Is the US Church Headed for Some Hard Times in 2019?

In a recent National Catholic Reporter blog post by Michael Sean Winters entitled “Good times aren’t ahead for US church,” the writer provides an anonymous gem from a recent correspondence that he had:

“One of my favorite religious sisters exchanged emails with me over the holidays about the [clergy sex abuse] crisis. ‘The bishops need to get their act together and get an agenda that reflects the gospels. Or they will never be able to solve any problems,’ she wrote. ‘When the hierarchy turned their backs on the poor, the suffering, the marginalized, the refugees, the environment, when they turned their back on peace and capital punishment, and they chose to go for the culture wars (all connected to human sexuality) they made such a huge pastoral mistake.’ Her indictment continued: ‘Also they investigated gays in our seminaries in the United States; they investigated nuns in the United States. The U.S. hierarchy allowed those things to happen. Classic misdirection. They didn’t stand up for the nuns, they didn’t stand up for gay people living good lives in the priesthood and religious life. There is some betrayal in there, some betrayal of the trust that the people of God place in them — or used to.’ “

It’s kind of hard to add a comment to that quotation because it just states things so clearly and directly.  Enough said.

Winters presented this quotation after a lengthy, and worthwhile analysis that came to the following conclusion:

“What the 2018 iteration of the crisis exposed was that there is still something sick in the clerical culture, and it is most manifest in the inability to create any means of episcopal accountability. In short, there is not a sex abuse crisis so much as there is an ecclesiological crisis.”

The scapegoating of gay priests and even the alarm people have at the horrendous details of the sexual behavior of some priests deflect from the fact that the real problem in this whole mess is that church leadership, for a variety of reasons, had no oversight to what they were doing.  No checks on their decisions.  No one correcting their mistakes.  While discussion of the sexual dimension of this phenomenon may create more sensational news stories, the real story is the more mundane and boring story of the way that the Catholic Church is governed, or in this case, misgoverned.

Winters’ post, which is his vision of what 2019 might hold for the Catholic Church does have another section, however, with which I strongly disagree.  He writes:

“Will the Catholic Left mature into something consequential? Sadly, I doubt it. Many progressive Catholics have left already and many of those who stay seem stuck in the 1970s in their concerns and their solutions. There is great concern about human sexuality and LGBT issues but a dearth of intelligent, informed writing on the topic, very little that stands out as something only a Catholic could write.”

It’s also kind of hard to add a comment to this quotation, but for the exact opposite qualities of the quotation above.  Winters’ opinion is vague and non-specific. It’s not a surprise since he has frequently chastised those he considers the “Catholic Left,” but other than making accusations of being “stuck in the 1970s” and not having enough “intelligent, informed writing on the topic,”  he says very little.  No details. No evidence.  I would like to know why he makes the claims he does.  Since he doesn’t provide any supporting details, his accusation sounds simply like name-calling.

On one point, he is clearly wrong empirically.  It is not just the “Catholic Left” (whatever this group is) that is concerned about LGBT issues.  Survey after survey in recent years has shown that support for LGBT issues is clearly in the Catholic Mainstream.  LGBT issues are not just the concern of liberal and progressive Catholics but with increasingly greater numbers of “middle of the road” Catholics.  Instead of citing any particular survey or surveys, I will just direct interested readers to look at the posts in Bondings 2.0’s  “Statistics” category by clicking here (or in the Categories section of this page’s right hand column).  There they will find a wealth of surveys which prove this point.

2019 will definitely be a momentous year for the Catholic Church.  I don’t have any high hopes for major change, either positively or negatively, for LGBT issues.  Real change happens when hearts are changed.  That’s the real revolution.  Will there be rough times ahead?  For sure.  Will God be with us through them?  Even surer.

Stay tuned here for all the news and opinion on Catholic LGBT issues!

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 8, 2019

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