Nevertheless, I was forcibly struck by the table of statistics from the "Midwestern Diocese" offered on p. 59. The numbers are nothing short of catastrophic. The table shows that over the last decade (from 2000 to 2010):
Ralph Martin hits the nail on the head when he says:
This is in ten short years, folks. Some of us remember Y2K as though it were yesterday. What will the next decade bring?
- Infant Baptisms have decreased 42.4% (from 16,294 to 9,544)
- Adult Baptisms have decreased 51.2% (from 1,442 to 704)
- Full Communion has decreased 43.6% (from 1,713 to 960)
- Catholic Marriages decreased 45.3% (from 3,641 to 1,649)
The decline of the Church in every quantifiable measure is a catastrophe for souls. It saddens me but it doesn't push me to despair. What does push me to the brink of despair is the blithe happy talk we get from our shepherds about our vibrant Church, about the new spring time of Vatican II, about the renewal of the Church. With all respect your Excellencies and Eminences, are you people high? The human characteristic (I hesitate to call it a virtue) of optimism needs to have roots in reality if it's to be something more than idiotic blather. The Church is dying in North America. It's dying in the West. Blame the culture if you like, but the culture is the way it is because we Catholics are the way we are. You priests, bishops, and cardinals are our shepherds. You are supposed to be our leaders. What are you doing about it besides giving us empty smiles, shallow homilies, and useless reassurances that everything is fine?Cardinal Ratzinger remarked on a strange phenomenon he observed in conjunction with the collapse of the Church in the Netherlands after Vatican II. He pointed out that by every statistical measure the Church in the Netherlands was collapsing and yet, strangely, at the same time an atmosphere of "general optimism" was prevalent that seemed blind to the actual situation.I thought to myself: what would one say of a businessman whose accounts were completely in the red but who, instead of recognizing this evil, finding out its reasons, and courageously taking steps against it, wanted to commend himself to his creditors solely through optimism? What should one's attitude be to an optimism that was quite simply opposed to reality? (Ratzinger, Op. cit., pp. 30-40)"In the United States, "official optimism" has been quite strong in the midst of radical decline. When the American bishops greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his pastoral visit, they spoke of our "vibrant" Church. Shortly before Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States, Russell Shaw, a respected author and former spokesman for the American bishops, urged the American bishops to stop pretending everything was fine."
Jesus Christ gave us a divine guarantee that the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church. He never said anything about the Church in North America. Just ask the Christians of St. Augustine's old diocese of Hippo, if you can find any.
St. Thomas was very big on testing. Going back to an old theme on this blog, he makes the distinction between ex opere operato and ex opere operantis. I've assisted in a confirmation retreat for young adults and it was a less than edifying experience. To put it charitably, many of them were ignorant sacramentalized pagans and the priests, parents, and bishop should have been ashamed of themselves for giving them the sacrament. As Martin notes, the current sacramental practice is to give it out willy nilly. If the kids are wholly ignorant of what they're about to receive, the "the sacrament will take care of it." St. Thomas disagrees. It's amazing to read the saints sometimes, and see how much of the Church's modern practices run directly counter to their ideas. The Church is the supreme authority, yes, but by their fruits ye shall know them. How has the new style of catechesis and sacramental preparation been working out for us?