April 25, 2005

All the evidence suggests the opposite...

Ross Douthat has an article of great clarity in TNR disputing the idea that the Catholic Church should become more liberal...

...and all the while insisting--often from major op-ed pages and tenured positions at Catholic universities--that all of the Church's difficulties, from declining vocations to dwindling mass attendance to the sex-abuse scandals, would be solved if only Catholicism were to become more in step with the modern world.

It's an appealing notion, particularly to people whose lives and beliefs already conform more closely to modern mores than to traditional Catholic teaching. But it has almost no empirical support. All the evidence suggests the opposite--that a more liberal Catholic Church would be far weaker, smaller, and less influential even than the wounded and divided Body of Christ that Benedict XVI will govern.

The problem for liberals is that their preferred path to the Catholic future has already been tried, and with less-than-encouraging results. In America, the Church's decades-long slide in mass attendance and ordinations to the priesthood is at its worst not in Catholicism's more conservative precincts but in the liberal-minded dioceses and religious orders--the places where implementing the spirit of Vatican II has meant ignoring the actual Vatican on matters of liturgy, theology, and morality. The once-rigorous, now-latitudinarian Jesuits, for instance, have seen ordinations slow to a trickle, whereas self-consciously traditional orders like the Legionaries of Christ (and, of course, the notorious albino monks of Opus Dei) are growing rapidly. When a
recent survey compared 15 "progressive" dioceses to 15 "orthodox" dioceses, it found that the proportion of priests to practicing Catholics in conservative dioceses actually grew slightly between 1956 and 1996, while the proportion in the more liberal dioceses steadily dropped....

When one reads Andrew Sullivan moaning about the Church and gay marriage, one always wonders why he doesn't just become an Episcopalian. They'd probably make him a Bishop! Probably it's like Groucho's old joke, that "any club that would let me in isn't worth joining." He wants a church that stands for something, that demands adherence to the ancient moral standards and doctrine...except for one teensy little exception.

(Thanks to Juddblog)

Posted by John Weidner at April 25, 2005 5:41 PM
Weblog by John Weidner