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Francis effect? Wait till next year

Written by Peter Smith on .

ocd 2014The annual Catholic statistics are in -- but only for the year 2012. So we still don't know if there's a "Francis effect," according to Mark Gray at research central for all things Catholic in this country -- the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

He reviews the latest data in "The Official Catholic Directory Anno Domini 2014," which also landed on my desk with a thud in recent days. (The book may be sturdier.) It includes comprehensive stats on membership, sacramental participation and other spiritual vital signs, submitted by parishes in 2013, when Francis was elected pope amid much anecdotage about his populist manner prompting people to return to church after long absences. But the stats submitted by parishes are from 2012, in the last days of the Benedict XVI era.

But what can we learn from these stats?

In Pittsburgh, most of these numbers are flat or down from the 2013 report. Numbers of Catholics (634,910), infant baptisms (4,818) and confirmations (3,005) are about equal to the year before. But significant declines happened in first communions (5,442, down 10 percent) and church marriages (1,786, down 7 percent), and given the relatively elderly population overall, it's notable that there were 2 percent fewer church funerals (7,453) than the year before. 

Such numbers are hardly surprising for an older, urban diocese in the North or Midwest.

Statistician Gray, taking the national look, says church growth in the Sunbelt, particularly fueled by immigration, has boosted Catholic numbers since the year 2000. The ranks of Catholics overall are up nationally whether measured by parish registration, self-identification or even weekly Mass attendance, which is up by 2.6 million this century.

At the same time, other sacramental participation from birth to death is declining -- baptisms, marriage, etc. Partly, Mr. Gray writes, that could have to do with Catholic immigrants arriving having experienced some sacraments in their homelands.

Elementary Catholic school enrollment, historically a prime force in forming young Catholics, is down, although Catholic college enrollment is soaring. 

Also, numbers are up for men studying for and being ordained to the priesthood -- just not nearly enough to make up for the departures of older priests to death and retirement.

Deacons and lay ministers are increasing, while religious brothers and sisters are declining.

This good news, bad news mix is a national phenomenon. Locally, virtually all numbers are down from early this century.

By the time Francis shows up in Philadelphia next year, as is expected, we'll know whether his early papacy had any immediate effect -- and by that time we'll be wondering whether it's had an enduring effect. But as we close the books on the Benedict era, it's worth remembering that even a charismatic pope can't overcome vast demographic forces such as birthrates and immigration.

 

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What would Reinhold say?

Written by Peter Smith on .

Granted, the Supreme Court didn't presume to say that corporations can have souls.

But in its ruling on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, granting religious-liberty protections to family-controlled companies, it brought to mind what the late great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said about individual versus group morality:

"As individuals, men believe they ought to love and serve each other and establish justice between each other. As racial, economic and national groups they take for themselves, whatever their power can command."

 

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Group: Allow more married Eastern Catholic priests

Written by Peter Smith on .

An influential group of Catholics and Orthodox has called for an end to restrictions on married priests in Eastern Catholic churches in North America -- an issue that has long vexed church relations in Pennsylvania and beyond, and that resonates in the wider debate over the potential for married Catholic priests.

The statement came from the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, an official ecumenical body that has been meeting since the 1960s, holding dialogues, issuing statements and studying relations between the two ancient church groups.

Eastern Catholics occupy a middle place between their two worlds -- following Orthodox-style liturgy and devotion but loyal to papal authority and Catholic dogma. As with Orthodox priests, their priests have been allowed to marry in the churches' Old World homelands, mainly in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But tensions arose between immigrant Slavic and other Eastern Catholics and their Irish and other Roman Catholic neighbors in North America, and Latin rite bishops succeeded in persuading the Vatican in 1929 to rule that Eastern priests living permanently in North America must be celibate.

That decree prompted some to leave Eastern Catholicism for Orthodoxy. The American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese in Johnstown, Pa., traces its roots to that split. Eastern Catholic branches prominent in this region include the Byzantine Catholic Archeparchy of Pittsburgh and numerous Ukrainian Catholic churches.

In more recent years, some married Eastern rite priests have received church approval to serve in North America on an individual basis.

The Consulation's statement, noting the 85th anniversary of the 1929 decree, cited documents of the Second Vatican Council, which affirmed the married priesthood in Eastern Catholic rites and the ability of such priests to fulfill vocations of both married and pastoral life.

The statement said:

 

"With these things in mind, the North American Orthodox/Catholic Theological Consultation encourages the lifting of the restrictions regarding the ordination of married men to the priesthood in the Eastern Catholic Churches of North America.  This action would affirm the ancient and legitimate Eastern Christian tradition, and would assure the Orthodox that, in the event of the restoration of full communion between the two Churches, the traditions of the Orthodox Church would not be questioned. We are convinced that this action would enhance the spiritual lives of Eastern Catholics and would encourage the restoration of unity between Catholic and Orthodox Christians."

 

The statement comes shortly after Pope Francis made news, when asked about the possibility of married priests filling the depleted ranks of clergy in Western clergy, by saying that celibacy is a church discipline that can be changed rather than an immutable dogma.

In addition to married Eastern Catholic priests, the Vatican has also allowed for married Anglican and some other Protestant clergy who convert to Catholicism to become priests while remaining married. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gay marriage ruling follows popular opinion

Written by Peter Smith on .

They say the Supreme Court "follows th' iliction returns," and it's a safe bet that judges follow poll results, too.

Last year's Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage -- invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act and allowing gay marriage to remain legal in California -- all but guaranteed the cascade of rulings in lower federal court in recent months, including yesterday's invalidating Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage in Pennsylvania.

The commonwealth was the last state in the Northeast with a same-sex marriage ban still standing. If news of the decision seems somewhat anticlimactic, that could be because so many such rulings have come down, they've become almost routine. They say that when a man bites a dog, it's news, but when a dog bites a man, it isn't (although it is for the man being bitten.) 

Nationwide, some 55 percent of people now support same-sex marriage, including nearly 80 percent (!) of adults under 30, according to Gallup. By 2011, a majority of Pennsylvanians did, too, and a Franklin & Marshall College Poll in January found 57 percent now supporting same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III did more than rule on the legal issues. He waxed poetic from the opening sentence -- "Today, certain citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are not guaranteed the right to marry the person they love" -- to his conclusion that the marriage ban belongs on the "ash heap of history." 

Sooner or later, we'll find out if the Supreme Court, also known as Justice Anthony Kennedy, intended for Jones and other federal judges to interpret Kennedy's DOMA ruling the way they have been -- that states' denying marriage to same-sex couples is demeaning and discriminatory.

When Massachusetts' top court ruled that way a decade ago, such sentiments ran counter to popular opinion. Today, Judge Jones can probably expect to get more than a few amens.

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