It is timely then that Fr Z has alerted his readers to a piece by Fr Dwight Longenecker on the collapse of 'cultural catholicism' in America, which pretty much parallels the Australian experience.
Fr Lonenecker points to the same kind of mass attendance statistics as Australia is getting (around 15% of Catholics on average in the US, a little lower here), and asks the vital question:
"What is the reason for these disastrous statistics? Basically because for the last forty years Catholics themselves have not taught Catholicism to their children. They've taught 'American Catholicism' which is a watered down blend of sentimentalism, political correctness, community activism and utilitarianism. In other words, "Catholicism is about feeling good about yourself, being just to others and trying to change the world." The next generation have drawn the obvious conclusion that you don't need to go to Mass to do all that. You can feel good about yourself much more effectively with a good book from the self help shelf, or by attending a personal development seminar. You can be involved in making the world a better place without going to church."
But how do you evangelize those who (wrongly) consider themselves to be good Catholics?
Fr Lonenecker's solution is evangelization and a return to an emphasis on the sacred. But his comment on the problems in attempting this are particularly pertinent:
"The big difference is that the Apostles knew their targets were pagans and the pagans knew they weren't Christians. We're dealing with a huge population of Americans (Catholics and Protestants alike) who are pagan but who think they're 'good Christians.' It is very difficult to evangelize people who already think they're fine just as they are. We don't know what we don't know, and the vast majority of poorly catechized, lazy and worldly Catholics aren't aware that there's anything wrong."
Fr Z comments that:
"It may be that some of those pagans of whom Fr. Longenecker speaks above are also wearing Roman collars. They just don’t realize they actually belong to a different religion."
Well, I sincerely doubt whether many of Australia's venting acatholic priests would ever be seen dead wearing a Roman collar, but the sentiment certainly works!
I'm also not quite sure that neo-paganism is the correct label - there are certainly some false idols being worshipped in this stuff, but isn't this really, for all practical purposes, just plain old-fashioned atheism? Either way, it certainly is a problem that needs to be tackled head-on in my view. Just waiting and hoping that they die out condemns both them and many more who follow them.
But it is not just sloth....
There is a dreadful 70s 'hymn' - you know the one, 'they'll know we are Christians by our luv...' - that claims has perhaps encouraged a content free concept of charity that empties it of all actual Christian content.
And the dire consequences of such pulp theology are only too evident in the mass rejection amongst Catholics of the idea that to be a Catholic one actually has to turn away from sin and believe what Our Lord and his Church teach.
The problem is also that while the vast majority of this group have slumped simply into indifference, a significant minority - witness the stream of pieces by priests and religious of late mentioned on this blog - have turned to active hatred of the Church and all it stands for, and continual attacks on anything that looks like it might succeed (such as the Catholics Come Home campaign).
Traditionalists cop a lot of flack - perhaps because that is where you can actually go to Church and see young families attend.
Conservatives like Cardinal Pell cop a lot of flack - perhaps because they actually stand up for Catholic morality.
And every success story is bitterly attacked by the (fortunately ageing) liberal remnant.
Revival of religious life and the Missionaries of God's Love
Take for example the lively new emerging order, the Missionaries of God's Love (memorably dubbed the brown trouser boys by the now defunct Cooees blog). They are thriving, with forty nine brothers and priests now, and an associated group of young women.
Though charismatic in orientation, they are completely orthodox, and Eucharistic Adoration is a central part of their charism.
So you would think everyone would be doing all that they can to support them - the dioceses they work in, the Catholic Religious Australia establishment, and so forth.
But instead of being given some help with a convent by the Canberra or Melbourne Archdioceses, the women's group seem to be out desperately fundraising and pleading for help, as they've outgrown their current accommodation.
And instead of their success being hailed as the start of a counter-trend to the more than 50% decline in the number of religious since the mid-1970s alone, they actually got a bollocking, enshrined in print, at a recent conference of Catholic Religious Australia held to consider the report "See, I am Doing a New Thing!".
A "theological reflection" by Francis J Maloney SDB, Provincial of the Australia-Pacific Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco, printed in the Report released with some fanfare late last year, actually includes a general rant against the newer orders and lay ecclesial movements that are stepping up. And here is what he has to say about them and the MGL's:
"My other concern is their absence from the margins of human society, among the poor and the suffering...While I wish them well, and admire their focus upon God [damning with faint praise what should be the central element of all Christian lives!] and their often-deep commitment to prayer [because religious life surely shouldn't be prayer-centered, with Eucharistic Adoration as a regular part of it!], especially more charismatic forms of prayer (especially important for the Missionaries of God's Love), I am waiting for them to join the traditional religious of Australia at the margins of society [!what!? This is a pretty breathtaking misrepresentation of the MGLs (and the other groups referred to for that matter).].."
That last is a pretty amazing statement. The MGL website shows that:
- in Darwin they run a chaplaincy to the aboriginal people through the St. Martin de Porres community. This includes a chaplaincy to the Darwin jail in which most of the inmates are Aboriginal men and a part-time chaplaincy at St. John's College, which is a boarding school with a large number of Aboriginal young people;
- have a mission in working predominantly with people who live in "squatter settlements" which are overcrowded shanty towns with limited water supply and electricity. The MGLs provide both spiritual and practical assistance to enable the poor and marginalised to develop their lives to the fullest extent possible;
- in their model Melbourne and Canberra parishes have active commitments to charitable work and work with Indigenous people.
Nothing new in this I guess...
There is of course nothing new about such attacks. One only has to read the psalms, speaking to us across the millennia, to be reminded that the bitterness and malevolence that takes hold in those who act as if God doesn't exist, doesn't watch what we do, and act as if there were no consequences to their actions is endemic to those who fail to fear God.
So please, pray for the conversion of priests, and for all those being persecuted and bullied by the Liberal establishment.