A splintering church?

For those who know the Catholic community, there is not much startling or new in the new survey of American Catholics, led by Bill D'Antonio, Mary Gautier and Michele Dillon. It is solid research that confirms the trends we have long known are in motion.

But every time I look at the data, I wonder if the bishops pay much attention to these surveys. As reported in the past, Catholics are paying less and less attention to the teachings enunciated by the hierarchy -- especially with respect to the "bedroom issues" (contraception, abortion, divorce/remarriage, same-sex marriage) -- and are relying on their own consciences for moral decision-making.

On intra-church issues, they are strongly in favor of optional celibacy for priests and the ordination of women as priests or deacons. And when it comes to weekly church attendance, Catholics are looking more and more like mainstream Protestants, with declining numbers on Sunday mornings.

Bill D'Antonio, whom I interviewed about the survey for this week's Interfaith Voices, said many researchers are now wondering if monthly Mass is the new norm.

Bill is also concerned that the same church structures that sustained earlier immigrant Catholic generations are no longer there to help the growing numbers of Hispanics, who are almost one-third of the Catholic Church in America today, and growing in number.

Looking at all this, I have a different concern. I can't help but wonder if we have a "splintering" church. We have progressive church reformers on one hand, strong Latin-loving conservatives on another, and average but dwindling parish church attenders in another spot. Add to all this the growing number of Hispanics with a distinctive culture, and we have a diverse church with a plethora of issues that sorely need the attention of church leaders.

And what has the bishops occupied? New Mass prayers with awkward phrasings. That preoccupation will likely ensure that "monthly Mass" really is the new norm.

Hear my interview with Bill D'Antonio and about the survey.

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