parish, that's what I'm doing. In all these cases, I'm taking my focus off Jesus, and putting it, often quite judgmentally, on my fellow Catholics.

That doesn't mean I should be unconcerned with other Catholics. It does mean, however, being secure enough in my faith that it's not shaken by others' actions or taunts.

The challenge is to remember that I am a bad Catholic, that we are all bad Catholics, and that we are all dependent upon Christ's salvation. By God's grace, we are all in this together, and, by God's grace, we'll all come out of it together as well.

Jimmy Huck

re: "Fooling myself" and "being a fool." If someone who is knowingly fooling himself is not a fool, than I don't really know what a fool is.

Cabbage writes: "If so, do you go out of your way to undermine the faith of others? If so, I guess all I can say is 'What a schmuck!'"

Why is it always someone like me who is "undermining the faith of others"? I weary of being thought of as that "devil-in-disguise" who somehow sabotages the faith of "good" Catholics because I happen to believe that the Church's position on artificial contraception is wrong.

To answer one of your other questions, the intention of my initial comment was not to elicit a "parade" nor even anyone's approval, but simply to point out that I, with all my faults and opinions, will not be leaving my Catholic Church and will consider myself just as much a Catholic tomorrow as I do today and as I did yesterday. And by extension, the selection of Ratzinger as Pope will not run me out of the Catholic Church. That's all I intended to say. Nothing more, nothing less.

Rich Leonardi writes: "Spoken from that lovely spirit of self-assertion, truculence and pride that we've come to know and love from American Catholics.

Regarding your defiance at the Communion rail, be careful, Mr. Huck; God is not mocked."

On the impoliteness of my "lovely spirit of self-assertion, truculence and pride," perhaps you have a point. But I ask you: why pinpoint just me? Where is your offended sensibility at the sarcasm and "truculence" of Fr. Vierling? Perhaps I reacted overly defensively, but when no less than a Priest takes it upon himself to make fun of someone he might consider a misguided soul, I think that your harsh judgment about improper attitudes among American Catholics today can be spread out a little more widely.

Secondly, I don't see my receiving Communion as an act of defiance at all. You might see it as a mockery of God, but I don't. I take Communion with the honest belief that I am welcomed by God to do so as a member in good standing of the universal Catholic Church.

Finally, I take your admonition as nothing less than threatening me in God's name with some form of divine retribution. What gives you the right or the authority to levy such a no-so-veiled threat?

Maclin Horton

I would like to thank whoever posted as Yoda above for giving me the longest laugh I've had in a while. I think my wife was beginning to worry a bit when I couldn't stop laughing for long enough to explain what was so funny.

A lot of good things being said here. I was struck by Rod's remark about Catholic fatalism. I've thought that about myself but never applied it to the Church at large. Food for thought.

Maclin Horton

I should say, emending my comment above, "to Catholics at large" rather than "to the Church at large." The Church as such of course is not fatalistic in the least.

Sherry Weddell


The numbers come from A) US Catholic bishops; B) the Kennedy Directory; C) CARA; D) Gallup

160,000 adult converts in a single year is simply enormous compared to almost anywhere else in the world - especially the west. It is 36 times the number of converts *over the age of 7* in the UK, for instance. The 850,000 new Catholics in 2004 are nearly equal to all the practicing Catholics in England and Wales (less than a million) and certainly higher than all the practicing Catholics in Australia (750,000).

Over 10 years, that’s 1.6 million or 23.8% of the total growth in US Catholicism. That means that almost a quarter of US Catholic growth between 1994 and 2003 was via adult conversion, about 12% being adult baptisms and 13% entering into full communion by those already baptized.

Such figures are unimaginable to Europeans. As I've shared before, Cardinal Schonborn literally couldn't take in the idea that a single American parish could see 100 new Catholics in a year (as a number do)at a meeting which I attended.

To compare the figure of adult converts to the whole population of the US and then dismiss it as therefore meaningless shows a attitude strangely averse to any signs of hope. We are the only country in the west to have large number of adults converting and we want to dismiss this marvelous work of God out of hand?

To say that much Catholic growth is due to immigration (which it is, in part, of course) and therefore, meaningless is equally absurd. The fact that the Church in the US is holding its own (actually at an annual growth rate of about 1.3% in 2004, the Catholic Church was in fact growing faster than the American population at large which grew at the rate of .92% according to the CIA) sets it apart dramatically from nearly every country in western Europe (except Italy) and Oceania.

No one - least of all me, is saying that all 67 million Catholics are in Mass on Sunday.

21 million Catholics are "unchurched" (no attendance in 6 months apart from Christmas and Easter, weddings and funerals) while another 16 million are marginally practicing (show up at least twice in 6 months apart from Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals).

But 30 million do report that they attend Mass on a given Sunday and that is 9 million more than the 21 million who attended Mass in 1958. There are more US Catholics at Mass on Sunday than in Ireland, Poland, Italy, or Spain. The fact that a far greater percentage of the populations of these other countries are Catholic does not render these numbers meaningless.

No one is saying that the US Church is in great shape but to portray it as in total collapse is simply contrary to the facts. It is, in fact, probably the most vibrant Catholic church in the west (except for Poland?) - certainly in the English-speaking world. We are making some the kind of imagined ideal the enemy of the good that God is doing in our midst now. And that is a repudiation of the work of God in our midst.

Tim Ferguson


the accusation that you and others who dissent from Church doctrine such as the impropriety of artificial contraception (it's not just a "position", it's a doctrine) presupposes that you're expounding your views on this matter in a public manner. If you're not, then the accusation is indeed improper. However, if you're in a position as, say, a catechist, or a parish lay minister and you're publicly expressing your dissent from Church teaching then you are undermining the faith of others. That even applies if you're not directly teaching people, "the Church is wrong on this issue," but merely soft-pedalling the Church's clear and unambiguous teaching. The Church has always had room for those who struggle with some of Her teachings, and offers the grace of prayer, the sacraments, the liturgy to effect their deeper conversion to the truth. What I and many others are tired of is dissent offered up in public and official places either as another option (the Church teaches this, but you could also say this, or this, or this) or worse, as the "truth" correcting the Church's "error". The doctrine of the primacy of one's conscience only works when one truly forms one's conscience in prayer, study, humility and quiet, docile obedience to the magisterium and the Holy Spirit.
You're twisting Rich's words to make it out to be some sort of a threat to you. He's merely stating a fact - God is not mocked. If you take it as a threat, then perhaps there's a need for some soul-searching on your part.

ending on a light note, I'm thrilled to know that your parish apparently has and uses a communion rail. You should consider yourself fortunate!

Donald R. McClarey

"re: "Fooling myself" and "being a fool." If someone who is knowingly fooling himself is not a fool, than I don't really know what a fool is."

If you know that you are fooling yourself then you are not a fool, although you are acting foolish. If you are fooling yourself and don't realize it then you may be a fool. I assume that most people, deep down, understand when they are deluding themselves.

Donald R. McClarey

"I would like to thank whoever posted as Yoda above for giving me the longest laugh I've had in a while."

Maclin, when I read that I almost spilled my pop I was laughing so hard. Brilliant!

Tim Ferguson

I'm with Sherry on this one too - we can all see many things to complain about with the Church in the United States, but there are so many signs out there of the Holy Spirit working to bring about a potentially marvelous springtime. Our task is to cooperate in tending to the spring shoots, not just bemoaning the piles of dirty snow we see everywhere. It's a challenge to be sure - there's a lot of work ahead of us, and it's easy to get depressed, especially if you're not in a healthy parish or diocese. Seeing Pope Benedict remind us all of the words of John Paul - noli timere - be not afraid! really sent my heart soaring this morning. Not only do we have a great shepherd, not only do we have a tremendously wonderful God, we also now have a powerful new intercessor near the throne to help us with his prayers. Thanks be to God!


Don: who's Pop? Right now I'm drinking white wine.

"Yoda": kudos.



Just a charitable warning. You have stated many times that you believe the Catholic Church to be the Church founded by Christ. Thus it is extremely perilous to speak of leaving the Catholic faith in order "preserve the Christian faith of your children." CCC 846 "... Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it."

I know you know this already and were probably posting in frustration and/or anger.

I think you have such great zeal for God's house, that God has you in the right place at the wrong time, so to speak. The Church needs now more than ever faithful, smart, and passionate people who desire union with Christ above all and wish to share the great joy of life in Christ to others, especially fellow lukewarm Catholics. In God's plan, the Church needs you now and will need your children in the future. You have great gifts, not least of which is that you are a fighter, and no doubt the Holy Spirit wants you to use all of them in the Church. You also as a well known Catholic journalist have the unique opportunity to speak the Truth of the gospel in love to vast numbers of people through articles, interviews, blogs etc.. as you have done in the past, criticizing when it is necessary but also making known the love of Christ for all in His universal sacrament of salvation, the Church. It takes great courage to stand up for your faith in a world that if it is not actively hostile, than seems like it could care less (especially when many of those are sitting next to you on Sunday), but you seem to have the moxie (with the help of Spirit no doubt).

Those old army recruitment posters used to say "Uncle Sam wants You", but every parish door should have one that says "The Holy Spirit wants You, in here, and out there."

I will be praying for you and your family. God bless.

Fr. Ronald M. Vierling

Sorry if anyone was wounded by my joust.

Pastoral theology is predicated on the old axiom of philosophy 'whatever is received is received according to the capacity of the recipient'. It presupposes a teachable spirit, a willingness to be led to what is objectively true and holy before God. It 'meets people where they are,' but should never leave them where they are, especially if they are living a life or have adopted beliefs/attitudes contrary to the Gospel.

As St. John Fisher points out in his wonderful sermon on how to kill a conscience, if one closes one's mind to truth and confirms one's will in the practice of evil by calling what is objectively sinful, not sinful for them, that individual has effectively rendered themself outside the reach of grace (and jeopardize their salvation) because they - by their own free choice- have shut every avenue by which the Holy Spirit can reach them: closing their mind to truth and confirming their will in evil. According to the saint, such a one has effectively chosen damnation.

"Have it your way" may work for Burger King, but it is not the stance of a believer. "Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart" - humility: God is God and we're not God.



My point is that your 160,000 number is largely meaningless out of context. There are almost 300 million people in America. That 160,000 represents slightly more than 1 out of every 2000 Americans. It's minuscule. And the fact that is it much higher than the rate in Britain and other European countries illustrates only that the church in Europe is in even worse shape--desperately bad shape, in fact--than it is in the U.S. One might also wonder how many of those adults converting the Catholicism are doing so for authentic, godly reasons, rather than just to satisfy a prospective marriage partner or in-laws. My own father converted to Catholicism to help get the approval of my mother's Irish-Catholic parents to marry her. I don't think he was ever really a Catholic in his heart. And I think this kind of thing is quite common.

As for immigration, the point is that it masks a massive decline in Catholic identification amoung native-born Americans. The apparently stable proportion of the population that is Catholic is not the result of bringing new people into the church to replace the ones the church is continually losing from death and disaffection, but simply existing Catholics moving from one country to another. Every new American Catholic immigrant is one fewer Catholic in his country of origin. And if these immigrants follow the pattern of previous generations of immigrants, their native-born American children are likely to assimilate into secular American culture and abandon the church. Frankly, the church would probably be better off if they remained in their country of origin, where their children would be more likely to be raised in an environment that nurtures and promotes Catholic teachings and values. In America, there's no real growth even in the number of nominal Catholics, let alone in the number of faithful and practising ones.

I'm not saying the church in America is on the verge of collapse, but I am saying that it is in a long-standing decline that shows no sign of reversal, and may be accelerating. The fact that the decline is faster in other developed nations doesn't mean it isn't also happening here.



"We need those signs."

Become the sign. Become one with the Sign. Be the Sign.

For those who think I'm blaspheming, stare at the Eucharistic Host.


"Big tent v. Remnant" is a false dichotomy. Or at least it seems so to me.

Sherry Weddell

Check out this state of Catholicism interactive map from CNN:


The short story: There are nearly 400 million more Catholics today than in 1978 when JPII become Pope. Catholicism has nearly doubled in Asia in that time and has grown 250% in Africa during the same 26 years.


When I was young, I remember that anyone who ate or drank anything (water included) between midnight and reception of Holy Communion the next morning couldn't receive Communion on pain of mortal sin. This was taken seriously--and it gave an excuse for people who didn't feel worthy to receive the Eucharist: "Dang, I broke my fast." Maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of the crowd that filled the crowded churches approached the Communion rail. The rest, at least some of them, might have had a cup of coffee or something to keep from lying to any fellow Catholics who might ask--and, in a very real way, to revere the Sacrament they felt unworthy to receive. Then the idea was to hightail it to Confession the next Saturday--and most everybody in that situation did.

Now very few people go to Confession ("Reconciliation") and everyone...everyone... ) lines up to receive Communion.

Somehow, people should be catechised to take the Eucharist seriously. Graham Greene's Heart of the Matter comes to mind.

A Holy Fool

Excellent thread, Amy. Thank you.

Whenever I am tempted to pull the chaff from the wheat, it helps to remember G.K. Chesterton's answer to the problem of what's wrong with the world. I say it because it applies to our Church as well.

He wrote, in answer to the above query, "Gentlemen, I am."

John Bianco

I would also want to see how accurate some stats are. I strongly suspect that most conversions are due to marriage, when one spouse marries a Catholic and agrees to convert. As for active Catholics, the stats I have seen is around 25% of Catholics in the US attend the mass weekly, even Cardinal George has stated in his archdiocese though a census a few years ago stated only a little more than 30% of baptised Catholics attend mass weekly, hence one big reason why vocations have decline. For people under 40, weekly attendence is even worse.

The problem with polls is that it is difficult to get accurate results when one views a question to be one on morals, and it would be difficult to base overall mass attendence based on polls.

As for charity, I will say this, I am traditional in how I view the faith and the mass, and I know how I would react if I am around dissenters, so I just avoid them, the most charitable act I can do. But another thing that irks me, and I avoid these people too, is optimists who refuse to see reality. This group of people is what causes the most damage because they refuse to see problems, and make up excuses. Again, I know my limitations and avoid situations that would cause me to rip into people in a very uncharitable manner, and I try to build up what I support.


I can’t see myself being anything but Catholic at this point (as I’ve tried everything else). Given that, let me say that I think Rod is doing just what he should be. Even when I disagree with him, it seems obvious (to me, anyway) that he’s focusing his energy on what needs to be fixed, on what could be done better, for himself and for his family –- and for all of us. One can (and should) be doing that anywhere, even if the local parish is a great one. There’s always something that needs to be fixed and thank God for those willing to give it a shot. Short of inducing burnout, being hot is better than being cold, and both are better than being lukewarm.

If you or anyone else has qualms putting money into a collection plate that will subsidize a lifeless spirituality, by all means, look around for a parish that you're happy to support. And don't be shy about sounding the clarion call about the abuses you see. It doesn't mean you're losing sight of the good things. I think it's too much of a stretch to extrapolate a person's character from what might interest (or disgust) him enough to write about on a site like this -- though in patting Rod on the back, I'm admittedly being just as presumptuous.

John Bianco

The church growth in Latin America has by and large stagnated, with BRazil as a prime example being a country that used to be almost 100% Catholic to having a large Protestant minority. In India, church growth has stagnated

Here are the stats for the Bombay Archdiocese


Stats have to be taken in context, without context, stas are meaningless.

Of coruse there is a difference between hope and optimism. I am hopeful for the church in t he future, for her to regain her glory, for humanity to follow Christ, but in terms of the current situation, I am pesimistic.

Hope does not = optimism, but many get that confused.

Sherry Weddell


Beyond belief. You don't want to count immigrant Catholics in a Church that is filled with nothing but immigrants and the descendents of immigrants (well, 99.999999% - there are, of course, Catholic native Americans)?

So I suppose that when Irish immigration made Catholicism the largest single faith in the 1840's - that didn't really count either? And the Germans and Poles and Italians and
Filipinos and Vietnamese that came later and form the foundation of today's Catholic population? Only the number of native-born Catholics in a given generation are meaningful? (And are you really trying to tell me that the Vietnamese would have been better off raising their children in communist Vietnam? ).

Well, if you are that determined to ignore all signs of God's providence in our midst, there's nothing I can do to convince you. When I'm on the road, I almost always come back encouraged by the work of God that I see in people's lives. But I can always count on the denizens of St. Blog's to assure me that it's all smoke and mirrors.


John Bianco

Sherry, again stats have to be taken in context. If it wasnt for massive aamounts of immigration to the US since the late 70s, the number of Catholics in the US and the percentage of Catholics as a part of the US population would have dropped like they have in Europe. Massive amounts of immigration is what have helped keep the numbers up. Yes we are all from immigrant stock, but that doesnt matter, what matters is why has the church lost so many parishoners despite many attempts to update itself in terms of externals, and an almost ardent refusal to discuss tough theological matters?

I know you see active parishes Sherry, and the one I attend is encourageing as well, but I see the harsh reality, I see my friends I grew up with that no longer to mass, I see my very own family that has lapsed as well, I lapsed for many years myself, and I think many here at St Blogs can assocate themselves in terms of their familes and the friends they grew up with, the line "Last one standing".



The point, as I already explained, is that counting Catholic immigrants to America masks the massive decline of Catholic native-born Americans. It creates the impression of a stable Catholic population in which the gain in new members keeps up with the loss from dead and lapsed members, when in fact that apparent stability is just an artifact of current U.S. immigration policy. New members are not keeping up with lost ones. Existing members are just being redistributed between countries in a way that makes the church in America appear superficially to be much healthier than it really is. If it weren't for all those immigrants, the state of the church in America would look much more like the state of the church in Europe. I don't know how to explain this more clearly than I already have.



Hang in there, man. I used to feel the same way as you. In 1996 I was received into the Church, only to discover EXACTLY what you've described here: lukewarm banality as far as the eye could see.

By 1998 I was pretty despondent. My family went to Mass every Sunday, where on a good day my children were subjected to pablum. On a bad one, they were subjected to homilies in which the sacrament of Confession was ridiculed and belittled from the pulpit. I had the same concerns you do -- how could I subject my children to lukewarm heresy?

Then one day a new acquaintance invited me to an FSSP parish to experience the "old" Mass. (I was so green, I didn't even know there was such a thing. As one raised in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I had no knowledge of Vatican II or the upheaval the Church had experienced in the 35 years immediately prior to my conversion.)

To be honest, at first I found the liturgy confusing. But what captured my heart and soul was the priest's homily that day. My experience up til then was of homilies which, when they weren't out and out heresy, were centered around old episodes of Gilligan's Island. (I kid you not.) There was no resemblance between the church I came into, and the majesty of the Church I knew I'd entered.

On that day, however, the priest did something I'd never heard of a priest doing. He taught. He implored. He cajoled. And he indicted all of us who were present, for not being better Christians, for not showing up for Mass, for not being *real* Catholics. And what he did not do, was to excuse us or minimize our faults, or in any way attempt to boost our self esteem.

And I knew right then that I had found a Catholic Church -- the church that I'd been led to believe still existed. And it does. All over the world. In Latin Mass parishes, in Eastern uniate parishes, in Anglican use parishes, and even in the Novus Ordo. It's out there; you just have to keep searching.

Mark Shea


There you go again, leading Catholics who are trying to be faithful to the Counsels of Despair toward the deadly sin of Hope. Away foul Temptress!


Has wisconsinkathy ever considered that it's none of her bleeping business whether or not anyone else at mass is receiving Eucharist?

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