Nuns from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church pray on July 7 at the Surfside Wall of Hope & Memorial near the site where an apartment building collapsed in Florida in the United States. Despite scandals, the Church has many people dedicated to building justice and peace in God’s world. (Photo: AFP)
One of the fastest-growing religious affiliations, or more accurately disaffiliations, is the large number of people who declare themselves to be former Catholics.
Departures from the Church are especially pronounced among the young, but are not limited to them. In places like Australia, France, Germany and increasingly in the United States, which for many years differed from other places, the Catholic Church is hemorrhaging members.
There are many reasons people disavow Catholicism. From what I’ve seen, those reasons are not often linked to a crisis of belief in God, at least not at first. The crisis is Church-centric, but may eventually lead to a crisis of faith in God as proclaimed by the Church.
Certainly a big factor has been the exposure of the sexual abuse of children by clergy and, even more, its aftershocks. The strongest aftershock is the growing realization of how much the Church’s bishops and other managers covered up, enabled, perpetuated and even perpetrated abuse not only of children but of other vulnerable people and women.
Now we see reports of a Vatican cardinal indicted for financial corruption involving €350 million (about US$416 million) given by Catholics throughout the world toward the Peter’s Pence collection. This may mark the beginning of exposures that will touch every department in the Catholic Church’s “head office” where spectacular corruption has been “business as usual” for centuries.
Yet in spite of the demolition of their collective reputation, bishops insist upon absolute rectitude (as they define it) from others in matters of sex and gender. They seem less concerned with financial rectitude among major donors.
Why do I still call myself a Catholic given the Catholic Church’s official face, generally dispiriting history and the inevitability of more and worse revelations to come?
A majority of people simply ignore them. More and more people take the next step beyond ignoring, and walk out the door, no longer willing to be linked to the hypocrisy. The Catholic Church’s public face is pretty ugly.
Those of us who remain must ask ourselves why. Why do I still call myself a Catholic given the Catholic Church’s official face, generally dispiriting history and the inevitability of more and worse revelations to come?
The first point to stress is that continuing to identify as a Catholic Christian is not necessarily, or at all, an endorsement of the management of the Church. Some individual bishops may attract respect and attention, but that does not imply anything for the breed overall.
The Catholic Church is not mainly or even importantly a hierarchical social entity. For most Catholics, their bishop is merely a name in the Eucharistic Prayer.
We are a people, a tribe, if you will. We are the largest cohort within the Christian People of God on pilgrimage to the Kingdom.
While at times that pilgrimage may resemble a grand procession, more often it is a stream of refugees battered by life and trudging on in hope, supporting one another when we need it and savoring our various respites and joys along the way.
Vatican II proclaimed, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” And we share those joys and pains not as spectators, but as those who themselves experience joy and pain.
As a Catholic, I am one in that journeying throng that today and for 2,000 years has trudged through history, confident that God has not and never will abandon us whether we move on, stand still, fall or run back.
What sustains us is the typically Catholic sacramental sense, the conviction that the whole universe and anything and anyone in it is an encounter with God, most present in the Eucharist.
We use bread and wine, oil and water, words and gestures, postures and songs, minds and bodies. We venerate our saints known and unknown and one of them famously speaks in prayer of the Sun as brother and the Moon and even Death as sisters.
Catholic novelists like Georges Bernanos, Shusaku Endo, Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor show God at work in human failure, divine glory in God’s sad sacks.
That is why I remain a Catholic. The tribe is bigger than some of its chiefs. It is as big as the world
When I look at the Catholic Church, I see my sisters and brothers trying to be faithful and share their faith. I see people dedicated to building justice and peace in God’s world. I see servants of the poor. I see soup kitchens, dispensaries, schools, orphanages, hospital and prison chaplaincies. I see saints and sinners. I see sad sacks serving sad sacks as we journey to God.
In them, I see Christ at work in the world. I meet Christ calling me to that work.
When I sing in the hymn Jerusalem, My Destiny, “here among you I have met the Savior, Jesus Christ,” I sing of, to and as part of the Catholic tribe on the way. In the community with which I worship, we sing it as an inspiriting march.
That is why I remain a Catholic. The tribe is bigger than some of its chiefs. It is as big as the world. It is big enough to include a sad sack like me.
And yeah, even some bishops.
William Grimm is a missioner and priest in Tokyo and is the publisher of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.