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The Church Is in Deep Trouble

Worried conservatives reacted negatively to the news that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York had invited Barack Obama to the Al Smith Dinner in October. But the cardinal plainly believes the invitation serves the best interests of the Church—declaring war on the President of the United States by excluding him from this politically tinged festive event would hardly be helpful.

That’s a reasonable position. But we need also to ask whether war has already been declared—not by the Church but on the Church and what it stands for. With Catholic institutions battling for survival in light of the Obama administration’s “free birth control” rule, this alarming possibility must be taken with the utmost seriousness.

Just how alarming the possibility is was underlined by a recent Pew Research Center survey covering voters’ views. I found myself wondering whether to laugh or cry when scanning the Catholic results. Then reality set in, and the answer was clear: Cry of course. If these figures are correct—and there’s every reason to think they are—the Church is in deep trouble.

Some news accounts found encouragement in particular findings of the survey. But they failed to mention the finding that really catches the eye. Asked who better reflects their views on social issues like abortion and gay rights, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, 51% of Catholics said Obama, against 34% who said Romney. (For all voters, the figures were 50% and 36% respectively.)

This has two explanations, neither consoling.

The first, certainly true in some cases, is ignorance. Obama supports legalized abortion and same-sex marriage. As for Romney, whatever his position may have been when he was governor of Massachusetts, he’s now opposed to both, though neither he nor his campaign people have been very forthcoming about saying so. Catholics unaware of these things should know them—which is not to say they will.

The second explanation, also undoubtedly true in many cases, is that Catholics who say they and Obama stand together on the social issues know where Obama stands and are speaking the simple truth.

This survey was conducted for the Pew people in late June and early July. The researchers did phone interviews with 2,973 adults, including 619 Catholics. For the Catholic sample, the margin of error was 4.6%–in other words, the numbers for all Catholics could be slightly higher or slightly lower. As noted, some readers saw the results as encouraging. But except for matters already known (e.g., Catholics generally take a positive view of their local bishops), I did not.

Throughout, the survey results reflected a familiar split within the ranks of Catholics, between those who attend Mass weekly and those who don’t. (Among the latter, there was no breakdown to show how often or seldom they do attend or whether they attend at all.)

On the Obama-Romney question, 53% of weekly Mass attenders said Romney better reflects where their position on social issues, against 37% who said Obama. But the results were reversed among those who don’t attend weekly, with 54% giving the nod to Obama and 31% to Romney. Since non-attenders now outnumber weekly attenders by more than two to one in the general body of American Catholics, that presumably accounts for the tilt toward Obama (51%) among Catholics overall.

With more than two months remaining before the election, it’s too soon to say how all of this will play out in November. But one thing already is clear. This will be an election of singular importance for Catholicism in America.


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C.


  • noelfitz

    The Church in the US has never been better, with over 77 million members, 25% of the total population. In the upcoming election both VP candidates are Catholic and most members of the supreme court are Catholic.

    There are over a million students in Catholic colleges and universities and there are over 600 Catholic hospitals, with revenue over $30 billion.

    Cardinal Levada was the third most powerful Catholic and Carl Anderson is possibly the most influential layman in the Church.

    Compare the present position of Catholics with the anti-Catholicism in the past, not only in the deep south, but also in Massachusetts and other northern states.

    Catholics are the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ; we are a joyful, optimistic and hopeful people.

    “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NRSV, Phil 4:7,7).

    • 9thCenturion

      Noelfitz,

      Funny how all your data points are political or monetary in nature, and not Faith based.

      Roughly 50% of the folks you claim make up a Church that “has never been better” politically supports the most heinous intrinsic evil of murdering the unborn, AND do not believe the Eucharist becomes the actual body of Our Lord.

      Satan’s evil doers are also “joyful, optimistic and hopeful”; such rejoicing in human emotion is almost always the hallmark of Satan. Recall the Garden of Eden and the serpent.

      As for your NRSV quote. Why not try the Douay-Rheims; unlike yours, which counsels “not to worry” – very Protestant by the way – it says something strikingly different.

      “[6] Be nothing solicitous; but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God. [7] And the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

      I find your thoughts very Protestant and very much proving the deep trouble to which Mr. Shaw points

  • GuitarGramma

    Noel, you know that I have the utmost respect for you and am always grateful for your prospective from across the pond.

    And your numbers are correct, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. For example, both our VP candidates are Catholic, but only one of them is pro-life. Further, I know from painful family experience that just because a college calls itself Catholic does not mean that it teaches Catholicism. (By the time my fourth child was choosing a college, there were only about a dozen we would approve for her to attend.)

    Having said this, allow me to publicly agree with you that the anti-Catholicism of the past is mostly a thing of the past. And, even more, you have stated an important truth: We should not be worried!

    Amen, my friend. Of course, between now and the election, I’m going to need you to remind me about the not-worrying thing! Deal?

  • goral

    When there was bigotry against the Catholic Church, the Church was actually strong. The Seminaries and Convents were well populated. Catholic children went to thriving Catholic elementary and middle schools. Churches and hospitals were being built.

    That is all desolate now. Catholic children now attend public schools and are indoctrinated in the ways of socialism. Churches are struggling financially and you can’t tell a mainstream catholic apart from a New-Ager. They both vote the same way.

    Noelfitz likes to throw out meaningless and misleading statistics to buttress his bankrupt position.
    The Church IS in deep trouble.

  • noelfitz

    GG,
    many thanks for your reply to me.

    I know some are better Catholics than others, but we are all sinners and stand in need of God’s mercy. While we are clear on principles, none of us can judge the state of another’s soul. We belong to a holy church made up of unholy people.

    I am encouraged by the faith and commitment of American Catholics. Can I remind you of a site I mentioned previously, http://www.positionpapers.ie/author/kathy-sinnott/.

    My brother-in-law lives in North Carolina, and attends a most vibrant and enthusiastic Franciscan Church. A good friend of mine spends the winter in Florida, and there the Church is also excellent.

    Catholic Universities vary in quality, as do all universities in America. Ave Maria and Steubenville are outstanding, but may not suit all Catholics. Recently I met and had a chat with Fr Brian Johnstone of CUA; he was fantastically encouraging and supportive, http://trs.cua.edu/res/docs/faculty-pages/johnstone/johnstone%20CV%2008.pdf.

    Personal experience forms one’s opinions.

    Goral,
    I welcome your comments. They make me analyse my positions and see if my position is bankrupt. “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel’s as others see us!”

    We essentially agree on most things. I consider our greatest disagreement is in loyalty to the Church and its bishops. Do you take a more independent line that I do?

    In what you consider the good old days Catholics voted solidly for the Democrats.

    Reading your post reminded me of what I read recently in an Irish Newspaper:
    “As for the New World, being a card-carrying Democrat is almost as much part of Irish-Americanism as being baptised a Catholic.”

    Finally I read:
    Vatican: US Seminaries Sign of Hope for Nation.
    Report on Apostolic Visitation Released.
    WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Diocesan seminaries in the United States are generally healthy, concluded a letter from the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education after an apostolic visitation to review centers of priestly formation…However, the visits to individual seminaries from September 2005 to July 2006 found that “since the 1990’s, a greater sense of stability now prevails” mainly due to the appointment of “rectors who are wise and faithful to the Church.”

  • fishman

    Whats in deep trouble is not the catholic church, but the American catholic church. by that i mean the institution which existed in the 70’s and put more emphasis on patriotism then on loyalty to Christ and his teachings. Quite frankly we need to push the bishops to go further. We need to see those people who stand up publicly and betray Christ and his by their actions , then turn around and claim to be Catholics publicly disavowed and formally excommunicated. We need to implore and insist that our bishops take these steps. So what if they ‘get along’ with Barack Obama. They did there best to ‘get along’ with The Chinese government and even ‘Adolf Hitler’ for the sake of their people when they can. What they should not tolerate is the like of Nancy Polosi or Joe Biden. Who commit grave public sin and then insist they have done nothing wrong. Mislead our children towards those same sins. The fact they have not been excommunicated is a short coming of the American bishops no less worse the child sex abuse scandal and with much the same cause. complacency.

    But Christ is slowly changing the bishops out one and a time. Our clergy is become more orthodox and in line with Rome as well.

    So the old is passing away and the new and vibrant is taking it’s place. ‘The world’ will be at war with a church that speaks the truth, but so be it.

  • fishman

    This article needs a correction. Those who do not routinely attend mass are not Catholics, regardless of what they may tell the pew report. It is a grave sin to intentionally miss mass and a mortal one if done with full knowledge. Is it really accurate to say that anyone who persists in mortal sin is a catholic? They will not be when they die. Because the church is the body of Christ and those in hell are not part of it. Those on there way there should not be regularly counted as Catholics.

  • fishman

    Anyone wanting to define liberalism should read this.
    http://www.liberalismisasin.com/

    It defines European liberalism, from which all other forms are derived. Since it is the root , it becomes easy to see the fallacy of all forms of the beast and how they are related.

  • goral

    Whether the Church is in trouble or not, She is the Body of Christ and therefore always…is.
    The older I get the more I value Her constancy.
    I find Fishman’s observation interesting. Catholics who persist in abandoning their faith are apostates and therefore cut off from the Body of Christ.

    They compound their sin by purporting to speak for the Church, bringing further scandal upon Her. This takes place even in our hierarchy.

    Noelfitz writes:
    “We essentially agree on most things. I consider our greatest disagreement is in loyalty to the Church and its bishops. Do you take a more independent line that I do?”

    My feeling is that we essentially disagree on most things while we essentially remain loyal to the Church.
    I or any Catholic owes no loyalty to a bishop who himself strays from the Magisterium.
    I am at odds with the liberal bishops who put forth their personal opinions and agendas. We are entirely free to do that. I am not being more independent but actually more faithful to the Orthodoxy and Tradition.

    It’s the card-carrying, baptized Catholic Democrats who are cultivating their own strain of Socialist-Catholicism.
    You are correct in asserting that there was a time that these Democrats actually voted pro-life, pro-family and pro-worker. Those times are gone.
    The dems now vote against all the lofty and moral causes. The party platform should send chills up the spine of any bishop who is open to the truth.
    The party has perverted all that it stood for, it has degenerated and taken the blind catholics with them. This is the great apostasy of our time.

  • noelfitz

    Thank you for all the posts here.

    I hope I do not upset anyone with my views, as I know European and American Catholics can disagree. However I am very much supported and encouraged by friends here in CL, so in no way do I want to cause offence.
    *******************************
    9th Centurion
    You say 50% of Catholics support abortion and do not believe Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, if this is so it is to be deplored, and may be (partially at least) due to faulty catechesis. I am surprised you consider me Protestant.
    **********************************
    Fishman 1
    With regards to your judgement of the souls of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, none of us can know whether another person has sinned.

    The relationships of the Church with Fascists and the Chinese is complicated. Mussolini and the Church signed the Lateran Treaty in 1929, establishing the Vatican City State, which has benefited the Church. In 1933 Hitler and the Church signed an agreement in which he said he would not interfere with the Church and the Church agreed not to comment on politics. The Letter of Benedict XVI to the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China has been criticized.
    ***************************************
    Fishman 2
    You wrote “Those who do not routinely attend mass are not Catholics”. I strongly disagree. When we sin we remain Catholics. Baptism, which makes us Catholic, “imprints on the soul a character or spiritual mark which can never be effaced” (as I learned in school years ago). So once a Catholic always a Catholic.
    ***************************************
    Goral.
    You wrote “Whether the Church is in trouble or not, She is the Body of Christ”. Well said!

    But again, I completely disagree with you. We owe loyalty to our bishops and priests, whether we agree with them or not. The bishops are the successors of the apostles and as long as they are not removed from office we owe them support. It is not up to an individual Catholic to say a bishop is not in conformity with Catholic teaching. You wrote “I or any Catholic owes no loyalty to a bishop who himself strays from the Magisterium”. If the magisteriun decides a bishop has strayed then loyalty is not due to him. But otherwise he is due loyalty.
    *****************************************

    We differ. America is founded on Protestant views. The work ethic, individualism and capitalism have served America well.

    “Oh, beautiful for pilgrim’s feet
    Whose stern impassion’d stressed
    A thoroughfare for freedom beat
    Across the wilderness.”

    The strong, independent Protestant, who resolutely holds his own interpretation of the laws of God and man, is admirable. But Catholics with their views of mutual support and community cooperation differ. We follow Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle is seeing humans as social animals, and believe in family and love of neighbors. We stress community support and social solidarity is vital for us.

  • ron a.

    For the last forty years, or so, Catholic moral formation has come mostly from secular sources. So it stands to reason the attitudes of most of the laity would correlate closely to the populace at large. When priests are afraid to preach morality from the pulpit this is what you get. (By the way, MTV, for example, is not reluctant to preach, however subliminal, its values.)

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