Civilization Killers – On the Decline of Three Basic Cultural Indicators and What it Means for America

Recently, there was a remarkable article over At Real Clear Politics which summarizes important social trends in the United States. The article by Rich Lowry summarizes the views of Charles Murray who gave a talk at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Murray focuses his data on White America only to avoid the sticky wicket of race politics that so often clouds a conversation on social and moral trends that are wider than race.

The recent unpleasantness in New York where the high rates of abortion in the Black community (simply a statistical fact) were featured in a billboard, quickly devolved into a discussion of race, rather than abortion. Hence, to avoid this sort of thing, Mr. Murray used data only on the White community.

And what he has discovered is that there are significant differences between economic classes in this Country that sheds important light on the cultural crisis we are facing. In effect, economic class is a big indicator in moral behavior today. This was not the case in the past and the class division in America has led to two very different Americas, two increasingly parallel worlds in effect. Likewise, it becomes increasingly clear which world is influencing which.

I would like to presents excerpts of the article by Rich Lowry and make comments of my own. Lowry’s original remarks are in bold, black italics, my remarks are plain text, red. The full article is here: Coming Apart at the Seams.

The social threat to the American way of life is…dire….it is [also] insidious, and…complicated. No grassroots movement has mobilized against it, and no high-profile bipartisan commission is suggesting remedies. Yet it proceeds apace, all but ignored except in the lives of Americans Lowry refers here to the decline in important “founding virtues” which have made this country strong: marriage, industriousness, and religiosity. And he is right that almost no one wants to talk about the decline of these things. If we had a reform program only half as committed as the anti-smoking campaign of the past 25 years, we’d be well on our way to recovery, I suspect. But sadly there is little agreement on such a campaign, even in the Church where too may pastors, catechists and leaders seem to emphasize not offending, over being real clinicians and doctors with real and clear direction for what ails us.

If there is ambivalence in the Church, it is far worse in the wider civic world where a consensus on good behavior has broken down.

A personal story comes to mind here. I was in a meeting with some local activists here in DC and we were discussing the social structures of poverty. The usual list was announced in the room to include things like, capitalism, the greed of (rich) people, racism, not enough Government action, even lead paint. I happened to interject that the chief cause of poverty is single motherhood and also wondered if we ought no counsel sexual abstinence, and encourage marriage. The room was suddenly silent, and all eyes were on me. Most of those eyes were glaring, some dismayed. Only a few showed understanding or agreement. Some one finally broke the icy silence and suggested that I leave such controversial views to my own pulpit and stick to things where there was real consensus and which was less…ahem… “judgmental.”

Yes, the lack of a grassroots movement seems directly tied to a loss in common moral vision. We do not seem to agree on what is vice, and what is virtue. Here again, I fault the Church and Protestant denominations for failing to hand on the vision and to insist upon it among their (our) rather sizable number. I think we are improving in the Catholic Church and some of the evangelical denominations are doing a better job. Collectively, the Catholic moral vision is being better articulated by many bishops and pastors who see no choice but to speak out.  But for a long time we have been too silent, and there still is to much silence from Catholic pulpits as a whole. If there is going to be any sort of grassroots movement it is going to have begin with us.

Among those trying to sound the alarm is Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute…..In a bracing lecture on “The State of White America,” he notes that America has long had an exceptional civic culture. “That culture is unraveling,” he warns. “America is coming apart at the seams. Not the seams of race or ethnicity, but of class.” – It does seem that class, even more than race, has become a large dividing line in this country and the question of virtue and vice is significantly influenced by it, as we shall see.

Murray takes whites as his subject to avoid the question of whether racism is responsible for the problem he describes, namely the “emergence of classes that diverge on core behaviors and values.” – Good move, as stated above. If this discussion gets tagged with race, the question of race will rob all the oxygen from the discussion and the moral questions will be unaddressed.

Murray identifies what he calls the “founding virtues,” such as marriage, industriousness, and religiosity, which have always been considered the social basis of self-government. He looks at whites aged 30-49 and divides them into the top 20 percent socio-economically and the bottom 30 percent. The top tier is basically the upper middle class, the bottom the working class. He finds two worlds, increasingly separate and unequal. – So the basic groups we are dealing with in this reflection are upper middle class and working class.

Notice, the very rich are not mentioned. It seems to me that they are a group unto themselves when it comes to the moral life. They (e.g. Hollywood, national politicians, and the very rich) often manifest poor moral values but are more able to “get away with it,” not often suffering all the usual social ills that go with bad behavior. The very poor seem also not on the radar here. Their problems in the moral realm are very often even more complicated and tied in with a very corrupt welfare system that rewards bad behavior and punishes good.

So let’s look at the data of the middle range of classes, the upper middle class and the working class:


In 1960, everyone was married – 88 percent of the upper middle class and 83 percent of the working class. In 2010, 83 percent of the upper middle class is married and only 48 percent of the working class. This gap “amounts to a revolution in the separation of classes.” – Now stable marriage is a key indicator and component of a strong culture. And we can see here that it is the working class that has taken a huge hit in the marriage statistics. In the Church we have noticed this too. In 1974 there were approximately 400,000 weddings in the Catholic Church. In 2004 there we about just under 200,000. The drop in Catholic weddings was attributable to numerous factors including a fall-off in general Church attendance, but the trend is similar to the overall working class, where marriages have dropped by almost half.

In 1960, births to single mothers in the working class were just 6 percent; now they are close to 50 percent. Interesting that our author does not give the number for upper middle class single mothers. My own thought on this is that, while the number is not as high as among working class people, the number is still a lot higher than 1960. Single motherhood began as a problem in the inner-cities and was influenced by a perverse welfare system that rewarded single mothers and comparatively punished married mothers. But the trend of out of wedlock birth has long since reached the suburbs, where the numbers as not as high (close to 80% of children on welfare are born to single mothers), but the numbers have trended much higher.


When it comes to industriousness, there’s the same divergence. In 1960, 1.5 percent of men in the upper middle class were out of the workforce; it’s 2 percent now. In 1968, the number for working-class men hit a low of 5 percent; even before the spike in unemployment after the financial crisis, it was 12 percent in 2008. “The deteriorations in industriousness,” Murray notes, “have occurred in labor markets that were booming as well as in soft ones.” – OK, so Mr. Murray has screened for unemployment. What we’re talking about here is the number of people who simply don’t bother to look for work anymore but live off others or the State. So the “loafers” have doubled in number. The ethic of hard work has taken a hit. However, I would note here that the 12% figure, though higher, is still fairly low, and America remains a nation of hard workers. We still have a work ethic, it would seem, almost to a fault, since many Americans have their career as more important that their vocation (IMHO). Thus children are in day-care and many marriages are strained by overwork and long hours.

Although secularization has long been on the rise, it’s more pronounced in the working class. Among the upper middle class, 42 percent say they either don’t believe in God or don’t go to church. In the working class, it’s 61 percent. In other words, a majority of the upper middle class still has some religious commitment, while a majority of the working class does not. Now this is very paradoxical to some I am sure. I happened to discover the truth of this when I lived among the poor of Southeast Washington for 7 years. I had always thought that the poor were very religious. I think the Scriptures themselves influenced me in this as they warned of riches and indicated God’s loving favor to the poor. But one of the discoveries I made about the very poor was that almost none of them ever went to church! I came to see this as one of the things that contributed to their poverty. For what it indicated was their disconnectedness from others. Churches, among other social functions, serve to knit people together in a socially supportive structure. Having severed themselves from such a community, the poor were even more vulnerable.

Here too, government welfare has had a deleterious effect since many of the poor look to an impersonal government for “the check” rather than to others around them. The advantage of course is that the Government doesn’t ask too many questions or insist upon weekly attendance at services or social functions.

I did not see or experience these poor as atheists in any way. But religion and faith were simply not a big part of their lives. I often had long talks exhorting the poor I met to reconnect with God and the Church. I would even eventually tie on-going help to attendance.

It would seem that the trend of irreligiosity has also reached the working class in higher proportions too. Some will tie this to bad work schedules and the like, rooted in the fact that everything is open on Sundays now. But most churches have a wide variety of things on the schedule including Saturday evening masses, Sunday evening Masses, mid-week bible studies and the like. The fact is people in general are more secular, and this does not bode well for them of for this country as a whole.

These trends mean, just as it is suffering economically, the working class is getting cut off from the richest sources of social capital: marriage, two-parent families, and church-going. More people are falling into a lower class characterized by men who can’t make a minimal living and single women with children….. And this goes back to my point raised in that room of social activists. The fact is that living a life rooted in biblical and natural virtue is just better for you. It leads to fewer complications, greater stability and prosperity, better health, and a higher degree of satisfaction.

Social activists who want to make life better for the poor should reconsider their “agnostic” position regarding sexual choices, and the role of marriage and traditional family values.

In re-proposing the Gospel to an increasingly secular and cynical culture  we should not forget to “sell” the Gospel and traditional moral norms as just plain smart, even from a worldly point of view. That is not the only reason we seek to live them, but the fact is, blessings come from following God’s plan, burdens and hardships multiply to those who fail in this regard.  Mr. Lowry says it succinctly and well: the working class is getting cut off from the richest sources of social capital.

He quotes the 19th-century observer of American life Francis Grund: “The American Constitution is remarkable for its simplicity; but it can only suffice a people habitually correct in their actions, and would be utterly inadequate to the wants of a different nation. Change the domestic habits of the Americans, their religious devotion, and their high respect for morality, and it will not be necessary to change a single letter of the Constitution in order to vary the whole form of their government.” I believe De Tocqueville said something very similar: Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?

In other words, if freedom is to be politically advanced, then the self control of most Americans must be a presupposed foundation. If that foundation of morality and self-control is lost, the foundations of democracy are threatened.

And we see this in our times. As the decency and self control of more and more Americans diminishes, legal restrictions and punitive measures increase, lawsuits ensue, legal fears increase, and political liberties are gradually eclipsed. Our growing and increasingly intrusive Federal Government does seem very tied to our inability, or unwillingness, as citizens to curb and govern our behaviors. The Constitution, and the freedoms it ensures are thus gradually eroded.

Some consider the Constitution too dated, others see it not permitting enough Government restrictions to curb the bad or unpleasant behaviors of people today. Perhaps this is so. But the solution is not to disregard the Constitution but to reform our lives. We shouldn’t need a nanny state, we ought to grow up and do what is right and proper.

When it comes to saving the American way, balancing the budget is the easy part. -Yes, being saved from ourselves would seem much more difficult.

Murray argues that America can maintain its national power even if these trends continue. I disagree. I think these downward trends are civilization killers.

If the family is not strong and continues to slide into disarray, we cannot continue as a strong nation and, like ancient Rome, will fade away.

Our work ethic remains strong and there is some hope here.

But as for secularization, that we can have an intelligible and reasonably unified culture without a common “cult” seems  dubious. We need not be united on every particular dogma, but, we must have someone and something above us, as a culture, to unite us. The source of our unity cannot be within us, it must transcend us. Pretending that we can have real unity when increasing numbers reject that transcendent vision is fanciful in the end, for with nothing bigger than “us” to unite us, we end in power struggles and endless divisions. The disunity may ultimately be too strong for the great American experience to continue. I do not say it will come soon, but the trend lines do not currently point in promising directions.

As always I am interested in your thoughts.

This song says, America! America! God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

59 Replies to “Civilization Killers – On the Decline of Three Basic Cultural Indicators and What it Means for America”

  1. As one struggling to escape from the white American underclass I grew up in….. I must say that I agree with everything said and my only critique is that I think the academic tone doesn’t properly convey just how very bleak the picture really is. Class is a huge factor in American culture and the divide is becoming increasingly deep.

  2. I’ve read the Real Clear Politics article, but remain unclear on the hypothesis Charles Murray asserts. It is relatively easy to pick a few variables – decline in marriage, for example – and link them to others – unravelling of culture, for example. Much more difficult is to link variables empircally so that we can say without doubt that one really does affect or cause the other. I do not see that here.

    Perhaps the depth of analysis has to be deeper. WHY is marriage down? Or single parenthood up? What drives securalism? Is it a genuine drift away from God or a drift toward less organized and clear expressions of faith? And why do any of these matter? Can we show, for example, that those in marriages and those raising children with two parents are happier than others? Or “better” contributors to society? Or whatever other factor we believe to be important and worthy of all to strive toward? There are plenty of people in our country today who would argue that a single woman raising her kid by herself is an example of social progress, equality, etc.

    There are competing paradigms of what wider society and individual lives should be like. There is little space for proponents of one particular paradigm – our Church, for example – to suggest (let alone provide convincing evidence for) their own. The anti-smoking campaign (and other social campaigns, such as seat-belt wearing) was successful because it was based on an undeniable truth that no amount of hype could hide – smoking causes cancers that kill you. It is much more difficult to organize a campaign around an entire outlook on life.

    1. Well I suppose one could always look deeper at the data. But in the end, the fact that marriage is in such disrepair in our culture is obviously not a good sign for us. I don’t see how you can seriously argue that other “paradigms” are just as good. God, and nature both provide for the wisdom of a stable heterosexual marriage as the best “paradigm.” Further, with the decline of the family any number of undesirable social outcomes are evident. What the article is getting at is that such a claim is increasingly evident.

      1. I am not arguing for any position. I am saying that we need more than heresay or circumstance to link social outcomes to their causal factors. That means a conscious attempt to go beneath the seemingly obvious. This is what the social sciences do – or, at least, should do.

  3. Dear Monsignor Pope,

    First, I would like to express my appreciation for the faithful and diligent effort you put into the essays you write each day and share on this site. They are always thought-provoking and illuminating. I have recommended your site as “required reading” to many of my friends here in Florida and around the country. Our faith is truly Catholic – – whole and universal!

    Your observations this morning strike me as the other moral bookend to the economic dialogue you invited your readers to begin regarding our national deficit, entitlement programs and how we can re-set our budget to avoid what everyone recognizes is a looming economic Armageddon.

    Mr. Murray’s study appears to focus on the effect of single motherhood. I would broaden the focus to note that what we have seen in the past 50 years is a calculated effort to destroy the family as the fundamental unit of human society formed by God. As a result of contraceptive practices, adoption of non-fault divorces, abortion and court decisions on school prayer, we have rendered our houses desolate.

    Among other things, the human family is supposed to learn from and mirror the Trinity in which each member yields in kenotic love to the other. When I was growing up, my parents sacrificed for me and my brothers and sisters. We turn helped each other, and when we were older we helped our parents. I am afraid that our culture today teaches children and adults to focus on his or her own self-interest and fulfillment. Too late after the shredding of a family, hurt and separation do they realize the horrific illusion.

    On the economic column you wrote, my take is that through the best of intentions on the part of some and the destructive but veiled agenda of others, we are now suffering the full fury of the law of intended consequences. The voices in the national and local debates has become so vicious and hateful that I do not believe a constructive consenus can be reached. Sadly, as you have no doubt observed many times as a priest, people often do not repent, return to the Lord and learn how to re-order their lives until they have sunk to the very bottom. It may take something similar for this country.

    On the moral side, I see no moral center of gravity to pull the pendulum back from its wild oscillations. The faceless culture (behind which Satan most effectively loves to operate) has replaced parents. In the past 40 years of my adult life, I have rarely heard a priest, pastor or minister of any church address these issues. In fact, I have heard many expressly state that they stay away from such subjects out of concern that they may offend some parishioner. There are so many “blended” families and second wives and husbands.

    I am not advocating a Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” homily, but some honest, frank talk about who we are as a country and what has happened to us as a people. The Law of the Excluded Middle says that something is either true or it is not true. When I was growing up (back when the earth was cooling), a pregnant student suffered stigmatization and was required to leave school. I would agree that condeming such a person is not appropriate and providing for the care of the child is the right thing to do. But we have gone to the opposite extreme of accepting and not judging or reproving virtualy any immoral conduct. It is inconceivable that a society can morally or economiccaly sustain itself and stay on God’s path in the face of the soaring illegitimacy and single motherhood (and often single fatherhood) that we have today.

    The message our culture broadcasts in so many loud and varied forms each day is that:


    1. I suspect that you are right in observing that we are going to have to hit a really hard bottom before we repent as a culture. Thanks for your observations here. I have heard the Law of the Excluded middle expressed in Latin as Tertium non datur (no third way is given).

  4. “The recent unpleasantness in New York where the high rates of abortion in the Black community (simply a statistical fact) were featured in a billboard, quickly devolved into a discussion of race, rather than abortion. Hence, to avoid this sort of thing, Mr. Murray used data only on the White community.”

    So this will most likely lead to a hasty generalization. Every time someone ignores a piece of the data simply because he wants to avoid an issue, it will lead to false results.

    “In 1960, everyone was married – 88 percent of the upper middle class and 83 percent of the working class.”

    Who’s everyone? Is it just white people?

    “but it can only suffice a people habitually correct in their actions…”

    Not true. The Constitution is founded on the Moral Law, not on the deeds of peoples. Hence, even if gay marriage is legalized, it’s unconstitutional.

    “Change the domestic habits of the Americans, their religious devotion, and their high respect for morality, and it will not be necessary to change a single letter of the Constitution in order to vary the whole form of their government.

    Still not true. People can misread the Constitution, but they could not change the Government because the Constitution requires a certain form of Government.

    In effect, you’d have to make a new Constitution – which, ironically, some defenders of marriage, family and life are wanting to do.

    “If the family is not strong and continues to slide into disarray, we cannot continue as a strong nation and, like ancient Rome, will fade away. ”

    Rome fell for many reasons, not just the erosion of family. To try to compare America with Rome is futile, because it overlooks many smaller details of differences.

    For example, Rome was attacked by barbarians and the Emperor was adored as a god. Because of the Emperor cult, a lot of good things weren’t allowed. Because of attacks, much of the Empire fell.

    There is simply no comparison – to give some more examples – between 9/11 and barbarian attacks (a comparison founded on the sins of racism and rash judgment) and between the Emperor and President Obama (a comparison founded on the sin of calumny).

    I pray for the Holy Spirit to come into the hearts of the faithful to console us and make us truly wise.

    1. I think what needs to be said of America is this: There is evil which ought to be shunned, yet good which ought to be sought, and we must hope and trust in God.

    2. Well actually the Black family was intact in 1960 too at almost the same rates.

      In the end Nick I hear a lot of sed contra from you, but I not sure of your main point. If you reject all this, then what is your vision of what is wrong other than we lack wisdom?

      Also, I m not sure who is comparing terrorists to barbarians or the president to the emperor why you are pounding away at the race card so much.

      1. “In the end Nick I hear a lot of sed contra from you, but I not sure of your main point. If you reject all this, then what is your vision of what is wrong other than we lack wisdom?”

        My point is that the article is based on incomplete data. My vision of what is wrong is not a lack of wisdom – in the sense of human wisdom – but a lack of Jesus. That is why there is evil.

        “Also, I m not sure who is comparing terrorists to barbarians or the president to the emperor why you are pounding away at the race card so much.”

        I’ve heard certain Catholic apologists and bloggers make these claims. For example, Mark Shea calls Obama an arrogant king. Though I don’t want to gossip.

          1. Oh I know, I just wanted to give examples when I made my point. It’s my way of writing. ^_^;;;

  5. An interesting read. Perhaps one reason we often think that working class are more likely to be religious is that there are more of them than upper middle class. Therefore even if a smaller percentage have religion in their lives they might make up the majority of the people in the place of worship. While I was reading I kept thinking of G. K. Chesterton’s comment about if one breaks the big laws then what one ends up with is small laws.

  6. I wonder if a small part of the problem could be that people assume they can’t afford to get married, meaning they can’t afford a fancy wedding. Could we try to promote the idea that a wedding doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be beautiful and meaningful?

      1. Erica, I’m in agreement. I’ve heard this one so many times, and upon hearing it said to my face, I actually (rather pointedly) asked the person what on earth being able to afford a “big wedding” had to do with marriage.

        Nonetheless, I do wonder if there is a certain amount of resonance or cultural loadedness around the question of money and weddings when it comes to “church weddings.”

        As I prepare to marry in the Church, I’ve encountered both people who think that a “church wedding” (which from what I’m observing of some people’s attitudes isn’t necessarily the same as “being married in the Church”) ought to be as fancy as one can make it, and those who assume that the only reason why one would want such a thing is because one wants all the “fuss” that they so wisely avoided. At the risk of sounding tart, it seems to boil down to the differing levels of sentimentality that we’re prepared to both pay for and stomach.

        Though not entirely: I do wonder about the poorer couples who would like to get married in the Church, but who are afraid of doing so because they can’t afford the fee (Msgr. Pope, what does such a couple do in those circumstances?).

        At least from a Catholic perspective, the reason why a sacramental marriage doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be beautiful and meaningful is *because* of the sacrament: it can more than hold its own. It involves far more than– as per a lot of popular wedding-culture parlance– “reflecting the couple.”

      2. yesterday I read about a “mass” marriage ceremony in Denver, where 14 couples (who had been cohabitating and/or were wed in civil unions) were joined in holy matrimony. one of the reasons given for not having done so sooner was the expense of a big fancy wedding. but even so, there seemed to me a perverse sense of what’s important, based on one quote:
        “A week before the wedding, Jessica Dela Torre, 27, dished about her dress. While she said she didn’t have the average $20,000 or more it takes for a blow-out wedding of her own, she could spot $650 for a gown that’s been 11 years coming since meeting her fiancé Fidel Gonzalez, 31, father of her two children and another she’s expecting come July.” I would hope she gave the church a donation to help pay for the reception the parish provided for the couples. But forgive me, I suppose I am being judgmental.

  7. Mr. Murray seems to be pointing to a fundamental fault in mankind. Mankind seeks the easiest way out.

    It is much easier to accept lowered expectations and a government check if all we have to do is give up our claim on liberty.

    It is much easier to accept single parent status rather than seek out a mate that will commit to a joint and faithful life together.

    It is much easier to hold your head down and work hard after all this is really a statement about ones self. What I earn is MINE.

    The easy way out infected the Church long long ago.

    The Bishops opted for the easy way by trading their moral voices for 30 pieces of silver payable in the form of welfare.

    The Bishops opted for the easy way by ignoring Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Thus we have runaway single parenthood, promiscuity and abortion.

    The Bishops have been weak, weak, and weak in teaching the fundamentals of moral behavior. Take the few priests that have caused so much pain to the people they have abused. It took the secular law system to force visible corrective action onto the Bishops. Come to think of it that makes much sense. Since the Bishops sold their moral authority to the government then the only possibility of a demand for corrective action would have to come from the government.

    Society is in a mess because the leadership is in a mess. Our perfect leader Jesus must be really saddened to see His Church in such a mess.

    1. Well, as a priest I think we “middle managers” also have to share in the critique you offer. Too many priests and parish leaders have remained silent, or unclear in these times. I cannot overlook the fact that this whole decline has happened our our (my) watch. Being the popular, well-liked, unoffensive sort of priest has been too often chosen at the expense of a silence on moral issues, or at least a fuzziness that speaks in abstractions and generalities. I do remember growing up that I was told to be “more loving” more “forgiving” and the like. But I never remember be told many specifics.

      1. Thanks for your honesty, Msgr. Pope.

        What has been especially inspiring these days is discovering priests, both online and off, who will not go out of their way to be unpopular or offensive, but who sure don’t go out of their way to be popular, well-liked and unoffensive, either.

        Every time I see a priest pointedly but compassionately answer challenge for challenge as opposed to merely rolling over and saying “God bless you,” when someone is arrogant or rude to him, or just plain wrong (or all of the above), something inside me jumps for joy. At the very least, it’ll be a teachable moment for everyone involved. This is hardly antithetical to being “more loving” and more “forgiving.” I think the love and forgiveness comes out in those compassionate challenges– much like the best teachers and professors who refuse to dumb things down, lest they ultimately do their students a disservice.

        The Catholic faith is meaty. The faithful deserve a chance to get to sink their teeth into it. 😉

  8. Marriage is down because the crisis of our time is the collapse of sexual morality. As Fulton Sheen said “People say they leave the Church because the do not like transubstantiation, ( substitute your own theological quandary here.. ) but what they really do not like is the sixth commandment.” There are many reasons for this complete collapse but chief among them is an elephant in the room, the apostasy within the Church itself. This is not just something that applies to dissent, but goes to the core of Church. the problem is illustrated by an article written by Fr. Ron Rohleiser, President of the Oblate school of Theology in San Antonio Texas, He is responding to a question regarding how Christs death “saved us” and he selects the following quote from the Protestant theologian C. H. Dodd ( leaving aside the implied religious indifferent-ism of a Catholic Priest choosing to quote a Protestant Theologian on the nature of the redemption,) he states” As we revert to that moment, ( Christ’s death) it becomes contemporary and we are laid open to the
    creative energy perpetually working to make man after the image of God. The obedience of Christ is
    the release of creative power for the perfecting of human life. A decision taken by a great man or woman can alter every aspect of life, for the present and for all that comes after.” Hmm.. Well nothing in and of itself that is heretical but it is very different than what I learned in the Baltimore Catechism “By the Redemption is meant that Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer of the whole human race, offered His sufferings and death to God as a fitting sacrifice in satisfaction for the sins of men, and regained for them the right to be children of God and heirs of heaven.” Notice how the first explanation leaves out any mention of sin, personal or otherwise, it leaves out any mention of what we are “saved” from, ( ie Hell!) Since it leaves these things out it makes Christianity not just hard to believe, ( It was hard to believe 2000 years ago), but much worse, it makes it incoherent. After all Christ did not save us from death per se ( everyone still dies..) and I have no idea what a “release of creative power” means. As an experiment I asked my 16 year old son which passage he could understand. No surprise, the Baltimore catechism wins hands down. Oh sure one can deny it…. but at least its coherent enough to even reject. To paraphrase the physicist Wofgang Pauli, much of modern theology is “not even wrong” Rather it is incoherent gibberish. What does that have to do with the collapse of sexual morality? The connection is easy, much of what is preached today by the Church is similarly well intentioned gibberish… many of us hear our pastors or the newly minted deacon preach this kind of feel good nonsense ..”Jesus loves you where you are” Its all about recognizing how much God loves us…… Really, nothing in there about personal sin, repentance? Gehenna? Does that apply to the teenagers who kidnapped and tortured to death another teenager.. see this new report ). In effect any teenager or young adult who can look around them and see the mess that is the world will have no use for this. It is pap, and it is not attractive, let alone the stuff someone would get martyred over ! But in reality this what the post Vatican II church has largely become. It is what another Protestant Theologian, Bonhoffer, might have described as the dispenser of “cheap grace” . As Bonhoffer puts it “”cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” From here the reason for the collapse of marriage is obvious, sexual sins, fornication, adultery, contraception, remain great temptations. Their consequences of even more grievous sins, abortion, child abandonment, abuse, ( often abused children are abused by the lovers of their single parents,) are the inevitable consequences, and poverty the temporal punishment for sin. They are probably especially attractive to the devil as they undermine the first unit of society ( the family) and as such lay the ground for further mortal sin later, and ultimately the damnation of souls, which of course is the devils objective. (When was the last time a priest used that phrase? ) But St Paul tells us in scripture (Ephesians 6:12) “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Very unfashionable, but supposedly inspired word of God nonetheless.. Until this is recognized the downward slide will be inexorable.

    1. I think you have well stated a lot of the fundamental problem we face in the Church today. Good news is only coherent and compelling if we first understand the bad news. Grace, redemption, salvation, mercy and forgiveness all presuppose the reality of sin. But they are often preached without having set forth the antecedent. And, as you well point out, things become quite incoherent

  9. Excellent analysis Msgr. Pope. I think another large contributor to the decline in society is the way people constantly entertain themselves (movies, music, internet, cell phones, etc.), thus avoiding any quiet time whereby they may actually start to use their minds and, perhaps accidentally, find themselves pondering God. I think the devil likes it when we keep a lot of noise in our heads and we seem too willing to accommodate him. I have questions regarding two of your comments: ‘too many pastors, catechists and leaders seem to emphasize not offending’ and ‘there is still too much silence from Catholic pulpits as a whole’. Why is that the case? Seriously, what is at the very root of this very harmful attitude? Do you think there will ever be a universal change in the Church? After all, Jesus wasn’t afraid of offending those who needed to be corrected. so why do we have so many priests thinking they’ve found a better way? Sometimes it feels too lonely being a Catholic; lonely within my own Church. I always feel as if I’m being told “Well that’s nice – you be good, but we’re going to bend the rules for others.” No one seems to be concerned about offending me! I don’t get it, and I sure don’t like it. But I thank God for priests like you!

    1. Well I think the root of it is an over-reaction by the clergy ordained in the 1970s and 80s to the rather strict and fearsome sermons that we the more usual fare in the 1950s and early 60s. It was thought that a kinder, gentler approach was needed to encourage people to come to Church. Honey attracts more flies than vinegar was a common refrain I have heard from men of that era. And, as younger priests came along in the late 80s and beyond who wanted to preach with clarity and even risk a little offense, the older clergy often pressured them away from this. But gradually I see things changing and more and more of the clergy ordained after 1990 begin to take up pastorates and even become bishops. I think something of a correction of the over-correction is underway. Here too we don’t want to over-over correct and return to the overly casuistic and mechanistic notions of moral theology of the 1950s that led to the over-correction we are experiencing today. There were problems with the approach of some preachers and how they were trained in the 1950s that would not be proper to return to since they often neglected a fuller treatment of Catholic moral theology.

  10. Father, I don’t see how the welfare system, in itself, rewards bad behaviour and punishes good. It seems to me to be a relatively simple system which assists the poor whether they make moral life decisions or immoral ones, much as the sun shines on the good and the bad alike. As you rightly say, if we change our lives, then we won’t need to change the system.

    Also, I can personally attest, as beneficiary of welfare, that the system encourages me to work. As a part time worker, it lets me keep my earnings without taking away soc. sec. benefits. But even if I were able to sustain a full time job that pays a living wage, I would still need help, month to month, with the staggering medical costs. Seeing how the general trend in business is to cut both wages and benefits, it would be crazy for me to consider getting off of Medicare/Medicaid.

    1. I am speaking of the Marriage provision in the welfare system which pays women more if they are single mothers than if they are married. If a husband is present the family gets less money. This is the perverse aspect of Welfare as I describe it.

      1. Sorry, I presumed that you were speaking in general terms about welfare.

        But I would like to address your point. Of course, a culture which encourages single motherhood must be opposed. But I would suppose that, in order to provide for her children, a single mother will need more help than a married one. And so I can just as easily see this as a question of meeting a real need with real support. Since there is the raising of a child involved, there wouldn’t appear to be anything intrinsically evil about this.

        1. Let me say that better. It is not intrinsically evil to give more support to a single mother. Such assistance can be separated from encouraging single motherhood in general.

          1. If we subsidize something we are going to get more of it. And sure enough we DO have more of it. The single motherhood phenomenon is over 80% of households in inner city neighborhoods. It was never this high in the 1930s to the 1960s when, arguably, the poor lived in worse conditions than they do today. Until 1960, the single motherhood rate was not over 20% and the Black family was largely intact. There is a cause for this steep decline and welfare is a huge part of it. Social policy needs more than good intentions, it needs to be more than just “not intrinsically evil” We need to look at actual results, actual impacts when assessing social policy. This side effect, even if unintended, must be addressed. As early as 1969 Daniel Patrick Moynihan was raising questions about the role of the Government in the demise of the Black family that began after 1960 with expansive govt welfare. It is a serious and disastrous effect.

          2. I know that you have more knowledge of this than I do. But my idealogical solution would be to dismantle that which is intrinsically evil before dismantling that which is not. If it is not evil, then it is probably not as big a concern as we might think. And, by itself, it will probably not do too much harm in the long term.

  11. “…balancing the budget is the easy part…” I beg to differ on this point. I don’t believe Congress will get to a balanced budget until people are willing to deny themselves and others the goodies that are now ladled out by the federal government. That will take a significant increase in self-control among the electorate, and I see no real indication that such a change will happen in the near-term or mid-term in the USA. In addition, one has to point to the increasingly disruptive social upheavals being forced upon the population of the USA. A case in point just occurred: the beating BY two girls (aged 18 and 14) in a Baltimore McDonald’s of a 22-year-old MAN who was cross-dressed as a woman and who was using the women’s bathroom. Originally, the cross-dressing detail was unknown, and everyone was writing this incident off as girl-on-girl violence and a simple indication of the growing coarseness of US society. But now that the cross-dressing detail has come to light, the homosexual/transvestite subculture is taking up the cause of the cross-dressing. The reason for the assault is not clear at this time, since only the cross-dresser’s side of the story (to my knowledge) has been publicized (he said he was accused of making a pass at someone else’s boyfriend – on the other hand, it could be that one of the teenaged girls was upset at using the women’s bathroom and finding a cross-dressed man in it, too). But the idea that a man can dress as a woman and use the women’s bathroom is a “right” the liberals/progressives insist on (and it is the law in Montgomery County, Maryland!) This type of incident will only become more frequent the greater the social re-engineers become in power – the tradition-oriented population in the USA cannot long endure such fundamental debasements of its near-instinctive moral values. Something WILL give, and it will not be pretty when it happens. I do not look forward to that day – I merely point out the obvious.

    1. Well, I think you miss the hyperbolic irony in the opening quote. I see it as a bit more tongue in cheek. I too have thought there was a lot more to this story than a “hate-crime.” I too wonder what right a cross dresser thinks they have to use public restroom of the opposite sex. I am not aware of all the details, but I am feeling under served and manipulated by the media when I hear it.

      1. First, a distinction: the person who was attacked is transgender, not a cross-dresser – there is a technical difference (the introductions to the Wikipedia articles on transgender and cross-dressing give a good explanation of the difference:

        Second, allow me to be frank: your reaction seems remarkably callous. Jon and Msgr. Pope, you seem more concerned with the sex designation of the restroom than the fact that someone was brutally beaten for no remotely justifiable reason. Whether Chrissy Polis was beaten because her attackers thought she was in the wrong restroom or because she was flirting with someone’s boyfriend hardly matters. Either way, the crime was vicious and the reason was senseless. Your comments, however, seem to blame mostly the victim and use her as an example of the moral decline of America. The statement, “I too wonder what right a cross dresser thinks they have to use public restroom of the opposite sex” says to me that she brought this beating on herself for being so presumptuous about which bathroom she’s allowed to use.

        Please tell me I’ve read you wrong.

        1. But was it a hate crime and are we being played by people with other agendas? It is wrong that anyone gets beaten up, but I sense there are other agendas at work here as well. It is THAT to which I object. I also, frankly, object to being required to know the difference between a cross-dresser and a transgendered person. You don’t get to sit in some morally superior position just because you are theoretically enlightened as to these fine distinctions and are somehow, thereby, more sensitive. How about the rest of us who have had it up to here with having to swallow all these agendas, and have forced upon us all these required sensitivities to things. Things that seem not only mystifying, but also, just plain disordered.

          You dismiss being in the wrong restroom as of no account. I don’t even know if that was the case but if it was, that IS insensitive and unsettling to others who are required to put up with the confusion of others and seemingly say or do nothing. Your sensitivity seems very selective to me. If people choose to live aberrant life styles in a public way, that doesn’t justify them getting beaten up. But, neither does it justify your holier-than-thou attitude toward those of us who question this sort of lifestyle.

          I think it is you who are being “remarkably callous.” Merely because your cause is politically correct does not make it actually correct. Your insistence on remaking the world and insisting that the rest of us march in lockstep is remarkably callous to me. I repeat, I regret if anyone is beaten, but I also don’t like being played and I strongly suspect that this story has been hijacked and that we are being played by others who are turning it in to a referendum on cross-dressing or transgendering or what ever the latest “proper” description is. Consider please the possibility of your own “remarkable callousness.”

          1. Was it a hate crime? I can’t say for sure because I don’t know what was going through the minds of the attackers. But I’d be willing to bet the fact that Polis is transgender had something to do with it. Now, you object to having to know the difference between a cross-dresser and a transgender person? I’m sorry you object, but the fact is those two terms aren’t interchangeable. This isn’t about moral superiority, this is about getting the facts right. We can argue about morality, but if we don’t even understand the terms we’re using, we can’t possibly form a cogent argument.

            I do “dismiss being in the wrong restroom as of no account” because it isn’t clear that Polis was in the wrong restroom. Perhaps you aren’t aware of this, but which public restroom to use often poses a huge problem for transgender people (and I’m not faulting you here; many people aren’t aware of this because very little attention is usually given to it in the wider community.) Which bathroom would have been “correct” for Polis is a very difficult question, one which perhaps even she struggles with.

            I didn’t intend to sound holier-than-thou, and I honestly apologize if I did. There’s nothing wrong with “question[ing] this sort of lifestyle,” (for the record, I don’t think “lifestyle” is the best word to describe a transgender person, but that’s another matter,) but it’s important to always maintain respect for the people whom you are talking about. I was disturbed by the seeming lack of compassion shown to Polis here. Yes, you made it clear that it is wrong for someone to get beaten up, but in your repeated questioning of whether she was in the “right” bathroom, you imply that Polis was at least partly to blame here.

            Finally, concerning agendas and remarkable callousness: the only “agenda” at work here is the promotion of love, respect, and acceptance for EVERYONE. Even if you believe one’s “lifestyle” is “aberrant,” you still have to treat them with the proper respect and dignity intrinsic to every person. We can debate whether something is morally permissible or not, but we can’t simply clap our hands over our ears and refuse to understand others. That is callousness. If I am guilty of that, then please set me straight.

          2. I am glad to hear you admit that you don’t really know. And if you don’t know, why make the accusation. Is it possible that your accusation wherein you are “willing to bet that transgender has something to do with it” is itself a bigoted and unwarrented statement? As far as getting facts straight, why don’t you do that before making accusations.

            It is too bad that a “transgendered” person is confused as to which bathroom to use, but that is why they need help and why this is not a legitmate alternative lifestyle. THere is something very wrong psychologically. I have already told you that I am not sure if this was even the cause of the fracas but will reiterate that if someone is confused about what bathroom to use, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to adjust. It means the confused person needs to seek help.

            I am disturbed by YOUR lack of understanding, compassion and respect for the rest of us who have to endure these endless demands that we accept and make room for what are clearly disordered behaviors. And then, on top of it we have to endure all the name calling that ensues when we don’t just smile and pretend nothing is wrong: bigot, homophobe, intolerant, insensitive etc….etc… al. Do you not have any decency to direct toward the rest of us who are daily demanded to accept these things and called names when we are troubled by it?

            I’m not feeling a lot of love from you Jeremy and have usually found that demands for respect, love, tolerance and acceptance are a pretty one-way street.

          3. I can see we won’t be able to resolve the hate crime question. I think it’s likely given the facts we do know about the case, but the ones we don’t know could indicate otherwise. Given insufficient information, I suggest we put this particular debate to rest.

            Now, though, we’re getting into transgender philosophy. I’m hardly an expert; you’d surely get much better answers from someone who actually is transgender, but I’ll try to address your point. Once again, I’d like to encourage you to read the introduction to the Wikipedia article on Transgender because it gives a very good overview. This definition is particularly relevant: “Transgender is the state of one’s ‘gender identity’ (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s ‘assigned sex’ (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex).” Of course, things are always more complex than a one-sentence definition, but the point I’d like to stress is that “transgender” isn’t an action or a lifestyle, it’s a state of being – a property of a person, not a way in which a person lives his or her life. The “lifestyle” to which I think you’re referring is an expression of an identity.

            Before I move on, I just want to repeat: I’ve provided a very simplified picture of what it means to be transgender. I have neither the space here nor the expertise to fully explore the issue. But just be aware that this is far more complicated than simply being “confused about what bathroom to use.”

            Love an compassion IS a two-way street, and, as you rightly point out, far too many members of the LGBT community have an extreme knee-jerk reaction to opposition. Words like “bigot” and “homophobe” get thrown around far too often, and I stand squarely against that. Please, don’t judge us all by the harshest (and often the loudest) among us.

            So if you are troubled by this, by all means, speak up. But when you tell a trangender person, “your behavior is disordered,” you must expect a strong reaction. After all, that’s a very personal comment, and it has an air of combativeness. People don’t usually respond well to being called “disordered.” That by no means justifies outrageous name-calling. But remember that some things aren’t as self-evidently true (or, in your words, “clearly disordered,”) as you seem to believe. People are more complicated than that, and you can’t make an accurate judgment about them if you don’t fully understand them.

        2. Jeremy,
          I support your sense of the “remarkable” callousness of this. IN addition to a lack of sensitivity to the victim of a beating, the tone of the entire entry seems to say that “the poor” are to a large extent responsible for their own plight due to their sexual immorality, laziness, and irreligiosity. It is obviously a popular sentiment among readers of this blog, as evidenced by most of the comments, but seems more about politics than faith. I think at the very least this subject deserves some reference to the rich Tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. The Catholic approach to poverty is much more nuanced than this.

          1. Of all the people that comment here Daniel it is you who are the most hypercritical, harsh and judgemental. I am not even going to bother to defend myself much to you, since nothing ever satisfies you. I don’t need to demonstrate my credentials to you, I have a good track record in working with the poor and it speaks for itself.

            I would encourage you to consider that what you most accuse others of you actually do yourself. All you ever do is critcize. and I invite you to reflect on your own callousness and broken record quality. You zero in on one point and forget the distinctions that were made in the article (that this information is about the working class, not the poor, and about the upper middle class, not the rich).

            You also negelct to comment on the good number of articles in this blog written by me where we have discssued Catholic Social Teaching and yours truly has been well criticized by the more conservative readers. In those articles you never wrote to support, because it seems all you want to do is criticize. You are broken record, and for all your concern about tone, it is you who have the most sour, judgemental and negative tone of all who comment here. You have surely learned well the role of court critic.

  12. May God bless you, Monsignor!

    You mentioned the “moral life of the very rich”. It is a source of true fear for me to watch how the very rich are, generally, so immoral and/or amoral: so fearlessly, proudly, radically, recklessly so. Eye of a needle. I would never vote for Donald Trump because for me he represents just this sort of way of living, the “non servium” of Lazarus’s rich man.

    Regarding the general lack of religiosity: how disappointing it is for me as a relatively young person to see at Mass all the gray-haired around me unable to recite, with Father, the prayer to St. Michael Archangel: the woodstock people are now covered in the patina of aged respectability but it is mere illusion. They have never even learned it.

    I noticed that on Easter, TCM played the hippy movie godspell. I was wondering at Mass that day how many of those I just mentioned would be pleasantly surprised to get home and find it. Right up their ambered alley.

    1. It is remarkable how the 60s generation has aged! As you point out, however, many of them, not all, never left behind some of their radical ideas. It is good though that some of them still make it to Church! I suppose like all generations they are a diverse lot. Further, they, like me as well were poorly catechized. I was only 8 when woodstock and the “summer of love” out West was going on. But I can tell you, it was a a time of very poor catechesis and a time of pitching overboard some very essential stuff.

  13. “Mr. Murray focuses his data on White America only to avoid the sticky wicket of race politics that so often clouds a conversation on social and moral trends that are wider than race.”

    Sure, that must be the reason. *cough*

  14. I’m afraid you are right. Though even the good are not relieved of their crosses and Christ never preached the gospel of prosperity. And even an upright and religious people God can suffer many calamities ranging from upheveals of nature to invasion and enslavement. The cross will always be there. But you can’t expect anything good to happen if you don’t have God on your side.

  15. It is more than just a decrease in the number of married people that has contributed to the breakdown in our society..

    The number of serial relationships, with and/or without the formality of marriage, in or out of a church, must have a devastating impact upon the children in those relationship. And more and more of those relationship are showing a sexual diversity that serves to create confusion for the child.

    Additionally, here must be many children out there, in all the classes, who have come under the influence of a dozen or more “parents” and have many step-brothers and -sisters.

    1. Yes, this is surely important in spelling out the problems of the decreasing marriage rate, for it is paired with an increasing “alternative” arrangement scenario that many kids have to endure.

  16. The role of women has changed dramatically, due to both contraception and federal laws affecting the family. The combination of the Pill, liberal divorce laws, welfare benefits that favor the absence of marriage, tax laws that do not index the child exemption for inflation and favor the rich over the working class (Warren Buffett recognizes that he pays a lower tax rate than his cleaning ladies, but does not seem bothered to do anything to change that), and the need/desire for women to work outside the home, the availability and participation in pornography–all these things contribute to the struggles families face. As a stay at home mother, I see how women want to “have it all,” but that really means a token family, if they have children at all. Many young girls are quite conflicted about what path they should pursue; there is very little support in their lives for that of wife and mother.

    My husband left his federal job to start his own business, recognizing that his job was not important in a down-sizing scenario. We struggle economically–private health insurance costs plenty, and we go to the doctor for only the most urgent care, there are no vacations, no home improvements, or even dinner dates. But we have grown closer as a family and know that we have to stick together in order to survive.

    We are frustrated with our government and our society. It is not enough to blame government, because Americans elected the Congress and the President. No one wants to be held accountable for their actions in any class of society. Individual rights trump the common good.

    What keeps me going is my faith, knowing that God in His providence will care for us. God knows; God sees; God hears our prayers.

  17. …problem is that the rich have sold the poor mans job to a foreign country for a profit.

    1. And then there is the bank bailout. Wall Street and the banks are profitable. The middle class is shrinking, losing out to powerful economic and political interests from Congress, big business, the banks, Wall Street, lobbyists, politicians from any political party and at any level of government. But many Americans are only working to support worthless entertainment–whether it is time in front of the TV, the major sport of the season, or shopping 24X7. By the time people think to riot as is happening in other countries, the government will have taken away so many of our rights that our nation will collapse into some form of dictatorship. After all, the government is getting away with invasive TSA screening without a peep from most Americans. Without God, there is no ray of hope for our nation.

  18. Could the phenomenon of low church attendance among the working poor have to do with something other than a breakdown of morality? A lot of poor people have to work multiple jobs in order to survive, and most of those jobs require working on Sundays. I know that my job sometimes requires working on Sundays, and if I had more than one job that required such hours I’d probably have a hard time making it to church too (I’m fortunate in that my schedule allows me to attend Mass early and still make it to work on time). When you are well off you can pick and choose what jobs will fit around your worship schedule, but when you’re desperate for work to feed your family you can’t always be so discriminating. I worked for several years for a non-profit organization in Southeast DC, and I would say that most of the poor people I encountered acted as if they believed in and worshiped God.

    As for welfare encouraging bad behavior, that may have been true in the past but it isn’t now. TANF (aka Welfare, formerly known as AFDC) stands for Temporary Aid for Needy Families, and the “temporary” part is the most important. You can only receive TANF benefits for five years in your entire life, and once you reach that limit you can never receive them again no matter how needy you are. In return for that five years of assistance, you have to constantly prove that you’re looking for work or else risk losing the benefits. If you have children and don’t have any family or friends to watch them while you’re going on the required job interviews, then keeping your benefits can often cost more than the amount of the benefits themselves (welfare benefits don’t even provide enough for rent, for a single parent with one child it’s $378 a month and only goes up by $96 per child…that’s not even minimum wage). If anything, receiving TANF makes even a minimum wage job look high-paying and non-stressful by comparison. In fact, if Welfare has any negative impact on good behavior it is only because the benefits are so low and the requirements so high that it cultivates despair and makes recipients think that maybe it would be preferable to just go without rather than jump through hoops for a payout that doesn’t even pay the bills.

  19. Msgr. Charles Pope, thank you for making yourself available to us and illuminating God’s presence in our lives.

    With a thorough analysis of the problem discussed above, I offer a possible solution that will begin to turn us back to God and ultimately restoring our dignity. The solution actually follows a lead from David Orr’s book titled “Earth in Mind”. In that book he is addressing problems of abuse of the natural world and lack of civility and working together. He asserts that these are a result of how we instruct students from kindergarten to Ph.D. to be self-centered, self-sufficient and even aggressive in order to make sure one comes up on top.

    His recommendation is to restructure curriculum found from kindergarten to Ph.D and weave the values of taking care of the natural world and becoming a part of solving our civic and community needs. To broaden that recommendation in the form of an example, one can teach english, math, writing, art, science, etc. and weave real life experiences that deepens ones appreciation of the importance of preserving the natural world and supporting your community and country. We can add to these the values of developing a strong family and living a absolute moralistic life under guidance of love and wisdom.

    I am not naive of the challenge that presents. I do take as inspiration in that the son of man found twelve no name apostles, instructed them and sent them into the world to spread his word. That word eventually toppled the longest reigning empire on the earth and continues to make its way after 2,000 years in spite of the weakness and frailty of human kind.

    Let’s pray that God sends us his grace to keep his work inflamed in our hearts.

  20. Although secularization has long been on the rise, it’s more pronounced in the working class. Among the upper middle class, 42 percent say they either don’t believe in God or don’t go to church. In the working class, it’s 61 percent. In other words, a majority of the upper middle class still has some religious commitment, while a majority of the working class does not.

    Now this is very paradoxical to some I am sure. I happened to discover the truth of this …their disconnectedness from others. Churches, among other social functions, serve to knit people together in a socially supportive structure. Having severed themselves from such a community, the poor were even more vulnerable.

    Here too, government welfare has had a deleterious effect since many of the poor look to an impersonal government for “the check” rather than to others around them. The advantage of course is that the Government doesn’t ask too many questions or insist upon weekly attendance at services or social functions.

    I did not see or experience these poor as atheists in any way. But religion and faith were simply not a big part of their lives. …

    It would seem that the trend of irreligiosity has also reached the working class in higher proportions too. Some will tie this to bad work schedules and the like, rooted in the fact that everything is open on Sundays now. But most churches have a wide variety of things on the schedule including Saturday evening masses, Sunday evening Masses, mid-week bible studies and the like. The fact is people in general are more secular, and this does not bode well for them of for this country as a whole.

    As a person who works for a labor union, it’s hard for me to fault someone for defending the good work of their profession, Msgr. Pope.

    But I would ask you to seriously think about what I find among working class American Catholics. I think in the last generation we have been almost pastorally abandoned by the Catholic Church. The American church had escaped what Pope Pius XII cried out to Father Daniel Cardijn (a saintly man who labored tirelessly to evangelize workers) – that the Catholic Church had failed to pastorally care for workers and (speaking in the 1930s) now suffers for that mistake. It was true in Europe. Whole cities emerged out of the industrial revolution and church leaders could not be bothererd with establishing new parishes.

    In the past 20 years of work with my union I have noticed that more and more workers who were raised Catholic coming to their shop steward to talk and, sometimes quickly and sometimes after a lot of preliminary jawboning, it becomes apparent they don’t so much have a workplace grievance, but they have a personal or spiritual problem and have no one else to turn to. Increasing the evidence to me has been that it’s not they have left the Church but the Church has left them. Pastors are unavailable. Churches in blue collar neighborhoods are closed. Parish activities are oriented to white collar professionals. Here in Washington, DC we have the John Carroll Society for Catholic professionals and the Montgomery Country Catholic Business Network for company bosses. I get stuff in the mail from the Archdiocese to attend this or that event and spend time with the clergy and bishops but I can tell from the mailing label that it comes from the list of Catholic benefactors. Priests refer to young people over 18 and then some as “college students” blind to the fact that 3/4ths of Catholics never earn a college degree. I’m not saying the Carroll Society and college campus ministry are not great apostolates. But what does the church do for the lower middle class? For non-college young people? What diocese sends its least able priests to rich suburban parishes and it greatest pastors to blue collar parishes?

    Among those I talk to, I don’t find they rejected the Church. In find the church and her pastors only had the most distant relationship with them. Some have been lost to irreligion and others have joined Protestant churches where they live in bliss at the personal, pastoral care they get.

    I hate to get into the issue of the new Mass translation and I have no strong opinions on it for myself, but has anyone seriously studied its potential impact on the evangelization of working class families?

    I know I’ve rambled on too long, but I really think this is the #1 issue facing the Catholic Church.

    1. These are all very good points. Though I might say that the John Carroll Society etc were all established by lay people taking initiative to organize themselves. They are not so much a Church organization as a lay organization of Catholics who have established themselves and then ask for recognition by the Bishops and ministry from priests. As for blue collar workers, they are surely free to do the same. I had often thought that the Knights of Columbus appealed to a wide socioeconomic group. There are also other similar groups. But, in the end I would encourage you to consider forming a group and engaging local clergy. I am not sure it is fair to say that the Church has left the working class. I am not even sure what this means. It is a fact that Catholics, as a group are far more socially affluent than they were 100 years ago. So. perhaps we less focused on working conditions etc. But here too, I would encourage you to get organized and draw in the local clergy. The Church is not the clergy per se, it is all of us. Groups like John Carroll exist primarily because of lay leadership and lay energy. In my own parish we have several knights and Ladies Auxiliary groups. We also have a Chapter of the Washington Interfaith Network that directs its attention to Catholic Social Teaching, affordable housing, jobs, working conditions. Through this group we also have affiliation with several labor unions. Not sure you live in the DC area, but if so we can always use concerned souls such as you in the battle. Here too, WIN is largely lay-driven but they engage us clergy at critical moments, and call on our prayer, teaching, and to be a public face. Here is a little video I did on some of our organizing work:

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