Voices Online Edition
Volume XV, No. 4
by Donna Steichen
Dropping The Torch
The National Catholic Reporter is seldom cited as an accurate source. But "Passing it on", NCR's October 6 cover story, while probably overestimating the importance of the "Call to Action" organization, does get something right: the children of ecclesial revolutionaries are not joining their parents' dwindling army.
"Some [members] are discovering that their children are not interested in the church they have struggled so hard to change", says author Patricia Lefevere.
Tom Beaudoin, a 31-year-old Ph.D. candidate in theology who wrote Virtual Faith, a 1998 book about "the theology of GenXers", told Lefevere that young Catholics are "wary of seeing religion reduced to church squabbles and political backbiting".
"A lot of them have made an uneasy peace with the intransigence of the church", he said, and are now not much concerned about the role of women or birth control, two issues with which CTA adherents are perennially obsessed. CTA must be "much more sensitive to their spiritual needs", said Beaudoin.
Many younger Catholics find CTA's passionate rebels "disappointed, cynical, bitter and burned-out". Unless the youth see "reform being grasped as a spiritual discipline instead of a reaction of 'overt anger' toward the institution", Beaudoin predicts, "the reform movement will fold its tent within a decade".
CTA activist Robert Ludwig, professor of Catholic Studies and director of university ministry at Chicago's DePaul University, told NCR that his own children, like many students, "don't love the church enough to want to reform it". Ludwig thinks most GenXers are more drawn to "Hans Kung's Global Ethics movement and to groups like the World Parliament of Religions" than to either CTA or "institutional churches". Ludwig sees "a huge renaming of God going on".
Past CTA president Linda Pieczynski shares Ludwig's view that alternative religions are emerging among CTA families. "Lots of parishes are doing their own thing, priests are granting annulments in the confessional," and freestyle liturgies are being widely celebrated, she said. Pieczynski predicts that the younger generation will "do a little Buddhism and a little Catholicism and maybe something else. They simply don't have enough regard for the church to spend energy on it".
Chris Stampolis, a 34-year-old community relations manager from Santa Clara, California, was one of only 50 prospects to accept CTA's invitation to a "Next Generation" gathering last July. In its wake, he asked why CTA is recruiting younger Catholics.
"Does it support the objectives in Gaudium et Spes and the US Bishops' 1976 'Call to Action' statement? Is its raison d'etre closer to The Call to Reform that CTA outlined in its March 1990 New York Times ad? Or is it moving more toward an attitude of 'the heck with the church; let's try something new"?
Stampolis saw the original CTA goals as "extremely progressive, specific and challenging" about "social and economic justice issues". But he views today's CTA as "geared to gender concerns". He thinks older members are to blame when their children abandon the church. "The hubris of these parents is huge", he said. "They have been in opposition for so long, they don't know how to lead".
To "recover their balance", Stampolis thinks older CTA members should affirm most of the pope's encyclicals and most of the US Bishops' statements.
Mr. Stampolis insights are promising indeed. That NCR published them is another hopeful circumstance.
Mourning Their Lost Legacy
A story similar in theme appeared in the New York Times in September, under the page one headline: "Nearing Retirement, Priests of the 60's Fear Legacy is Lost". Diana Jean Schemo's elegiac survey of the Vatican II-era priests who once thought they were the vanguard of a new Church says these men are moving toward retirement "with self-doubt and a measure of disillusionment", fearful that the generation of priests coming after them does not share their vision.
They were activists who believed their priesthood should be expressed in social service and community organizing rather than in leading their flocks to salvation. "They fought for integration and school decentralization, built housing for the poor, and spoke out on everything from nuclear disarmament to the Vietnam War", Schemo writes. "But their social values no longer resonate as strongly among many younger, more conservative priests. As the aging priests turn to pass the torch to the next generation, many of the men who are taking up the light seem like strangers to them".
What happened? Social work as priestly service lacked sustaining power. Thousands left active priesthood to marry, many of them to take up careers in social work agencies. Social work priesthood also failed to meet the needs of the faithful; weekly Mass attendance dropped by more than 60 percent. It failed to attract like-minded young men to the priesthood. In the 1950s and 1960s, dozens of New Yorkers were ordained each spring. Today, fewer than a half dozen are ordained annually, though the New York archdiocese is home to 2.4 million Catholics. Monsignor Vincent Fullam, rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington, NY, calls the men who choose priesthood today "heroic, or the next thing to it". Most of them are traditional in belief.
Many of the priests who spoke expressed bewilderment about the nationwide trend toward more traditional priests. Father Peter Gavigan, ordained in 1965, now pastor of Our Lady of Victory Church in the South Bronx, said, "We're a vanishing breed, and we're saying, 'Wow. We thought it would be a golden age by now'".
Still, an aggrieved tone seeps through the author's summary: "In their gloomiest moments, aging priests and nuns see Vatican II not so much as the dawn of a more open, inclusive church, but as an anomalous thunderbolt of progressivism sandwiched between a past and future that recoil from change and unfettered debate".
"Older priests see their bedrock beliefs doubted by the Vatican itself. Vatican II said Catholicism did not represent the only path to salvation ground breaking statement that the Vatican has begun to reconsider in recent weeks".
(One hopes this misinterpretation of Dominus Iesus reflects confusion on the part of the author rather than on the part of the priests. The document reaffirms the traditional teaching that salvation comes to mankind by way of the Catholic Church. It does not deny that non-Catholics who try to serve God to the best of their understanding can be saved.)
One interesting comment in the piece was that of Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, who in March wrote to warn his priests that a new day is coming. "It seems that we are now coming to a period of more uniformity, less creativity, and less space for personal preferences". His explanation: "The younger generation needs more structures, clarity and guidance." So do we all.
The most perceptive evaluation came Monsignor Philip J. Murnion, who with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin initiated the "Common Ground" dialogue. Monsignor Murnion now says he thinks his generation "may have moved too far, too fast. In our desire to extend the meaning of the sacred, did we end up with a situation in which nothing is sacred"?
Murnion, who heads the National Pastoral Life Center in New York, said that "today, redemption is what happens to food stamps, and Madonna is a rock star".
No doubt some Catholics benefited from priestly social activism. But for many lay faithful, the years since Vatican II have been a deeply troubling era, during which their beliefs were ridiculed and their anguish scorned. To such Catholics, it seems clear that the return to priestly tradition is the work of the Holy Spirit.
An instructive contrast to the secularization of which Monsignor Murnion speaks is the enthusiasm for revived Catholic tradition seen among worshippers who flock to Sunday Mass at Manhattan's Church of St. Agnes. The congregation ranges from elderly worshippers seeking a familiar liturgy to young families with children, seeking powerfully reverent worship. The Mass also draws Haitians, Hispanics and Filipinos. In fact, it provides genuine diversity in worship.
The lessons here seem sweetly obvious: clerical liberalism drove the faithful away; traditional reverence brings them back.
A Liturgical Legacy Denied
Speaking of cultural diversity, it is generally recognized now that the US military has it, though many Americans were at first startled to learn that military chapels around the world are made available for witchcraft rituals.
The military's tolerance of pagan worship became public in 1999, when the Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, provided a Wiccan coven with a campsite to hold regular ceremonies. The military chaplain's handbook recognizes more than 200 religious faiths, including Wiccans, the Church of Satan, and Rastafarians.
Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper, reported on July 9 that Army pagans in Mannheim, Germany, have the keys to a base chapel where they hold regular gatherings.
Thus it is hard to understand why the US Army in Europe refuses to allow Catholics who prefer the "Tridentine" Mass to use the same base chapels.
Lieutenant Colonel David L. Sonnier, who serves at the NATO Support Activity, a small Army base for the US NATO delegation in Brussels, told a Washington Times reporter on October 11 that his request to use the chapel was denied by Lieutenant General Larry R. Jordan, deputy Army European commander.
Colonel Sonnier said he was told that General Jordan refused his request because he feared too many other religious groups would then want chapel time, too.
"Just let us have access to it", Sonnier said. "All we want is the Army to allow us to use chapels like the Wiccans and pagans".
Given that the religious needs of Wiccans, Satanists and Rastafarians are already being met, one wonders what other religious groups there could possibly be to make nuisances of themselves by requesting chapel time.
A Legacy Betrayed
Whatever the final outcome of the disputed US presidential election, a scandalous number of churchmen must share responsibility for the fact that half of all Catholic voters -- 52 percent -- cast their ballots for candidates who support abortion.
This appalling circumstance is the voters' fault, of course. But their responsibility may be mitigated by ignorance, which, alas, their shepherds did little to relieve. As in many previous years with noble and celebrated exceptions there was not much strong talk during the political season about the moral gravity of abortion from parish pulpits, individual bishops, or the diocesan press.
By contrast, there were numerous reports of collaboration with political figures who openly support the abortion industry. A few examples from the election season:
On Monday, October 23, Vice President Al Gore spoke at Gonzaga University in Spokane. Local Catholics were stunned that a Catholic college had permitted a pro-abortion candidate to speak on campus, especially because Father Robert J Spitzer, SJ, Gonzaga's president, had won their approval in May by canceling a campus appearance by a Planned Parenthood speaker.
Demonstrators with signs proclaiming "Catholics are Pro-Life" were appalled by the punitive response they encountered. Some two dozen were removed by Gore security officers from the grounds in front of the Martin Center to a portable animal corral located 100 yards away.
"We were herded like cows into this four-foot-high pen" said Erin Galle, spokeswoman for the group. "Demonstrators for Ralph Nader were never asked to get behind any fence. Only the Catholic pro-lifers".
A few priests and students who refused to enter the pen gathered to pray outside the Center. Secret Service agents told them repeatedly to disperse or they would be arrested, but they continued to pray. At last, Gonzaga University spokesman Dale Goodwin intervened on their behalf.
"As a Catholic university we uphold Catholic values and adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church", Goodwin stated. "We certainly don't endorse those positions and views of candidates opposed to Church teachings". He said it was not university policy that demonstrators be treated punitively, and asked the Secret Service men to release those being held and let them protest.
The agent in charge declined to do so, explaining that the plan had been set by the Gore advance team and could not be changed.
As he has done for nine years, Father Jerome Duke, pastor of Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Lakewood, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, let the Lakewood Democratic Club hold a fund-raising dinner in his parish hall. A flyer advertising the event specifically stated "All Proceeds Benefit the Democratic Club of Lakewood".
Councilman Michael Skindell, a Lakewood Democratic Club leader, and Council woman Nancy Roth, hostess of the event, last year spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to extend benefits to "domestic partners" of city employees.
Local pro-lifers who called diocesan offices about the benefit at first met with denial. Some were told the story was a rumor started on the Internet; others were told that the event was not a Democratic Party fundraiser. After copies of the fundraising flyer were faxed to the diocese, callers were assured that the matter was being looked into. But despite scores of protests to Bishop Anthony Pilla's office, the benefit went forward as planned. On the sidewalks, diners were met by about 25 concerned Catholics, holding a variety of pro-life signs.
Father Duke later told local reporters, "One branch of Right-to-Life is how can I charitably describe them ... overzealous, and has equated all Democrats as [sic] pro-choice". He said the Democratic Club had donated $250 to a fund for a seven-year-old Lakewood boy injured in an auto accident.
From the sanctuary of St. Michael's Church in Rochester, NY on October 30, Hillary Clinton made a campaign speech to a crowd of some 1400 supporters. While audience members waved banners endorsing Mrs. Clinton, a handful of people prayed in English and Spanish as the candidate described herself as an advocate for health care and families. Protesters were escorted from the church by police. They joined a larger group praying the Rosary and holding pro-life signs and were ordered to move across the street.
A full week later, on November 6, Rochester Bishop Matthew Clark issued a statement condemning the candidate's appearance as "a clear and serious violation of diocesan policy".
"I regret that this event took place and apologize for any confusion that might have resulted", Bishop Clark said. "While the diocese will continue to address the moral implications of public policy issues based on our rich tradition", he said, "it remains the clear and consistent policy that the diocese does not endorse or appear to endorse any candidate for public office".
Certain bishops, from time to time, speak well on the subject of abortion. Some pro-lifers criticized Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony for agreeing to offer an opening invocation at the Democratic Party convention. When he did so, the auditorium was virtually empty. But some were impressed with his courage in mentioning the unborn in his prayer, thus speaking the unwelcome truth where it needed to be told.
So it was puzzling that Cardinal Mahony prohibited the distribution of candidates' voting records and does not permit the gathering of signatures on pro-life petitions on Church properties in his archdiocese.
By contrast, in a pre-election feature in the Los Angeles archdiocese newspaper, Tidings, James D. Davidson, editor and co-author of The Search for Common Ground: What Unites and Divides Catholic Americans, asks "How do the votes of US Senators and members of the House of Representatives compare with Church teachings on social and moral issues? Which Congressional leaders are more likely to vote in ways that are consistent with the Church's social teachings: Democrats or Republicans"?
Quoting a National Catholic Reporter study, Davidson says there are 60 "key issues" on which Democrats voted more consistently with the bishops' positions (though he cites only five) but only two in which Republicans did (Partial birth abortion and school vouchers). In conclusion Davidson agrees with the NCR writers that "Democrats more closely reflect Catholic teachings over the broad spectrum".
Culpability for inflicting this specious partisanship on Catholic readers of an official archdiocesan newspaper is great enough to be shared among all those responsible for writing and publishing it.
Would they have listened to Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, as to the relative seriousness of abortion and capital punishment, never mind such prudential questions as the Cuban embargo or the earned income tax credit?
"Catholic teaching does not weigh opposition to capital punishment the same way it weighs opposition to abortion", he wrote in a column in his diocesan newspaper, later reprinted in Voices (Fall 2000).
"The thousands of innocent preborn babies killed every year by abortion constitute a greater evil than the execution of a few convicted felons by the state not only because of sheer numbers of deaths, but because of the gravity of the act itself. Therefore opposition to abortion must be a priority for Catholics who support the Church's teaching about the sacredness of all human life".
On November 15, at its annual meeting, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a strong statement affirming the right to life, "Abortion and the Supreme Court: Advancing the Culture of Death" (see text here).
This welcome statement would have been even more welcome had it been released before election day especially if it had been issued with such emphasis that pastors and Church employees everywhere would have taken note.
Meanwhile, in Canada, Vancouver's Archbishop Adam Exner released previously withheld funds to the so-called "World March of Women 2000". The funds were collected during Lent by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), and the archbishop had announced in June that they would be withheld pending review of the CCODP's support for the event's pro-abortion, pro-gay goals. Archbishop Exner contended that his delay "accomplished much of what we set out to do. I understand that two of the objectionable demands of the march have been removed".
A spokesman for CCODP said, however, that there was "no change to the demands as a result of Archbishop Exner".
According to Catholic World News, the pro-abortion and pro-homosexual goals of both the International and the Canadian marchers remained in place, along with firm support for controversial UN documents.
On the day of the march, six Canadian bishops concelebrated a Mass for the occasion at Ottawa's Notre Dame Cathedral: Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, Bishop John Sherlock of London, Ontario, Bishop Ernest Leger of Moncton, Bishop Francois Thibodeau of Edmonston, and Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Sault Ste Marie. Outside the cathedral a few Catholic pro-life protesters held signs reading "Reject Feminist Supremacy".
According to press reports, Bishop Gervais wanted to join in the march to Parliament Hill, but police disuaded him. During his remarks in the cathedral Bishop Gervais advised the audience to "smile at their fellow Catholics as they run the gauntlet of anti-march protesters".
How is it possible for Catholic bishops to endorse advocates of abortion? Is their traditional commitment to liberal policies greater than their horror at deliberate killing? Why does the campaign against capital punishment stir to speech so many clerics who remain silent in the face of the abortion slaughter?
Can anyone still be surprised that many voters see no contradiction between their Catholicism and their vote for an abortion advocate?
No reassuring answers spring to mind.
1. "Passing it on," by Patricia LeFevere, National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2000, 1.
2 "Nearing Retirement, Priests of the 60's Fear Legacy Is Lost," by Diana Jean Schemo, New York Times, September 10, 2000.
3. "Houses of Worship: Mirabili Dictu!" by John A. Barnes, Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2000.
4. "US Army in Europe Won't Make Room for Latin Mass," Zenit News Service, October 11, 2000.
5. "Pro-Life Demonstrators Harassed at Gore and Clinton Events," Albany (NY) Times Union, October 30, 2000.
6. "Lakewood Clergyman Picketed" Cleveland Scene Online, November 9, 2000
7. "Bishop Calls Clinton's Church Speech 'Serious Violation'", CWNews.com, November 6, 2000.
8. "Signs of the Times,"by Dr James D Davidson, The Tidings, September 15, 2000.
9. "Six Bishops Participate in Mass Supporting Feminist March" Lifesite Special Report, October 16, 2000.
**Women for Faith & Family operates solely on your generous donations!
WFF is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax deductible.
Voices copyright © 1999-Present Women for Faith & Family. All rights reserved.
All material on this web site is copyrighted and may not be copied or reproduced without prior written permission from Women for Faith & Family,except as specified below.
Permission is granted to download and/or print out articles for personal use only.
Brief quotations (ca 500 words) may be made from the material on this site, in accordance with the “fair use” provisions of copyright law, without prior permission. For these quotations proper attribution must be made of author and WFF + URL (i.e., “Women for Faith & Family www.wf-f.org.)
Generally, all signed articles or graphics must also have the permission of the author. If a text does not have an author byline, Women for Faith & Family should be listed as the author. For example: Women for Faith & Family (St Louis: Women for Faith & Family, 2005 + URL)
Link to Women for Faith & Family web site.
Other web sites are welcome to establish links to www.wf-f.org or to individual pages within our site.
Back to top -- Home -- Back to the Table of Contents
Women for Faith & Family
PO Box 300411
St. Louis, MO 63130
314-863-8385 Phone -- 314-863-5858 Fax -- Email