I am overwhelmed by large statistical surveys of anything, though it strikes me that the comparative survey of American dioceses, reviewed elsewhere throughout this issue, in fact confirms what we’d expect from good sense. Bishops do make a difference, and have great power to lead their flocks toward life or toward death.
I write from Canada, where they also certainly make a difference, though I’m aware of no survey up here that can give statistical surrogates to the morale of the presbyterate, the replenishment of vocations, and the strength of evangelization, diocese by diocese. While the toxic solvent of postmodernity dissolves glue across all borders, the historical situation of the Church in Canada is much different.
The United States had no region like Quebec, which was once what Protestants would consider a Catholic “theocratic state-within-the-state.” Maryland was never comparable, nor New England with its relatively high Catholic proportions, supplied from the first by a mix of immigrants. Quebec was a Catholic North American culture sui generis; and the collapse of Church authority and allegiance in Quebec, during the Silent Revolution of the 1960s, was like nothing ever seen. It was a dam bursting, leaving in its wake an abject spiritual wasteland.
The Catholic experience in English Canada is more easily comparable to the United States, though with its own national peculiarities. Catholics are a significant minority in most Canadian regions, forming distinct ghettos here and there. But they have related to the larger society in a different way, because the majority of Protestants belong to one of only four large, mainstream denominations. The Catholics thus easily won status as “another big church,” while in the States, where the principle of free enterprise applied as much to religion as to economy, Catholics stood out more distinctly as a small and exceptional tribe of non-schismatics.
That was then, but this is now. The huge Canadian Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and “United” (chiefly Methodist) federations are all now on the path to extinction, each having fully embraced the vacuum of contemporary feel-good and moral relativism. Canadian Protestantism is increasingly a minority, conservative, evangelical phenomenon. And with the help of immigration from southern Europe and third-world countries, the Catholic Church has emerged more visibly as the Christian sine qua non, even while cradle Catholics have been following their mainstream Protestant brethren through the “post-Christian” bowels.
The Catholic contraction has been helped along by more than our share of what I would characterize as rogue bishops, seemingly more interested in media posturing than in the fate of their flocks. The post–Vatican II liturgical collapse also destroyed cradle continuity here, so that the average living native-born English- or French-speaking Catholic in Canada carries few resonances from his cultural past, no haunting memories of the Mass, and has precious little idea what his Credo might mean.
This will change, and I think largely because of bishops. Our Canadian primate, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, is a powerful rekindler of faith, and the newly designated archbishop of the key diocese of Toronto, Thomas Collins, is a fine “Ratzinger appointment.” As the U.S. survey shows, there are many good, solid, and industrious bishops the media ignore, who respond well to the increasing seriousness of the call from Rome.
A shakeout is in progress, as the Church throughout the West begins to peel the mud of late modernity from its garments, and a new arrangement is sought in which Catholic authorities emerge as the natural earthly spokesmen for the Triune God—and, signally, practice what they’re preaching.