Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is the Catholic Church losing our younger generation? IV

To reset the premise one more time: On March 4th, 2011, the Pew Research Center Poll found that “Americans were opposed to gay marriage by nearly 2-1 a decade ago, the latest poll showed 45 percent in support of it, with 46 percent in opposition.” I asked the question: Is the Catholic Church losing our younger generation especially as it applies to the institution of marriage between a man and a woman? As the poll indicates and from my own surveying of students in my Faith Formation class (of course, using a small sample each time) the conclusion that I reached, was yes, the Church is losing our younger generation in terms of numbers. To be sure, the young Catholics who are well-formed are probably the best the Church has seen in centuries. Nevertheless, it would seem that the vast majority of young people are gravitating away from traditional marriage and the nuclear family.

I again ask the question: What can Catholics do about this?

The first point was that Catholic clergy and leadership of all ranks should revisit the pastoral practices of the Apostles and the early Church Fathers. For them, one had to be totally committed to Christ according to the teachings of the Church in order to be in good standing. The standard was- at the very least -the willingness to believe all and to do all that Christ commanded. Today's leadership, at least in part, is satisfied with commitments. Anything more than that, they say, is asking too much with the likelihood of scaring people away. This is not the attitude the hierarchy of the Church assumed for nineteen hundred years. Half measures were not only discouraged but they were met with consequences throughout Church history; most especially in early Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI once reminded the Austrian Bishops in 2005 that to teach the fullness of the Gospel- especially those doctrines which come across as severe and counter cultural -will not drive away people; just the opposite, it will attract them. If the high moral standard of the New Covenant offends some, it is equally true that it will attract even more people.

The second point I wish to draw your attention to is the adversarial nature of State-run education as it pertains to the mission of the Church. U.S. Bishops would provide a charitable service to our nation if they would campaign against the Soviet Union style education system our children are subject to. In a Pastoral Letter in 1919 to the U.S. Bishops, James Cardinal Gibbons predicted what a State-run education would portend for America: "The spirit of our people in general is adverse to State monopoly, and this for the obvious reason that such an absorption of control would mean the end of freedom and initiative. The same consequence is sure to follow when the State attempts to monopolize education; and the disaster will be much greater inasmuch as it will affect, not simply the worldly interests of the citizen, but also his spiritual growth and salvation."

In the 1960's alone, the percentage of students attending public schools increased from 59 percent to 73 percent. Now it is up to 90 percent. Conversely, as late as the 1950's, the Catholic Church in America educated 12 percent of all children. Today, she only educates 5 percent of them. And to add insult to injury, parents who wish to send their children to Catholic schools have to pay double; they pay the taxes to fund public schools and then they have to compensate for the ever increasing tuition's of Catholic schools. And the reason for this spike results from a crisis of religious vocations. The vast majority of Catholic teachers in the early twentieth century were compromised of priests, sisters or brothers from religious orders. Being single and without a family, they did not require big salaries to feed a whole family. In the early twenty-first century, however, the vast majority of Catholic teachers are lay people.

The Catholic Church is being outdone by public education; certainly not in academics but in advancing its moral values. No doubt, this State-run system has failed to produce academic results, but it has, in the last four decades, been infusing the secular spirit into our nation's children with great success. With that, the decline of marriage and the nuclear family has accelerated.

The Shepherds and teachers of our Church- from bishops to teachers -might want to consider a more assertive approach to these issues. It is perfectly consistent with the mission of the Church to criticize the failing institution of public education. Like our Lord who marched in the Temple only to scourge the greed and abuses with a whip and then later predicting its downfall, our spiritual leaders, animated with the same spirit, can make a great contribution by publicly challenging the monopoly of the State on education. If, indeed, the walls of State-run education were to fall-as with the Berlin wall this seems unthinkable -but if they were to fall, then the Light of the Gospel would expand its influence on our nation's youth through the instrumentation of Catholic education and spiritual formation. To be sure, students benefiting from Catholic principles on sex, marriage the family would increase from a meager 5 percent to a percentage far surpassing what the Catholic Church used to enjoy in the 1940's and 1950's. This will go a long way in winning back the younger generations to Christ and to the truth of marriage. The decline of America would be arrested and new life and vigor would be within each.