Thomas F. O'Neill
The Declining Roman Catholic Church
I am writing this in response to the number of letters to the editor in various Newspapers about the recent Roman Catholic Church closings. Itís no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church has its difficulties, itís mostly due to a drastic drop in vocations, lower church attendance, and lack of donations. This has resulted in a growing number of church closings not just in the United States but globally.
I was raised Roman Catholic but I haven't been a practicing Catholic for approximately nineteen years. My religious upbringing has been a positive experience but I feel I have grown in a more spiritual direction.
According to the Roman Catholic Church's statistical data, in 1962, the year I was born, there were approximately 58,000 Priests in the United States. This was mostly due to the influx of immigrants from the previous generation. Since then however the numbers have drastically declined. In 10 years there will be less than 15,000 priests under the age of 70. That same year there were also close to 600 seminarians in the United States, but today there are less than 100. This has resulted in many seminaries closing.
There were approximately 180,000 Nuns from various religious orders in 1962. They were the backbone of Catholic education but within the next twenty years they will be virtually non-existent.
The data also shows that 75% of Catholics went to Mass on regular bases in 1962, but today itís less than 20%. This is mostly due to changing demographics. The younger generations are relocating for better employment opportunities. The average person will relocate five times in their lifetime and their parentís traditional Church is no longer their core belief system. Many modern theologians would describe todayís Catholics as being cafeteria Catholics because they pick and choose their beliefs. There are fewer devout Catholics than there were in 1962. Back then, a greater number followed the Church's mandates dogmatically.
A study was conducted in 2002 at Fordham University, - a Roman Catholic University, which conducted a poll among their undergraduate and graduate students. The study is interesting because it makes a clear distinction between Religion and Spirituality. A growing number of college age students are beginning to make that distinction as well. The study found that 89% of the students polled believe in god and describe themselves as being spiritual rather than religious. 75% of the students did not practice the faith they were born into, however, their Spirituality is a significant part of their positive outlook on life. On the other hand 11% polled were either atheists or agnostics. I found this quite interesting considering the University is run by the Jesuits.
The same study found that 90% of the students believe the churchís teachings are somewhat archaic for the modern era. They disagree with the patriarchal system and feel women should have authoritative roles within the church. They also feel Priests should be able to marry. Only 10% polled go to church on regular basis. The study's findings reflect a clash between modern spirituality and outdated dogma.
Men and women are equal, and the churchís beacon of light must shine on the spirit of the times. Such as allowing woman to become priests and allowing priests to marry. The interest among many of todayís youth for a deeper and holistic spirituality is not a new trend either. People have been searching for these answers since the birth of humanity.
Difficulties within the Church are mostly due to a lack of change and a chronic denial among the churchís hierarchy. Data reveals, unless drastic changes are made soon, the Catholic Church as we know it, wonít be around 30 years from now. People in today's world are also more educated than their ancestors and they are searching for the answers on their own. They are no longer relying on religious institutions telling them what they can and cannot believe.
The popularity of bestselling, self help books, is reflecting this spiritual trend as well. They are being bought by people between the ages of twenty-three and forty-five. These modern day seekers have a deep spiritual hunger. They are searching for a substantial understanding of themselves in relation to others. Religion on the other hand has a tendency to give us simplistic black and white answers. The reality of life, instead, can be very complex and very gray.
It was the mystics of old that discovered, when the mind draws a blank to the worldís riddles it turns to the soul for answers for the soul knows what the mind seeks. As for the Roman Catholic Church its spiritual knowledge is only as relevant as its proper application. Spirituality and/or religion are useless until itís properly applied, toward the needs of the time. I donít see that happening within the Catholic Church with the drastic loss in vocations, church attendance, and donations. Not to mention the continued closings of the churches. The Vatican is very concerned about its loss of revenue. That is why many of the church properties will go up for sale. They are also concerned about where the future Bishops and Cardinals are going to come from. This will most likely bring about drastic changes out of necessity rather than convenience.
I may not be a religious person but I am spiritual by nature. Centuries ago the inward journey was taken by a few privileged souls, but in today's culture, it has become a healthy trend among the youth.
Thomas F. OíNeill
Yahoo Screen Name for chatting online: introspective777
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