Broad reforms that would contribute to greater accountability and transparency regarding church finances are needed…
We are the Church, so pay attention to what’s going on
In my previous life as a sports writer and editor, if I wasn’t writing about sports, I was watching them, or playing them, or talking about them. My friends and I spent countless hours recounting the games we had watched, players we had seen, memories we had made. We analyzed, debated and Monday-morning-quarterbacked all facets of competition. I wasn’t an expert, by any stretch, but given my job, my circle of friends knew that I could chat with them at length about the sports topic de jour.
But that was then. Now, I might catch the tail end of the Red Sox game once the kids go to bed, and we watched our share of the Olympics, but otherwise, what was once an obsession has faded. All that time I used to spend on sports has been commandeered by other priorities: a new career, raising six children, etc. It’s better this way. I don’t miss it much.
Now, my time (at work, anyway) is occupied by sifting through the news of the Church. I’m not an expert on this subject matter, either, but I could talk at length about what Pope Francis said at his most recent general audience, or the latest Church scandal, or what saint’s feast day we’re celebrating today. And while most of my friends are Catholic, rarely do any of these topics come up in conversation.
I don’t believe that they don’t care; I have a hunch that they simply aren’t aware. (Perhaps I should encourage them to sign up for our free daily newsletter at OSVNews.com.) The Church, for most Catholics, is almost wholly contained within the walls of their parishes. If you ask them the date of the Church picnic or who to call about donating to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, they could certainly tell you. If you ask them the date of a particular saint’s feast day or who the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is, they would shrug. This shouldn’t be surprising. Their parish is in their neighborhood; the Vatican is an ocean away.
A recent article for Religion News Service by Kerry Weber, executive editor at America magazine, confirmed my hunch. America teamed up with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a survey of Catholic adults. They asked a range of questions, from how often they attended Mass, to whether they had ever left the Church, to which political party they most associated themselves with.
Most interesting to me, the survey also asked several questions related to how closely Catholics paid attention to news regarding the sexual abuse scandal in the Church. While we in Catholic media have spent too much of our lives sorting out the unimaginable abuse perpetrated by former American cardinal Theodore McCarrick, or the contents of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, most Catholics aren’t even familiar with those things. According to the survey, 62% of Catholics had never heard of McCarrick; 53% were unaware of the grand jury report.
It’s understandable how this news could escape the people in the pews. Like me with sports, folks are simply too busy to have the capacity to follow the news of the Church outside of their diocesan borders. I get it, life is busy. But this isn’t a good thing, as Weber points out. She writes: “The ability to name-check the hierarchy is not inherently a sign of engagement with the Church. But the fact that the highest-profile case of abuse in recent memory is unfamiliar to over half of the Catholics surveyed reveals a major communication problem within the Church, particularly around the abuse crisis. Our data show that Catholics want the institutional Church to respond to the crisis, but it has not always done its part to communicate what reforms have already begun or to open up new channels for dialogue. The disconnect is one that adds to the pain caused by the abuse and the cover-up by leaving many Catholics feeling stuck in a perpetual crisis and unaware of any progress or available resources.”
When we talk about the Church — with a capital C — it’s easy to assume that we’re talking about Pope Francis, the bishops and the powerful cardinals and clergymen who make up the Roman Curia. But we should remember that we — you and me, the older couple in the pew next to you, my sports-loving Catholic friends — are the Body of Christ. We are the Church.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.