This month’s National Geographic has an interesting cover article on pope Francis in anticipation of his visit to the United States in September. Francis is aware the American Catholic church is in deep crisis:
- The latest numbers from PEW Research show the number of professing Catholics in the U.S. has dropped from 54 million in 2007 to 52 million in 2014.
- The vast majority of Catholics do not participate in the sacraments. Only 24% attend mass weekly and only 12% go to confession at least once a year.
- The number of priests continues to decline. There were 59 thousand priests in the U.S. in 1981 but only 38 thousand in 2014. More than 40% of today’s priests are over the age of 65. The decline in the number of churchgoers and the shortage of priests has resulted in the closing or consolidation of many parishes.
- Catholic morale was rocked by the priest pedophelia scandal and cover-up.
- Catholics continue to question official church policy regarding divorce, celibacy, contraceptives, ordination of women, and homosexuality.
Despite the hoopla surrounding his visit Francis is aware he’s visiting a church in deep turmoil. Also, as the National Geographic article points out, this pope is playing the part of reformer and has many of his more traditionalist leaders and membership on edge. He’s trying to keep the “boat afloat” but can he do it without changing the “infallible” doctrines of yesteryear?
I’m grateful to the Lord that I’m free of the chains of Catholic ritualism and legalism. My heart goes out to Catholics. May many discern the path to life through God’s grace by simple faith in Jesus Christ.
If you can get ahold of the NG print issue you’ll get to see the three-page photo foldout of a mass at the Vatican “high” altar. It’s an incredible shot but Christians will shudder at the contrast between Rome’s ostentatious splendor and the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ.