An article appeared in the October 26, 2010 edition of the Baltimore Sun lamenting the dwindling number of priests in the archdiocese. Recently, a morning service attended by fifteen worshippers at St. Mary Star of the Sea was led by a nun. The scarcity of priests and declining congregations have prompted Catholic leaders to take proactive measures. Churches are being grouped together under one pastor and church leaders are asking parishes to consider cutting back on Masses and other services. Earlier this year, more than a dozen Catholic schools were closed displacing nearly 2,000 students.
“The problem is approaching critical,” said Mark Gray, senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. In the archdiocese of Baltimore this year only one candidate was ordained and he is in his 60s. Shortages of priests, declining attendance and church closings are nationwide phenomena. The St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese last week revealed a plan to close at least seven churches and gather others under one pastor.
What precipitated the apparent decline of the Catholic Church? Some scholars trace the regression to the sweeping changes engendered by Vatican II. Many Catholics found the changes difficult to accept and became disenchanted with the church. Also to be considered is the decline in religiosity in general occurring across the USA. As society becomes more informed and sophisticated people begin to doubt the delusional and anachronistic ideology of religion. In addition, the Catholic Church has a very nasty monkey on its back - the shocking allegations of sexual misconduct and subsequent cover-ups. The revolting images of predatory priests serve as a reminder of the many other atrocities perpetrated by Holy Mother Church: the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch trials, pogroms against Jews, complicity with the Nazi regime, the list continues ad nauseum. A sober appraisal of Church history would cause Caligula to retch. The resultant cognitive dissonance is disturbing, and in some cases unbearable. So, a synergy may be working to disillusion all but the most incorrigible Catholics. At the risk of sounding mean-spirited, if, tomorrow, the Catholic Church was to vanish like a fart in a tornado, I would remain unmoved.
The question remains, are we witnessing the beginning of the end of Catholicism? Will its churches and cathedrals soon be as empty as a tomb on Easter Sunday? The disappointing answer is probably not. Events like this run in cycles. But we can be encouraged by a nascent trend; a direction away from irrational, primitive, rigid thinking and toward a more challenging but also a more rewarding destiny.
cogito ergo atheos sum