Catholicism has long called upon its people to be thinking people, to receive the faith and to engage it intellectually, emotionally, and of course spiritually. Cathleen Kaveny, an eminently thoughtful Catholic, theologian and civil lawyer, professor at the University of Notre Dame, wrote an article in the October 22 edition of Commonweal entitled:
WHY SOME DEVOUT CATHOLICS ARE LEAVING THE CHURCH
The content and thrust of her words will surely prove uncomfortable to some – perhaps to many. And so they should. But that discomfort must not be equivalent to dismissing what she has to say. Denial is fast becoming too frequently a characteristic of defenders of the faith. It need not be so. Denial will never equal one, holy, catholic, and apostolic for staying power.
It would seem to me rather that Professor Kaveny’s words need to be taken with great seriousness, their import assessed, and believers – Catholic and non-Catholic, traditional and progressive – called to enter into dialogue on the issues at hand, and their import. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of happy memory called for such dialogue years ago. Despite good effort, it seems his invitation has been more honored in silence than in open response. To the extent this is true the attrition Kaveny delineates, which also has been named recently by Peter Steinfels in another thoughtful essay (http://commonwealmagazine.org/further-adrift), grows only more profound. The Pew Forum study of last year affirmed that a full one-third of those who began life as Roman Catholics in the USA have left for another church, or more likely, no church.
For those who believe that something vital is at stake in human ears and hearts being touched by the Gospel of Christ, the responsibility to take this challenge to heart is mightily clear. Read on!
2 thoughts on “Long Goodbye”
Maybe a religion that takes seriously the gospel teachings about loving our enemies, forgiving an infinite number of times, that all human life is of equal value and that we should use self-control in our relationships with other people will not appeal to some of those who are exposed to it as children. The secular society that surrounds them is telling them they should avenge wrongs, work for the benefit of their own family or ethnic group and that they are entitled to enjoy whatever short-term physical pleasures appeal to them. Keeping two-thirds of them connected is pretty good in the circumstances.
Thanks Eva. Knowing your own combination of commitment and openness, I appreciate your remarks.
There is even more to the Christan call, of course, than the four gospel teachings that you aptly name. And they are all challenging, and likely have been in all generations. What I feel as I read Cathleen’s essay – which I see as right on the painful mark – is that the church in the present moment is failing to invite to the Gospel life in a way that is just that – inviting – and allowing the power of the person of Jesus to emerge. As I say that, I am well aware that culturally these are hard times to do so effectively. All church communities know that to be the truth. Yet in earlier times the church has succeeded again and again in engaging with dominant culture and bringing it often to conversion. A ‘culture war,’ I believe, is not the way to do so. If we believe that we have in the Gospel something of lasting and universal human and divine value, then we can afford to approach any culture with open hands and heart. In other words, for me, something like the Crusades (and anything of that attitude, even without the use of force), will always remain ultimately a betrayal, in the sense of a radical misunderstanding, of the Gospel, by people who thought they had heard and accepted it. It gets tricky, but perhaps I am saying enough to make the distinction.
The goal, I think, is commonly held: to form in every generation a community centered on Jesus and his teaching that transforms individual lives, and ultimately whole cultures, in beautiful and life-giving ways. But on the path that leads there, there is disagreement. We may be losing 1/3 not because we are leading there well, but because we are not. It is, I admit, a deep concern.
Let me add in closing that in various locales, in all the Christian churches, there are glowing exceptions. I know that your Saint Eulalia’s works hard to be one of those.