Early in their latest book, Michael White and Tom Corcoran drop the bonbon that a huge majority of churches in the US are shrinking. Maybe the number is ninety percent. Or very close to it.
Here in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, only two of our two dozen counties are growing. The one I live in, and one near Cedar Rapids, our largest city. It can probably be said that nearly all of our rural parishes are shrinking. That young people decide to leave towns and small cities and move to large cities: who would call that an indictment on rural Catholicism?
At a conservative-leaning blog’s commentariat, I was the lone skeptic on the CDF. The most compassionate approach to the LCWR is that they need conservatives to save them from themselves. Disobedient orders are shrinking, so they need to find Jesus and Fox to save them.
I think the Church has a problem with letting go, death, and dying. And maybe we don’t even like to see it happening to other people. (Or maybe that’s just an excuse for misogyny and condescension.) But quite often, we and our ministries come to a sunset, a time when replacement and renewal is in order. My pastor is always challenging us–staff and parishioner leaders–to consider that some things can and must be let go. Otherwise we will lack the energy to focus on where the Spirit is raising new initiatives.
Readers here know I’m a stickler for reading comprehension. And communication is important too. And you all know I think very little of this CDF/LCWR tussle getting played out in the open. The bishops are just getting trounced here. The publishers are happy. The authors are selling books. The theologians are shaking their heads at what passes for committees of clergy doing theology.
On the other side, conservative Catholics don’t understand why the whole lot doesn’t just knuckle under. I wonder: is obedience a higher value than truth? What I really wonder is this: if public disagreements undermine unity or other good qualities of the Church, who bears the responsibility for pulling back into suffering? Clare of Assisi allowed her sisters to be pulled from the Franciscan charism and yanked back into the cloister. Yves Congar and many theologians suffered in silence.
Thomas Aquinas spoke of the sin of sitting back and watching someone else suffer unjustly. Do we need a tag team to keep ourselves on the straight-and-narrow? Sisters for theologians, theologians for priests, priests for women, women for men, men for women, etc.?
Let’s get back to the ninety percent. I’m still not sure that women religious, even if they are running off the rails, need or should have clergy and “faithful” Catholics pulling them back from the brink. Are we not speaking of adults, well-educated, full of democratic systems of government and discernment? I’m sure that as many people have been misled into calling for excommunication, damnation, and worse, for sisters they don’t like as there are people who have “suffered” at the hands of “liberal nuns.”
The real point is to look beyond what worked ten, thirty, or sixty years ago. The Church needs neither free-for-all or crackdown. We need freedom to fail. The seed that dies, after all …