Why, Exactly, Are You Catholic? (Just Asking)

On its website the Catholic News Service identifies itself as “an editorially independent and financially self-sustaining division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” Why it can be a division of the USCCB, and still be editorially independent is not clear. Nevertheless, it is the voice of the national bishop’s conference in this country, and the conference is ultimately responsible for what CNS prints.

The following brief story appeared recently as one of CNS’s news items:

Mass attendance down, but Catholics remain loyal to their faith

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Although Mass attendance continues to decline among American Catholics, loyalty to Catholic identification remains strong, according to the results of a new survey commissioned by National Catholic Reporter newspaper. Mass attendance by “pre-Vatican II” Catholics, born in 1940 or before, slipped to 54 percent, down 10 percentage points from the high recorded in the 1999 survey, but it still topped all age groups. The rate for “Vatican II” Catholics, those born 1941-60, is 31 percent; for “post-Vatican II” Catholics born 1961-78, 29 percent; and for “millennial” Catholics born since 1979, 23 percent. Older Catholics cited “I’m just not a religious person” as the reason they don’t go to Mass more often, while younger Catholics cited family responsibilities as their principal reason. Still, healthy majorities in all age groups agreed with the statements, “I cannot imagine being anything but a Catholic” and “being a Catholic is a very important part of who I am.” But no majority in any age group agreed with the statement, “Church is among the most important influences on my life.”

This piece raises a number of questions. First, since the survey was conducted by National Catholic Reporter, is it even credible? National Catholic Reporter is a dissident publication that has attacked the Catholic Church for over 40 years on everything from Church dogma to Church discipline. It treated Blessed John Paul II as some creepy Neanderthal, and now treats Pope Benedict no better. It has a very liberal, protestantized vision of the Church, and gives voice to virtually every dissident and heretical notion that infects the Church in the United States and elsewhere. The male priesthood, traditional marriage, and the discipline of celibacy, and the teaching on the immorality of contraception and homosexual acts are just a few its longtime targets. Therefore, maybe a division of the USCCB ought not to quote NCR as if it is a trusted source of information on issues of the Catholic Church in America.

The next question, assuming the veracity of the information from NCR’s survey, is whether the bishop’s news service should just throw this information out without at least a short quote from some bishop in some diocese somewhere, commenting on some of the statements allegedly made by “loyal” Catholics. Catholic News Service is not just some other news outlet. Regardless of its editorial independence (and financial self-sufficiency), it remains a division of the USCCB that speaks for the USCCB.

For example, shouldn’t there be some comment expressing real disappointment that anyone could seriously think that he or she can be a good Catholic without weekly participation in the Eucharist? Or that a Catholic cannot actually be loyal to the Faith if he or she willfully violates the Third Commandment and the first Precept of the Church? Or that if one doesn’t consider himself a “religious person anymore,” maybe the sure-fire elixir to that ailment is the Mass that he is regularly missing? Or for those “younger Catholics” who claim to have too many family duties find time to go to Mass maybe a statement that the top of any “to do” list of any Catholic parents’ “family responsibilities” is regular weekly participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy where they can find and receive He who sustains all families? And where they can give example about all of this to their children?

The two quotes in the story which hit the reader between the eyes are these: “Although Mass attendance continues to decline among American Catholics, loyalty to Catholic identification remains strong.” “But no majority in any age group agreed with the statement, ‘Church is among the most important influences on my life.’” I have two final questions.

First, how can the bishops of this country, through its official news agency, report such sad and disturbing news to their flock without an expression of even a scintilla of alarm much less a firm purpose to address this problem. What is reported by NCR may not be new news to many, but it is no less disconcerting. Again, couldn’t there have been some brief comment by some bishop or even some first year seminarian somewhere in this country? Even if loyalty “to Catholic identification remains strong” (whatever that means), apparently over one-half of their flock does not regularly participate in the principal activity of the Church, and not even a majority of that flock considers the Church to be among the most important influences in their lives. That is an indictment of sorts, and not something that the USCCB should announce like a routine weather report, lest Catholics and society at large be given the impression that such religious collapse is not important.

The last question is this. If you are Catholic and the “Church is not among the most important influences” on your life, then what or who are among the most important influences? Athletes? Movie stars? Teachers? Family members? Literature? Politics? More importantly, if the institution that was instituted by Jesus Himself to be His Body on earth, and to be the means by which we have the Eucharist, the prolongation of the Incarnation until the end of time, is not among the most important influences on your life, then why are you Catholic?

Just asking.

Robert J. Gieb has practiced probate law in Ft. Worth, Texas for forty years. He is local counsel for Catholics United For Life of North Texas.
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