In basic outline, Martin begins by tracing the erosion of Christian culture, accelarating today with "well-financed and carefully strategized campaigns to completely remove respect for the law of God from the culture," and the profound affect of all this on baptized Catholics. Then he turns to some striking statistics from a Midwestern Diocese, illustrating the precipitous collapse and ensuing "sacramental crisis."
His purpose is ultimately practical: he wants to tap the St. Thomas Aquinas' advice on how to deal with Catholics who approach the sacraments without being properly disposed. We "can no longer presume that those coming for the sacraments still understand what it means to be a Catholic or are even committed to such" or "even know who Christ is" or "that what they are seeking when they come for the sacraments is what [they] are intended to effect." And St. Thomas Aquinas, as you might expect, is big on "testing" adults before they are admitted to the sacraments, even stressing the importance of exorcisms.
All well and good. As I say, the article is well-worth reading. There is excellent advice here that would help bishops plug up some of the holes in the hulls of their sinking diocesan ships, certainly, provided they implemented St. Thomas' advice.
Nevertheless, I was forcibly struck by the table of statistics from the "Midwestern Diocese" offered on p. 59. The numbers are nothing short of catastrophic. The table shows that over the last decade (from 2000 to 2010):
- Infant Baptisms have decreased 42.4% (from 16,294 to 9,544)
- Adult Baptisms have decreased 51.2% (from 1,442 to 704)
- Full Communion has decreased 43.6% (from 1,713 to 960)
- Catholic Marriages decreased 45.3% (from 3,641 to 1,649)
Further, Martin cites sources showing that while "Hispanics now constitute nearly 40 percent of the total U.S. Catholic population (and more than 50 percent of the Catholic youth population), only 10 to 15 percent of the priests ordained each year are Hispanic" and "only 9 percent of the bishops are Hispanic." The growth of Church numbers in the West is "largely due to Hispanic immigration, not to growth through evangelization," and "the statistics about the outflow from the Catholic Church in second and third generation Hispanic Catholic immigrants are not encouraging."
Martin does not make the mistake of placing all the blame for this collapse on the secularization of culture. "Years of silence about those aspects of the gospel which the contemporary culture is hostile to -- the truths about sin, about heaven and hell, about the need for repentance, about the real meaning of discipleship, about the supreme value of knowing christ -- have contributed to the metamorphosis of Catholicism in the minds of many into a comforting religious ritual of indeterminate meaning."
He also cites what Cardinal Ratzinger called a "catastrophic collapse" of catechetics:
The new evangelization we need so urgently today is not to be attained with cleverly thought out ideas, however cunningly these are elaborated: the catastrophic failure of modern catechesis is all too obvious. It is only the interaction of a truth conclusive in itself with its proof in the life of this truth that can enable that particular evidence of the faith to be illuminated that the human heart awaits: it is only through this door that the Holy Spirit enters the world." (Joseph Ratzinger, The Yes of Jesus Christ, 1991, p. 35)Martin cites the Catherine of Siena Institute in Colorado Springs, CO, which has interviewed tens of thousands of Catholics and their pastors and shown that "even among the minority of Catholics who come to Church somewhat regularly, fewer than 10 percent could be considered 'intentional disciples' who have consciously made Christ the center of their lives."
Finally, Martin hits the nail on the head with the following observation he makes on a strange phenomenon that many of us have, I am certain, long found troubling:
Cardinal Ratzinger remarked on a strange phenomenon he observed in conjunction with the collapse of the Church in the Netherlands after Vatican II. He pointed out that by every statistical measure the Church in the Netherlands was collapsing and yet, strangely, at the same time an atmosphere of "general optimism" was prevalent that seemed blind to the actual situation.Enough said.I thought to myself: what would one say of a businessman whose accounts were completely in the red but who, instead of recognizing this evil, finding out its reasons, and courageously taking steps against it, wanted to commend himself to his creditors solely through optimism? What should one's attitude be to an optimism that was quite simply opposed to reality? (Ratzinger, Op. cit., pp. 30-40)"In the United States, "official optimism" has been quite strong in the midst of radical decline. When the American bishops greeted Pope Benedict XVI on his pastoral visit, they spoke of our "vibrant" Church. Shortly before Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States, Russell Shaw, a respected author and former spokesman for the American bishops, urged the American bishops to stop pretending everything was fine."