Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The State of the US Church

To all our countrymen, both here in the States and our expats around the world, Happy 4th from the place where it all began. (The same place which, year after year, delivers America's worst 4th of July celebrations.)

Of course, just like the Ratzi Bear, I'm celebrating by watching the Germany-Italy semifinal. (This Italian, however, is hoping and praying that the Pope's native side goes down. Hard.) And, because US television completely botches soccer broadcasts and there is but one Andres Cantor, you might enjoy knowing that il mio te'-voo is tuned to Univision.

In case you haven't, try it. You'll love it.

Much as I would've loved to have stayed, I fled the Shore last night. The carnival and the fireworks on the beach at dusk were great and, in any case, today would be anticlimactic: You see, spending five hours (or more) on the Atlantic City Expressway in blistering heat, moving at an average speed of 6mph isn't my preferred idea of celebrating freedom. Enjoying the nighttime breeze while being a petrolhead, however....

When I told my sister that I was headed out early, she mused, in her inimitable way, "You know, this whole thing about basing your life around traffic is really starting to annoy me."

As many of you know, doing otherwise just ain't worth it. Especially when you're used to living at the speed of light.

To business, on our Independence Day, let's not forget that John Carroll, the first bishop of the American hierarchy, was a cousin of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Of course, let's not forget either that Carroll -- a Jesuit -- responded to the Society's suppression of 1783 by saying "The greatest blessing which in my estimation I could receive from God, would be immediate death" and that, if US bishops weren't elected "we shall never be viewed kindly by our government here, and discontent, even amongst our own clergy, will break out," and that he petitioned the Holy See -- and obtained its approval -- to remove the line from his Oath of Fidelity which stated his intent to "seek out and oppose schismatics, heretics, and the enemies of our Sovereign Lord [the Pope] and his successors."

Moral of the story: the then-suppressed Jesuits were the cornerstone upon which much of the church in the 13 colonies-turned-states was built.

But what of right now, you ask?

Well, a Catholic News Service piece from the other day indicates that there's been yet another increase in the US church's big tent. And a nice-sized one, to boot -- up 1.3 million from last year to over 69 million.

That's still barely 7% of the church universal, but we'll take it.

Everything else, however, is down. Down. Down. Down.

From this year's edition of The Official Catholic Directory -- known to many of you as "The Kenedy Book" -- CNS also reported sizable decreases in the number of parishes (below 19,000 for the first time since 1983), priests (1,100 fewer from '05 for a total of about 42,000), First Communions (a stunning drop of 40,000), 11,000 fewer church marriages and, shockingly, 204,000 fewer young people in either Catholic schools or some sort of religious education programs and, for the first time since the office's reinstitution, a drop in the number of permanent deacons.

On the up side, the number of adult converts has remained steady at about 150,000, and the nation's Catholic hospitals, though fewer in number than in 2005, aided 2.5 million more patients.

Oh, and the average parish now has 900 more Catholics than it did last year. Many of you are feeling this in a particularly keen way.

And, of course, the number of church-focused blogs have gone up markedly. Whether that's a blessing or a curse depends on who you talk to.

Enjoy the holiday and, for those of you traveling, be safe.