What can we say about them? Are they defined by their ability to memorize and recite answers? Or quote their favorite cable tv guru? Or cut and paste from an internet site to their own site or into a combox? Or be in touch with their feelings in a spiritual sort of way? Or intimidate ordained clergy with their superior grasp of theology?
Ultimately, this is a subjective judgment: how well informed Catholics are in the faith and how today compares with ages past. My belief is that Catholics have advanced on some fronts, lost ground on others. If Bible knowledge is king for you, then you would say Catholics are doing far better than fifty or a hundred years ago. If the expression of Catholic culture in prayer and social life is the most vital, then I’d say the ethnic parishes of yesterday were the head of the class.
My experience would include these three gains: Scripture knowledge across the board (the last thirty years) liturgical participation and singing (the past 20-40 years), and social justice (the past 50-100 years).
And these would be my observed losses: a sense of overarching Catholic culture, including a sense of the sacred, sacramental life (except for receiving Communion and Anointing of the Sick), and the secularization of many Catholic schools.
The one who judges our losses and gains will be more influenced by her or his own preferences for the “ideal” Church: education, liturgy, culture, orthodoxy, etc.. I think the best approach for any Catholic, liberal or conservative to take is to first look on the bright side and acknowledge God’s active presence among believers. If a person is convinced there’s little or nothing but gloom, I can’t say it more accurately than this: you are deceived.
Once Catholics of all sorts are prepared to build on existing foundations, then I think clear progress can be achieved in unity. Taking an initial stance that things are horrid strikes me as a sin against hope, if not against truth.