Friday, 17 January 2014

Elephant in the Church


The sad decline in the figures of those who are practising Catholics (see here and here) continues to hover over the Church in this country and many others in the Western world but we never seem to have a sense of crisis about then.  Like an elephant crouching in every sacristy, cathedral and curial office - a rather large and important fact that we choose to ignore.  After all, who is going to take on the task of doing something about it?  The trouble is, we don't know what to do about the falling figures and they are ignored or excuses are made - "We have fewer people but they are better quality." Really? No doubt due to the excellent catechetics in our schools.


One thing should be perfectly obvious - we can't keep on doing the same thing as we have been doing and yet that seems to be the answer given.  "Carry on - you're all doing very well."

Conversions to the Faith peaked in 1959 with 15,794 (5,809 in 2010).
Baptisms rose to a peak of 137,673 in 1964 (falling to 63,962 in 2010.)

The decline in elephant populations due to poaching by unscrupulous criminals eerily mirrors the decline in the Catholic population due to poaching by the Devil since about he mid-1960's.

More of the same watered-down and laissez faire approach to the Faith since the falling numbers became a landslide is surely not the answer.  Could it be that the only other alternative is to become more orthodox, more challenging, more traditional and less modern?  This, of course, doesn't appeal to many people in the Church as it would signal a volte-face to the trend since the 1960's, so heavily invested in by so many.

The elephant is getting bigger!

I'm not convinced by the argument that the recent scandals in the Church are to blame.  My own experience tells me that most ordinary Catholics are not put off their own parish or their own priest by such things (despite the horror of them).  I think that position is only put out by those outside the Church and those within it who have particular agendas - such as abolishing celibacy and "ordaining" women.  After all, the fall off in numbers started several decades ago, long before those particular scandals broke.

Fortunately, having just sent in the Mass attendance figures for my own little parish, our numbers are pretty stable - the same as two years ago. Not that they leave any room for complacency.  I don't know what to do to evangelise all the lapsed - and no real attempt is allowed to be made through our schools, the last place we now have access to these crowds of the unchurched.  But surely offering less and less of the Faith can't be the answer.

The Church of England, statistically in a more perilous state than we are, at least acknowledges the problem and tries to do something about it.  Starting faith groups in pubs and other unlikely places certainly takes courage and a particular sort of leader - although I can only think that such groups must act as a bridge to a more complete membership, rather than the only locus of activity. According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, such groups now account numerically for a whole extra diocese in the C of E.

It seems that elephants are more readily acknowledged in a pub setting than in church.
(This is quite a nice one in Kensington.)



The Blind Men and the Elephant
  by: John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

   
I
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

II
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me!--but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
III
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: "Ho!--what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 't is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
IV
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

V
The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
VI
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

VII
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
VIII
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

MORAL
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

21 comments:

Simon Platt said...

Dear Father,

What did you mean by "no real attempt is allowed to be made through our schools"?

Fr Simon Henry said...

Simon
That there's no real attempt to push families in the direction of coming to church or re-evangelising them. The non-practice status quo is not allowed to be disturbed. It is taken as acceptable and normal.

Jim P said...

And as long as our Bishops shrink from steadfastly and unambiguously opposing the state's attempts to impose immoral teaching in our schools, things will continue to worsen. We have not recognised that we now live in a state which is actively hostile to christian (i.e. Catholic) faith.

Anonymous said...

I live in a parish where Mass attendance has declined from 707
in 2002 to 401 in 2012.(47%). This in spite of the fact that there has been considerable
immigration from East Europe into
the area. Curiously, there has been no fall in Marriages or Baptisms though 1st Communions have halved. We have a very
attractive Victorian Gothic Church, that may explain the
marriage rate! For the rest we are,I think, a parish of CINOs
(Catholics in Name only) and a Senior Citizens Social Club.

Anonymous said...

CORRECTION.
I gave the wrong date. It should be 1992 not 2002. 47% drop
in 20 years.

Jacobi said...

The Church is in crisis. Our bishops (with few exceptions) continue in denial and offer no leadership. Our priests are therefore mostly dispirited, and keep their heads down.

Secularist pressure is growing within the Church, e.g., the pressure to accept sexual activity outside of a valid marriage between a man and a woman, as in the acceptance of divorce, and homosexual sex.

This is a slap in the face for married couples who have remained together in spite of inevitable difficulties, as well as to homosexually inclined Catholics who have heroically tried to observe their Faith.

And yet the Hierarchy continue in silence to fail us.

Graeme J A Taylor said...

In my little country parish ( Scotland) I see the very poor attempts at catechising children ( in another room) while their parents attend Mass. They have been doing it for years and yet there is not one teenager who attends Mass, by their fruits you shall know them.
The vast majority are elderly and the noise after Mass and the general complete lack of awe in the presence of Almighty God makes me gasp.
I often wonder if a searching soul ever attended what could they possibly be left thinking??? These Catholics are just the same as me, they really do not believe they are in the presence of God. It is so sad. Our bishops and their seminaries are clearly a big part of the growing problem. We are regularly asked to pray for vocations, when in fact we need missionaries.

Damask Rose said...

Re Fr Henry's comment.

Maybe they do this so the school just stays open and they get their government grant. If the Faith was really pushed in the Catholic Schools maybe the September intake would be smaller? Otherwise non-Catholic parents of children attending Catholic schools would just have to accept that their children are coming home as practicing Catholics!

Seems to me the situation Father has described seems to be suiting some very nicely indeed..., no questions asked. All benefit, everyone gets a great education to boot.

Surely the parish priests have a say about what's going on in their parish school, or have they been pushed out?

Anonymous said...

Jesus said, "without me you can do nothing." I feel that the real problem both with the clergy and the laity is not so much caused by a lack of orthodoxy but it is a lack of daily prayer.(Especially due to television, which rose in popularity to replace prayer in many families.) This leads to the hardness of heart that makes living the Christian life REALLY impossible (because without Christ it IS impossible). Then people conclude that there is something wrong with the doctrine rather than themselves. People have to be convinced that they absolutely MUST spend time in real prayer daily or their Christian life will disappear or become simply an ideology (to borrow an idea from the Pope).

James Toups said...

It is long past time for the Church (leadership and laity alike) to treat our home parishes as mission territory. Knocking door to door. Bolding proclaiming the truth. No more soft watered down Catholicism.

johnh said...

Catholic education now resembles a disaster area . I was a primary school governor in a Catholic school some years ago . I attended the school unannounced one day - the 4 foot crucifix had been removed from the school hall , and replaced with something small and colorful . 'Why ?' , I asked , 'In case it offends the non-Catholic children , was the reply .

LTD said...

In Hexham and Newcastle in 1970 the Catholic population was 283,115 and Mass attendance was 119,115. The latest figures for 2012 show the Catholic population as 181,983 and Mass attendance down to a mere 37,239. Therefore, in just over 40 years, 81,876 souls have stopped practising their faith.
I remember a priest telling me about three years ago that they were no longer thinking about how to improve the situation but only how to manage decline as best they could. At this rate the diocese will cease to exist in about 10 to 15 years. And yet those in authority steadfastly refuse to admit publicly that their policies of the past 50 years or so have been so tragically wrong and keep on promoting more of the same, or worse. Can we have our faith back, please?

Rod George said...

"Conversions to the faith peaked in 1959"
This was the year I left school and so I have witnessed the steady and sad decline of the faith up to the present day.The introduction of the Novus Ordo and the new catechetics have been a disaster. At the very time Satan ( who is he the modernists will be asking )was unleashing a fresh assault upon the church it dropped its defences while trying to open itself to the world.The forces ranged against the church, both inside and out have had a field day and are currently winning the battle.It is one they can not eventually win but the casualty list is high and is likely to get even higher unless we fight back. How? Well Father its for priests like yourself and the traditional orders to keep battling away in spite of the odds being stacked against you. The SSPX have recently initiated a rosary crusade based on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and it would be of great benefit if as many people as possible took part.Our Blessed Lady said at Fatima that in the end her Immaculate Heart would triumph.The situation, as outlined by you Father, is I feel now beyond human capability and only divine intervention will suceed.

Anonymous said...

Great article and good points, but what are the answers.

Personally, I go to a FSSP parish and it is growing about 10% per year since it was formed about 15 years ago. I went to several other parishes and was uninspired to return to the Church. Then I went to this 'wacky traditionalist' parish and found a beautiful Mass and hard hitting sermons. The kind that I cringe at but helps me improve in my spiritual journey. I drive 70 miles each way at least once per week and it is so worth it. I have another Catholic Church about two blocks away but again, it wasn't helping me in my faith. The answer I think is beautiful Mass, strong sermons, and socializing after mass (we have a donut or potluck after every Sunday Mass).

Anonymous said...

Islam will rapidly spread, and a few generations from now they will become majorities in certain regions.

I pray this will signify a purification fo western hedonism, materialism, and secularism. Islam eventually revitalized the faith in nations whom suffered under its Sword of occupation.

scredsoxfan2 said...

Father,

I think you are right about the problem but also too harsh on the church for Her response. As a convert I am constantly encouraged by new programs and organizations like FOCUS, Laity Engaging Laity, Theology on Tap, Dynamic Catholic, and other more organic and smaller movements (small groups going door to door or coffee and donuts during CCD to reach lapsed catholics).

In any case, you are right that we have a problem and need to face it!

IN Christ
Cary Balser

scredsoxfan2 said...

Father,

I think you are right about the problem but also too harsh on the church for Her response. As a convert I am constantly encouraged by new programs and organizations like FOCUS, Laity Engaging Laity, Theology on Tap, Dynamic Catholic, and other more organic and smaller movements (small groups going door to door or coffee and donuts during CCD to reach lapsed catholics).

In any case, you are right that we have a problem and need to face it!

IN Christ
Cary Balser

Anonymous said...

"I don't know what to do to evangelise all the lapsed..."
.
Thank you for saying this. We are often told to evangelize. Honestly, though, I'm not sure what to do or say. All of our friends (mostly Protestant except for my husband's prayer group) go to a church most Sundays (at least during the winter "school" months) And of course you can't tell anyone that non-Catholics go to Heck--the Church doesn't teach that. (Cordially, Kathryn, Michigan)

Anonymous said...

I strongly believe that most Catholics are longing to live the sacred, reverent, deep moral teachings of the Magisterium, but they are nowhere upheld, so many wander about, or away, confused and frustrated. We all must strive to not loose sight of Jesus' plan for us, to follow Him, that we may all become saints, perfect as Our Father in Heaven is perfect. Pews will fill up again when this goal is not watered down, better yet, when it is not submerged in the politically correct dictatorship of relativism so prevalent in our society.
God bless you. +

Anonymous said...

I strongly believe that most Catholics are longing to live the sacred, reverent, deep moral teachings of the Magisterium, but they are nowhere upheld, so many wander about, or away, confused and frustrated. We all must strive to not loose sight of Jesus' plan for us, to follow Him, that we may all become saints, perfect as Our Father in Heaven is perfect. Pews will fill up again when this goal is not watered down, better yet, when it is not submerged under the politically correct dictatorship of relativism so prevalent in our society today.
God bless you. +

Rhoslyn said...

Yep, tradition definitely attracts people. A couple of months ago, while visiting London, I invited my friend (an Anglican, but not really practising because his local Anglican service is like a circus, apparently) to come with me the Oratory for the 5.30pm TLM (low mass) that happens when they have a visiting priest. He was entranced by it and said he felt so at peace. He wants to go again very soon!

One other point I'd like to make regarding mass is, if daily mass were celebrated at a time when working people could get there before work, I think many more people would go. My friends and I are gutted that, for the most part, we can only get to mass on the weekends. My friend calls daily mass the 'Pensioners' Club' and he's right!