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Myths to Give Up About the Catholic Church

During Lent, John Allen from the National Catholic Reporter wrote an article entitled, “Three myths about the church to give up for Lent.” Although Lent is over, his thought are still VERY germane especially considering the traction in the media about the Catholic Church on a whole set of issues.

His three “myths:”

#1. Purple ecclesiology – This is the notion that the “main actors in the Catholic drama are the clergy, especially the bishops. Opinions from the laity? Nah.  Their opinions are nice, especially if they’re mad at the Church about some “official” church pronouncement or decision about which they disagree. But otherwise, for an “official” comment? Gotta have a collar in the picture frame.

#2. The Catholic Church is in Decline – Oh yeah? You might need to lengthen you camera lens a bit or do some homework.  Sure, that might be the case in the “West” (USA, Canada, Western  Europe). In fact one University of Pennsylvania professor I know said that “ex- or fallen-away or non-practicing Catholics represent one of the biggest – if not the biggest, voting bloc in the United States today.”  John Allen says, “Seen from global perspective, however, that’s just wildly wrong. The last half-century witnessed the greatest period of missionary expansion in the 2,000-year history of Catholicism, fueled by explosive growth in the southern hemisphere. Take sub-Saharan Africa as a case in point: The Catholic population at the dawn of the 20th century was 1.9 million, while by the end of the century it was more than 130 million, representing a staggering growth rate of 6,708 percent. Overall, the global Catholic footprint shot up from 266 million in 1900 to 1.1 billion in 2000, ahead of the overall rate of increase in world population, and is still rising today.

#3. Christianity is the oppressor, not the oppressed. I’ll let John fill in the details but he states that, “In the early 21st century, we are witnessing the rise of a whole new generation of Christian martyrs. Christians are today, statistically speaking, by far the most persecuted religious group on the planet.” He gives examples from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Latin America. And when the US Bishops feel the need to form an ad-hoc committee to defend religious liberty IN THE UNITED STATES, what’s that telling you? The Pew Forum estimates that Christians experience persecution in a staggering total of 133 nations, fully two-thirds of all the countries on earth. New age of Martyrdom? 150,000/year or 17/hour!

There are MANY fallen away Catholic who are angry at, disenchanted with, disgusted with and disillusioned with the Catholic Church. In many cases  (and I would even be willing to say that, in most cases) they have a VERY legitimate point. Case in point – me. As a priest in Philadelphia I have been at the epicenter of much that needs to be corrected with the Catholic Church. I’m in the parish parking lot, in the church lobby, on the phone, on the internet hearing the complaints, sharing in the pain, trying to address issues and problems that I did not create, are so much bigger than me and I can’t solve. I’m on the front lines with no Kevlar vest, taking verbal bullets every day. I don’t like it one bit and I’m exhausted. I hear some pundits who look at all of this and say that the “Catholic Church” has become so “mainstream,” that as a force or as a voting block, they have lost their power. Their maleficence around the world has caused them to lose the moral high-ground.  They’re damaged goods. They’re hypocrites. They’re irrelevant. They’re out of touch.  The so-called “Catholic voice” really will not change opinions, policies or actions in this country or elsewhere.

So let me add  #4. They’re wrong.

First, we’re not in charge. The Lord is. It’s his plan and he’s going to continue to reveal what the plan is. And as we figure it out, we will offer it to the US and to the world.

Which leads to the second point. This country is going to hear from us. You might disagree with that. You might believe that we are truly wrong. You might feel that we should keep our religious views private and out of the public square. Sorry. Definition of prophesy – “Truth Speaks to Power.” We’ve been doing it for 2000 years and, by the way, we recently celebrated the fact that the “Boss” got killed for it. Then he said, “They hated me; they’ll hate you. So what. They’re hurting! Go take care of them.  I did it, you do it. ”

So how do we do that?  With more grade schools, high schools, universities, hospitals, orphanages, half-way houses, soup kitchens, substance- family- marriage- and child counselors, AIDS hospitals, hospices, food banks, etc, etc. etc… than any other organization anywhere in the world. No one comes close. No country, no government, no political party, no NGO, no non-profit organization, no company. NO ONE! And please don’t insult us by saying, “Oh yes, the Catholic Church does do “some nice things” but….” We don’t do it because we want to be nice. We do is because the boss said. “They hated me; they’ll hate you. So what. They’re hurting! Go take care of them anyway.  I did it, you do it. ”

We don’t always get it right. We know that! We have gotten it wrong – REALLY wrong. And not just recently, Our 2000 year history is fraught with example after example of where we got it really wrong. But the overwhelming good that we do far outweighs our sins. And if you don’t agree with our positions on some issue, fine. Let’s talk. but let me warn you. Bring a book to back up your position.  Jesus was human. We really care about what it means to be a human person and have a 2000 year library about why our teachings are all about supporting the dignity of the human  person.

And so let me offer some example of where we’re starting to speak up. The first video is an interview between Bob Schieffer and Cardinal Timothy Dolan seen on “Face the Nation.”  They talk about the Church, politics, the state of religion, our country and other issues. The conversation is lively, cordial, candid and informative.  Personal opinion, this conversation is a good model for dialogue.

Personal disclaimer – the next two videos are more controversial.

The second video is from Father John Hollowell  entitled, “I Have a Say.” It was Fr. Hollowell’s response to Cecile Richards (President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund) and her appeal to women to submit videos with the tagline, “I Have a Say.”

The third is an audio clip of a sermon from St John the Evangelist parish in Saint John Indiana that was delivered by the Pastor Reverend Sam Maletta on 2/5/2012.  Father Maletta is a lawyer. The parish is middle class, blue collar, in northern Indiana. His ideas are clear, direct and created a fire of activity.

Now, you might think that the clergy speaking on these topics in this way is inappropriate, undignified and/or just plain wrong. Ok, fine. That would not surprise me.  But here’s some news for you. It’s not going to stop. In fact, it’s just starting. And it’s not just going to come from priests, sisters, religious and bishops. The laity are speaking out like this now also. Don’t believe me? You look at your Twitter feed lately?

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