Editor’s note: Letters appearing in the autumn 2018 print issue are marked by a double ##. Regarding the cover package of stories on the state of Catholicism, the summer edition went to the printer two months before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released on August 14. All but a few of these letters arrived prior to the report.
Writing about cancer
##Just a note to tell you how much this reader enjoyed the piece by Morgan Bolt (“Living on the Edge.”) Great story told by a great spirit, sure. But also great writing. The “waiting” paragraph on page 53 is almost transcendent and needs to take its place as among the best writing about cancer currently out there. A “morbid version of Advent” indeed.
Jim Rice ’69
##Those of us approaching 80 know all too well the emotions that well up when a friend or loved one is stricken with a fatal or debilitating disease. Yet I struggle to understand Professor Sanders’ (“An Economy of False Profits”) motivation for blaming industrial pollutants for his wife’s Parkinson’s disease and then leveraging that anger to make sweeping indictments of the evils of capitalism and a “cult of money.”
While he claims to be well versed in PD literature, his interpretation of the science is highly selective, turning a blind eye to evidence that does not lead him to where his anger and his politics want to go.
He does not mention, for example, that some PD researchers question whether the rate of PD is actually on the rise or simply an artifact of better diagnosis and reporting. And while the rate of PD is 50 percent higher for males than females, it isn’t because these men have been exposed to farm chemicals, lead, solvents or welding fumes. And it isn't they live on the more polluted side of the tracks. It is mainly older white males with careers in white collar jobs.
Given the uncertainties and contradictions surrounding PD, separating the more-certain from the less-certain is not a job for amateurs. That's better left to more knowledgeable, more objective experts like those at the Mayo Clinic. They report:
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role. Researchers have identified specific genetic mutations that can cause Parkinson’s disease. But these are uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by Parkinson's disease. However, certain gene variations appear to increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease but with a relatively small risk of Parkinson’s disease for each of these genetic markers. Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.
“Cause unknown” and “risk of environmental factors is relatively small,” does not begin to justify Professor Sander’s indictment of the State of Indiana, the agricultural industry, the chemical industry and a “grotesque” economic system for his wife's illness. It has even less validity when he tries to apply the same selective logic to other illnesses as further proof of the harm done by “the cult of money.”
Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS and certain cancers are diseases of the elderly. We are seeing more of our friends and loved ones afflicted because we and they are getting older, living longer. Railing against society is not the answer. Better we stay hopeful, cherish our loved ones and support continued research for a cure.
W.F. Huber ’62
This is from a non-Notre Dame graduate (I graduated from the other Holy Cross school . . . King’s College), but my son did graduate from Notre Dame. I had access to the recent issue of your magazine and I read the well-written article by Professor Scott Russell Sanders of Indiana University. I find myself in strong agreement with the thesis of the article. There has always been the push for profits at the expense of the common good; e.g., the Gilded Age and others as cited by the author. Now more than ever the common good has been placed aside for
greater profits. The gun issue that is not so much about the Second Amendment as it is about the $32 billion-plus industry . . . dead victims are the cost of doing business.
By trying to be non-political, the author is far too forgiving of now-Vice President Pence and his leader, President Trump. The EPA is being slowly reduced in effectiveness, standards to keep the air and water clean are being reduced, and the “common good” is being sacrificed for profit by the Department of the Interior. Remember, it was a Republican President, Richard Nixon, who helped create the EPA.
There are hidden costs, as Dr. Sanders points out so well, to the population of the country and I do not expect to express it any better. The sad part of all of this is that a nation can have both profits and protect its citizens. However, for some people, “Greed is their god.”
I continue to enjoy Notre Dame Magazine, but had to comment on “An Economy of False Profits.” While I am glad to hear the author’s wife, Ruth, is managing her Parkinson’s disease well, to quickly blame it on environmental pollution is certainly a stretch. While I acknowledge we did a very poor job over the years in managing our “environmental wealth” and there was a definite need for the establishment of an Environmental Protection Agency, I believe we have turned a corner. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and their subsequent revisions have resulted in much improved water and air quality overall. We have continually tightened the National Ambient Air Quality Standards over the years with the vast majority of the nation meeting those standards. It is interesting to note that all the non-attainment areas in the United States are not immediately around power plants, but in large metropolitan areas. Yet, coal-powered plants continue to be blamed for all the country’s ills.
So, let’s share some facts of the utility industry. CO2 emissions are 27 percent below 2005 levels as of 2017, the lowest annual emission levels since 1988. Nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by 84 percent and 92 percent respectively, while electricity use grew by 35 percent from 1990 to 2017.
I do agree with the author that there is too much emphasis on financial wealth, but we only have ourselves to blame. After all, how many people must have the latest gadgets and newest technology? This has gotten so bad that even with larger houses, many people must resort to renting storage units because of the accumulation of too much “stuff.”
While we need to stay vigilant on the environmental front, I believe there is a much larger threat to the well-being of our society. We should be focused on addressing the wasteful practices and the continued inaction of our federal government. Our elected officials continue to ignore the massive funding issues with our social programs — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. With our huge budget deficits and the mandatory spending of these social programs accounting for nearly 60 percent of our federal spending, we are on a path to an economic crisis that I’m afraid our children and grandchildren will not be able to overcome. The results of that crisis would be much more devastating on our society’s well-being than any environmental issue.
Dan Sweeney ’83
Unheard no longer
I wanted to express gratitude to Professor Tillman for her concise, well-researched, accessible article, “Unheard of”. My hope and prayer is that Dr. Tillman’s recommendations would be picked up and championed throughout the wide and wildly diverse body of the institutional Church. Her practical suggestions for revising the lectionary, restoring women to the diaconate, and including women in positions of significant leadership in the governance of the church do not threaten doctrinal positions or orthodoxy. Rather, these specific policy changes would signal a renewed commitment to the pastoral impulses of Vatican II, and provide meaningful reforms towards creating a more fundamentally accountable institution.
Such changes would be signs of hope in a season where many Catholics struggle with how to remain in an institution that seems hell bent on protecting itself. What will it take for the decision makers in the Church to see the love women pour out for Jesus’ sake? And what transformation might be unleashed if the Church welcomed the gifts of the Holy Spirit through women’s hands, offered as healing ointment for the Church and a suffering world?
Casey Stanton ’07
Durham, North Carolina
##I have read your summer 2018 issue, “Keeping the Faith,” numerous times but could not seem to come to the same conclusions regarding the declining participation of Americans in their Catholic faith. Only John Nagy (“Love Letter”) alluded to the sexual abuse scandal. The news in August from the Pennsylvania dioceses, 15 years after the expose in Boston and the subsequent escape of Cardinal Law to Rome is a very important reason that the laity have left the Church. Many of their childhood role models, authority figures, were actually hypocrites. Those who told you how to live your life did not adhere to basic decency and the hierarchy was guided by canon law to hide it. So blame the parents and grandparents if you wish, but only when the Catholic intellectuals study in depth what happened to the older generation’s moral compass and perceptions (grounded in Catholic education, how their innocence was shattered again and again), will we know why this generation abandoned the Church. They will probably find that they did not abandon their God, just a flawed institutional Church.
The summer issue was thought-provoking. The editorial, together with articles by John Nagy (“Love Letter”), Ken Woodward (“Losing Faith”), Mary Tillman (“Unheard Of”) and the interview with Meghan Sullivan (“Happiness and other head-scratchers”) were well-researched, sensitive and laced with nostalgia. Certainly those who leave the fold bring with them dear memories of special devotion to be found nowhere else.
Our church has many problems, some of them theological. Francis is forthright and courageous. Church problems are deep and time is not on his side. It could take a disaster that none of us would want to move some back to the conventional fold.
People in their youth who have left the Church would not be serious about returning to a Church that supports Empire. Would these people be patient with the tangled process of finding justice in the ordination of women? Would a skiff sailor want a battleship?
How will community continue into the future? One scenario might look like this: a pleasure-seeking culture of electronic life in a world of chaos with laws influenced by the hardworking Christian right. Enter an emerging Church that is Christian and neotraditional. This church community would see the Bible as beautiful allegory. It would emphasize compassion, justice and peace. It would practice contemplation and make provision for the solitude and place to do so. It would grow to have practical influence.
There is a bright spot, a breath of fresh air at Notre Dame. She is Meghan Sullivan. She wants to sell her students on a life of contemplation. Readers might like to know more about her efforts and while waiting wish her success.
Donald F. Cuddihee Sr. ’54
Greer, South Carolina
If Ken Woodward (“Losing Faith”) is searching for a reason behind the decline of Catholicism (particularly among young people) in the U.S., his starting point in the 1960s is the right time frame, but his focus on the Second Vatican Council is misplaced. He need look only at the news coming out of Pennsylvania, Australia, Ireland, pending investigations in New York and New Jersey, and the Church’s response for his answer. The priest abuse scandal, and the Church’s whimpering reaction to it, are doing more to delude the clergy’s moral authority and turn people away from the Church today than any lack of Catholic community possibly could.
It feels as though the Church is suffering from two cancers. The first, the cancer of the abuse itself, may be more in our past than in our future. While it is impossible to be optimistic given the horrors of the Church’s recent past, it cannot avoid notice that the Pennsylvania investigation in particular revealed almost no allegations that could be prosecuted, because the events uncovered were too far in the past. That is of course no guarantee that abuses are not still happening, but one could be forgiven for hoping that it is not the systemic problem of 30 years ago. There is no good reason, however, to believe the Church when it speaks about the abuse problem, because of the second cancer: a lack of accountability. Even if the abuse may be largely in the past (and it is certainly reasonable to be skeptical of that notion), many members of the clergy responsible for the abuse, promulgating the potential for abuse, or covering up the abuse remain in the cloth, unpunished. Not calling those clergy members to account is a nagging erosion at the moral fabric of the clergy. For as long as it appears that the Church is unwilling to purge itself of those associated with the wrongdoing of the past, its moral authority will be diminished (or non-existent) in the eyes of the faithful.
Parishioners in the pews today are hearing many things from their priests. That the abuse was awful and a betrayal of parishioners’ trust. That the Church must atone for its sins. That the clergy are doing everything they can to prevent this from happening again. That parish priests know something must be done, but don’t know what. What parishioners are not hearing is what they need to hear: that their parish priests are calling for anyone credibly associated with the abuse scandal to resign or be removed from the clergy, and that the call has been heard. That in fact any member of the clergy credibly associated with the scandal will no longer be a member of the cloth. Full stop. Allowing those who materially participated in the scandal to remain members of the clergy means that the Church is placing the priesthood above the needs of the faithful, those the priesthood should have been protecting but instead betrayed. It expresses that the abuse is, even to a limited degree, being tolerated.
Some might protest that such a forced removal would demonstrate a lack of forgiveness. If a bishop acknowledges mistakes in handling abusive priests in the past and asks forgiveness, some might argue that allowing him to learn from his mistakes and remain in his position would be the more Catholic response. This supposes that punishing those responsible for the scandal renders forgiveness impossible, a false supposition. One can forgive a priest’s actions while understanding that those actions render him incapable of serving the Church as a priest. Given the depth and breadth of the Church’s abuse problem, recognizing that the two must go hand in hand — working towards forgiveness of those responsible for the abuse while removing them from the clergy — is a necessity for ensuring that the clergy writ large truly atones for what has happened.
A full accounting of the priesthood would be drastic. Some might respond that removing all priests, bishops and cardinals associated with the scandal and its cover-up would gut the Church leadership and could kill the Church. That is the response of a bureaucracy more concerned with protecting itself than with doing what is right for the Church. Indeed, most of the Church’s response thus far has the hallmark of a bureaucratic response — trying to preserve the status quo. What this ignores is that the current response is itself killing the Church. Bureaucracy, hierarchy, administration do not give life to the Church. At best, they support it. Jesus did not make Peter the rock upon which He built His Church to create an unresponsive and self-protecting bureaucracy but to watch over the Church and its people. The bureaucracy of the clergy, which should exist to do just that, is failing. A critical step to recovery is removing those associated with the problem. Until then, Mr. Woodward need not wonder about why the Church is losing faithful; he need only consider the Church’s representatives on earth.
Christian Braunlich ’04
##In “Losing Faith,” it is concerning that less than a quarter of the article discusses any research on the subject. Shockingly, there is no mention of contemporary events such as yet another damning report on clergy sex abuse and decades of cover up. Instead, Ken Woodward ’59 focuses on events of 50 years ago, like ending Latin Mass. To answer the question “Why have American Catholics failed so spectacularly in passing on the faith to their own children?” it cites research on young adults, but none on parents. I would suggest a national research university collect data by asking this question to parents. I would answer that the Church is no longer qualified nor deserves to teach morality to my children.
Cory Schaffhausen ’99
##I found “Losing Faith” very interesting as I myself have not been to church in quite some time. I was somewhat shocked that Mr. Woodward did not address the sexual abuse scandals that were far too long allowed to happen. Thankfully, I was not aware of the actions that took place at my grade school in Savannah in the early 1980s. But I had a friend two years ahead of me and one two years behind who were both abused by a priest. The same priest who was moved after the first incident then returned in time for the second. Due to the multiple cover-ups by the diocese, each friend was awarded over $4 million in reparations for the priest’s actions. Of course, no amount of money can change the past, but it pained me greatly to think that my church donations would go to cover these payments. The Catholic Church has hidden their sins for far too long, and this is why people are leaving the church. The Church also prefers to spend funds determining if we should say “Peace be with you,” or “And with your spirit,” rather than focusing efforts on helping the flock.
It is a difficult time in the church, but the overwhelming feeling of the cover-ups makes it unbearable to attend Mass. To have a group of men who won’t allow women to be priests, or themselves to marry for that fact, decide to hide their indiscretions is unforgivable. I am hopeful that one day my heart will soften and return to the church in which I was raised. But the continual focus on changing the words in Mass, rather than on changing the actions outside of Mass, tempers my hope.
Leo M. Story ’93
Richmond Hill, Georgia
I read Ken Woodward’s essay with great interest, finding it informative and, also, a bit inspiring. It was particularly interesting to read that “next to the Catholic Church, the second largest denomination in the U.S. would be ex-Catholics — if they all collected into one religious body.” All the points he made seem reasonable to account for the decline of practicing Catholic membership and need not be reiterated here. One point he failed to make, however, was how the Church’s adherence to the archaic doctrine prohibiting priests (and nuns for that matter) from marriage (unless they were already married before they entered the seminary or convent, I suppose) and mandating a life of celibacy, which, in and of itself is unnatural and unhealthy.
The legions of priests who have been sexual predators of children and adolescents and the hierarchy, who have turned a blind eye to their crimes, is appalling and must be disillusioning to the faithful. Why do we rarely, if ever, hear of Protestant and Jewish clergy perpetrating these crimes? I suspect the major reason is because the non-Catholic denominations recruit only psychosexually and psychosocially healthy members, both male and female, who have been raised in a healthy environment and have lived and continue to live relatively well-balanced lives.
If my own Catholic education serves me right, mandatory celibacy was man’s law, not God the Father’s or Jesus’ law. Maybe it made sense 2000 years ago, but it has been obsolete for many generations. How can non-Catholic clergy effectively serve their congregations, but married Catholic priests cannot? Furthermore, what is the difference between the effectiveness of a priest who enters the seminary after being married, and a priest who took the mandatory vow of celibacy before his ordination? It is hypocrisy to allow such a dual standard. To take this argument one step further, why can female non-Catholic pastors and rabbis faithfully (and maybe even more faithfully than celibate Catholic priests) serve their congregations, but female Catholics cannot be ordained as priests?
If the Catholic Church wants to not only survive, but thrive, it must wake up and more accurately reflect its membership by recruiting clergy who are cut from the same cloth as the faithful.
Dominick J. Lacovara Jr. ’70
Los Osos, California
Kenneth Woodward offers numerous explanations for an ongoing decline in church attendance among both Catholics and members of other faiths.
In another article (“Bishop in Residence”) by the Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, recently retired as the bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, we learn that about one in five college freshmen are taking psychotropic medications to control anxiety and depression.
Is there a connection? One would certainly believe so after reading “An Economy of False Profits,” in which Scott Russell Sanders details the toll of our corrupt system and bought-off politicians on the mental, spiritual and physical health of our citizens, including, likely, his wife Ruth.
America's obsession with — what, actually, besides following the “Greed is good” trope? — has helped turn millions of our countrymen into fearful, robot-like creatures who would rather follow a lying demigod and his henchmen on a lying TV network than help their neighbor. In fact, the concept of neighborhood is being lost, even as the movie about the life of Fred Rogers sells out across the country, with viewers searching for a return to decency, respect and shared values.
One thing is certain: Whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist or any other religion, a decline in church attendance means fewer chances to reflect on our blessings as Americans and humans and our shared responsibility to assist those in need.
Simply, fewer of us are giving thanks than ever before, and far less often. Unhappiness is rampant.
There was only one Theodore Hesburgh, but I humbly suggest it is time for Notre Dame to take a much stronger leadership role in getting our nation back on a more compassionate — and worshipful — course. To do less is a violation of our deepest convictions and the charge from our Creator.
Michael C. Henry ’79
St. Petersburg, Florida
##Ken Woodward’s “Losing Faith” is profound in his perception of dwindling Catholic faith. My parents were born and raised in South Bend and Mishawaka, Indiana. Mom was Roman Catholic, Dad was Lutheran. They were married in St. Hedwig Church on South Bend’s near west side in 1951. However, due to Catholic rules at that time regarding mixed-faith marriages, they were married not at the altar, but in the sacristy of the church.
My sister and I were born and raised Catholic (also due to Catholic rules at the time) in Greensburg, Indiana. Dad and Mom made a point of going to church Sunday mornings. He traveled to his Lutheran congregation while Mom, Sis and I went to the local Catholic church. Our family’s faith and belief in God was built on a strong parental foundation. Never did I hear Dad say anything against the Catholic faith in spite of its rules and disciplines, which in many ways made the Catholic faith very unique and meaningful. As an altar boy I can attest that having memorized the Mass in Latin made it that more special and magical, if you will. Vatican II took that wonderful feeling of amazement away from all of us.
As the article addresses, the community and ethnicity aspects have been lost as well. You need to look no further than your own backyard of South Bend to see its transformation in the last 50 years. The Poles, Hungarians and Irish, to name a few, came to South Bend to work for Studebaker. They settled in neighborhoods and helped build their own parishes like St. Hedwig for the Polish and St. Patrick for the Irish — and these two beautiful cathedrals are separated by only one block. Since Studebaker began closing its doors in December 1963, you can see what this has done to those close knit neighborhoods and the strong Catholic faith it once enveloped. I am sure the city of Pittsburgh has gone through something similar with its ethnic faith-based neighborhoods due to closure of the steel mills during the past 40 years.
Today, strong faith guidance from parents is missing. Tightly bound faith-based ethnic neighborhoods are gone in many cities. Vatican II created chaos, took away the self-denials, and in a sense destroyed a craving for discipleship. How can the younger generations build their faith in God through Catholicism or any Protestant denominations when they want to hold a smartphone in their hands 24/7 rather than picking up the Bible and reading it?
Brian Sontchi ’75
##In response to Ken Woodward, I think the great Maya Angelou sums this up best: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As a millennial Catholic, I can tell you that peers in my age group leave the Church because they were made to feel guilty for committing sins. My peers also see the hypocrisy of Church leadership committing far worse sins which are subsequently covered up. This is not a tactic I see used across priestly orders (Jesuits or Holy Cross), which is why I don’t see all branches of Catholicism failing. However, a return to orthodoxy does not fix the message. If forgiveness and love are considered “liberal” ideology then I will wear that label proudly. The nostalgic obsession with clandestine pre-Vatican II theology does nothing for me.
Mike Lozano ’07
Red Hook, New York
##Mr. Woodward’s answer to the concerned Catholic laity is to bring back Fish Fridays, the Latin Mass, “Catholic music” and reverse Vatican II. Oh yes, I forgot, to isolate ourselves in Catholic only communities separate from the real world.
I would remind Mr. Woodward that the Catholic laity has paid tens of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits caused by sexual pedophiles (priests) and their pimps (cardinals and bishops) worldwide. One of the many awful results was the Catholic schools and parishes blinked out of existence because of the Vatican cover-ups. Please spare us the “good old days” nonsense. The moral high ground belongs to the Catholic laity based on the teachings of Jesus.
Good luck with your time capsule, Mr. Woodward.
Peter E. Principe
Ken Woodward laments the loss of communal Catholics and attributes one cause to Vatican II. “Church reformers laid waste to a great many of the inherited markers by which ordinary Catholics understood and relished distinctive Catholic identity and habits.”
I’m not part of Woodward’s set that relished a claustrophobic Baltimore Catechism Catholicism, pre-Vatican II. I don’t think I profited in second grade from obsessing about mortal sin. I remember that black milk bottle designating a “soul without God’s grace,” presaging eternal damnation. And aren’t we all better off without the un-ecumenical belief that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church?
Nor was Notre Dame immune to provincial dogmatism pre-Vatican ll. Theology was still the “Queen of Sciences.” Miracles were historical facts, Jeffersonian skepticism be damned. While, at the same time, unqualified empiricism was the modus operandi in science classes. Thankfully, I encountered two prescient souls at Notre Dame who helped me bridge the prevailing cognitive dissonance. The ecumenical Christianity of John Dunne and Frank O’Malley transcended dogma and inspired me as O’Malley, quoting Dostoevsky, put it: “to love life above everything in the world.”
So, while these sanctified profs did nothing for my communitarianism or church attendance, they did cause me to hesitate before designating no religious preference on my advanced health directive.
Michael Murphy, M.D. ’63
##I agree with much of Kenneth Woodward’s analysis of the last 60 years of the American Catholic Church, although from a different perspective. I too grew up in the pre-Vatican II era of the 1950s and ’60s, an era which at the time we did not know was the tail end of the Counter-Reformation. In fact, we lived under the heavy hand of an exhausted Counter-Reformation. The cost of discipleship was obeying a list of rules (e.g., no meat on Fridays, no mowing the grass on Sunday) any infraction of which was punishable by eternal torment in Hell. The rules made less and less sense, nor could we get satisfactory answers from Sister or Brother or Father except, “It’s Church law, so obey.” This construct of negativity grew so big that collapse had to happen, especially in the face of attractive positives (real, not just apparent or false) in society outside the Church. Thank God for Pope John XXIII and Vatican II! I still go to Mass on Sundays and holy days and abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays because I want to stay connected to the Roman Catholic Church. But I ask: What is the spiritual plus in discipline from eating a plain cheese pizza on Friday instead of pepperoni???
Jack Foley ’66
##John Nagy’s “Love Letter” was extraordinary well-written. The world needs spirituality and community more than ever. Given the difficult environment we live in, coherently outlining why the Catholic faith is important is, well, very important. The world is trying to pull people in different directions, mostly toward materialism and moral relativism. People need to understand why this is ultimately the false choice and why Catholicism is a great religion that provides a fundamentally necessary base for faith and life at large. Despite all the negative things currently going on in the Church, no organization in the world provides more good on a daily basis — feeding the hungry, providing education, caring for the sick and sheltering the homeless. There are so many faithful people providing selfless service for the needy. The Church needs to be sustained and grow in strength, despite the current crisis.
John Russell ’81
##The summer issue missed many reasons for Catholics losing their faith: (1) the hypocrisy of priestly pedophilia; (2) the advances in science more and more disproving Creationism; (3) the recent CNN series exposing the corruption and abuses of past popes; (4) the bloated and ancient church leadership of old male bishops and cardinals; and (5) the constant changing of rules. “It was a sin and now it’s OK.” Just some observations from an alumnus who lost his faith.
Peter Kirk ’62
Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Ken Woodward’s “Losing Faith” is a penetrating and disturbing article. I read his book Getting Religion and thought it was a seminal book about religion in America. What strikes me about this article is his conclusion that being Catholic, being raised Catholic, is no longer consider a key part of one’s identity by a large number of Catholics. As a practicing Catholic all my life I personally do not yearn for the “bells and smells” of my early youth. What I look for now is a consistency of message. I am encouraged by Pope Francis and his focus. It is my belief that whether one agrees or disagrees with the positions of the Church they will always be Catholic at their core. It is part of their DNA.
Jim Lynch ’65
East Lansing, Michigan
##“Losing Faith” unintentionally reveals quite clearly some of the actual reasons why young people are leaving the Catholic Church. The reader need only to consider the first sentence to understand that the writer speaks only of losing faith in the Catholic “Church.” He is not speaking of Christianity in total. The distinction is important and noted by any inquisitive young Catholic mind. Additionally, the first sentence reveals that the analysis that is to follow is only of human religion and society. To point, if we replaced the word “Catholicism” with (insert your religion here) we could almost imagine that we were reading an article by a scholar of any religion as he muses on the prospect of increasing religious membership.
Why is this important? My own Catholic experience might offer some insight. After attending 16 years of Catholic education it was not until serving my country upon graduation that I realized I was totally unprepared to die. At that time of searching, I found I could not even bring myself to pick up the Bible. Why? Because after being raised Catholic I was still not even sure that the scriptures weren’t but a fairy tale. There were so many religions (and denominations) with their own beliefs. How would I ever find the truth? I conducted years of personal search into the Scriptures with the ultimate personal conclusion that it is indeed a truthful record of mankind's recorded experience with the one true God.
Other telling revelations within the article include the fact that not once is the word “Jesus” seen, not one scripture is quoted. Not once is the claim made to the inerrant word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer, nor of the complete work of salvation in Christ Jesus. In fact, the article states the reason for decline in American Catholicism is failure “to reinvent community Catholicism or to fashion effective alternatives for passing on the faith.” It blames parents and speaks of guitar music and meatless Fridays, and other Catholic traditions, nothing of eternal salvation of young souls through Christ. The article only offers musings of social concern, not salvation.
Perhaps our Catholic scholars may be focusing too much on Catholic doctrine and social concerns. Perhaps we are taking our eyes off the transforming message of eternal life through Jesus our Christ, the one true Son of God, our only hope. Today, I am now convinced that absolute truth can only be discovered in the Holy Scriptures through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is this message to which the hurting hearts of our young ND scholars will respond because it is the only message that saves us from our sins.
David B. Richter ’76
North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
“Losing Faith” was well-written and full of insight. Given the state of American Catholicism Ken Woodward describes, what is to be done?
Many folks look at the giant edifice of the Church, and the great complex of rules, and don’t understand the point of or need for either. Nearly all will concede the need for structure, method and discipline in the work world, but in matters of the spirit they want to rely on unmoored intuition and improvisation.
I teach baptism preparation at our local parish. The classes are populated mainly by religious fence-sitters. I suggest to them, consistent with the Gospels, that salvation is not just something that occurs in the afterlife. Salvation is also about finding genuine happiness in this life.
For example, we talk in class about the role of fear in all our lives, and how it too often dominates, and how glad we would all be if we were free of fear, or at least less burdened by it. We then talk about the link between fear and anger, and the impact of anger on family and friends. Then we turn to the First Letter of John, where he says that perfect love casts out all fear, followed by a pointed look at the relationship between church structures, doctrines and disciplines — which many find burdensome — and the gospel call to love more perfectly, the path to a life less captive to fear.
It is the point and the purpose of every rule and law of the Church to provide for us the structure, methods and the discipline needed to love more perfectly. That logic — not mine, but the logic of the Gospels themselves — when fully exposed and explored, has had a very significant impact on many of the baptism prep “students.” At least some of these students realize, perhaps for the first time, that the Church, with all its commands and even its prohibitions, exists not only for happiness in the next life, but in this one, too. Pretty simple, but a truth that we have not, as a Church, sufficiently highlighted and explained, or so it seems to this lowly layman.
The article by Bishop Lynch (“Bishop in Residence”) is one of the best I’ve seen in your wonderful magazine. How refreshing to see a bishop come looking for answers, and kudos to Father Jenkins for inviting him.
Ken Woodward’s views are easy to love because I inhabited that rich Catholic culture he misses. My favorites included the fish frys, where my father was a joyful master of dish-washing. The greatest gift was Communion; first Communion in a white suit and a brand new prayer book with a mysteriously hollowed out cover containing a 3D crucifix. Receiving, walking past rows of the kneeling community, like the prayer book, a dimension, a space hollowed-out of all thoughts, filled me way beyond any size.
The early Church’s Roman Constantine patronage employed the openness and inclusive form of the Roman basilica but included Christianity, which by definition was a mystery school, and thus needed to have a clear separation between the faithful and the interested; a sequence of steps into the mysteries.
For me, Catholicism is not failing. It caused paganism to graduate into individual new forms. Is the student not invited to enter a process?
That cafeteria is a sacred space because there is no space which is not. There are few Catholics in my region, and so when I learned of an obscure monastery I looked. Catholics traveled from their parishes and filled the place way beyond capacity so the bishop changed the time of Sunday mass to very early and that cut down the expat’s presence for a while, but then they came back and made the walls bulge again. Driven by the needs of parishes, the bishop tore down the monastery, and what to do? The way of Christ is the way of perpetual conversion, hunger. So I followed a friend from that chapter to a small school and for 40 years I have driven the 100 miles as I will tomorrow morning. I have grown more intimate with what lies beneath the cafeteria, and, just like all the fables, the richest I have found is easily recognizable as first Communion. The difference is that I can take it beyond the sanctuary, when I remember to, because there is no outside. My new insights can invariably be stated in terms taught to me in the fourth grade by the sisters. The inside front cover of this magazine is a constant invitation to look and see. There need be no better pointing finger. So Notre Dame is alive in grace and there is gold all over the ground. Postwar America’s Catholic moment was of the status and affluence following the war. The world is in global agreement that we have made a mess. Very unusual to see that magnitude of agreement. Would rolling back on luxe provide space in which to feel useful? The ’50s are in fact gone.
Tim Maloney ’64, ’67MFA
##I have just finished reading, and re-reading, Ken Woodward’s article, “Losing Faith.” I would have expected better, both from the author and from your editorial board. His analysis of the issue of lost faith is, frankly, shallow and grossly incomplete. In advancing reasons for the alleged failure of Catholic parents to pass along their faith to the next generation, Woodward posits that it is the decline in communal Catholicism (or the failure to reinvent it) that accounts for the loss of faith by many post-World War II Catholics. His solution: Bring back the Latin Mass, the Gregorian chant, year-round meatless Fridays, and the formation of isolated Catholic cells to shield families from secular influence.
What is glaringly absent from Woodward’s analysis are the many significant factors, caused by the Church’s own failures to bear witness to the essential Gospel message, that have virtually forced otherwise devout lifetime Catholics from the Church. Certainly prominent among those factors is the pervasive worldwide scandal (continuing to this day) of the sexual abuse of youth by priests, and the shameful failure of the bishops to punish the abusers and protect the abused. And what credibility can the Church claim when it continues to insist that women still must be excluded from full participation in its ministry (even forbidding any discussion or debate about the topic). And how does the Church credibly assert that we are all God’s children deserving of respect and love, yet condemn gay persons as being substantially disordered. There are innumerable other issues that cause otherwise faithful followers to seriously question Church doctrine (for example, banishing the remarried, and causing untold suffering and death in developing countries with its blind and cruel insistence on banning all contraception).
The Church held the faithful in check for centuries by invoking the tyranny of orthodoxy. That tyranny was somewhat eroded by Vatican II. While Woodward clearly is hostile to the reforms introduced by that council, my own view is that the Church will not restore faith among its former flock by, as is noted at the end of the article, increasing the cost of discipleship, whether he means meatless Fridays, days of recollection or banning guitars. The world has changed, and the old tricks no longer work.
Robert Sidman ’68J.D.
##Ken Woodward and John Nagy, while offering cogent reasons for the decline in Church allegiance, omit other explanations coming from scholars:
1. The sexual abuse crisis plaguing the worldwide church has seriously undermined its claim to be “holy” (as in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”) by impugning its moral authority with the specter of hypocrisy.
2. Though the Church’s core doctrines rest on an interpretation of the Bible approaching literalism, recent Biblical scholarship by top New Testament scholars like Bart Ehrman (on anyone’s list of top NT scholars) calls into question the claims of inerrancy, claims about Jesus’ divinity, creation of the sacraments, instituting the priesthood, and establishing the Church itself, because most of the supporting biblical references for these doctrines appear as later gratuitous manuscript insertions.
3. When I was teaching on the ND philosophy faculty in late 1960s, students were more concerned with Church doctrines of sexual morality and infallibility. Today, students’ questions are more fundamental: Does the redemption story imply a vengeful God, or guilt on Adam’s descendants who had nothing to do with the apple? Does the Christ sacrifice mean an innocent person dies while the guilty are untouched? Was Jesus really a savior, or, instead, only a political zealot attacking Roman and Jewish power?
In a future issue of this magazine, Notre Dame’s theology faculty, praised in the same issue by Bishop Lynch, might profitably respond to these and other explanations for the Church’s decline.
Rudy J. Gerber ’71J.D.
Santa Rosa, California
The “Keeping the Faith” series was thoughtful and prescient. I found Ken Woodward’s “Losing Faith” a missed opportunity to honestly and fully explore the multiple forces that have changed how the ordained ministers and laity (especially younger people) engage with each other. Although persuasive in asserting that the Church needs to reinvent communal Catholicism, the focus solely on Vatican II struck me as an incomplete analysis. To better understand what our Church in the U.S. is currently experiencing merits a deeper examination of developments not linked to Vatican II; for example, the ramifications of ethnic Catholics integrating into mainstream American society since the 1950s, how increased consumerism and individualism since the 1980s redefined the common good and spiritual well-being, and, as we have been sadly reminded again recently, the adequacy of the U.S. bishops’ leadership and response to the ongoing revelations of priestly sex abuse dating back to the 1940s. I did enjoy and find hope in Bishop Lynch’s essay (“Bishop in Residence”) on his semester at Notre Dame. Its candor on what he experienced combined with the clear hope he has in youth and the Holy Spirit were refreshing and suggested the realistic, pastoral ministry our Church most clearly needs to heal the faithful and reform itself to better be Christ’s bride.
John Beckham ’88
##I read with interest Ken Woodward’s article “Losing Faith,” which presented much historical analysis on why young people are leaving the Church. Then I read it again. Not once was mentioned the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the institution to its core. The abuses went on for decades, damaging the psyches and faith of countless young Catholics. Even those not directly harmed have been so disturbed by these crimes, and various church leaders’ shameful shell game of “dealing” with the perpetrators, that it should be no surprise that young people are now withholding their unequivocal devotion. Here in Montana, claims settlements have nearly bankrupted our archdiocese, which in turn limits the engagement the Church can have with its diminished flock. This damage (which is not the fault of Vatican II or “the Sixties”) will take many years to heal, if indeed it will.
David Doria ‘82
##Ken Woodward neglected to recognize two key factors regarding why so many baby boomers and their children no longer identify as Catholics.
In three-and-a-half pages, he never once addressed two critical issues that drove many to be included among those he referred to as “former Catholics.” Despite the obvious inspiring moral guidance and noteworthy actions of Pope Francis, much of the leadership of the Church, especially the bishops and the curia since Vatican II, consistently denied and dismissed the pedophilia that became the protected mortal sin of those who were supposedly the moral guardians of the Church. Whether driven by institutional self-preservation or indifference, the Church’s obfuscation on this critical matter did result in many losing faith in the institution.
Fortunately, losing faith in the institution need not result in losing faith in Jesus’ messages and example.
Secondly, the political posturing in letters from bishops and pulpit pronouncements at Sunday masses with all things Republican dating back to the Reagan years has turned the predominantly white aging Catholic religious community into a 60 percent fearful voting bloc for Trump and the party. As one of my theology profs at Notre Dame often reminded us: “Way too much Good Friday; not enough Easter Sunday.” Also, include those in the Church’s clergy who choose to preach exclusivity to the faithful rather than promoting inclusivity, alienating many who grew up Catholic. A relevant quote about St. Paul seldom referenced by those who see the Church as exclusive rather than inclusive comes from Luke who wraps up the story of Acts: “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him . . . proclaiming the kingdom of God miles from Jerusalem, at the center of the non-Jewish world, sharing the message with whomever is interested.”
The attention on abortion among many Catholics shouldn’t lead to ignoring the unconscionable policies of this administration that kidnaps brown Catholic children from their parents and treats thousands of refugees seeking legal asylum as criminals.
The majority of voting white Catholics, too often in silent compliance and lacking the required direction of moral leadership from too many pastors, bishops, and other followers of Christ, continue their unquestioning support of Trump and the GOP.
Mr. Woodward concluded his essay with two thought-provoking questions: “What happened to the cost of discipleship? And how would they know?” I’ll conclude with two questions as well.
Why is it surprising that some “former Catholics” choose to disassociate themselves from an institution that too often seems more Republican than Christian? And how important should it be for Catholics to choose tax breaks as the main criteria for remaining loyal to Trump and the GOP?
Michael Cannariato ’73
Bishop Lynch wonderfully writes about much of what we South Bend-residing Notre Dame alumni already know. Soooo super to hear an outsider relate what great things he has learned about our University: students involved with social justice, with the theology curriculum, with K-12 teaching and administrative professions, with community service, with personal spiritual contemplation and betterment. Truly most if not all Notre Dame students will return to their homes as spiritually enlightened and more-willing participants with their family, friends and community.
Phil Bertoni ’63
South Bend, Indiana
The article “Unheard Of” is a perfect example of why women should not be accepted by the hierarchical Church. I am impressed with the research and knowledge of Katherine Tillman but continue to be puzzled and disappointed by feminists who do not understand and have no pride in their feminine power. To compare yourself with the opposite sex and think they are more in control or do more of this or more of that is sad to see. What Dr. Tillman has not grasped is that all female power effectiveness is in the fact that, unlike men, women can in their own body produce a living person. God blessed a woman to produce in her womb our Jesus Christ. Our apostles led well and for so many centuries men have stood up to the task and we are thankful for them.
South Bend, Indiana
##We have five children who all went through Catholic primary schools and public high school, and three went to Catholic universities (including Notre Dame). Only one occasionally attends Mass. My wife and I, both baby boomers from blue-collar parents, total around 50 years of Catholic education.
Even as our family is deeply steeped in Catholicism, we go forward to “observe, judge and then act” — sometimes on our own. We have been taught to carefully form our consciences. The model of our priests being shepherds and our being sheep has, in effect, been supplanted by our Catholic education encouraging us to examine the issues in great depth and do something. Our background and resources allow us to consider moral questions more thoroughly than we might get in a once-a-week Mass homily. The huge impact of our American culture of individualism further influences this abandoning of the blind obedience path. (Matthew Kelly writes about this.)
At least my wife and I would say we are drawn to the reform side of the Church. Our Catholic education has informed us that the Church has made important changes through the millennia (slavery, usury, bigamy) and other recent significant changes as well (capital punishment.)
The four women in our family hope for reform that advances women’s place in the church. This was not addressed “Losing Faith.” I am a deacon and I know that some of our children from time to time wonder how my wife can continue to stay in a church that is by many standards unnecessarily patriarchal to its own detriment. They wonder the same about me.
The horrible and ongoing sexual abuse and cover-up scandal has proved to be reason enough for our now-adult children and their kids to stay away. For them, this is invariably added to the above issue of women’s just place in the Church and wondering how their mom and I can stay with the Church.
To many young people, our children included, religion itself has an evil reputation in the world these days. Our own scandals, radical Islam, ISIS, Israel versus Palestine, Myanmar genocide, just to name the daily headline grabbers, all give religion a repulsive — but deserved — reputation. It’s no mystery to me why young people connect and reject religion because of the horrible things reported so frequently.
While I remember well how confusing and sometimes off-putting it was going through the changes after Vatican II, I think our Mass is a better match for our people and culture now than back in the 1950s. BUT. A recent article in U.S. Catholic says “male energy likes to move, to act, to do things. Most men won’t sit passively and listen to things that seem to have little connection to their innermost thoughts and everyday lives. Catholicism has become identified with ‘passive attendance’ at Mass and other events. As a result, the church has lost many men who are hungry for something more active than simply attending a church service every week.” This is an area ripe for improvement aimed at better attracting the young men whom “Losing Faith” speaks of.
##Reading Ken Woodward’s essay, I was struck by an omission as he mentioned studies which demonstrated demographic trends where especially Catholic youth appeared to be less interested in practicing their faith as they grew older. Although he alludes to some findings that were determined to be some main causes for these trends — for example, liberal church practices made less demands, etc. — he altogether failed to mention two specific issues that are so obvious to me and need to be addressed.
The first problem is that of the Catholic Church’s appallingly weak and haphazard way that it has dealt with the sexual predations of its clergy. Its early methods of hiding predator priests, covering up for them, and reassigning them to new parishes, and denying their crimes for so long; wasn’t mentioned at all.
Secondly, but more subtle, , is that of lay Catholic members, who are political and national institutional leaders, who promote their faith but fail to demonstrate it in their political actions towards the public at large. I’m especially cognizant of such persons as Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States.
Instead of practicing compassion towards the poor and marginalized; instead of addressing climate change; instead of acknowledging corruption and demanding justice, they ignore all of these issues in the name of political expediency.
Both of these problems are issues of a leadership failure. Simply put: Why should anyone be expected to follow someone who is a failed leader?
The Catholic Church still deals piecemeal with continuing findings of priests who sexually abused their parishioners and were transferred to new parishes, to continue their crimes. It continually keeps fighting against accusations of hiding abusive priests, only to be revealed to be telling lies again and again.
Prominent Catholics in public office who fail to practice their faith’s teachings by advocating public policies that address poverty, compassion for marginalized people, for responsible government; but are not called out by their Catholic institutions for it, yet too many American bishops are keen to demand that Catholics who support abortion-rights should not receive communion. This hypocrisy by Catholic institutional and lay leaders, have probably done their part to diminish enthusiasm by young people to commit to being Catholic. Who wants to identify with failed leaders?
Until Catholic lay and church leaders adhere to practicing what it preaches — to demand and practice justice, to advocate for and enact policies that address the poor and marginalized, to be less judgmental and more compassionate for all people regardless of their social standing — it will continue to viewed as hypocritical by an increasingly discerning youth.
And don’t bother with “whataboutism”: Catholics who were weak individuals (John F. Kennedy is a typical example) still pursued public policies that adhered to Catholic teachings (civil rights and the end of institutionalized discrimination). Young people aren’t stupid. They know the difference between practicing your faith with regards to oneself, and how you treat everyone else. They don’t expect leaders to be saints. They expect them to adhere to “the golden rule.”
Since I’m only an Notre Dame alum-parent and not an alumnus myself of Notre Dame, I don’t expect this to be published, but I hope it is considered for discussion and thought. I have that much faith and regard for the institution that is Notre Dame and this magazine.
##I read with interest, and a bit of sadness, Ken Woodward’s “Losing Faith.” I felt his sense of loss, which he noted in his years as a Catholic and a reporter of religion in America. I was also in touch with my sadness that he did not give a proper respect to those of us who form part of the second largest group of believers in the U.S., the former Catholics (or, some would say, fallen-away Catholics). It really is not possible to be an “ex”-Catholic. It is a cultural perspective which I think is similar to cultural Jews.
Admittedly, Mr. Woodward did characterize as “cynical” the explanation of the apparent loss of faith to a stock-market-like “course correction.” This is beyond cynical; it is downright insulting to those millions of Catholics, some of us Domers, who have struggled with our own faith journey while seeking their spiritual integrity within and without Catholicism. His purely sociological perspective is not incorrect, but trivializes the theological and moral struggles of the laity and clergy. How does one explain the mass exodus of priests, brothers and sisters during this same period? Community was integral to their vocations. But community was part of what failed them.
These millions have not drifted away carelessly, but rather have dealt with moral decisions concerning clerical hypocrisy and misinformation (a catechism would not prevent this), and issues within marriage of birth control, spousal abuse, substance abuse and divorce. They have struggled with clerical misogyny, and the sexual abuses of children. I remind people of faith that these are crimes (sometimes mental illnesses) not to be primarily addressed by retreats and prayers. Did Mr. Woodward not see Spotlight?
Regarding Vatican II, Woodward’s emphasis was on changes of practice and rituals. He failed to note the theologies of Vatican II. The council was called for the universal Church to rethink theology and Sacred Scriptures in the light of the 20th century’s findings and clear pastoral needs. It was, and is evident: There has been no constant, unchanged teaching of the Church through the ages. Father Richard McBrien knew this, taught it and wrote of it. Teachings which encouraged crusades, justified slavery and side-stepped usury reveal Church authority not receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. After Vatican II, liberation theology led the way for many of us at Notre Dame. For us it lives on. But, unfortunately much of this theology is fading away from our parishes like some kind of dangerous quicksand.
Yes, I am a Domer. Before that I attended Rosary College. I met my husband in graduate school at Notre Dame in 1961 and was married in the crypt in 1963 by a CSC priest. My Catholic memories are strong and Her gifts are many. But I have chosen a different path and would like that to be respected and not considered to be a loss by anyone, especially anyone at Notre Dame.
I would love it if you could light a candle at the Grotto to celebrate my life.
Catharine Stewart-Roache ’62M.A.
Socorro, New Mexico
##The decline in active church participation by young people, which Kenneth Woodward and John Nagy thoughtfully explored in the summer issue, can be clearly seen in my own family. My first-generation Catholic German-American grandparents married in 1913 and had nine surviving children, who all married, settled within several miles of their small hometown, and raised their children in the Catholic Church — a classic case of Woodward’s “communal Catholicism.” This was the “Greatest Generation” of my family, which grew up in the Great Depression and fought in World War II. Their marriages, while of varying degrees of happiness, were lifelong; and my father reflected their prevailing degree of commitment to the Church. His first priority, when we arrived in a beach town for our annual summer vacation, was not to check into the motel, but rather to confirm the time and place of next Sunday’s Mass. After he retired, he and his older brother attended daily Mass together for 14 years, until my dad’s final illness.
My large generation of this family, with birth dates spanning from a few years before the baby boom to a few years after, is probably about two-thirds Catholic. Several of my cousins and I joined Protestant denominations, but for very different reasons. Most of the “dissenting” cousins joined conservative Fundamentalist denominations that are more in line with their very conservative political views; while I have joined the Episcopal Church, because I cannot bring myself to believe that a loving and omnipotent God would create an “intrinsically disordered” homosexual orientation in me and millions of other men and women, in every time and culture, and intend for us to spend our lives struggling against it. My middle sister and a few other cousins who left are some combination of the “injured” and “drifter” categories that Mr. Nagy notes in his article.
Of the next generation, I would guess that less than half are Catholic or regular attendees of any church. My oldest sister was an observant Catholic until she died at 50 from diabetes-related illness, but her husband was not nearly as active in the Church. Supporting the “committed father” thesis, their son is not religious at all, and their daughter has only recently started attending Mass again, after meeting her observant Catholic fiancée. My nephew now has two young sons of his own who are not baptized in any church. I’m pretty sure that my dad, were he still alive, would have conducted a couple secret “emergency baptisms” by now, to spare his great-grandsons the possibility of spending eternity in Limbo.
Despite my having left the Church (and, admittedly, harboring some resentment for the reason that caused me to do so), I take no pleasure in the Catholic Church’s current decline in participation. As Mr. Nagy notes, my own and most other Protestant churches are experiencing similar or more severe declines, which suggests that this a widespread crisis of faith in our culture. Perhaps we are entering an era like that of the very early Christian church, when the followers of Christ were a small sect surrounded by paganism. But even then, the pagans had a faith in — or at least a fear of — higher powers. For Christians who have taken Christ’s blessing of the humble and meek to heart, the idea of humankind elevating itself to the status of highest power is new and unwelcome territory.
Greg Fuhrman ’87
##My wife and I read “Losing Faith” with great interest. Both of our millennial children are essentially non-practicing, though raised conservatively Catholic. Both were confirmed.
Ken Woodward makes the classic blunder of railing about Vatican II and seemingly laying much of the blame for today’s faithlessness there. In this, he is wrong. I contend that the Church would not have survived the social revolution of the Sixties without the badly needed reforms of Vatican II. The loss of faith is better ascribed to the loss of locality, the Catholic community, as Ken calls it. He correctly identifies the loss of the core Catholic community (peer group) as a factor. What he totally misses is what has happened with the clergy. They have disappeared. Unlike the boomers, millennials have no army of nuns to instruct them, and Catholic schools have become exclusive and scarce. The ranks of priests have badly thinned, and the Church routinely rotates them, ensuring that parishioners do not identify with them. Worse, they have been tainted with pedophilic scandals. Parishes have become populated with pastors who have limited people skills and who are poor administrators. They alienate and drive people away with clumsy dictates and demands. I remember in the ’60s when it was strongly taboo to criticize a priest. That respect has been lost, and I don't believe it’s because we have lost the rites of pre-Vatican II.
We have lost much of the clergy and we have lost the Catholic neighborhood. That is why so many have lost their faith. Those of us who still have faith, however, know that Christ’s Church will always prevail, because He said it would.
Dr. Patrick J. Breen ’80
Sometimes parents are wonderfully on fire with the Holy Spirit and are vibrant, active members of their parish, and a child or children walk away from the faith breaking their hearts. We want to ask, do you know who you are walking away from? Do you know you were meant for eternity, not this world? The great news is that the grace of God cannot be stopped. Jesus has promised us that the Church will always stand, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
We are the Church. As parents we continue to invite our wayward children back to Communion. We have been made marvelously creative and adaptive. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we share what God has done and is doing in our lives. We utilize those times of gathering as a family to tell our own Exodus or Passover story. We tell of how Jesus looked directly at us with such great love and said, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11).
For those who have suffered the heinous crimes of an unholy priest, I am truly sorry. Although Jesus himself had Judas in his midst, men who have received the incomparable gift of the priesthood should never commit such horrors. The scandals in the Church have most definitely shaken the faith of many. However, my belief is not centered on my parish priest but on the Holy Trinity. God became incarnate at an incredible cost so that I might become divine. No unholy priest can take away from me what God through his Son has done for me.
We are the Church. Vatican II charged every baptized Catholic to recognize their missionary call to go out and tell the Good News. God is with us. God is for us. And as the priest or deacon commands us at the end of each Mass, go forth and tell that Good News!
Maureen de la Rosa ’81
El Paso, Texas
I cherish and admire the work that you all do, but “Losing Faith” completely missed the mark in terms of explaining — truly — why young people are leaving the church in droves.
I agree that the faith is waning, but this article does nothing to understand or explain the mindset behind why people are leaving, or what it is they are pursuing instead. My faith has led me to become a yoga instructor in our local prison. I tell you this not to toot my own horn, but instead to give you an example of how my strong Christian background has driven me to explore new spirituality frontiers in this ever-changing landscape.
Kyle Hakanen ’11
I find that four considerations are missing in “Losing Faith” and “Love Letter”: relationship to Jesus, the growth of the suburbs, the causes of strained relationship to Church authority, and the Holy Spirit’s interactions with us in love.
Neither author mentions a healthy, growing, loving personal relationship with God / Jesus as a reason to continue in relationship with a parish/religious community. Most people I know who regularly attend Mass and the sacraments do so because they see weekly/daily participation as part of their involved, continuing development of a loving relationship between God and themselves. Others (especially those raised pre-Vatican II, and their disciples) may adhere to the punishment/reward methodology of previous generations, may be following habit, or may be meeting requirements to educate their children in the parochial system. One can easily see which will more readily continue to attend Mass. North Americans are not that different from Europeans in their spiritual pursuits and convictions, so the artificial expansion of U.S. expressions of religiosity following World War II has reduced to proportions similar to that of other Western countries.
The locale/parish community’s role in maintaining attendance was a strong one: The various nationalities of immigrants resided near their churches, and Mass offered both a continuum with home and the opportunity to meet and foster growth into (and to raise) U.S. citizens while retaining valuable, identifiable characteristics. The lectionary was in the native tongue as well as Latin, as were the homilies, songs and supplemental religious and social activities. Most parishes formed groups who saw to the education of the young, checked in with and cared for the elderly or infirm, and grieved with mourners in addition to burying the dead. Close proximity encouraged attendance, as neighbors knew and interacted with each other regularly.
“Urban Renewal” in the 1950s to ’70s cut gashes through poorer neighborhoods, often comprised of these parishes, dividing the communities and often separating parishioners from churches. The explosion in the growth of the “suburbs,” resulting from the stifling of housing options during the Depression and WWII, enabled the mixing of second-generation Americans (and sometimes, even religions and races), eradicating neighborhood homogeneity. Single houses on individual properties (instead of rowhouses and apartments) spread parish boundaries and eliminated home-church adjacency, so that driving became the primary means of attending Mass. Without social pressures of culture and proximity, and combined with some of the issues considered next, parish participation plummeted.
While there was a vibrant spiritual community at Notre Dame when I was a student in the 1970s (from “High Mass” with a fantastic choir and organ at Sacred Heart, Father Griffin’s “Urchin Masses” and other experimental liturgies and intentional communities in hall chapels across the campus, to a variety of large or intimate daily Masses), nearly everyone was Roman Catholic and had graduated from the parochial school system, and discussions of social and political issues incorporated Catholic principles and thinking, very few of my hallmates or fellow student acquaintances were regular participants at Mass. Laziness wasn’t a factor (perhaps lack of parental observation was, but I’m not arguing for the mandatory Mass attendance of my older brother’s, and previous, generations), but most had never developed the personal connection with God/Jesus, and had experienced bad interactions (usually violence, inflexibility based on bigotry/ ignorance, or hypocrisy; sexual predation was not discussed, even if present) with clergy, religious, or hierarchy. It wasn’t so much a rejection of God, as of church representatives and activities.
The situation is not much different today. As they continue to claim sole decision-making and financial leadership roles, bishops bear an overarching responsibility for the diminishing participation of Catholics. The heavy-handed eradication of parochial education, parish closings, and hospital consolidations with little or no dialogue with those affected, effectively cancelled the generations of prayers, efforts, celebrations, privations, and community-building by their predecessors, clergy, religious, and, especially, the parish laity, even before the improper, illegal actions of bishops to sexual predation became known. Bishops evidence inflexibility on many issues, and still “circle the wagons” by communicating solely within themselves, in lieu of seeking well-educated and-experienced advice (moral, social, financial, governance, etc.) from other experts with a broader vision, including former clergy/religious. The majority of the hierarchy failed to thoroughly educate (or even, dialogue with) the faithful (themselves, as well as clergy/religious and laity) in the goals and applications of the principles of Vatican II: They expected people to simply obey and observe the changes (most recently, unilaterally decided, stilted and obscure modifications in the language of the Mass were imposed in a similar manner). Unlike times of previous crises, no religious orders, such as the Dominicans or Jesuits, arose to fulfill this educational mission, and most clergy and religious were left to stumble through on their own.
Even though, I believe, no malicious intent was involved, myth and inaccuracies had been promulgated in the centuries since the Reformation, and strictures and activities deriving from these were eliminated without much explanation, leading to the backsteps during John Paul II and Benedict XVI’s papacies. In addition, pastors contributed to the retention of the medieval dominion of clergy over laity and parishes, even after Vatican II proposed conciliar interactions (equating to more democracy) within diocese and parishes. Churchgoers were neither blind nor deaf: The domination, refusal to interact, gender and sexuality-based prejudice, adherence to human-generated “tradition” and practices, apparent self-serving protection and solely financial-based decision-making of church leadership are at odds with the fraternal and familial expressions, welcome and willing acceptance of the “outsider”, the ability to learn and trust at the prodding of the Holy Spirit, other-focused service, prodigal generosity, and loving nature of Jesus and the early Church proclaimed weekly in the readings. These are the reasons I hear from post-Vatican II-raised critically-thinking Catholics as to why they don’t regularly practice, and since they don’t, their children can’t be expected to.
Lastly, I find that blaming the Holy Spirit for inspiring John XXIII (and clergy/laity/the interdenominational community) for choosing the 1960s (with all of its other reevaluations of social/political/spiritual issues) rather than acknowledging our own fallibility and failures to act responsibly to such prodding, is disingenuous, if one believes in a God who regularly interacts with us, in our best interests, from a basis of love.
In conclusion, I believe that blaming incidentals — such as use of the vernacular language, “bad” music, loss of “meatless Fridays” (I have never understood why one could consume salmon, shrimp, crab, or lobster, but not a hot dog, fast-food hamburger, or bacon) — rather than addressing major root-problems and acknowledging lingering failures will do little to bring back “lapsed” Catholics, or entice new ones.
Daniel F.C. Hayes ’78
I have two comments that I want to make. The first is my continual amazement and appreciation for the quality of the magazine and the editorial staff. I started receiving the magazine after I completed my master’s degree and while continuing on to finish my Ph.D. I started by reading only the articles on topics that at first glance looked interesting. Somehow I started reading a few of the other articles on topics that were less appealing to me at first glance. What I noticed is that I was enjoying these articles just as much and sometimes more than the ones on topics that I initially gravitated towards. It has gotten to the point where I read the magazine cover to cover, with the exception of the class notes — although I do glance at them. Every issue is page-turning and gripping and I’m always telling details about whatever article I’m reading to whoever is around. Many of them I’ve forwarded onto other individuals and have led to serious back-and-forth discussions. Which brings me to my second comment.
I’m really appreciative that in the past two issues there have been articles on very abstract concepts, namely the nature of friendship and wealth. These are articles are wonderful in that they probe the depths of the topic but leave the reader wanting more and spurring discussion. The spring issue’s “Welcome to the Intermind” started out talking about artificial intelligence and the direction it’s headed but then ultimately was a ponderance on the deeper meaning of friendship and where the world is headed. I forwarded this article to a number of individuals including a friend with whom the friendship has laid dormant a couple years; the article ultimately led to a reawakening and a reestablished rapport. The summer issue’s “An Economy of False Profits” is very much like a follow-up to the previous one in that it challenges the normal view on a topic and inspires discussion. The author tries to define and measure what is wealth. I think the early Jewish sages had a good bit of advice when they stated, “Who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot.”
I look forward to future articles and think the idea of making it a staple in the magazine to present articles that deal with a single abstract concept and challenge normative views in a way which provokes discussion is certainly a well-to-do one.
Jonathan C. Silver ’12 M.S., ’14 Ph.D.
Bnei Brak, Israel