Post-Pandemic Church

Catholic news writer Russell Shaw has a commentary on the months and years ahead. Difficult times are yet to come. Yesterday I commented rather bleakly on another site that I was arrogant to think that the headiness of the 80s and maybe the 90s in church ministry and especially liturgy was going to lead to some golden era. Our own human failings–from across most all ideologies–have undone us. Maybe it’s just my own experience of late middle age, but my best decade in Catholicism might well have been my first–the 1970s. The twenties have started out well, even if singularly challenging. So we’ll see how this set of years turns out.

I know that my single subjective experience is hardly a bellwether for universal grace. My Iowa State students might claim the 2010s as great. They might be right.

Turning to some of Mr Shaw’s predictions:

The sharp decline in financial support for the Church that has already occurred will continue. That will mean cutting back or eliminating many programs and services previously offered in areas like education and charities.

Overall, perhaps there is a sharp decline in support. The Church doesn’t exist for the cause of its material resources though. Even schools and helping storefronts. To be clear, educating children is not outside the bounds of the Church’s outreach. On the other hand, most schools cultivate their own cultures, not that of parishes. First Communion has been the sacrament of graduation and exit for many years now. Maybe the pandemic shakes things up enough for that to change.

The consolidating or closing parishes already taking place in a number of dioceses will continue and accelerate. In many parishes that survive, the sense of community will be further weakened.

Larger parishes often have greater struggles with a sense of community. Sometimes good pastors and other leadership can develop community and smaller communities. You need a vitalized laity, a recognition of the importance of living the baptismal call. Larger parishes tend to have better personnel. When personnel, clergy and laity, are more focused on institutional preservation, the Church’s mission suffers. In the 1978-2013 era we had many instances of conservative navel-gazing, circling the wagons, what-have-you. They didn’t further the mission of community. Many efforts were instituted to sustain an unsustainable leadership. Instead of a widening team effort, too many higher-ups were given puffery and praise, mostly for being very average administrators.

Worst of all, what is happening can’t help but diminish if not totally end sacramental participation by many Catholics, with all the negatives that implies for their spiritual health.

It began with the Church’s powerlessness in the face of repeated European wars from the mid-19th century on. For the US, it was Humanae Vitae, misunderstood, clumsily rolled out, or bad public relations.

The opportunities for growth remain. There won’t be spanking new parishes in the suburbs. There won’t be building projects for bigger communities. No new hospitals or youth centers. For the short-term, just reassessing what can be done, and checking it off against the basic calling of Matthew 28:19-20.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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