Have Catholics reached the tipping point?

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

After the Vatican announced their recent crackdown on the organization representing 80 percent of the 57,000 nuns in this country, I received an email from a Catholic friend in Los Angeles, saying she's fed up and plans to start attending the Episcopal Church down the street.

"It's embarrassing that I have freely given money to this Church my entire life!" she wrote.

This is no fly-by-night, fair-weather Catholic. She is the dedicated, loyal kind. She and her husband put their kids through Catholic schools and have attended church every Sunday for as long as I've known them. She has also been very active in her parish. The Church hierarchy doesn't realize it, of course, but if they lose this Catholic, they're in serious trouble because that means a lot of other loyal Catholics are also reaching the "fed-up" stage.

As a longtime observer of the slow-motion Catholic hierarchy's implosion, I've been wondering when the "tipping point" would finally arrive. Sooner or later, ordinary Catholics will rise up against a corrupt, incompetent hierarchy. It's inevitable.

Not an uprising against the faith, mind you, which remains just as true and healthy as ever. Dissenting Catholics make a strong, clear distinction between their Catholic faith and the institution that exists, theoretically, to protect that faith (though it frequently fails to do so).

Maybe messing with the nuns will be the spark. Catholics are devoted to the good sisters since many of us were educated by them. As far as I can tell, the nuns — and the priests to a lesser extent — are the only ones keeping the institutional Catholic Church connected to authentic Christianity. They provide an inspiring example of living out the Gospel.

The Catholic lowerarchy, as I call the rest of us, also practices Christianity (as opposed to the hierarchy's lip service), so regular Catholics have much more in common with the nuns than the bishops. "Women religious," in fact, have emerged as the institution's unheralded heroes, ministering to the poor, working for the common good.

So picking on the nuns is a big gamble for the Vatican, but these clueless bureaucrats are so insulated, they've lost touch entirely with the church of the people. All they understand is control, which they seem to think can be maintained entirely through intimidation, threats, condemnation, and punishment. Instead of dialogue with the nuns, they resort to repression. It is always thus when you concentrate too much power in the hands of too few.

Cracking down on the nuns is just the latest in a long string of alienating actions by the Catholic hierarchy. The list includes:

Turning their backs on Vatican II and lecturing Catholics that we really don't understand what happened back then and can only comprehend it if we adopt the hierarchy's interpretation, their "hermeneutics."

Reacting to reports of widespread pedophilia with institutional defensiveness (blaming the media), cover-up (shuttling perpetrators around to other parishes) and obstruction of justice (failing to cooperate with civil authorities).

Lifting the excommunication of renegade Bishop Richard Williamson, who happens to be a Holocaust denier, then making overtures to bring the rest of the St. Pius X Society, a group of Vatican II deniers, back into the fold, which seems a much higher priority for this pope than keeping Vatican II Catholics in the fold.

Announcing that ordaining women is a sin equal in gravity to pedophilia and declaring the topic off limits for public discussion.

Opposing health care reform in spite of strict safeguards preventing the funding of abortion services and then pitching a fit over contraception coverage for women — even rejecting a compromise concession from the Obama administration.

Imposing a remarkably tone-deaf, Latin-derived new translation of the Mass on American Catholics without their consent (which sounds better to you: "He was born of the Blessed Virgin" or "He was incarnate of the Blessed Virgin"? Just one of many examples).

Launching an "investigation" of American women religious orders, leading to the recent condemnation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

It's not hard to see a pattern here. Even loyal Catholics have a boiling point. The hierarchy has screwed the lid on so tight that an explosion of pent-up frustration is inevitable, given the self-destructive path the institutional Church seems intent on pursuing.

What can Catholics do to save their Church? Letter and petition drives are already taking place. One occurred last night, a candlelight march from Holy Name Cathedral to the Cardinal's mansion to show support for the sisters. They're planned for every Tuesday night in May.

Boycotting Mass en masse would draw attention if large enough numbers participate. Call it "Solidarity Sunday." It would be particularly effective if women stayed away to protest the blatant disrespect the hierarchy has shown them (men could attend wearing black armbands). Most parishes couldn't operate without women volunteers and when this most fallible of institutions eventually comes to its senses, you can be sure women will play a crucial role.

But real change is likely to occur only when Catholics stop sending their money to the archdiocese. The bishops, who, if nothing else, know how to count, make sure they get a cut of the Sunday collection from each parish. Since Catholics are generally loyal to their parish, they put up with having a percentage siphoned off because they don't want their parish shortchanged.

Dissenting Catholics, therefore, must figure out how to donate to their parishes in alternative ways — so the archdiocese doesn't get its cut. Until that happens, the hierarchy won't show the laity any real respect.

The lowerarchy is potentially powerful, but until average Catholics get fed up, change cannot occur. When they finally do, it will be a very bad day for the hierarchy.

But it will be a new day for the Catholic Church.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Drum Roll Please.......  

Posted: May 11th, 2012 12:17 PM

Half Nelson. Full Nelson. Father Nelson. Watch out for the Father Nelson's of the world.


Posted: May 11th, 2012 10:40 AM

A couple things: 1) watch Fr. Barron as he comments on The Vatican Investigation of American Nuns: http://youtu.be/buDXNhKvnV0 via @youtube 2) For those 'down' on the Church, open your hearts and minds and spend some time listening to WNTD - Relevant Radio 950 AM Chicago, IL www.relevantradio.com . 3) Don't rely on MSM, let's share our sources! Twitter is an excellent way! Ken, are you on Twitter?

mike from op  

Posted: May 11th, 2012 8:13 AM

@JKDIV is correct when he wrote the the church did not condone molestation. They did however condone sweeping it under the rug, not talking about it, moving offenders to other parishes where they would still be in contact with children, stonewalling victims, and generally doing what ever they could to cover their own posteriors so as not to disrupt the cash flow.

Tipped from Oak Park  

Posted: May 11th, 2012 6:03 AM

It was so difficutl to turn away from a faith that was a big part in my life. It was my culture, my family. But, I grew up tolerating what just didn't seem like teachings of the gospel and finally left. I defended the church for years, but as I see this institution denegrating the work of these nuns, I am dismayed that people can sit in those pews and take this. Have you been so indoctrinated to accept and not question what these men decree?


Posted: May 10th, 2012 2:08 PM

If you believe that the Church condones molestation of any sort, you're wrong, but you're probably so set in your mistaken idea that no amount of truth will change your mind. There are fewer priests in the archdiocese today. Despite that, those that do become priests are more mature, more experienced in life, and make their decisions without any of the cultural pressure that existed 50 or 60 years ago. In fact, they accept their vocations despite the significant cultural prejudices against them

O from Oak Park  

Posted: May 10th, 2012 1:38 PM

You and the Bishop Ignatius of Antioch can have it your way. The Catholic Church certainly used its universal nature in moving child rapist priests to other geographical locations to spread the gospel of preying on the young. Cardinal Law cannot return to the US (or won't), so being in a worldwide church aids him as well. Is the Chicago diocese ordaining more or less priests than they did 30 years ago?


Posted: May 10th, 2012 12:55 PM

O, I wish you would have paid more attention to the sister. Catholic means universal, complete, whole. Ignatius of Antioch, who was appointed bishop by St. Peter, coined the term before 107AD. Despite the fact that the word catholic can be used outside of reference to the Church, it is most appropriately used in reference to the one church that is universal, complete & whole. Only one church fits that definition; the Catholic Church.

mc from Oak Park  

Posted: May 10th, 2012 12:44 PM

As a lifelong Catholic, I have found myself seriously struggling with how much longer to participate in the Catholic church. No justifiable way to explain to my kids(in Catholic school)about the sexism, homophobia,male dominated intolerance. The bashing of the nuns who have devoted their lives to the welfare of others may be the last straw. It is very sad to have reached this point, but the hypocrisy requires a hard look and a hard decision. Is this Catholicism what God would have intended?

O from Oak Park  

Posted: May 10th, 2012 12:23 PM

If the Catholic Church grows, it is because of a freakish ban on contraception. Is there a similar growth in the priesthood? In America? I bet not. It'll be awfully lonely in the pews with just the Holocaust deniers and the child rape apologists. Who will pay to heat the churches, rectories, and convents? Perhaps a selloff of jeweled chalices. And, in the creed, 'catholic" with a small c means universal and doesn't refer to the Catholic Church. Sr. Marie taught me that 30 years ago.

Dutch Elm  

Posted: May 10th, 2012 11:27 AM

Tipping point! Yes! Finally! Can't wait for you to tip yourselves out of the RCC. Whatever your beef, whatever your beliefs, there is another demonimation out there waiting for you. And, if that one doesn't work out there will be another, and another and another! There are something like 14,000 protestant and or evangelical denominations out there! America is a nirvana for schismatics! Follow your bliss!


Posted: May 9th, 2012 5:37 PM

Free Thinker, Do you say either one of the creeds on Sunday? The "one, holy, catholic, & apostolic part" makes my point.

Catholic, but still free thinking  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 5:27 PM

One True Church? Holy cow. It's somewhat disturbing to think I could be sitting next to you on Sunday.


Posted: May 9th, 2012 5:12 PM

Because of the Catholic Church, my Polish-American mother, who is now almost 80 years old, was denied the opportunity to marry her first love because he was Lutheran, forced to give up her first child for adoption because she was unwed and years later ex-communicated for divorcing my drunken bum of a dad. What an institution!


Posted: May 9th, 2012 5:07 PM

If you are looking for a tipping point, look at Protestantism. Unlike the Catholic Church, which grows, Protestantism has been in a steep decline for decades. That's a plain fact. Is it any wonder that as Protestants stray from the One True Church, they become lost, and disappear?

Ray from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 3:34 PM

Tipping point? The pastor at our small ELCA Lutheran church in Chicago estimates about a third of the members are former Catholic or "dual member". My wife is "ELCA" Lutheran, so I became familiar with that brand. The liturgy is identical to the RCC, but priests can be single, married, male, female, gay or straight. In others words, they are serious about "all are welcome and respected." And they even added prayer vigil candles so Catholics can feel at home

O from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 9:54 AM

OK, illegal immigration. My opinion is: Conservative Catholics would prefer that those fellow Catholics worshiping in their churches that are not citizens be deported, even if it means sending home the largest single source of new Catholics in America. Then these people will be left in nearly empty, expensive-to-maintain churches. They will likely have to sell the Church property to pay for the Church's part in child rape.

LuAnn from Chicago, IL  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 9:24 AM

Mr. Trainor touches upon many important facts concerning the systematic alienation of Vatican II Catholics. There was a reason that when many left the Catholic Faith because they could not live and worship with the changes they perceived as moving-away from a transcendental church, so there was a reason Catholics who embraced Vaticann II stayed. However, the Hierarchy's rigid views on many secular and social matters, including criticism of nuns for social activism, might mean a new exodus.

rj from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 8:54 AM

O - Are you really this ignorant of the facts? Conservatives are NOT against legal immigration just illegal immigration - stop spreading lies!

mike from op  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 8:24 AM

My tipping point came in 1973 when the parish I attended lost a great young Priest, and a nun who was one of the best teachers I ever had, because they fell in love. They were forced to leave the church, and so did many of my classmates. I have never regretted my decision.

O from Oak Park  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 7:16 AM

But many have reached it. The others will be alone in the huge empty, expensive-to-maintain churches. They will be empty because conservative Catholics will be the only ones left, and they are typically against immigration, which is the single largest source of new American Catholics.

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: May 9th, 2012 6:48 AM

@Trainor no All Catholics have NOT reached the tipping point. Tone down your paid for advertising about the displeasure in your own life. Thanks.

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