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Things Fell Apart Print E-mail
By Russell Shaw   
Thursday, 06 January 2011

In 1950, a novel called The Cardinal sped to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there, ahead of books by Ernest Hemingway and Frances Parkinson Keyes. Next year The Cardinal dropped only to fourth place. A few years later it became a three-hour blockbuster movie directed by the king of clunkers, Otto Preminger. Although today the book is largely forgotten, it’s worth recalling for the light it sheds on the Catholic psyche in the heyday of the Church in the United States. And also as an implicit reminder of the decline that set in a decade later and continues even now. Great literature it’s not. But as a cultural landmark of 1950s-style American Catholicism there’s hardly anything in its class.

The Cardinal is the work of a Catholic writer named Henry Morton Robinson. He also wrote poetry, another novel, and, with Joseph Campbell, a volume called A Skeleton Key To ‘Finnegans Wake’ attempting to penetrate the meaning of James Joyce’s impenetrable last book. Part of the success of The Cardinal lay in its being a roman à clef – an idealized version of the career of Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York tracing the rise of its priest-hero, Stephen Fermoyle, from his days as a curate in Boston to emergence on the top rungs of the clerical ladder as a key advisor to the pope.

Robinson’s timing couldn’t have been better. The book’s theme is summed up in a recurring question mulled by Fermoyle: Is it possible to be fully Catholic and fully American? His answer, and the answer of Henry Morton Robinson, is a resounding “yes.” And at midpoint in the last century, a resounding yes was what millions of Catholics firmly believed to be the truth and were anxious to hear.

In many respects, the 1950s marked the highwater mark for American Catholicism. The Church was growing in numbers, expanding in institutional presence and political strength, and becoming a cultural force. The 31 million Catholics were served by 46,000 priests and 158,000 religious sisters. There were 33,000 seminarians. Sunday Mass attendance stood at 70 percent. On the cultural front, Thomas Merton’s 1948 autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain had become a flagship document of the postwar religious boom. Bishop Fulton Sheen was poised to begin his phenomenal TV career.

But success came at a price – suspicion and outright hostility in important sectors of society.


            A reminder of the decline that began in the Sixties . . . and continues today.

The year before The Cardinal appeared, Paul Blanshard, a writer for The Nation, published a bestseller of his own. American Freedom and Catholic Power posed the question Stephen Fermoyle asked: Could good Catholics be good Americans? Blanshard’s answer, like that of many, was a resounding “no.”

Here was the real-world background for Henry Morton Robinson’s book. At a key point in the story, a newly arrived Apostolic Delegate to the United States addresses an intimate gathering of ecclesiastical heavy-hitters in the residence of the Archbishop of New York, behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral. After speaking glowingly of America, he continues: “I come neither as a meddler nor an overseer, but merely to remind you that that the world looks to the Catholics of the United States for a rekindling of the spiritual flame that is now almost extinguished in the world. If your light fails, there is danger of universal darkness.”

In the novel, it’s 1926. But these words appeared in a book published in a 1950 America facing up to cold war against an implacable, officially atheistic foe. To non-Catholic readers they were an apologia for Catholicism, while to Catholic readers they supplied a compelling rationale for their Americanism.

Both come fully together at the very end of the book. It’s 1939, the eve of World War II. Fermoyle, a cardinal by now, stands on the deck of a British liner carrying him home from the conclave that’s elected Pius XII.

As the ship threads its way among icebergs, heavy symbolism sets in. Western civilization (the British ship) is menaced by deadly threats from the North (the icebergs: Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia). But a prince of the Church stands in the bow of the noble vessel, seeing all, understanding all, and praying ship and passengers home to safe haven – the providential embrace of the world’s greatest democracy, deeply infused with the wisdom of the Catholic Church, and prepared to seize the torch of Christendom from Europe’s failing hand.

Catholics and many others ate it up in 1950. But that was before the rise of the culture of dissent, the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, the post-Vatican II turmoil in the Church including the defections of thousands of priests and nuns, and the scandal of clergy sex abuse and coverup.

Today 65.6 million American Catholics are served by 39,000 priests and 57,000 nuns (with soaring median age for both groups), graduate-level seminarians number 3,500, and 22 percent of Catholics say they go to Mass weekly. Assimilation into the secular culture and its values has driven thoughts of uplifting the culture, or even saving it from its worst excesses, from the minds of very many, perhaps most, Catholics.

It’s as if Cardinal Fermoyle’s ocean liner had hit an iceberg and sunk. As the Church in America ponders its options, the first big question, demanding an honest answer, is: how did the disaster happen? We need to know that in order to have some hope of making Catholicism as compelling and attractive a proposition for Americans today as it was for so many back in 1950.

 
Russell Shaw, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a veteran writer and journalist in Washington, D.C. He has published twenty books, including most recently Writing ‘The Way’: The Story of a Spiritual Classic and Nothing To Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church.  He is currently working on a book about the Americanization of American Catholicism.
 
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Comments (38)Add Comment
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written by Bill, January 06, 2011
Welcome to TCT, Mr. Shaw. I have read your work for years. "How did the disaster happen?" Please tell me you are kidding. The Modernists, who were suppressed by Pope Pius X, our last canonized pope, quietly were allowed to return and to dominate the Church before, during and since Vat.II The Oath Against Modernism was dropped in 1965 by P. VI. Universal Salvation, a heresy, has been quietly assumed for decades. We have what the Blessed Mother foretold-the Church we deserve.
I am looking forward to your future articles.
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written by John, January 06, 2011
Well done, Mr. Shaw. How did it happen? To stick with your ship analogy, what the Catholic Church seems to be doing is rearranging the deck chairs when it should be calling for more lifeboats. There are more people to save.

Also, there is no one like Bishop Sheen around today to make the forceful case for Catholicism. He was a uniquely gifted messenger whose plain speaking and sense of humor helped convey the Gospel as few others could.

Nowadays, the Church has a perpetual frown on its face from all the sorrows it has either self-inflicted or had inflicted by others.

Like Sisyphus, condemned to forever push the rock up the hill only to see it fall back, the Church is using all its might to keep the rock from collapsing on itself. Spelled with a capital R, however, the Rock of the Church is Christ and if Christ is preached firstly, then there will always be those who will listen,heed His words and follow Him.

The flurry of scandals, the latest the filing of bankruptcy by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, keep the Church on the defense. And, to use a well-worn football analogy, it takes more than defense to win games. The Holy Father is the best quarterback we have, but he needs more help in the Red Zone. With the right plays, we can score points, but lately the offensive line has let him down.

I've gotten carried away, obviously, but the point is to not give up and to keep spreading the Word as best we can. Then let us shake the dust from our feet and move on, secure in the knowledge that we have done our part to bring the good news to others.
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written by Rick, January 06, 2011
how did the disaster happen? I'm 64 and watched it. Much of what appeared to be Catholicism was really only a cultural attachment. Many were attached to the trimmings. Also in a large group the 5% or so that are to the two extremes can lead the vast middle. By the late 60s we had revolt in the clergy. They and their allies became that 5% at one extreme, they were well organized and being the winners lead the vast middle into dissent. As my brother said to me concerning our college years at UC, there never was a heresy that wasn't preached from the altar of the Newman center at Berkeley. In the early 60s I would hear older people say I am a bad Catholic by the 70s that changed to the Church is wrong on ...
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written by John Dunkle, January 06, 2011
Here's how it happened: most Catholic men who would have become first class priests were killed in WW II. Lesser men became priests. They excused masturbation for themselves in the '50s and for us laity in the '60s. Child killing then became legal in the '70s (the wages of sin is death). That's how it happened.
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written by Just a mom, January 06, 2011
The Church in 1950 spoke to a society prepared for the responsibilities of adulthood - marriage, children, the joys and sorrows of family life and work. The Church in 2010 addresses a society transformed by post-war prosperity and the sexual revolution - large segments of the population can now live in perpetual adolescence. When did teenagers ever listen to their parents?
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written by debby, January 06, 2011
To Bill and all those of like mind, and those Pre-Vat 2 Catholics who think I am not really a Catholic, etc.,
I have asked this sincere question numerous times before. To date, no matter what Pre-Vat 2 group of people I query, there is silence as my answer. (Asked at several Home-school groups as well as some Latin chapels I have visited...) So that being said, I assure you, this is a real question and I would welcome an honest opinion regarding it.
How is it remotely possible that ALL THE PRE-VAT 2 CATHOLICS in this country up and left their True Faith so very easily? This is the Faith which, according to so many "historians", was so compelling and faithfully adhered to in Spirit and in Letter prior to the "evil" Vat 2. This is the Faith which was supposedly passed on in family prayer, family instruction, Catholic teaching as the core of their family values honestly lived. Do you know what I am asking? How can an entire Roman Catholic population and culture that supposedly KNOWS & LOVES Jesus Christ by, through and in the reception of the Sacraments just up and leave the teachings of the Church, embrace birth-control, embrace public schools, embrace the Democratic party in JFK, embrace sin?
I am not being sarcastic. I truly don't get this. If you believe that the lack of Faith lived is all the fault of Vat 2, where did all the believers go? And don't tell me your chapel because that is simply not true. Unless of course there were only a few of you prior to Vat 2 to begin with.
My suspicion is that the Pre-Vat memory is a warm and fuzzy fairyland and maybe there was a REASON the Holy Spirit moved the Holy Father to call for Vat 2 in the first place.
I am a convert as I have stated before. I was born in 1960. I NEVER, I repeat NEVER met-NOT EVEN ONCE! a Catholic PARENT of any of my Catholic friends who could answer the one question an Evangelical child would ask, "So in your Church, how do you get to Heaven?" in other words, "what must a Catholic do to be saved?" Not ONE SINGLE PERSON IN 1965 forward could answer my little kid question. My Baptist church & school people ardently encouraged an aggressive evangelization of those damned Catholics who are going to Hell. I cared. I would pray & cry on my knees at night as a baby- 5, 6, 7 years old!- for all my friends who I was taught were going to Hell for worshiping Mary, bowing in idolatry before furniture (altars) and idols (statutes) and cannibalization (if "they" believe the Eucharist IS the Body and Blood of Christ, they ARE GUILTY of such an anathema). I had nightmares of my playmates burning and screaming my name, "Debby, WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?" So I would ask, talk, question, wonder. I even went to some Catholic youth things and once or twice attended a Mass (my parents weren't aware of this-it was a publicly denounced sin to go into a Catholic Church in my Right-Wing-Anti-Catholic Fundamentalist Baptist church.) No Catholic parent ever answered my question with any reasonable understanding. It was always along the lines of "obey the commandments, receive the Sacraments, " etc., without any explanation of WHO was TRULY PRESENT in those Sacraments. So, if pre-Vat life in America was so marvy and holy and better and oh so!, why didn't the pre-vat Catholics sitting in the pew have ANY idea what on earth their Faith taught? How is it that they could not pass this heritage on to their own dear children and neighbors?

really-I want to know how on earth the only true Faith could possibly be lost to millions who were supposedly practicing it. I can assure you, that none of my Catholic friends had a clue. They just stood in line and said "Amen" every Sunday then stuck their tongue out. Later in years, those same kids became high-school CCD teachers who would only have sex with their boyfriends on Friday nights so they could go to confession on Sat and receive on Sun so their parents "wouldn't know" they were active. Now, 30 years later, some of these same people have left the Catholic Church and become Saved Protestants. To that I can only say, where were their Pre-Vat 2 parents and grandparents?
oh, I forgot. Faith back then was private. and Only Priests and Nuns were supposed to run around saving souls.
so I guess parents just took chances with their children's eternal destiny? or was it that Baptism alone saved them?
WHERE WERE YOU?
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written by yezhov, January 06, 2011
Russ,

We inficlted the deadly wound on ourselves.
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written by jsmitty, January 06, 2011
I actually think the misplaced nostalgia for a long forgotten era is what a big part of the problem is. Such nostalgia unfortunately pervades this piece.

Let's look for the signs of authentic renewal today rather than bewailing yet again what we had--or thought we had-- before.

Mr. Shaw if the US Church-- or the country it was in-- was so robustly healthy in the 30's 40's and 50's how ever did it get so sick so quickly in the 60's?

Because the Catholic religiosity in the US from 1930-1965 was actually a mile wide and an inch deep, that's why!!!
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written by Other Joe, January 06, 2011
Another factor - setting up the disaster - was the fact that for many in the '50s, religion had largely become an accounting exercise. Sin was ticked off as debits in a bookkeeping scheme. Many in the pulpits called for increasingly perfect behavior in communities seething with alcoholism, emotional battering, fear, despair and loss. Many in the pulpits seemed to fail to remember that Christ came to redeem sinners. Hypocrisy was as general as sexuality soon would be. The purpose of the rules was sometimes forgotten. When stress came in the form of general sexualization, the threat of nuclear war with the consequent end of all life and a philosophy of "humanism" that promised relief from the hypocrisy of perfection, the thin shell of a behavior centered religious conception melted away. We must (and with the help of the Holy Spirit will) bring life back to the severely pruned branches that make up the mystical body of Christ.
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written by Austin Ruse, January 06, 2011
Russ,

I wonder if there was a firm enough foundation in the 1950s Church. How deep was the faith of those Catholics who packed the Churches? Was it a faith that was internalized or merely external. For it to blow away so quickly tells me at least some of it was built on sand.
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written by Louise, January 06, 2011
Debbie,

I am a convert, also, and my husband and I came into the Church after he spent a weekend at a monastery with some friends who were considering conversion. He came home and said, "They have something that we don't. I don't know what it is, but I think I want to look for it." That was early in 1971 (an odd time, now that I look back). We were high-church Episcopalians at the time. The abortion fight was just beginning. We stayed in the Church for 10 years, doing just what you are doing--trying to find someone (other than charismatics) who knew who Jesus is.

We gave up and left the Church in 1981, and returned by a call from the Holy Spirit that was the result of our daughter's prayers (she had returned a year or two earlier).

The problem of finding those people still existed, although it was not as barren as we had known in 1981. However, (and this applies more directly to your experience), I was listening to a story by my cradle Catholic sister-in-law--daily communicant, very faithful--about someone who had treated her son very badly in an acrimonious divorce. Innocently, I said to her: "You should pray for her." She rose up in rage and said, "I should pray for HER? Absolutely not! NEVER!." I was dumfounded.

After a minute or two, I said, "How many times a day do you say the Lord's Prayer?" (I knew she said the rosary almost daily as well as being a daily communicant.) "Have you ever heard the words, 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'? She said, "What's that got to do with anything?"

As you see, I can't answer your question either. it is something I cannot fathom. However, as I mentioned here before, we attend a Polish-heritage parish where the priest is a profound believer and evangelizer. Every family in the pew has a husband in attendance. Widowers and widows attend in probably equal numbers. The average age at Mass has gone from 55 to about 20 or less, with the number of small children. In the 20 years this priest has been here, the registered parishioners have risen from about 300-400 to about 1500. Confessions are heard before every Mass. We have a contingent of boys and young men who serve Mass--no girls. We would have the Tridentine Mass if our priest had more confidence that he could manage it, but we have Latin hymns, and sing the Our Father in Latin at weekday Masses.

I guess the best answer is that the Holy Spirit blows where He will, and the only thing we can do is pray--as I do almost constantly for the re-conversion of our sons. In my head, I know it's a lot. In my heart, it seems such a pitifully small effort against the pull of the whole world and the behavior of public Catholics--including clergy and Bishops.

P.S. When we went to look for the "it" that the monks enjoyed, we couldn't find a priest or a parish church that was interested in giving us instructions. That was a far cry from what my mother-in-law used to tell my husband: "Be careful! There's a Catholic waiting behind every bush to pull you into their church." Finally, a priest sent us to a local Jesuit university where a priest was giving instruction to converts. His text? "The Documents of Vatican II", of which we understood about 10 words, sitting in a small room, the five of us, a couple of others, and the elderly priest droning on, but it was the spring sunshine pouring in on us through the window that was the killer. It just about put us out. :) He received us anyway. Thank heaven that there was no test.
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written by Joe, January 06, 2011
Mr. Ruse, as one who is on the wrong side of 60, allow me to respond. Maybe the foundation had a little sand, but it largely consisted of rock. As a child of the 50's, I remember vividly Bishop Sheen standing out as the Church's leading U.S. spokesman and he was superb as a communicator. Certainly charismatic and I loved the way he credited his writers -- Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. Milton Berle, who he consistently beat in the ratings, was envious but took it in good stride.

Sure, the Church had problems back then, but pre-Vatican 2, key doctrinal issues were not in the fore as they are today. But the faith was there and greater, I believe, whether internal I do not know. But externally, you could hardly get a seat at Midnight Mass on Christmas eve and there were long lines at the confessional boxes. Today, you can hardly find such a box, much less a priest to confess to if you live in the sticks.

As one poster suggested, looking back and pining for the old days may be a futile exercise in nostalgia, but it is still in our nature to ponder good memories and most of mine of going to church in those years fall into that category.

Today, the headlines are far different and sadder and I've just read the Church is teaming up with The Discovery Channel to do a "reality show" on exorcism with the blessing of the Vatican. Unthinkable in the 50's. I don't know who is handling PR in Rome, but this will not do much to polish the tarnished image of today's Church, which is in need of regeneration not TV ratings.
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written by Ge0ffrey, January 06, 2011
I'm a convert, and yesterday I celebrated my 19th year as a Catholic! Thanks be to God! If God can bring a former atheist and a sinner like me to His Church post Vatican II, He can bring anyone.
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written by Bill, January 06, 2011
To Debbie: The reasons so many Catholics have lost their Faith in the last fifty years are:Obedience-Father says and Sister says the Church wants us to change, self- consciousness-why do we live on "the other side of the tracks?" Pride-I am the first college graduate in my family and I don't need the Church any longer (See Ireland and the time of the Celtic Tiger of a few years ago. Look at it now). And now, Debbie, go to the head of the class.
Why can't anyone in the Vat II Church tell you how to go to Heaven? Because EVERYONE IS SAVED. Go to a Novus Ordo funeral-"Joe is up there with Jesus and he is helping to prepare places in Heaven for all of us. Can't you feel his presence as he looks down?" There is no Purgatory and there is no Hell. It is the "Diabolical Disorientation" which the Blessed Mother described to Lucia, the last seer of Fatima. We are being punished by God. Only prayer will suffice.
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written by Lindsay, January 06, 2011
I hope you don't mind a couple of posts in response to debby's but I think it deserves a response.

“My suspicion is that the Pre-Vat memory is a warm and fuzzy fairyland”

Who on this green Earth is promoting a view of the pre-VII Catholic world as a mystical era of faith and piety? You think Mr. Shaw is intimating that all was just fine and peachy in Pre-VII-land? Has it ever been?

I believe his article is addressing the fact that the situation, while perhaps never having been ideal, is now an unmitigated disaster. The question he’s asking is: how did optimism and expansion turn into despair and contraction? Which of course does not preclude the question: what defects were present in the pre-VII Church that flowered into full-scale rebellion and defection after VII?

The pre-VII period might rightly be called a "heyday" for the American Church, not because it represented the pinnacle of Catholic piety, morality and even cultural achievement, but rather because it represented a period of amazing growth and optimism. Amazing because this was a Church that had suffered official repression in the colonial era, faction, strife and marginalization in the post-Revolutionary era, discrimination and violence in the nineteenth century, and ridicule and mistrust in the twentieth century. And then, in the middle of this success (in terms of acceptance, growth and establishment) it seemed to collapse of its own accord. So, Mr. Shaw is asking, what happened? A valid question I think.
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written by Lindsay, January 06, 2011
"I can assure you, that none of my Catholic friends had a clue. They just stood in line and said "Amen" every Sunday then stuck their tongue out."

And I can assure you, that the case has not changed a bit. Only now, since the percentage of people going to Mass has decreased while the percentage of those same people who really know and live their faith has remained the same or decreased, you have what you might call an unmitigated disaster.

Yes, poor catechesis prior to VII is probably partially responsible for post-VII defection. But surely, you’re not saying that anecdotal evidence suggesting poor catechesis and hypocrisy prior to VII is any indication that the Church as a whole was not in at least somewhat better shape back then, are you? You’re not denying that mass defections have occurred since VII, are you? If not, how do you explain those defections, even accounting for lack of perfection in the pre-VII church?

The Church will never be filled wall-to-wall with saints or even people actively seeking sainthood. The Church will always contain 100% sinners and a sizable group of superficial, hypocritical and unrepentant sinners. Always. Since the days of Paul’s epistles. Since the days of Augustine’s sermons. But at least they had Paul and Augustine standing up for the Truth at every turn and in the face of all opposition.

What happened after VII is that many people in positions of authority stopped preaching the Truth at all. In fact, in many circles, heterodoxy has become the new orthodoxy. Sure, heterodox and hypocritical clerics have always existed; VII did not create them. But the ‘spirit of VII,’ which was nothing more than unapologetic compromise with the shallow, vapid and materialistic culture of the modern Western world, allowed them free reign. It has now become more rebellious in some ‘Catholic’ circles to defend orthodoxy or morality than it is to assent to every kind of heterodoxy and form of immorality.

Before VII, many people didn’t live the truth. After VII, the Church as a whole seems to barely even acknowledge the existence of Truth.
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written by Lindsay, January 06, 2011
“I want to know how on earth the only true Faith could possibly be lost to millions who were supposedly practicing it.”

Do you have no concept of how fragile the Faith can be in the hearts of many? Yes, even the one true Faith. Agreed, catechesis was probably not all it could have been prior to VII. But even given good catechesis, the faith must be constantly proclaimed and nurtured in order for it to survive. Abandon that, and many will abandon the faith. Sadly, if the leaders waiver, many people, even formerly pious people, will lose confidence in their church.

The same thing happened to mainline Protestant churches throughout the 20th Century and the same thing is currently happening to many Evangelical churches today.
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written by Lee Gilbert, January 06, 2011
What happened? Nobody knows what happened, even though it happened to them. In the early fifties the Catholic people sat down in fron of the TV and we haven't gotten up yet.

Everybody mentions Fulton Sheen, but there was a lot more going on than Fulton Sheen. Of course, TV was very tame by today's standards, but nevertheless starting then there was a constant walk-down of our morals. There were almost but not quite innocuous double-entendres on Milton Berle or Jack Benny. It would have seemed prudish to get up and turn off the set. The next time it was worse, but only very slightly. And this militated against the faith, for the Holy Spirit was offended. We sat through Jack Paar and filth that I can still remember word for word.

How could the family rosary compete with The Ed Sullivan Show, or Gun Smoke? It went by the board. TV and prayer were oil and water, but we didn't notice.

Little snippets of drama and dialogue began to appear at the dinner table, and the eldest son became a rebel without a cause. By 1968 he was grown up and gone to Haight Asbury, and by the mid 90's he had died of his sins.

We had been an otherworldly people and were made a worldly people. We were launched on a sixty year program of de-evangelization that is isn't over yet.

Nobody wants to be a prude, not in the pulpit or anywhere else, and if you take a walk by the rectory in the late evening you will see the same lifeless light still flickering behind the curtains, a light that is truly darkness.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., January 06, 2011
I'm one of the over-sixty gang who can testify that, while there was no perfection among humans in the Church, the Faith and Piety of those who loved our Lord and Holy Mother Church was deep and sincere. My Irish grandmother, who was almost completely self-educated, understood the Catholic Faith better than most graduates of so-called Catholic colleges today. This did not happen by accident. This watering down of CCD and, the vulgarization of the Most Holy Sacrament, this preaching of flat-out error and heresy is the result of decades of systematic and organized warfare against the Bride of Christ. Prayer, penance and courage are needed to confront not only the atheists, but the those clergyman also who tell us that there is no Devil or Hell and make promotion of socialism and guilt-free sex the goal of their "ministries." By the way, how can we expect our children to take the Church's teachings seriously when public figures who defy the authority of the Church are married and buried with full honors?
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written by Ray Hunkins, January 06, 2011
I read this column early this morning and have been busy until a little while ago. I returned to the site and was surprised to see so many comments. I read them all and, although it is late to be offering a comment I felt compelled to comment on the depth and eloquence of the many fine thoughts that were posted this day. Mr. Shaw's writing obviously hit a nerve with many.
I would offer one thought. I am a 71-year-old convert of recent vintage. I grew up in a family that was not particularly religious (Protestant once in a while) but I have fond memories of watching Fulton J Sheen on television as a teenager. The ideal described in some of the posts as well as Mr. Shaw's piece was not unique to Catholics. That ideal was pervasive in the American people. It was part of the American culture and it respected tradition, decorum and the search for truth. It honored civility and manners. Norman Rockwell painted American life as it was. Look at his work again. Those scenes are what I remember. Catholics, Protestants, Jews and the unchurched all lost their way at about the same time. I sense that we as a people are slowly but surely climbing out of the hole we dug ourselves. I pray I am right.
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written by debby, January 07, 2011
I am grateful that people responded to my question. Austin said in 3 sentences what I was expressing in 300+ words.
p.s. to Lindsay, my comments were directed at the readers not the author of the article. i agree with most all your points.
p.s to ray- we cannot climb out of these holes ourselves. it is the Shepherd Himself Who bends down and lifts us up. don't worry. He's a great Rescuer. look how He continued to pursue you, into your "vintage." same rescuing going on with an 80+ year old beloved aunt of mine. Thank you, LORD!
p.s. Louise, i've said this before: please adopt me! i think we are "related...."
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written by Louise, January 07, 2011
"p.s. Louise, i've said this before: please adopt me! i think we are "related...." "

I'd love to, Debbie. How are you at shoveling snow? We have a 700 ' driveway (all down hill going out; up hill coming home). plus the flat between house and garage, plus the path to the barn, and sometimes around the barn so that the sheep can get out. We could have some lovely conversations that would benefit us both.
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written by Austin Ruse, January 07, 2011
Within a few short years after VII the 50's church was emptied out. A strong foundation would not have crumbled over night.
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written by Martin Dybicz, January 08, 2011
In case anyone's still reading this thread, the answer to "How did it happen?" is masterfully provided in George Weigel's 2002 book, "The Courage To Be Catholic." Here are some subtitles: "The 'Truce of 1968,'" "Dissent among Theologians," "The 'Wounded Healer' Syndrome," "The Triumphant Therapeutic," and "On Not Appearing 'Conservative.'" Weigel also provides an agenda for reform that all of our bishops would do well to heed.
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written by Austin Ruse, January 08, 2011
Martin et al,

Yes, those things really hurt. BUT, a strong faith would have withstood them! The faith of '55 should never have been undermined by teh unfaith of '68 unless there was something complacent or somehow sand-like in the faith of '55.

I hold that things were not all that solid in '55.
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written by Louise, January 08, 2011
Martin, I have that book on my shelf, but I read it several years ago before I could really appreciate it. It's time for another reading.

Above, I described the vigorously faithful parish we attend. I can add that our pastor is not appreciated by his fellow clergy who, although they like him, tend to think of him as an artifact. The fact that his church is full on Sunday and almost full on weekdays, that he baptizes more babies and hears more confessions than they do, never disturbs their thoughts. In the 20 years he has been there, Mass has been celebrated every single day without exception, either by him or a substitute, no layman has ever preached a homily from the pulpit, and no girl has ever served at the altar. Neither of those novelties has brought on fallen-away Catholic back to the Church. It is the shepherd who gathers the sheep. They do not gather themselves.
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written by debby, January 08, 2011
Amen to Louise, Austin. I believe that is my point. So "my astute conclusion" (please, that is NJ tongue in cheek)is that Vat 2 was called by the Holy Spirit. What "we" did hence is not unprecedented in the Church: how many churches did St. Paul have to write to and correct? how old was the early church at that point? how many heresies sprang up before the Apostles were all dead? why is this so new? and the scariest question of all: are the hard-and-fast "my Pre-Vat 2 Church is the Only Catholic Church" believers the new Protestants? coming from Protestantism with all it's "the Holy Spirit told me" stuff, i must stay away from those proponents and leave them to God. He alone is our Judge. And, yes, this same disease (not repenting of our own sins and doing the hard work of changing) has indeed infected all Faiths. Abortion and infidelity are rampant even in the far right wing Protestant churches. This is not something to rejoice over. We live in a sick world and those of us with the only Remedy don't look anything like Him. this is SIN.
Louise, my Spiritual Director for over 10 years who greatly impacted my whole being was born and raised in Poland. My SD prior to him was a priest from Spain who wore a cassock in 100+ degree weather. Prior to him, my SD was a beautiful holy (now hermit) priest who was baptized, 1st Confession & Communion by St. Padre Pio, & moved to America at 9 years old. Holy priests exist! Thanks be to God, He has always provided me with a Fr. to help me along! Funny tho, none of the above ever emphasized the idea that what IS wrong in the Church is anything or anyone other than, "look at Your sins, Debby."
and, i'd love to help shovel your drive as long as hot tea follows with me picking your mind and heart!
i can't wait for Heaven and hanging forever with Him and all of you....
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written by Austin Ruse, January 08, 2011
Though it is too late since folks are all warm and rosy about the '55 Church. Think about this. Within ten years it fell apart. The same people who packed the Church in '55, including priests and nuns and laity had fled or were just about to flee a mere handful of years later. I think there was something rotten already in the state of Denmark for this to have happened so rapidly.

The thing about today is that folks have to make their faith their own. They almost have to fight for it. This is actually a blessing. I suspect there was a fair amount of spoon feeding in the '55 Church.
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written by Louise, January 08, 2011
Austin, within 10 years, EVERYTHING fell apart, not just in the Church.

My own private conspiracy theory is that, when the UnAmerican Activities Committee folded, those blacklisted Communists and fellow travelers had to go somewhere to find work, and they found open arms on the faculties of colleges and universities, beginning just about that time. There, they were all in place to welcome the over-indulged and self-indulgent baby boomers who, already spoiled by war-weary parents eager to give them "everything that they never had, or that the children of Europe never had", were more than happy to play the part of the "useful idiots" in the Cold War. We all remember what 1968 was like. (The only non-left-leaning baby boomers that I know were those who did not go to college but found work in industry right out of high school. They escaped the indoctrination of the left.) The virus spread like wildfire, until, those of us who were married, say, in 1955 and had young children or just about to be teenagers, no longer recognized the country we loved.

My first inkling was when my daughter came home one day from high school at Roosevelt High, in Seattle, and told me that Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were evil, horrible people, and she hated them. That was about 1973, and I haven't recovered from the shock yet. It was down hill all the way from there.

By the time I finished my career in publishing in 1995, I was returning manuscripts to the publisher, refusing to produce the anti-Christian diatribes coming from the pens of those PhD. professors who were writing college textbooks, calling themselves Marxists and incorporating themselves to protect their royalties. From this, the Church was not immune nor was it protected. You get the picture.

Debbie, maybe someday. You never can tell. Thank you for the compliments and kind words.
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written by Louise, January 09, 2011
A correction. It was in 2005 that I retired from publishing (not 1995), but for all those years we were producing college textbooks in the social sciences, especially but not exclusively, that were, to varying degrees, anti-Christian.
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written by Austin Ruse, January 09, 2011
I also believe Vatican II was the Holy Spirit's way of making the Church more supple in order to survive the blows that were coming culture-wide in the 1960s and 1970s. Tis true Vatican II was hijacked by dissidents but there was enough there that the Church was saved from even greater disaster such as we have seen in the mainline ecclesial communities.
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written by Sherry, January 09, 2011
To answer the question, "how did the disaster happen", my first thought is "the world, the flesh, and the devil". After the war came the chasing of "THE AMERICAN DREAM" ($)- people moved from Catholic enclaves to the suburbs and further, leaving extended families and familiar parishes behind; TV commercials lauded the GE "Kitchen of the Future" and other goods and services people "could not live without"; TV soap operas showed other lifestyles, etc. With the GI Bill, many men were able to go to colleges where liberal professors espoused views contrary to Church teaching. Psychologists were advising people (including clergy and religious) to "find themselves" and that self-fulfillment was the highest good. God seemed to have an awful lot of competition for the hearts and minds of the Catholic Americans. And, I agree with Austin Ruse that there was not an internalized faith with many people - it was "here's what I have to do and not do so I won't go to hell". With Vatican II, I think many people got the idea the from then on, we were each supposed to decide what was right and wrong FOR US, based on our individual consciences - they left out the part about our responsibility to develop our consciences with the proper formation. The idea of lifelong learning - and a strong prayer life - got lost somewhere. There needs to be an understanding that God really means for us to have a good life and He has given us the Church to help us. But, in this current environment, we have to be willing to suffer for our beliefs. Suffering and Joy - the cross to the resurrection.
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written by Martin Dybicz, January 10, 2011
Mr. Ruse, I agree with your comments. Is one key way that there was something amiss in '55 (and that is still too often amiss in 2011) the lack of clarity in Magisterial teaching? More specifically, is the Magisterium clear enough on what of its teaching is Revelation and what is not, infallible or not, a matter of doctrine or of prudential judgment? Should not the Magisterium more clearly state when its teaching is objectively true, and whether it is claiming so on the basis of Revelation/Faith or Reason? Does not the Magisterium need use terms like "formal heresy," "material heresy," and "apostasy" more often?
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written by Other Joe, January 10, 2011
Late me restate what I tried to note above. In answer to severe challenges from the secular point of view in the 50's, the church (too often) offered legalism, fear and abstractions. I think it is safe to agree with Mr. Ruse that the shepherds were weak in their understanding of their duties and the flock was scattered as a result when frights and storms came. It speaks of a crisis in faith among the ordained. An important Anglican bishop in the 1960s confided to an acquaintance of mine that he no longer believed in God. I suspect there were many others and not a few in the Catholic hierarchy. The bishop remained in office as a kind of advocate for "nice", paying hypocritical respects to the divinity he no longer believed existed. He had become a ceremonial figure and a stumbling block for the true believer. I believe one could point to many others – especially high profile “Catholic” politicians – who, to judge only by their actions, feel similarly
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written by Other Loiuse, January 12, 2011
The Church in the 50's in the US was strong, believe it or not. There was a beautiful sense of unity. It was also childlike and was trained to do what Father said. When Father started saying the wrong things, it all fell apart. It was a sheep without a shephard scenario, just like Jesus said. when the shepherd is struck, the sheep scatter. Thus to me the secret is the reinvigoration of the priesthood. When priests become united once again around the papacy, the sheep will eventually too.
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written by Austin Ruse, January 12, 2011
I do not think we can simply blame the Ordained from the Church of '55. Now as then, laymen must accept responsibility for their own formation and the deepening of their own interior life.
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written by Other Louise, January 13, 2011
Only blame the clergy, of course not...but I stand by the comment. The Church cannot be strong and widespread without a strong, united clergy. That is no denigration of the lay state nor is it letting laity off the hook. It's just the way Christ designed the Church.
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written by Clare, Wirrral, February 07, 2011
As a cradle, post Vatican-2 Catholic, I can't and won't comment on pre-Vatican II doctrine

What I do object to, as someone who has been involved in church activities more or less all their life, is the 'anyone born post Vatican 2 doesn't have a clue" attitude

No, the post Vatican 2 Catholic church is not a 'pick and mix'. The key tenets of the faith are there, deep and strong. Not all of us like choosing what we believe, we are Catholic, the church has rules, we abide by them. Pro-choice is abhorrent to me, as is the selfishness of modern society

I consider myself tolerant, I would ask those in the Catholic communion who have experienced both sides of the Council to appreciate that there are many like myself who are not 'fly-by-nights' or superficial in their faith

After all, who's to say that all these problems weren't there before and Vatican 2, by letting the Holy Spirit in, showed the cobwebs in the corners in their true light?

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