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Blame the shepherds not the flock

By R. John Kinkel

Roman Catholics in the West don’t go to church much, are materialistic, and they are too comfortable with a Godless society. Church officials deplore such realities and hope for change. That’s right: blame the victims!

Almost every article I read about this theme accepts the underlying premise of religious leaders: too much backsliding, too much sinning by church members. I beg to disagree. After spending three years researching and writing a book on the Catholic Church, I see a different picture: people are turned off by official church policies. They are turned away by weak leadership. 

First, questionable teachings. Popes and bishops continue to assert that artificial birth control is wrong. The laity say it is ok. Rules do not allow priests to marry. Laity say there should be a change. Official teachings say woman are to be excluded from all major leadership roles: priest, bishop, cardinal, Pope. It is God’s will. Laypeople are astounded.

This triple dose of irrationality has sent many Catholics packing.  Fewer people are going to Sunday Mass, less money is being collected, and churches and schools are closing. The Roman Catholic Church is short 160,000 priests worldwide based on 1978 staffing standards and little is being done to reverse these trends. The Pope and bishops won’t  budge; Catholics stare in disbelief.

Second, fiscal crisis. Over $US1 billion dollars has been spent on the sexual abuse scandal caused by wayward priests and bishops. Three U.S. dioceses are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy and some priest retirement funds are running out of money. The statistics published by church directories reveal that 600 schools in the U.S. have closed in the last 10 years. In Berlin, Germany, the Catholic Church is closing or merging half of its 207 parishes to pay off millions in debt to banks and creditors. With fewer people drawn to church services by  uninspiring church leaders, there is less money put into the collection basket to promote the goals of  its founder: Jesus Christ.

Third, no quest for the truth.  Bishops from Rome to Ranchipur haven’t a clue about reversing these and other downward trends. The religious fervor  generated by Pope John Paul’s funeral gave us a false sense of widespread  religious re-awakening. World Youth Day in Germany last month will create a similar myth: young people are turning to the church in droves. The truth is that young people 16-25 are not going to church at all: only 5 per cent go to weekly Sunday services in the US.

Religious mega events deflect attention away from the real problems the church faces. With an aging band of priests who are overworked and exhausted, only the bare essentials are getting done. Catholic spin doctors work diligently to convince us that it is not so. Conservative groups in the  church, like Opus Dei, lobby to turn back the clock of renewal and change. Little is being accomplished to build outreach programs to touch the lost and the forgotten.  

My church is dying but not because people are all bad. The groans of God’s people can be heard if we only read the signs of the  times. They are sheep without good shepherds; there are not enough pastors to go around.  What is killing the spiritual enlightenment of Vatican II are poor leaders and terrible policies. Those entrusted with ‘feeding the flock’ have run out of vision and enthusiasm. How bad must it get before we get some fundamental change?

Dr R. John Kinkel lives in Michigan and is the author of the newly released book Chaos in the Catholic Church: A Call for Reform.


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