“The Roman Catholic Church is in the midst of the greatest church crisis since the Reformation, which is not triggered by the worldwide abuse scandals, but finds a focal point in them.” That sentence, opening a very long article in The Tablet, expresses a thought that I voiced fifteen years ago, in my book The Faithful Departed. The Tablet authors and I agree (or so it would seem) that the sex-abuse scandal was an effect, not the cause, of the crisis in the Church.
Our agreement ends there, unfortunately. The Tablet lays out a long, long argument that the crisis is caused by outdated teachings, and the Church can only escape irrelevance by following the Synodal Path blazed by the German bishops’ conference. The authors (Sigrid Grameier and Christian Weisner) fear a pastoral disaster if the universal Church, at the coming Synod on Synodality, fails to endorse the German initiative.
There’s just one problem with that argument. (Well, actually there are many problems, but one stands out.) The German bishops have already produced a pastoral disaster. Their track record in recent years is the most compelling argument against accepting their leadership.
Acknowledging that the Vatican does not seem ready to accept instruction from the German hierarchy, Grameier and Weisner lament the “estrangement between the world headquarters in Rome and a theologically and financially relatively strong local church.” It’s certainly true that the Church in Germany is financially strong, thanks to the tax power of the German government. As for the theological strength of the German hierarchy, that’s the subject for the current debate. But there is something crucial missing from this appraisal. What about the pastoral strength of the German Church? How successful have the German Church leaders been in their efforts to bring people into the Catholic fold?
Not very. On the contrary, the most remarkable trend in German Catholicism is the mass movement of Catholics leaving the Church. More than 2 million Catholics have formally renounced their faith in the past decade, and the trend seems to be accelerating. In 2010, about 181,000 Germans removed themselves from parish rosters. In 2020 that number was 221,000. And in 2021, as the bishops embarked on their Synodal Path, a record-breaking 359,000 Catholics left the Church. With only about 1 million Germans attending Mass regularly, the number of ex-Catholics is double the number of practicing Catholics.
The Tablet essay skips over that unfortunate track record, to concentrate instead on the “hot-button” Church teachings that earn the scorn of secularists. The authors want us to recognize “what a gap there is between the reality of life today and the Church’s teaching on sexual morality.” Yes, there is certainly an enormous gap between the teachings of the Church and the everyday lives of men and women living in the secularized societies of the Western world. But are people happier—let alone holier—on the secular side of that gap? The authors see a marked difference between traditional Catholic thought and the “enlightened” opinion of contemporary Europeans, and conclude that because this difference exists, the Church teachings must be wrong. Non sequitur. From a strictly logical perspective it is equally possible that contemporary European attitudes should change. Add the hard evidence provided by the miseries of life in the “enlightened” societies—the breakdown of families, the alienation of generations, the epidemics of emotional and sexual dysfunction—and the case for Catholic teaching appears much stronger.
Full story at Catholic Culture.