Is the house worth rebuilding?
The question is not meant to be heretical or disrespectful. It is meant to challenge each of us to understand the crises that confronts us within the Church—the abuses, the immoral cover-ups, the diminishing membership, the aging and dwindling of women religious and the absence of priests to replace the dying and retiring clergy.
Nonetheless, we continue to hear the pious platitudes. As one enthroned member of the Curia stated recently in response to the clergy shortage: “The great question is a renewed experience of faith and evangelization.” It seems we can justify the many regions in the world where there is a priest shortage using pious platitudes.
The recent document issued by Francis on the Amazon synod shouts with pious platitudes for “awakening new life in communities,” but go figure out for yourselves how you can receive the Eucharist regularly. The Evangelicals must be ecstatic about this Vatican document because it is rooted in the clerical notion that the old wine skins are good enough. I guess that may be true since there is now much less wine to fill them.
More importantly, based on the comments that Jesuit Fr. Hans Zollner shared at a Villanova University conference, “the level of trust on bishops is below zero.” Zollner is a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Although his address focused on the abuse crisis and the Church leadership’s cover-ups and blatant lack of transparency, when such platitudes spew from leadership, the days of awe are long since gone. If Eucharist is central to our faith, then address the issue head-on rather than use double speak.
These shortages have resulted in solutions such as parishes being placed in clusters with a single priest, importing priests whose language and customs are foreign to today’s educated parishioners and a new breed of seminarians who relish wearing the clericals more than the smell of the sheep. We have a rich and wonderful tradition in the Church served by many dedicated and faithful priests. Yet it seems that “the going my way” mentality still flourishes and, in the end, the declining membership is staggering. Former Catholic in this country alone are the second-largest “denomination.” But that seems to be fine as leadership throws platitudes like bread on the water to feed the hungry.
Millennials and X-generation youth simply are not buying any of this duplicity. Then again, maybe this is truly the Spirit working to cleanse His House.
John J. Petillo is president of Sacred Heart University.