By Dr. Jeff Mirus | Aug 09, 2016
Throughout the West, it is not hard to see how far authentic Catholic renewal still has to go before it can have a significant cultural impact inside or outside the Church. Indeed, the Church very often continues to form a secular culture even among her own children, as she has done since I was a teenager (I was twelve in 1960). It takes no genius to figure this out; the situation is obvious nearly every time we survey the news.
Here are some typical examples:
Staffing: Despite efforts beginning under Benedict XVI to begin a much-needed reform of the Church’s charitable outreach (including his 2006 encyclical Deus Caritas Est), the hiring practices of Catholic Relief Services remain at best indifferent to Catholic commitment. Anecdotal evidence continues to suggest that Catholic Relief Services is not atypical. Despite improvements, similar problems have long haunted the selection of both diocesan staff and teachers in Catholic schools.
Priestly Formation: Despite a general improvement, some diocesan seminaries still remain unreformed with respect to sound doctrine and sexual morality, and this is even more true in a significant number of religious communities, perhaps most notably the Jesuits. Given the sex abuse scandal, which hit Ireland with particularly devastating force, it is astonishing that complaints remain legion about the homosexual mafia at the Irish national seminary at Maynooth.
Political Irrelevance: Despite consistent hierarchical rejection of gay marriage, the Church in the West remains completely ineffectual in influencing both the beliefs and the behavior of the laity. In the political order in particular, lay Catholics feel free to utterly disregard Catholic teaching while claiming how important their faith is to their lives. Joe Biden’s officiating at a gay marriage is just one of many cases in point throughout the West. While this was criticized sharply by the President of the USCCB, ecclesiastical discipline continues to be non-existent. In reality, of course, a great many major Catholic universities in the West (and certainly in the USA) continue to actively form students to be good secularists, rather than to internalize a transformative appreciation for the teachings of Christ.
Public Strategy: Similarly, bishops throughout the West frequently seek to emphasize the importance of the secular goals they are able to safely endorse (help for the poor, international unity, fighting climate change, and so on) while failing to fight even a rear-guard action on spiritual and intrinsic moral issues, preferring compromise to any sort of martyrdom. A case in point is the episcopal response to the weakening of the conscience protection laws of the State of Illinois. The Church in the West is far more prone to emphasize its record regarding the popular corporal works of mercy, while hiding the light of the spiritual works under the proverbial bushel basket.
Papal Leadership: Pope Francis has admitted that he likes to stir things up doctrinally. He often appears to be more concerned about climate change than about the moral degradation which far more actively destroys individual lives, families and society as a whole. This is in marked contrast to the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. John Paul in particular was a lifeline to the laity until they could be given better bishops and priests. Unfortunately, Pope Francis’ preferences are consistently represented in some of the pontifical academies and in the editorial policies of the Vatican’s newspaper (the two most recent examples are found here [Vatican newspaper op-ed: address climate change now before it is too late] and here [Vatican newspaper highlights ‘Earth Overshoot Day’—the day on which, according to the Global Footprint Network, “humanity will have used up nature’s budget for the entire year]).
Note that I easily compiled the examples used here from our news stories over the past 48 hours. But again, the same thing could be done by surveying the news in almost any week of the year, and certainly any month. In general, the stories in which the institutional Church appears weak, or even complicit in the moral and spiritual crisis of the modern West, far outnumber those in which the institutional Church shows significant strength. And most of the positive stories cover not decisive action but…speeches.
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