It has been clear for some time now in the Church that Catholics, as a group, are growing more distant from the Church teaching on sexual matters. It seems well demonstrated that most Catholics form their view on these matters more from the culture than the scriptures or the teachings of the Church. The culture shouts promiscuity and normalizes both the heterosexual and homosexual expressions of it. Meanwhile, I’m sad to say, many clergy and catechists remain quite silent and vague about it. This is not true of all, but I know that a common complaint on the part of the faithful is, that what they hear from the pulpit, is filled with vagaries and generalities. Only rarely do they hear straightforward teaching on sexual matters and other important topics as well, such as the need to attend Mass, go to confession, the reality of hell etc.
With the combination of a loud culture and quiet pulpit and classroom, it is no surprise that that recent statistics show that a growing number of Catholics do not hold the Catholic faith when it comes to moral issues, especially the sexual ones. Here are some excerpts from a recent article over at the CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) blog written by Mark Gray:
In 2010, 20% of adult Catholics “strongly agreed” that “homosexual couples should have the right to marry one another.” An additional 28% “agreed.” Thus, overall 48% of Catholic respondents indicated some level of agreement with this statement. The margin of error for the 2010 Catholic data is ±5.8 percentage points. Thus, the point estimate for agreement could range as high as 54% or as low as 42%. ….Levels of agreement with the statement have grown [over the years] as disagreement has diminished.
There is another [General Social Survey] GSS question that has a longer history that is related to the results of the marriage question shown above. The GSS asks respondents if “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” is wrong. In the 2010 GSS, for the first time, the percentage of adult Catholics indicating this is “not wrong at all” outnumbered those who said it was “always wrong” (44% compared to 42%)…(margin of error was ±5.9 percentage points).
As one can see from the trend in the figure [above right], the real point of change occurs somewhere in the early 1990s and has continued to evolve to this day. Responses to this question differ by age with younger Catholics being more likely than older Catholics to say this is “not wrong at all.” However, the sharp change in the population overall in the early 1990s cannot be explained by generational replacement alone.
It is the case that frequency of Mass attendance correlates with responses to these questions….The only complication to this…. is that Mass attendance varies by age and generation ….So is it Mass attendance that makes one more likely to oppose civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples or is it something generational? It is likely both but which matters more? And again the figure above indicates some sort of “period effect” in the early 1990s that is also likely important. Margin of error for sub-groups is the biggest obstacle to understanding and disentangling these effects.
The full article is here: Catholic Attitudes. Please note, Mr. Gray’s purpose in the article is to report the numbers not to advocate for or against what they say.
My own thoughts are that the generational factor is very significant. I understand that Mr Gray above thinks there are other factors too. I accept that but would still highlight the generational factor. There are increasing numbers of young people who have never known a time when the wider culture did not approve of homosexual behavior. Those of us about 45 and older DO remember such a time, but the younger ones have largely had a steady diet of “there’s nothing wrong with homosexual behavior and if anyone thinks so, they’re a bigot.” And as they have heard this, the Church has only vaguely set forth a principled case for the wrongness of promiscuity in general, and homosexual activity in particular.
To paraphrase a well known quote from the last election, The Church’s chickens are coming home to roost. To put it Biblically: For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (1 Cor 14:8).
In the Church I think we have to accept that a generational shift has occurred, both in the Church and in the culture. And it has happened on our watch.
Rear-guard action? With the increasing move to give legal recognition to (so-called) gay marriage, the Church is scrambling to teach the faithful again on the basics of marriage. But, truth be told, it’s something of a rear-guard action. Marriage has been in trouble for a long time in this country, family sizes have decreased, divorce has skyrocketed and cohabitation and single parent families are becoming as common as marriage. Gay “marriage” is just the latest confusion, polygamy is surely next.
Yes, we have returned to the battle late. When the first no-fault divorce laws went into effect in 1969 and the ten years following, I am unaware that there was much of a collective effort by the Church to oppose and turn back that horrible idea.
Inward focused! Of course in 1969 we were rather inwardly focused. We were moving around the furniture in our sanctuaries, tuning up guitars and having endless debates about women’s (lack of) ordination, Church authority and the like. And while we looked inward and debated among ourselves, we lost the culture. We stopped evangelizing and articulating a clear moral vision for our culture in a way that was effective.
I am told the situation is worse in Europe. Both Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have said we have to start all over again there and completely re-evangelize Europe.
But start we must. And while we do so, we will called all sorts of names by a culture that now finds the Gospel and its moral vision to be obnoxious, even hateful. It will be our task to re-propose the Gospel in creative and thoughtful ways, and to present why it makes sense and is not, in fact hateful.
I think some of the younger clergy, religious and laity have become better prepared to do just this. I am impressed with the dedication, fidelity, creativeness and zeal of many of the younger and emerging leaders in the Church. In a way their presence and numbers is something of a paradox, since, as the numbers above show, there seems to be an overall generational shift away from the Church. It is almost as if these younger and emerging leaders, (clergy, religious and lay), have been snatched by the Lord from a raging torrent and set on solid rock. And now they have zeal to snatch others from the torrent and draw them to the solid rock of the Church and Christ. It is a small but significant army. And the trumpet the Church is sounding is becoming clearer too, more and more are mustering for the great struggle to re-evangelize the culture.
In tomorrow’s blog I’d like to address the Biblical teaching on homosexual activity as well as heterosexual promiscuity. I do this in an attempt to answer those surveyed above who think there is nothing wrong with either. Just my own little way of trying to turn back some of the numbers and not be among those who have been far too silent.
Here is Fr. Barron’s take on how we lost the culture and what we might do to re-evangelize it.