By Beverly Desoto Stevens
Much has been written about a ‘de facto schism’ now increasingly apparent in the Church. I may be able to shed a little light on this. In the last four years, I have visited hundreds of Catholics in more than a dozen countries across Europe and North America. In my travels, I have been consistently struck by the fact that the crisis in the Church is remarkably similar across these countries –despite vast cultural differences between, say, Mexico and Germany.
The problem is the same across the West: declining Catholic populations, closing parishes, aging clergy and empty seminaries and convents.
And the response to this crisis? ‘More of the same’. Senior Catholic clerics think that the antidote to the disaster their policies have brought on the Faith is to double down and give us even MORE of the Age of Aquarius.
This is done on little or no evidence. What’s puzzling is that for modern clerics so devoted to evidence, they ignore the fact that all the polls show that liberalizing policies actually drive people away from the Faith. (This is true for Protestants as well.)
The results are in: the Age of Aquarius doesn’t work. Runaway ideology yields negative results. Nevertheless, it’s uncanny how elderly Catholic prelates use their authority to enforce their 1968 worldview on the young:
• Wealthy elderly German prelates facing an imminent drying up of their financial Niagara push their agenda to admit divorced and ‘re-married’ Catholics to Communion. (This despite the fact that interviews with a dozen German priests tell us that there is zero interest in this there.)
• Bishops in Malta and Colombia threaten priests who do not go along with this confusing new agenda. (That they already suffer from an acute priest shortage doesn’t appear to be a concern.)
• Aging seminary headmasters sniff out ‘rigidity’ in their students, targeting those who seem too traditional in their beliefs. (That this has the effect of driving out the few vocations they have doesn’t seem to bother these ideologues in the least. The eventual effect, of course, is that seminaries are closed, and their jobs disappear.)
• Massive church funds are used to stage elaborate charismatic ‘events’ at World Youth Day and similar. (Unfortunately, Catholic evangelicalism doesn't exhibit have much staying power. It's either a gateway to Protestantism or indifference — mainly because most receive very little actual formation in the Faith.)
• Ancient Catholic Orders continue their fixation on the sloganeering politics of the 1960’s. (As a result, they are being decimated and forced to sell off their properties as spas and suchlike to pay for their retirements.)
It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic: literally, centuries of Catholics’ hard work and sacrifice is now being squandered by our ecclesiastical paladins, on a global basis. Universities, schools, hospitals, adoption agencies, social services – in many places the entire legacy of the Church is being systematically dismantled and destroyed.
And what of the disinherited? Those now under 40?
Social media has had the effect of literally lifting up the Catholic rock – and the young generation is seeing what comes scurrying out. Here’s a small sampling of what we hear from the under-35 crowd on REGINA Magazine (with more than 50,000 Facebook Fans):
• Flimsy, liberal, heresy-spewing Catholics are a dime a dozen because Church leadership has failed time and time again to bring down the hammer on them. I've been to pro-choice parishes. I've been to parishes that didn't offer regular confessions. I've seen Protestant ministers sit next to priests by the altar in the name of ecumenism. If bishops actually did their jobs as shepherds of the church, all of this would be unthinkable.
• My generation, as a whole, is ignorant of the Faith because of weak leadership, bad catechetics, and humanistic atheism. Many of my generation are self-indulgent libertines who don't want to be told what to do. Many of the “practicing Catholics” of my generation only attend cheap, feel good, banal masses and services that pander to emotions. Our leadership for our entire lives, save a few good bishops and priests, have strayed away from the traditional teachings and worship, and they were gun-shy when it came to moral theology.
• The bishops' idea of young people was built in the 60s and 70s and hasn't changed since. Their condescension annoys me greatly. A young person myself, kumbaya church songs like ‘Shine Jesus Shine' make me cringe…
• I am afraid for the souls of the Faithful, I have read about much error being propagated by some of those who have been entrusted with great responsibility within the Church, and I feel that some of his holiness, Pope Francis', statements have been unclearly worded, and some in the Church have used to push forward their own agenda at odds with the Truth.
• Most cradle Catholics leave Catholicism because they don't know anything about it in the first place. I am a convert to the faith from Islam and atheism in a country with very low Catholic population and very few Catholic resources to learn. Yet I know way more stuff than most of them and it is worrying.
• I went to Catholic parochial and high school, and I can tell you now upon looking at the profiles of all my friends: these schools are nothing more than factories for fallen-away Catholics.
This is acutely the case with young clerics:
• During the diaconate formation I've been taught that the church is not a hierarchy. That it's not some grand pyramid with the pope at the top, and that we are all the the same loving and inclusive level. Until you start asking about tradition and or question something the pope said. Then all of a sudden you find yourself in a parody of 1930s-1940s Germany with “HOW DARE YOU QUESTION THE POPE!” “DON'T YOU KNOW IT’S A MORTAL SIN TO QUESTION A PRIEST, NEVER MIND HIS HOLINESS!!!?” And all of a sudden the hierarchy comes out and it's bashing you on the head with the book of liberalism.
I could go on, but you get my point. For a generation in love with irony, it seems these young Catholics don’t yet get the great irony of their situation: the old clerics now dismembering their Church are doing so in the name of the zeitgeist of the Sixties – that era of paens to the forever young.
But once the last gasp of the ‘forever young’ is heard, it will be this young generation that will have to pick up the pieces. As the damage should be considerable, perhaps it’s time they raise their voices now?