Pope Francis concluded his pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia by invoking the memory of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, SJ, who died in September 2012. The Holy Father recalled that, “in his last interview, a few days before his death, [Cardinal Martini] said something that should make us think: Why is she not shaken up? Are we afraid? Fear, instead of courage. Yet faith is the Church’s foundation. Faith, confidence, courage. . . . Only love conquers weariness.’”

The Martini Curve should indeed make us think. I thought about it at the time and ended up with questions rather than answers. What, precisely, was the Church two hundred years behind? A Western culture come unglued from the deep truths of the human condition? A culture that celebrates the imperial, autonomous Self? A culture that detaches sex from love and responsibility? A culture that breeds a politics of immediate gratification and intergenerational irresponsibility? Why on earth would the Church want to catch up with that?

Call me a dullard, but try as I might to adjust my thinking, I’m afraid that’s what I still think about the allegation that Catholicism’s contemporary failures result from our being stuck in a rut behind the curve of history. Moreover, since Cardinal Martini’s death seven years ago, certain empirical facts have become unmistakable: The local Churches that have tried hardest to play catch-up with “history” and “the times” are collapsing.

The premier example is Catholicism in the German-speaking world. Weekly Mass attendance percentages have fallen into single digits in German cities and aren’t much better in Austria and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland. Has this implosion of the sacramental community compelled a rethinking of the strategy of cultural accommodation?….

Read entire Jan. 8 piece by George Weigel in First Things.