Sunday, October 31, 2010

What drives people from the church?

In June, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI established the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.  He created this organization out of concern for what he considers the de-Christianization of historically Catholic countries, especially in Europe.

On October 12, 2010 the pope issued an apostolic letter pertaining to the same topic and outlined his hypotheses for factors contributing to the shift from Christianity.  He cited advances in science and technology, individual freedoms that give rise to various lifestyle choices, economic changes, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic dynamics and global societal interdependencies as contributors to the spiritual shift.

The pope believes de-Christianization stems from lack of familiarity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 

I agree that many people are leaving the church.  I agree only partially with the pope’s speculation regarding the reasons.  Being an engineer and mathematician by training I look for root cause, beginning with facts.

According to German government reports, 472 Catholics left the Munich Diocese just in the one month of March, 2010.  The cause was not science, technology, globalization, personal freedoms or a lack of awareness of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It was disgust with church leaders’ mishandling of clergy abuse cases in Germany.  Germans were familiar with church teachings and seemed disillusioned that church leaders preached what they did not practice. Germans were particularly disgusted with their fellow countrymen, the pope and his brother.

By the way, that statistic has a high degree of accuracy because German citizens must register and de-register their church affiliation.  

The Germans are not alone.  The Irish Commission this year released its investigative report on clergy abuse and cover-ups that occurred in Ireland.  Their investigation and analysis revealed church leaders’ priorities in the Dublin Archdiocese, “were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets.  All other considerations including the welfare of the children and justice for victims were subordinated to these priorities.  The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the state.”  

Again, it seems the problem is church leaders not practicing what they preach versus laity’s ignorance of doctrine.

As Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer, became more familiar with church leaders' practices skirting norms, he commented that attempts to reform the church to address pedophilia and cover-ups have been like, “trudging through what can best be described as a swamp of toxic waste.”

In the United States Rick Romly, district attorney in Phoenix opined that the church was “openly obstructive” of justice blocking his attempts to uncover the truth.  He said the church’s actions represented the worst obstruction of justice he’d experienced in his entire career.  Why are church leaders not prosecuted for obstruction of justice?  Why do they think they are above laws protecting children and social order?

In response to the many abuse claims, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) commissioned the John Jay School of criminal justice to research the problem.  In reading the full report dated 2004 I learned that the USCCB commissioned the report and dictated the questions that John Jay could ask.  Furthermore, the bishops supplied the information based upon complaints they received and offered only that information they chose to supply.  No victims or pedophile priests were contacted.  Thus, the exercise was akin to perpetrators launching an investigation into their crimes, telling the investigator what to ask them, supplying the answers to the questions and then judging and sentencing themselves. 

Should we then be shocked that the church reported merely 24% of alleged abuses to the police?  Should we be shocked that only 11% of alleged abusers either left or were removed from the priesthood?  Should we be shocked that only 2% of accused priests served prison time?

Also in response to the abuse claims, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith performed an Apostolic Visitation of U.S. Seminaries in 2008.  The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith is the office formerly known as the Office of the Inquisition.  Thus, a “visitation” is an inquisition versus something where one might expect to serve tea and crumpets and chat about this weekend’s cricket match.

The inquisition’s report indicated that U.S. seminaries, in forming priests, focused too much on priestly service and not enough on priests’ hierarchical superiority.  It also felt it was problematic that some seminaries offered theological education to laity and seminarians.  The report seems to imply, “How can the Star-bellied Sneetches feel superior if those without ‘stars upon thars’ are permitted to attend Star-bellied Sneetch ‘picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts’?”  The inquisition’s report implied that the problem with pedophile priests is priests don’t behave with enough superiority.  

Let’s see.  Pedophile priests molested children, weren’t reported to the police; those that were, the diocese obstructed justice.  All of the accusations are enshrouded in secrecy.  Bishops ignored their own norms.  Few accused priests left the priesthood, fewer are prosecuted, fewer yet served prison time, many are moved somewhere to harm other children.  Meanwhile throughout this process church leaders cry “persecution” that people want them held accountable and organizational reform; they tell the faithful that the matter is settled and people need to move past their transgressions.  Beyond “struggling”, many church leaders become downright frustrated or angry that people continue to cry for justice and reform.

The definition of “hubris” is extreme haughtiness or arrogance, often indicating being out of touch with reality and overestimating one's own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power.

Are Europeans leaving the church due to lack of familiarity with the catechism or do they flee in rejection of what they see as church leaders exhibiting a textbook case of hubris?  


  1. As I have said before: All the priests who did these horrible acts asked forgiveness and promised to never do it again.

  2. Many pedophiles ask forgiveness and promise not to do it again, but they are still prosecuted and serve their time. Why should priests be above the law? Even Jesus believed he was not above the law. Do priests and Church hierarchy believe they are greater than Jesus?