Celebration Publications: Former Catholics make up the largest demographic of the growing number of evangelical churches in the United States and a large segment of the new megachurches.1 What have they discovered that Catholics have yet to learn?
For the three years preceding the Second Vatican Council, and all during that council, Roman Catholics added to the prayers after Mass (does anyone remember those?) Pope John XXIII’ s “Prayer to the Holy Spirit” for the council’s success. Day after day the church prayed, “O Holy Spirit, renew thy wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.”
Pope John dreamed that through the council the Holy Spirit’s gifts would flow abundantly upon the whole church for the benefit of the entire world, because the Spirit alone has the capacity to change hearts from within, not by external force but by interior persuasion.
Today, however, the church is divided over just how much of a Pentecost Vatican II actually turned out to be. It is likewise divided over what kind of church we are. This article will explore some of the consequences of this ambiguity.
The church’s focus
For decades, sociologists have tracked the trends of American Catholics in demographics, religious behavior and attitudes toward traditional values and church authority.
In 1997, James Davidson and colleagues identified three cohorts of Catholics -- pre-Vatican II, Vatican II and post-Vatican II -- each with its characteristic set of religious tendencies. Likewise, for 30 years William D'Antonio and his colleagues traced changes in attitudes and behavior among Roman Catholics. These studies have generated a relatively clear and consistent picture of U.S. Catholics. In general, they are becoming more autonomous, less observant of traditional practices and more like self-interested consumers of pastoral goods.