I am a practicing Catholic and have been my whole life. The Catholic Church in the United States had some very real and severe problems right now. My intention and my hope is that the Church will make hard changes to become healthy, growing, and stable.
I think the Church has 4 underlying problems.
Underlying Problems of the Catholic Church
- Decades of child sex abuse and the massive institutional coverup.
- Financial burden of the abuse and coverup which yields the church selling off its infrastructure, including making some terrible deals.
- The Catholic Church is perceived as a single issue church that has been hijacked and politicized.
- A lack of interest in the religious Orders (priests, nuns, brothers) due to the antiquated rules of the church.
I know all 4 of these have been written about many times by many people, I am revisiting each with my thoughts.
Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal
We knew it was bad. We never fathomed how bad it really was. Pedophilia, statutory rape, sex rings, grooming, and worse. Yet the Bishop class, the local leaders of the church, still do not own up to it. They still resist rather than own the reality of what happened.
Solutions: I do not know the solution. I have four ideas that I think may help significantly.
- Clean house. Start with a serious and extensive housecleaning of anyone and everyone who was any part of the coverup, especially at the leadership level.
- Own up. Fully own up to what happened. Maybe the church thinks they’ve done this already but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
- Make a plan. Have a plan for the future. Include how to identify and remove/manage abusers early. Include how to prevent coverups. Reward reporting. Make the plan public.
- Remediate the past. Make an offer to remediate the past. Otherwise this will linger for easily another decade or longer.
Sell-Off of Infrastructure
The church is selling off an enormous number of properties including many buildings and acres of land. Some of these deals were good, but too many were sucker deals offered by deep pocket developers and accepted by the Bishops’ offices.
I know firsthand of two examples, one positive and one negative:
- Positive example: The Coptic Catholics (think Egypt) are growing rapidly in my area and needed space. They offered to buy a closed Catholic church for a reasonable price. The church might have been able to get better offers, but by accepting the Coptic’s offer the church stayed a church, we helped another brand of Catholics, and being that the church was in a residential area it was a great solution for the local community.
- Negative example: For another closed church, a very good deal that was negotiated locally and agreed to. But since all deals had to go through the Bishops office, once the Bishops staff got through with the deal it was at best a mediocre deal. The group that negotiated it locally….well you can imagine their reaction.
The Church needs to:
- Have multiyear patience in the disposition of its property. Once the property is gone it is never coming back.
- Get involved in land use, planning, and zoning in the local community to maximize value of the land.
- Get professionals involved who do this for a living, not the Bishops staff and not just well-intentioned volunteers.
- Think strategically about what properties to hold or keep for the long term.
- Have a vision of what you might like done with church property that is for sale. The vision should be consistent with the values of the church. Its not always about cash as shown with the Coptic example. Consider converting the church/property into a multiuse facility supporting the poor – washers and driers, internet, classes, food pantry, emergency housing. Put out a call to the congregation to support that and be more like Jesus. The Church might just be surprised how quickly a call to action fills up the pews.
A Single Issue Church
One Sunday after mass, representatives were collecting money for their pro-life group. I asked the lady collecting cash what percent of the money went to stopping the epidemic of death from gun violence. She said none. I asked how much of the money went to supporting prison reform including abolishing capital punishment. None. Supporting new immigrants? Negative. Providing basic care and needs for babies who are born to crack-head mothers? Nope not that either.
I said, “What does the money go to?” She answered, “Stopping abortions.”
I asked what else in the spectrum of being pro-life it went to. “Just stopping abortions.”
It very much struck me a problem of the Catholic Church. They claim to be pro-life, but in practice they are predominantly anti-abortion. The hypocrisy rings loudly.
Worse yet, the Bishop class has let the conservative politicos of our country hijack the Catholic stance on abortion while minimizing anything else that falls under the pro-life umbrella. Too many members of the Bishop class are so wrapped up in their own conservatism they can’t see beyond the next tree.
- Define all principles and objectives that fall under the umbrella of pro-life.
- Either be pro-life or not. Every principle and objective should be given some amount of equal time, no matter how uncomfortable some may be in some communities (because the institutional antiabortion stand is plenty uncomfortable to some Catholics).
- Have church members roll up their sleeves, pray together, then get out in the community to complete projects of all sorts to make the community truly pro-life, not just marching against abortion.
- Return to the days of emphasizing Social and Economic Justice. Somewhere in the 1980s and 1990s the Catholic church lost its way on pushing for social and economic justice. Jesus certainly emphasized helping those disenfranchised, sick, ostracized, or lacking empowerment. Another “take it to the streets” example to call Catholics back to the church, and to do the right thing.
Heal by becoming an activist church. Heal by performing good acts. [Notice that I intentionally used the word Heal as opposed to the words Be Saved because there are plenty of biblical references that say salvation does not come from acts alone.]
Lack of Interest in Religious Orders
In 1965, there were about 180,000 nuns in the United States. Today there are under 50,000 nuns. I do not know any woman under 50 who has expressed even the slightest interest in becoming a nun.
For the same period, the number of priests has fallen by about 20,000.
- Let priests marry and have children. Priests had been allowed to marry for around 1500 years, and the church grew and sustained with married priests. Let’s return to that practice.
- Let women become priests. I think a great amount of prayer is called for to revisit this Catechism preventing women from being priests.
I do not have any suggestions for increasing the number of nuns, except considering letting nuns marry and have children also.
I have great hope for and faith in the Catholic church (and God). It is going to take work, prayer, and sacrifice to get past these current dark clouds facing the church. With God’s help, I believe we will.
I have written a number of posts about faith and religion. If you are interested in reading more, please click any of the links below:
And for little good-hearted cat humor, check out this post: Billysky The Beautiful Cat Loves Lent