The Catholic Thing
Hope for Change Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 02 December 2013

When He gave the keys to Simon Peter, Jesus promised that the gates of Hell won’t prevail against the Church. And we should never lose sight of that! Yet many have lost sight of it, and doubts about the future bedevil faithless and faithful alike. We all understand why. Because we do, I won’t waste time laying down yet another list of crises that have diminished Catholicism over the last half century.

But is the decline as bad as it seems? Well, that’s actually not the right question, especially since the probable answer is: yes, it’s that bad. The better question is: Can the decline be halted, even reversed?

Well of course it can, and there is ample evidence that the turnaround is well underway, which evidence is presented with authority by Anne Hendershott and Christopher White (The Catholic Thing contributors) in their new book, Renewal: How a Generation of Faithful Priests and Bishops Is Revitalizing the Catholic Church.

Key in the story is the cadre of young men now entering the priesthood. Are they different from the generation that gave us the sex-abuse scandals and “the hermeneutic of rupture”? The authors of Renewal say they are, although that remains to be seen.

They cite a poll about hot-button issues that compares the responses of priests in their sixties (who came of age in the Sixties) to those of newly minted priests (thirty-five and younger), which may be measuring apples and oranges, so some caution is certainly advisable, especially given that among the first acts in the papacy of Benedict XVI was the issuance of new criteria for “Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.” Beginning in about 2006, that discernment began weeding out some who might have brought unorthodox attitudes into the priesthood. Certainly gay and liberal seminarians had done so in that earlier generation.

But what we can’t know now is how today’s 30-year-olds will view the priesthood three decades hence. Still, if the seeds fall on fertile ground . . .

The authors intend to test a thesis: that ordinations to the priesthood are – as a rule – more numerous now where there are orthodox and evangelical bishops; flat or down where bishops have embraced the progressive “spirit of Vatican II.” It’s a premise they have taken from Elden Curtiss, now retired Archbishop of Lincoln Omaha, Nebraska, who is convinced that religion is stronger when and where it imposes “significant costs in terms of sacrifice and even stigma” upon members.

In our time, the stigma is imposed upon believers by modernists (or Modernists, if you wish), although, like liberalism and conservatism, Modernism isn’t easy to define (although see Pascendi Dominici Gregis). The modernists – advocates of same-sex “marriage,” women’s ordination, married priests, contraception, and even abortion – have lately been winning a lot of battles, successfully establishing sins and perversions as normative.

For half a century, this has resulted in pressure within the Church to adapt to what we may call the New Tolerance, which can be embraced only by rejecting the Magisterium. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis may be the honored dialectic of modernism, but for tradition-minded Catholics – for the Church herself – it’s a slippery slope to the pit of lost souls.

Hendershott and White are objective reporters about new trends within the Church that may ultimately have the effect of changing the angle of that aforementioned slope: not just making it level, but – paradoxically – aiming its trajectory upwards; making it more difficult, more an offense to a world rushing towards Hell. The authors are objective, but they are also advocates of the hoped-for renewal.

That renewal will involve building new seminaries, renewing old seminaries, harmonizing curricula with the Magisterium, and making better decisions about whom to admit. This “doctrinaire” approach, as progressives will call it, will likely attract more men than would some fanciful embrace of that hermeneutic of rupture.

We will also need exceptional bishops to steer the American Church along a truer course towards salvation. Hendershott and White name names. But, of course, who becomes a bishop is now largely in the hands of Pope Francis, whose episcopal appointments none of us is in a position to predict.

A chapter in Renewal is entitled “No Charisma without Creed.” That speaks for itself, and the chapter following calls for increased caution about “blurring the lines” between laity and clergy, which will also be immediately resonate with anybody who lives in a parish with proliferating “ministries.” (I do not.)

There are other strategies suggested by the authors, each as sound as the others, especially those already well underway, as in the Catholic counterinsurgency on college campuses.

In the end – and we came, appropriately, to the end of the Year of Faith last week – we are back facing the core mission of the Church: evangelization. Renewal details some of the hopeful signs, mostly witnesses for Christ operating in New Media.

And it’s all great; as long, that is, as what’s being proclaimed, from the pulpit or on the Internet, is the true Gospel and the true faith. If the New Evangelization preaches the Magisterium, we’re golden. But if what the New Media go on about is an Imagisterium, and if seminarians spend too much time on the ‘net, and (to beat my favorite dead horse) if bishops don’t impose some serious discipline on public dissenters, then the Church will have to go ancient: down again into some new catacombs. 

Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His book, The Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Manfred, December 02, 2013
This is a very frank column, Brad. I believe you have truly captured the state of the U.S. Church today. Let me share this story: Our chapel was resently assigned a new FSSP administrator (pastor) who until recently was assigned in Florida. In his first assignment in a N.O. parish, his role was to say a Tridentine Mass and to hear Confessions. Suppers in the rectory were somewhat unpleasant so he asked permission to go to a local restaurant each evening. After a period, the NO pastor took him aside and told him that due to multiple requests from the parishioners, he was going to have an altar built against the back wall of the church , and to have altar rails installed! This FSSP priest served in that area and by the time he just left, he had begun THREE PARISHES. His message is ancient Catholicism: all of us will die and each of us will spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell. If you wish to strive mightily to receive the award of Heaven, which God wills for each of us, then he and the other chapel priests are there to help you. If you wish to "kick against the goad", be a dissenter, lead yourself and others astray, then it is likely that Hell is your intended destination. No one of the latter make-up would find the chapel's regimen attractive.
written by Martha Rice Martini, December 02, 2013
This is excellent! A shot in the arm, a subtle but solid response to the recent broadcast from Rome. Thank you!
written by Rich in MN, December 02, 2013
EX CORDE ECCLESIAE. We need to stop planting tares in our own fields. I don't know if any of you have heard of the schools named "Notre Dame," "Loyola," "DePaul," just to name a few. Even Julie Sullivan,the president of the University of St Thomas here in St Paul, gave a "back to school" address where she spoke of accepting same sex marriage and same sex couples. And, just an fyi, our MAJOR SEMINARY for the St Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese is part of the University of St Thomas.

We still have some major bleeding, folks. I have heard that Martin Luther was actually quite regretful near the end of his life regarding the atomization of Christianity. I wonder if Fr Theodore Hesburgh has any reflections about the "progeny" of the 1967 Land-O-Lakes Conference. If he has any regrets, I sure wish he would say so.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, December 02, 2013
What we need is a courageous layman or laywoman to take on the project of developing a tool that could measure "progressivism" vs "orthodoxy" among the clergy - and use this to rank bishops on where they are perceived by laity and other clergy to stand on this dimension. Then a simple correlation can be performed between that measure and the number of seminarians/ recently-ordained priests in that diocese. This would be highly instructive to all, but most especially to the Papal Nuncio who I would guess is highly instrumental in recommending bishops to the Holy Father to sign off on.
But the anecdotal evidence is already in: traditional/ orthodox bishops are known to attract more men to the priesthood than are those bishops who practice an "easy grace" sort of ecclesiology. And many who frequent this site I am certain can name bishops who fall into one or the other of these two camps.
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., December 02, 2013
Alright. So the vocation of man is not to despair. and to doubt the words of our Savior concering the indestructability of the Chruch that He built on the Rock of Peter would be a sin agsint against both Hope and Faith. But even if the Devil cannot triumph he can create great destrcution and loss of souls in the trying. We are still in quite dire straights, the glimmers of helpon the horizon notwithstanding. Pope Benedict's Apostolic Instruction on admissions to the seminary was met in some episcopal quarters with less repsect that Humani Viate, one bishop proclaiming it "not authoritative" and proclaiming his intention to "continue ordaining men of all orienations." As someone pointed out above, once truly Catholic colleges regualry mock core elemtns of the magisterium. Most self-identified Catholics do not not what the Eucharist is, have never heard of Purgatory, and cannot pray the Rosary. This state of affairs meets with the approval of liberated priests who denounce memebers of thier congregations who DO care as as judgemental hyprocrites. Such priests are only appalled by Catholics who are disturbed that their own grandchildren are not being baptized. Such men are merely Uniterians with Roman collars and are committed to the secualist agenda of the Left. No, this is not merely about politics, but when you see a bishop publicly present a priest with a sweatshirt that proclaims "Friends don't let Friends vote Republican" you know why the most pro-abortion, pro-sodomy bunch of radicals in history is now running our country and the Western World. The Hermeneutic of Rupture is still ruling the day. Sorry to rain on your parade, but the truth does matter.
written by Sherry, December 09, 2013
In response to Deacon Peitler's comment, one interesting exercise to get a feel for the orthodoxy, or lack thereof, of different dioceses is to look at their diocesan website. A couple of helpful indicators can be the adult faith formation efforts and links to other websites and publications. There are some courses/materials/speakers, and linked websites, that shout out their lack of accordance with the Magisterium.

Now perhaps a bishop may not be aware of what is represented on "his" website - but it does say something about the diocese in general.

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