Catholicism: Refuge for Exiles From a Post-Christian Age

It began in Boston.

In 2006, the Boston Archdiocese suspended adoption services rather than comply with a new state anti-discrimination law by placing children with gay and lesbian couples. Last year, a mom-and-pop cake shop in Portland, Oregon closed after lesbian brides-to-be sued after being denied service. At least ten other businesses have faced a similar choice. The federal contraception mandate could force dozens of Catholic and evangelical universities, hospitals, and charities to pick between health insurance for employees and sticking to their moral principles. And a new executive order could cost them federal funding for refusing to hire gays and lesbians.

To many, it seems that the slow, steady expulsion of Christians from American public life is underway.

Writing recently in First Things, theologian Carl Trueman asks which church or Christian tradition can be a refuge for what he describes as cultural and political exiles. For Trueman, a professor at the conservative evangelical Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, the answer is Reformed Protestantism.

Of course, for Catholics, the Church’s 2,000-year history—surviving the catacombs, Roman persecutions, the fall of an empire, and the social and economic upheavals of the so-called Dark Ages—speaks for itself. As a matter of faith, we believe the Church founded by Christ will endure to the end of the ages.

But there is no guarantee that the Church will endure everywhere at all times. It is less certain that U.S. Catholicism, still afflicted with a kind of post-Vatican II general malaise, is up to the task. To restate the question: Can the Catholic Church in the United States become, as Trueman puts it, a “church for exiles”?

Our answer starts with the alternative Trueman proposes: the tradition of Reformed Christianity in the mantle of John Calvin, which insists on salvation by faith alone and places Scripture at the center of Christian life—to the exclusion of the sacraments. But Trueman never actually answers the question of exactly which “church” he has in mind. Southern Baptist? Presbyterian? Congregational?

To raise this issue is not simply to reprise a stock critique of Protestant Christianity’s denominational disintegration. It really does matter which church you pick.

While their beliefs may seem identical or nearly so, how members of an Orthodox Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Southern Baptist Convention live them out can be radically different. An OPC member might take to a local tavern or pub to talk theology over beers. Southern Baptists, however, maintain a ban on drinking alcohol by church leaders and seem to have an aversion to social dancing of any kind. The Christian culture rebuilt by one would be quite different than the other.

The OPC is perhaps culturally closer to the Conservative Congregational Church Conference. Both are small evangelical churches whose members number in the thousands and both draw upon a shared tradition of Reformed Protestantism that goes back to Calvin. But a typical Orthodox Presbyterian cares about things like creeds and catechisms and his conversation about church life might include such words as liturgy and sacrament—a foreign language to the rank-and-file Congregationalist. Again, a Christianity rooted in creeds and catechism is going to look very different from the nothing-but-the-Bible faith of a Congregationalist.

The point is this: in weighing the strengths and weakness of the U.S. Catholic Church against the alternative, it is hardly fair and not very meaningful to treat evangelical Reformed Protestantism as a single brand. One must look at individual denominations.

Catholic Church Still Strongest Despite Challenges
On the Catholic side, the problems facing the contemporary Church in America are all too well-known—the great exodus of parishioners and the emptying of seminaries after Vatican II, coupled with the severe blow to its financial and moral standing by the priest sex abuse crisis.

To take but a few examples: Today, less than half as many Catholics attend Mass weekly as in 1965. There are 20,000 fewer priests and a third as many religious brothers and sisters. The impact on Catholic institutions is palpable: there are now as six times as many parishes without a resident priest pastor and half as many Catholic elementary schools, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

She is indeed bleeding and limping. But even in her severely weakened state, the Catholic Church remains the single largest Christian group in the United States. In 2010, there were 58.9 million Catholics in the country—nearly three times the 19.8 million who are members of the Southern Baptist Convention, the second largest religious group. Non-denominational Christians—that includes everyone from Bible Church believers to mega-churches—rank third at 12.2 million. Next is the United Methodist Church, at 9.8 million adherents, according to data from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census (a private group not affiliated with the U.S. Census).

But that 58.9 million figure may be low-balling it. The Pew Research Center puts it at 75.3 million. CARA has it at 76.7 million.

Of course, with many Catholics often skipping Sunday Mass, one could argue it is more meaningful to look at how many show up every week. Mass attendance rates vary as well. Pew pegs it at 41 percent. That would bring their figure down to 30.8 million—still larger than any other. Using CARA’s figures, which include a 24-percent attendance rate, there are 18.4 million committed Catholics in the country, just below the number of Southern Baptists.

But that is to wholly discount those who marry, baptize their children, and bury their parents within the Church, not to mention those whose flicker of faith burns bright enough to bring them to Mass for Christmas and Easter. It also assumes perfect attendance among the other groups.

Signs of Growth and Renewal
And national numbers only tell us so much. While they may reflect the situation on the ground in the traditional Catholic heartland, from Baltimore to Boston, they don’t account for the spectacular surge the Church is experience in the American South.

Take Atlanta, Georgia, which is the third-fastest growing diocese in the nation, with the number of parishioners tripling from almost 322,000 to 1 million from 2002 to 2012. That becomes even more impressive when one learns that the top two high-growth dioceses, Fresno, California and Laredo, Texas are largely powered by Hispanic immigrants, according to CARA (as I first reported for the National Catholic Register last year.)

There are hot spots all over the U.S. South. Charleston, South Carolina has doubled its parishioners. Charlotte, North Carolina and Little Rock, Arkansas increased their parish memberships by a third during the same period, the CARA data shows.

In North Carolina, Catholicism added more adherents—a total of 113,254—between 2000 and 2010 than any other Christian or other religious group and is now the fourth largest Christian group in the state, counting denominational churches as one group. The same trend and overall ranking holds true for Catholicism in South Carolina, according to the U.S. Religion Census.

In Alabama, the Catholic Church added 50,010 members during the decade, exceeding the 12,242 who joined the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, Catholicism outpaced Southern Baptists in conversions in a total of eight other Southern states (counting Oklahoma). It’s ahead of Southern Baptists in 11 other states, the U.S. Religions Census shows. Only one is a traditional Catholic stronghold: Delaware.

This growth can be measured by more than just counting full pews. This year, the Diocese of Knoxville was expecting to have 23 seminarians graduate. Chicago was planning on 70, but Chicago has 37 times as many parishioners (as reported in the Register). In the space of ten years, Atlanta opened four elementary schools and two high schools, according to a 2010 report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

What other religion experiences such vibrant growth at precisely the moment it is supposedly dying out in its homeland?

Certainly, we don’t see a reversal of roles here: Catholicism lost 152,097 members in Massachusetts over the last Census decade, but Southern Baptists aren’t making up the difference, adding just 4,459 members. Likewise, in Maryland, the Church lost 115,051 members while Southern Baptists gained only 7,944.

The development in the South would be significant in of itself, but is more so given that this is the traditional Protestant Bible Belt—what should be hostile territory for Catholicism. This story has a familiar ring to it for those who know the history of the Church. In the U.S. South, one recognizes the same Catholic spirit that launched the reconquest of the entire Iberian peninsula from a cave and the same Church that came back from the blow of the Reformation to convert an entire continent (South America along with subcontinental Central America).

Catholicism No Longer in Decline
Catholicism is not on the decline in the United States. Instead, one form of Catholicism is dying out as another is being born. In the U.S. South, homilies are longer, pews are packed, and people talk about their faith. Of course, in the North, one can find extraordinarily vibrant parishes too, as fervent in their faith as anywhere else. But it’s harder to see the rebirth: like a forest scorched by a fire, the deadwood tends to overshadow the new shoots. (So it seems to this nearly lifelong New Englander.)

The story of a declining Church is exaggerated. U.S. Catholicism remains vibrant and flourishing, has committed believers passionate about their faith, and the institutional heft to weather the coming exile.

But for Trueman, in making his case for Reformed Protestantism as the “church for exiles,” it is precisely U.S. Catholicism’s institutional strength that is its weakness:

Catholicism’s institutional footprint is so large—and Catholic theological (and emotional) investment in it so significant—that the temptation to preserve the Church’s place in society will be very great. This preservation will require compromise, even complicity, and it will very likely blur the clarity and undermine the integrity of Christian witness.

But U.S. Catholicism has already been tried—and passed the test. In 2006, one of the oldest dioceses in the nation suspended its adoption services, rather than compromise its moral beliefs on the immorality of homosexuality. And this was not one of the new growing dioceses in the conservative South, but Boston. San Francisco did the same that year. Washington, DC, followed suit in 2010 and bishops in Illinois followed suit in 2011 after the passage of laws recognizing same-sex unions. (Some states with the laws, like New York, have a religious exemption.)

The situation is now replaying itself over the new contraception mandate, which has generated a lawsuit from Catholics universities, hospitals, and other institutions. Leading the charge is not some conservative small Catholic school (say a Steubenville or a Christendom College), but Notre Dame, hardly a pillar of conservative Catholicism.

Bishops are well aware of the bigger picture here. They recognize these are not skirmishes in an otherwise halcyon public square. In 2010, Cardinal George, of the Archdiocese of Chicago, famously declared in a speech: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” It’s worth noting that when he said this he was still president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Tocqueville’s Prophetic Vision
Catholicism may be alive and well, steeling itself for a hard future, but is it absurd to expect that the future of Christianity in America rests with the Roman Church? The peerless prophet of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, writing more than a century and a half ago when such a prospect would have seemed less likely, didn’t think so. In words that could just as easily have been written today, he declares:

Nowadays, more than in previous times, we see Catholics losing their faith and Protestants converting to Catholicism. Looking at it from the inside, Catholicism seems to be losing; from an external standpoint, it makes a gain.

Tocqueville predicted that the diverse landscape of religion in America would contract into two stark choices: abandoning the faith or embracing the ancient Church of Rome. Equality, Tocqueville writes, makes everyone a judge of his own beliefs. For that reason, religious authority should lose its grip. But equality also gives men a “taste for and a conception of a single, simple social power which is the same for everyone.” For those inclined to religious belief, then, they will insist that it is “unique and of one character.” The democratic man can easier fathom that there is no religious authority than that there are several authorities. Tocqueville concludes that democratic citizens will therefore either gravitate towards the Church or towards no faith at all.

Ultimately, it is the unity of the Church that will draw men into her fold, Tocqueville writes:

Present-day men are, by nature, little inclined to belief but, as soon as they take up religion, they immediately encounter within themselves a hidden instinct which drives them unknowingly toward Catholicism. Several of the doctrines and customs of the Roman Church astonish them but they conceive a secret admiration for its organization and are drawn to its unity. …

I am drawn to the belief that the number of those people will be smaller in democratic times than in others and that our descendants will tend increasingly to divide into only two parts, some leaving Christianity entirely and the others embracing the Church of Rome. (Read the full excerpt, which is only abbreviated here, in Democracy in America, Volume II, Part 1, Chapter 6.)

Unity is a compelling reason for why the Catholic Church is the best Church for the coming exile of traditional Christian believers in America. And this is to gloss over many other arguments which, for reasons of space, can only be mentioned in passing: the Church’s superlative track record of building communities that last (think monasteries and religious orders), and the unique role of the papacy as both a ministry and an institution in sustaining the Church through persecutions, the Dark Ages, the Muslim military threat during the Middle Ages, and the new persecutions of schismatic (including at least one apostate) “Holy” Roman Emperors.

Shortcomings of Trueman’s Case
Trueman’s case for Reformed Christianity rests on two points. Intriguingly—perhaps perplexingly—much of his argument hinges on the importance of the liturgy. Outside of the small tradition of Orthodox Presbyterian Church, “liturgy” is nonexistent in the vast majority of evangelical churches today. Want liturgy? Well, the Catholic Church has plenty of that.

Not surprising is Trueman’s touting of Reformed Christianity’s commitment to Scripture. But conversion to Catholicism in no way means one has to shelve his Bible. Scripture is everywhere in the Church today. It’s not hard to find a parish that has a Bible study. Scripture comes to life in the Liturgy of the Hours, prayed increasingly on a daily basis by the laity. It’s firmly woven into the gospel-centered rosary prayer. And the Mass deals out a heavier dose of Scripture than one is likely to find in your typical evangelical church.

The issue, of course, is the ecclesiological elephant in the room: Reformed Christianity’s dogged attachment to the false doctrine of sola scriptura. Under a sola scriptura religious regime, the individual unavoidably becomes the ultimate judge of Scriptural truth. Authority is not nonexistent in Reformed Churches, but the individual always has the final veto over whatever a pastor or elder tells him by appeal to the Scriptures as he construes them.

This is hardly a recipe for the kind of community-building Christianity in exile demands. And so what began as a sociological question—what is best suited to be a “church for exiles” in secular America—ultimately ends in theology. The sociological case for the Catholic Church, from where this author is sitting, seems a conclusive one. The issue thus once more returns to seemingly intractable questions about the authority of Scripture, the papacy, and other doctrinal divides. The question for traditional Christians outside of the Church is whether Catholicism’s unity and communalism merits giving her teachings and practices a second look.

Editor’s note: Pictured above are student friars of the Province of St. Joseph in formation at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. (2014-15). The Dominicans, and several other traditional religious orders, have seen a steady growth in vocations in recent years.

Stephen Beale


Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. He is a former news editor at and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on and A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history.

  • ForChristAlone

    Unfortunately, the growth among the various dioceses in the USA is largely due to shifting populations – away from the Northeast and Midwest to the South. This is driven by weather and taxation policies and not by an exuberance of evangelization.

    If you want a more accurate picture of growth among the various dioceses, take a measure of ADULTS receiving the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation) as a percent of total Catholics in that diocese. It is a better measure that a diocese is doing things right and is attracting new converts, previously unchurched and those who were baptized Catholic but never went on to receive the Eucharist and Confirmation. Every diocese publishes this information.

    When all is said and done, though, my bet is with the Catholic Church as we have Peter.

    • Objectivetruth

      “Unfortunately, the growth among the various dioceses in the USA is largely due to shifting populations – away from the Northeast and Midwest to the South. ”

      I agree with you somewhat, but 23 priests coming out of Knoxville is pretty impressive, and don’t know if that had much to do with shifting populations.

      • DE-173

        Imagine that. A Bishop who had the stones to call University of Notre Dame’s decision to have Obama deliver its commencement speech and receive an honorary degree as “embarrassing and shameful,” managing to harvest a good crop.

  • lifeknight

    Upbeat article, but no mention of the resurgence of the TLM? Also, I believe that I read that Notre Dame has caved regarding contraceptives. Catholic and Notre Dame should not be in the same sentence.

    • Guest

      Notre Dame is a BC School; Barely Catholic or Catholic in name only when it suits their need. I struck it from my son’s list of College Selections. I will have not spent 15 years of Catholic School (pre-K 3 to High School) educating my son to have it wiped out by a BC School! Our culture today makes it hard enough already!

      • DE-173

        It’s not even barely anymore, it’s CINO (Catholic in Name Only).

    • John Albertson

      Much as I favor the TLM, and support it myself, “resurgence” is hardly the word. When Summorum Pontificum was announced there were unrealistic celebrations in some quarters and predictions of an explosion of interest. It has been a great disappointment. Surely, one can cite special events, et c but these are exceptions. After all these years, less than one per cent of Catholics attend the TLM regularly is most places.

      • Glenn M. Ricketts

        There may be various reasons for this, but in my experience, there’s still quite a lot of vehement hostility and obstructionism from many of the clergy, including a surprising number of “conservatives.” Even the occasional Latin chant or motet by a choir elicits very unpleasant reactions from the folks I have in mind. I do see some increased interest from younger Catholics who have often been exposed to the Church’s musical patrimony through glee clubs or choruses in secular public schools, ironically. But while the influence of VII clergy is slowly diminishing, it’s by no means gone.

        • Guest

          I agree. I also like the TLM but it is not widely offered. Where I have attended the numbers surprised me. There are also a lot of young families with children. As far as the occasional Latin chant this makes me more crazy! It is OK to change the music or spoken words during the Mass (every week), but heaven forbid anything be said in Latin or Greek for that matter. What has been done to the Agnus Dei is just disgusting. It is different EVERY Sunday. It seems it is expanded to allow time for the Priest and Extraordinary Ministers of Communion to fill the patens for Communion. It seems Silence is no longer allowed. There must be some activity at all times so everyone can feel a part of the Mass and remain engaged. That is another benefit of the TLM; Blessed Silence and the reason we are at Mass is not lost. Do you want me to start on the devolution of the Sign of Peace and the distraction that causes?

          • Glenn M. Ricketts

            Go ahead if you like, but I suspect we’ve had parallel experiences and continue to suffer for the faith at weekly Mass.

            • Guest

              It just seems disruptive to what we are supposed to be doing. It sometimes takes a full 5 minutes to get everyone refocused. I prefer exchanging the greeting with the Priest only. I attend a more Traditional Church during the week and the rhythm of the Mass seems continuous without the ad libbing. The silence speaks volumes and helps keep our focus. Exchanging pleasantries during Mass does not help when you leave. If you are not changed by the beauty, glory and more importantly THE MESSAGE of the Mass, then you are not going to change.

              • Glenn M. Ricketts

                All of which, I think is why we both are drawn in particular to the TLM. My son and I attended one in Oxford several years ago – J.R.R. Tolkien’s parish, no less – and I was quite encouraged to see that the others were almost entirely OU undergraduates, and the celebrant was perhaps 30. Small, I know, but still encouraging.

                • Athelstane

                  My son and I attended one in Oxford several years ago – J.R.R. Tolkien’s parish, no less…

                  Given Tolkien’s own views on the traditional Mass and the reforms of the 60’s, this report warms my heart more than you can know.

                  • Glenn M. Ricketts

                    As it warmed mine to be in attendance. A very unique feeling, I must say.

          • DE-173

            I used to attend a Parish in a die-o-cese where before the Mass the choir and extraordinary ministers were all kibbutzing, kids felt free to waltz up and down the aisle during Mass, and the sermons were all “i’m good, you’re good, it’s all good” milquetoast. Adter 9/11 we were treated to a Sermon where the Almighty was referred to as Allah. When I visit the folks, it’s still not perfect, but it is getting better.

            Now as for my present Parish, it’s much more reverent. It’s all about the frequent reminders that encourage the culture of quietude.

            I’ve attended the Novus Ordo, the TLM and the Anglican Ordinariate. I could go to any and be satisfied, although I’m most comfortable the former and I realize the Mass isn’t about my engagement, enjoyment or satisfaction.

            What bothers me about SOME folks who attend the TLM is that there’s a certain amount of smugness about it. Every time you get a post that states or implies “we’re better than you”, some Bishop is going to get indigestion,

            • LarryCicero

              Sounds like my local parish- chit-chat before and after mass. Last Sunday we were reminded that all this (terrorism) goes back to 1991(Bush 41) and what is needed is reconciliation. I stopped giving to this parish last year and started going back to our old one, but my wife wanted to go to a little later mass last weekend. We have a new RE Director who introduced herself to the catechists before we start a new year. She used to be a nun and she tells us assuredly, without a doubt, that her parents are now in heaven. I’m leaving now, completely, without a doubt.

              • DE-173

                What a horrible experience. I would have confronted the celebrant with “and what would you call the 1972 Munich Olympics?” and watch the blank look.

                • LarryCicero

                  It would make no difference. He’s “retired” and I have done so before.

                  • DE-173

                    But it would have lowered your BP.

            • John Albertson

              From my experience, some of the worst enemies of the TLM are the TLM devotees themselves. To be fair, many excellent and edifying people attend, but there are “RadTrads” who tend to take over. They can be very critical and negative, and I suspect some of them have unhappy lives and psychological issues they won’t address, so they latch onto the TLM to sublimate their problems. I knew a priest who went out of his way to learn the TLM and encourage it, and actually was shouted at afterward by some malcontents for not wearing a biretta ! Another received a bitter letter for not having removed his biretta the right number of times during the Gloria. Our Lord had words to say about the Pharisees…. I only mention this, not to condemn the TLM, but to encourage a positive spirit that will attract more people to it.

              • Athelstane

                I knew a priest who went out of his way to learn the TLM and encourage it, and actually was shouted at afterward by some malcontents for not wearing a biretta !

                The real solution in such cases is to buy him a biretta. And anything else he needs. Offer support, rather than criticism.

                Certainly this is what our Juventutem chapter does. I won’t say that the stereotype of the “angry Trad” is utterly without foundation, but I also think that it’s considerably rarer than reports suggest. in communities I have been part of around the country, people are generally just happy to have a priest actually willing to celebrate the traditional Mass.

                • Glenn M. Ricketts

                  I’ve encountered such bilious souls myself on occasion, although I actually attend the TLM very rarely, perhaps once every 3-4 years. Far more common in my own experience are the dismissals-with-contempt I’ve routinely received for requesting perfectly legitimate options under the OF. One such occurred when I asked a particular priest to use the Roman Canon in its previously very inelegant English rendition, and to include the entire roster of Roman martyrs. NOOO, came the irritated answer, that’s much too “pre-Vatican II.” So that yes, there are indeed cranky, marginalized individuals who tend to associate with the TLM, the attitudes in the second example have often been standard issue among diocesan bishops and chancery offices.

                • John Albertson

                  Buy a biretta? This requires a confessor, not a haberdasher. The real solution would be to tell the frustrated woman who made the complaint to take a lesson in charity. And if that did not work, then to shout her out of the church as would any good old fashioned pastor in what her selectively edited nostalgia were the good old days.

      • Athelstane

        Unrealistic expectations? Perhaps by some. But others in the traditional communist realized that the same bench of bishops and clergy were still in place, and would be anything but keen to implement the motu proprio.

        Yet in 2007 there were a little over 200 regular TLM’s in North America. Today, seven years later (almost to the day), there are over 500 – just about the equivalent of two smaller dioceses’ worth of Sunday Masses. That’s fairly impressive growth, especially given how much resistance there has been.

        All this for a form of the Mass that had been rendered essentially nonexistent just thirty years ago.

    • guest

      There are many of us–granted most of us are in the lowly service and secretarial jobs, that for us, the mission is inseparable from whom we are. Since we don’t have a voice, we pray and visit Our Lady’s Grotto often asking that the upper echelons realize how they are both corrupting our students and cheating, yes, cheating, them out of the truth. (And there are many incredibly to-the-core faithful academics, it’s just first, they can’t be open about it until tenure, and after tenure, it’s then ridicule and persecution (via budgets)). I am afraid it’s going to get to the point that pre-tenure silence won’t even work anymore–if they aren’t openly progressive’s, the evil at the top will deny tenure on the mere chance they might be true Catholics.

  • We need to change the paradigm. Instead of orphanages, we need ghettos, instead of universities we need monastic communities.

  • Susan

    No matter the calculation of increase or decrease of faithful Catholics in the US or the world, the outcome remains the same. The Church will prevail. For the faithful, a life of prayer is essential not only for its own soul but for all those who might waver along the way. To be faithful is to trust God our Father, no matter what the world presents to us. Our Good Father dies not care about polls and its percentages, He cares about the state of our soul.

  • Stilbelieve

    “To many, it seems that the slow, steady expulsion of Christians from American public life is underway.”

    This is only occurring because of church-going Catholics who, as this article reports, are the largest single denomination of Christians in the country. Over half of those Catholics endorse with their names and support the one organization that is leading this “expulsion of” Christianity “from American public life,” and those Catholics are the largest single group in that organization. And in so doing, those Catholics are acting contrary to what they say they believe and pray for. They say that God is the creator of life, and they pray for God’s “will be done on earth.” Yet, the worldly organization they give their name to and support is diabolically opposed to what those Catholic say they believe and pray for. All that is needed to reverse this “steady expulsion” of Christianity “from America public life” is for those Catholics to remove their names and support from that worldly organization until it reverses its position on abortion and same-sex “marriage.” They don’t have to join another organization; all they have to do is stop being members and supporters of that one organization responsible for the attack on God’s two greatest gifts – life, and the sanctity of marriage. If they all did that, which they should for reasons of saving their own souls, it would put the breaks to the “expulsion” taking place, stopping it dead in its tracks.

  • Watosh

    I think the fruits of “religious freedom” in a secular government are beginning to manifest themselves.

    as for the growth of Catholics in various locations here, that could be cause for hope. Yet I am not too sanguine about the numbers of Catholics increasing since polls have shown “Catholics” to resort to contraception and abortion and divorce at somewhat the same rates and Americans as a whole. Polls have shown more Catholics than the average of all Americans support torture, actually it seems like torture gets more support from “conservative” Catholics than liberal Catholics. And a good many conservative, serious church going Catholics have embraced liberal economic theories that lead to Corporatism and Oligarchies. I mean these Catholics go berserk at any mention that the so-called free market is the absolutely best economic form for any country to have. Just wait and see what emotionally laden criticisms I get for even suggesting that this is not the ideal. It has become a pillar of their faith. Catholics support drone stokes that kill innocent people along with a few terrorists, who are quickly replaced and who use the drone strikes to recruit people to their cause. Catholics support the Military expenditures, corporate welfare for certain industrial interests. More and more Catholics accept homosexuality as normal. Many Catholics support abortion today, look at Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Kathryn Sibelius, etc. so I do not take much comfort in the supposed growth in Church membership. Catholics, like John Kennedy and Antonin Scalia believe that their religion should not influence the way they carry out, or interpret, the laws of this country. Of course this ensures we will not be persecuted, but…

    • DE-173

      “a good many conservative, serious church going Catholics have embraced liberal economic theories that lead to Corporatism and Oligarchies.”

      I realize facts never intrude into your rants, but Corporatism is a fruit of people like Biden and Pelosi, and the statist idolaters that support them, not “conservative, serious church going Catholics”

      I am a conservative, serious church going Catholic, I’d hazard to to guess you don’t know a single person that fits that definition personally.

  • John Albertson

    New York City is either a bellweather for American society, or an idiosyncrasy. But in either case, how does one account for the dramatic decline of Catholic life there: parishes, the school system, charitable institutions (there no longer is a single Catholic hospital in Manhattan) and a rock bottom rate of priestly vocations? These days everything seems booming there – except Catholicism.

    • John O’Neill

      Of course Cardinal Dolan will disagree; he thinks that things are going wonderfully in NYC. His brand of watered down Left Wing Catholicism has little appeal to anyone and yet he continues to pressure traditional Catholics and make them feel unwelcome in the Big Apple. Most of the Catholic dioceses in the Northeast part of the American State are moribund; Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Boston are all enjoying the nostalgia of the “bare ruined choirs” left behind by their Vatican II Reformation.

      • ForChristAlone

        The only one I have hope for among those you mention is Philly with Chaput at the helm. He, I honestly believe, remains a Catholic bishop.

      • Athelstane

        Most of the Catholic dioceses in the Northeast part of the American State are moribund; Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Boston are all enjoying the nostalgia of the “bare ruined choirs” left behind by their Vatican II Reformation.

        In my Northeastern archdiocese, I can tell you that “lifetime” sacraments – baptism, confirmation, marriage – have dropped by nearly half over the previous decade. And the number of active diocesan priests will, on current trends, be reduced by 50% by 2024.

        What this portends is very likely a wave of parish and church closings to beat anything seen before. The boomers and silent gen-ers are dying or retiring off, and there are too few younger Catholics in the pews (or rectories) to replace them.

      • Glenn M. Ricketts

        While they continue to celebrate the colossal, stupefying “success” that VII was, requiring the rest of us to see it the same way.

    • DE-173

      And the Shepherd seems to concern himself things and people like an late round draft choice who was cut and then picked up as a practice squad free agent.

    • ForChristAlone

      What you say is true about NYC hospitals. But, having worked at an NY archdiocesan Catholic hospital for almost 30 years, I can tell you that there was little about it that was Catholic other than the fact that it was sponsored by nuns and the archdiocese. But the day to day services were done by staff that was no different in composition than any other hospital in the NYC area. We get down to the basic question of what makes ANY Catholic institution “Catholic?”

      • John Albertson

        Well said. And the same may be said of most of the NY archdiocesan schools. “Common Core” has been imposed with no consultation of pastors or families. And the Cathechetical Office of the archdiocese is stuck in the 1960’s, producing a generation of ignoramuses.

  • JP

    I wish I could share the author’s optimism; but the “flourishing” Catholicism he speaks of is more akin to Protestantism with smells and bells than anything else. One need only go behind his set of statistics and look at another set – the US birthrate. Catholics are theologically prohibited from using artificial contraception and abortion. Yet, the United States as whole continues to see plunging fertility and birth rates. Currently the birthrates in the US are at the lowest in our 225 year history (61 live births per 1000 females). Catholics should have fertility rates much higher than the general public, but this is not so. As a matter of fact, the US Census puts Catholic fertility rates on par with the general public (about 1.85 births per female). This quiet form of dissension from Christ’s teaching is significant in that it shows just how far we Catholics are willing to live our Faith.

    What I see in most parishes where I live are places where Protestants would feel very comfortable. Yes, in many parishes the pews are full; but, the Mass itself is very vanilla – very modern. Take away the vestments and a few other rubrics and they could easily be Methodist services.

    • just sayin’

      Perhaps there are just a lot of people who have jumped on the NFP/TOB bandwagon and are practicing responsible parenthood (a term used even in Church documents) while still playing by the rules. Certainly, TOB/Chris Westian theology seems to excite a lot of people.
      With modern technology, NFP becomes easier—and thus, being “responsible” when it comes to the number of children you have is also easier, even while not straying from Church teaching.
      The minute the Church started talking about being “responsible” when it comes to determining the number of children you will or won’t have, you could forget lots of people have 8, 10, 12, 14 children. Most people just aren’t good at parenting that many and know it. Who wants to be irresponsible?

      • JP

        What I find especially appalling is that a couple (Catholic, or otherwise) must work at keeping their children at a minimum; whether it is from NFP or ABC, effort must be exerted. For maintaining such low birth rates isn’t at all natural.

        I thought perhaps a decade ago that the trend within our society and the Church was changing. For a couple of years (1998-2006), our fertility rates did approach replacement levels of 2.1 children per female. But, since then they have gone straight down the tube. Compared with 2007, the year 2013 had almost 480,000 fewer births. This trend has social and economic consequences as well. But, from a spiritual point of view, our nation as a whole seems to have made a choice.

        • DE-173

          There is a good bit of evidence that college debt and the tepidity of the so-called “recovery” is causing the postponement of marriage and natality.

  • It’s one of the many “both/and” things about Catholicism. As incarnate spirits, we have no choice but to be about building a City of God on earth — yet always and everywhere we remain very truly a Church in exile.

  • Fred

    As a newcomer to the faith (I recently went through RCIA in Atlanta) I must profess that much of the VII schism that I read about is lost on me, and when I go to a TLM on occasion I appreciate the rich tradition but feel like a spectator not being able to follow or understand. Unfortunately then it’s easy for my mind to wander. That’s not a criticism, I recognize my own limitations, faults, and shortcomings. Mass should be solemn, and sharing the body and blood of Christ in utmost reverence. One thing that I connect, rightly or wrongly, with the TLM experiences I’ve had is that the people participating have very deep faith, but are private about it. Aside from the solemnity of the Mass, I am drawn to a vibrant parish who recognizes the need for building faith and the mission to evangelize, not a numbers game of how many in the pews. I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that is we all go about our business privately and only pass our values on to our families then at best Christ’s message won’t be spread and at worse it will continue its decline. I have developed bitter sweet feelings over the experience – pretty disgusted on the one hand with what is happening in our culture, country, and government, yet thankful for the grace God has given me and hopeful in him for the future. Daunting challenges ahead no doubt, but it won’t happen if we only pray in private. As someone once said, the times call for bold colors, not pale pastels.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    The fatal weakness in Carl Trueman’s position is the fatal weakness of Protestantism. The Protestant, unless he is to reject the Reformation itself, can only define the faithful by their tenets and the Church by her teaching. Try as he might, he cannot escape from a vicious circle: “The true church is that which teaches the true faith” and “The true faith is what the true church teaches.” It is a weakness shared by the Orthodox, too.

    For the Catholic, it is otherwise. As Mgr Ronald Knox says, “The fideles, be they many or few, be their doctrine apparently traditional or apparently innovatory, be their champions honest or unscrupulous, are simply those who are in visible communion with the see of Rome. No doubt, in the long run this means the people who are so orthodox that Rome has seen no reason to excommunicate them, so that unity and orthodoxy still react upon one another. But the fact remains that the Roman theory does give a test for defining the fideles without the question-begging preliminary of ascertaining who the fideles are, from an examination of their tenets. And in fact there can be little doubt that, in the West, our labelling of this party as orthodox and that as heterodox in early Church history comes down to us from authors who were applying this test of orthodoxy and no other.”

    Here we have a real test and one that is remarkably easy of application; just what one would expect of the criterion of a divine message, intended for all, regardless of learning, capacity or circumstances.

    • John Albertson

      Ronald Knox was the greatest preacher and priestly apologist of the twentieth century. Whatever he doth say that I do hold. You do well to cite him

  • richard_fossey

    This is a terrific essay, and his reference to Tocqueville is right on the mark.

    Catholicism is not on the decline. Catholicism has seen an astonishing grow in Texas and not just among Hispanics. The Dallas area has several enormous parishes that are packed on Sundays, with churches holding 5 or 6 Sunday Masses. (St. Ann’s Church in Coppell, Texas is one of the largest in the United States; and most of its parishioners are Anglo.) And Texas has six Anglican Right parishes, which are Episcopal Churches that have come into the Catholic Church as a body.

    And let’s not forget South Louisiana, where the Acadian descendants hang on to the Ancient Faith, or the northern Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, where people still maintain a deep devotion to the saints of the Spanish colonial period.

    Personally, I believe the persecution the Church is experiencing will make us stronger. In Louisiana, where I now live, people from Protestant backgrounds are attracted to Catholicism for exactly the reasons that Tocqueville identified. They are astonished to learn about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist–and that one truth alone draws them toward the Catholic Church.

    We will be just fine–if Catholicism survived all the trials and persecutions of Stalinism, the Cristero period in Mexico, the Nazis, and Maoism, it can certainly survive American postmodernism.

    And of course, we have the 20th century martyrs to inspire us–St. Edith Stein and St. Maximiian Kolbe and thousands of unknown Catholics who died for their faith. If you are a Catholic and dispirited by current events, I urge you to read Robert Royal’s excellent book, The Catholic Martyrs of the 20th Century. You will be inspired.

    Thanks again for a great essay.

  • Aliquantillus

    It seems to me that the author doesn’t give enough attention to the factor of the Top-Down enforcement of theological Liberalism coming from the hierarchy. At the moment we have the incident of Card. Dolan becoming the Grand Marshall of the St. Patrick Day Parade and permitting homosexuals to openly celebrate their sins. And faithful Catholics and their organizations may have more disaster coming to them after the Conference of Bishops upcoming October, if indeed the Kasper faction supported by the Pope will get permission to distribute Holy Communion to the civilly divorced and remarried.

    The peculiar thing of our time is the destruction and undermining of elementary Christian teachings by persons high in the hierarchy of the Church, combined with secular attacks on these same teachings. This is a very dangerous combination. For how can a bishop remain consistent in his protest against the HHS mandate if undermines the very foundations of sexual morality as taught by the Church?

    Apart from a few exceptions here and there the general situation is very bad. The faithful of the laity are practically abandoned by their official leaders and protectors.

  • Objectivetruth

    “And national numbers only tell us so much. While they may reflect the situation on the ground in the traditional Catholic heartland, from Baltimore to Boston, they don’t account for the spectacular surge the Church is experience in the American South.”

    Time to move to the Land O’ Cotton…..!

    Father Dwight, here I come!

    My only caveat however is that a place like Charleston, SC, has a lot of Yankee retires, which might explain some of its rapid growth.

    But (and correct me if I’m wrong), Atlanta’s growth is due to a lot of conversions, partly due possibly to black archbishop Gregory.

  • John Hiner

    It is difficult to see how discontinuing
    adoption is a “passing” of the test, when St. James says that aiding orphans is
    at the heart of “pure religion.” (Cf.
    James 1:27.) Abandoning parentless
    children to practices which the Church recognizes as child abuse seems a gross
    failure, or at best an ignominious retreat.
    Why did these bishops not stand firm and defend themselves in the Church’s
    “free exercise” of religion “pure and undefiled?”

  • Daniel P

    This is a picky point, but perhaps worth saying. I appreciate the thrust of Mr. Beale’s argument, but in the first paragraph he says: “The federal contraception mandate could force dozens of Catholic and evangelical universities, hospitals, and charities to pick between health insurance for employees and sticking to their moral principles. And a new executive order could cost them federal funding for refusing to hire gays and lesbians.”

    Presumably, Beale wants groups like Catholic charities to be permitted to hire someone who is not gay or lesbian for a leadership position. I think they should certainly have that right. But Beale groups “charities” together with hospitals and universities, and does not mention anything about leadership positions. This makes it sound like he supports the rights of a hospital to discriminate against a nurse or an aide simply on the basis of their being gay or lesbian.

    I’m guessing Beale doesn’t intend to take such an extreme position. But since the reader can’t be expected to read minds, and since the literal meaning of the statement appears to be unnecessarily offensive, I think we should take note of it and avoid making such mistakes in the future.

    • ForChristAlone

      Let’s not forget that for a university or hospital to call itself “Catholic” presumes that in some unique way they are responding to the call to engage in the mission of the Church. These institutions, just like any “Catholic” charity are ministries of the Church.

      The least we should expect is that those who work at these institutions agree that their work is a promulgation of the mission of the Church. The questions to be asked of anyone who works for these institutions is: “Do you understand what our mission is and what the Catholic Church teaches?” and “Are you prepared to promote this mission in every aspect of your work and how you publicly represent yourself?” Anything short of this is for the Catholic Church to become another “United Way” agency – but with crucifixes.

    • Micha Elyi

      The Welfare State is the opiate of the Bishops.
      As the State grows, the people’s morals wither away.
      “The roads in Hell are paved with the skulls of bishops,” St. John Chrysostom.

  • monk_87

    I read Crisis because I too am an exile..although I’ve found my home-in-exile in Holy Orthodoxy. When I read the title of the article I was expecting something a bit different, but as Mr. Beale was responding to a Presbyterian writer (I was there at one time, and later in Eastern Catholicism), I thought I’d speak to my initial thoughts anyway. As an Orthodox Christian I am perfectly at peace in my personal faith and practice, and have moved well beyond the convert temptations of ecclesiological superiority and jurisdiction/communion apologetics. I am not threated by a large, strong Catholic Church, or any other. What concerns me today is the common witness of the Body of Christ. As we all know, Christ is under assault by the world, especially in America today. I hope and pray for the Roman Catholic communion to be faithful, traditional, and thus..strong. We also have large numbers worldwide, but numbers are not our strength. There’s no need to compare ourselves to numbers of Baptists or other communions. Although because of the corruption of human sin and pride, and exist differences that we must maintain at this time, the Body of Christ is strengthened by faithful Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, and Orthodox. We need each other in exile from the world. Lord have mercy.

  • accelerator

    Catholicism is not in decline in the U.S. That statement alone discredits the rest of the piece. And if you don’t realize Southern Baptists and Orthodox Presbyterians likely have more doctrinal and cultural agreement than the two Catholic Camps represented by the two NCRs, there is no use even arguing.