Is Catholicism Fading? (Three Staggering Words …)


Ruins of Cathedral Kildare 1835

1835 picture of ruins of Catholic Cathedral in Kildare, Ireland


I am staggered.

In keeping up with Church affairs, I firmly believe in reading views on both the left and the right. Thus, it is that I regularly peruse Crux – an American site of decidedly liberal reportage.

Looking at Crux this morning, I see a banner of so-called ‘Hot Topics’. Amongst them: ‘Women in the Church’, ‘Palestinian State’, ‘Death Penalty Paradox’ …

Here is the other one:

‘Is Catholicism Fading?’

Following the link to this particular ‘Hot Topic’ takes one to a page concerning a recent relatively small decline in American Catholicism – since 2007.

Is Catholicism Fading?

Good Lord – what is one to say to these people?!

For, truly, this drop in Catholic numbers is very, very minor in terms of the bigger picture in America and elsewhere in the West.

Indeed, in America it is only the immigrant population that has kept Catholic numbers afloat in recent decades. In terms of the non-immigrant population, Catholicism in America has not been fading, but nose-diving – for decades.

And yet Crux can only frame the statement with a question mark: Is Catholicism Fading?

I repeat: I am staggered.

How can a site like Crux pose such a question – and keep a straight face?

I am in Ireland, not America. But were I in America, speaking Americanisms, I fancy I would say: ‘Time to wake up and smell the coffee!’

High-time after more than fifty years. Here I insert a small fragment from my upcoming book which speaks to these things:

It was only after Vatican II that Catholicism began collapsing: Only then came the mass exodus of priests, religious and laity alike; only then vocations plummeted – along with conversions, baptisms and confirmations.

There is also the terrible plight of the Sacrament of penance – the consequences of which are undoubtedly far graver than is commonly appreciated. For Catholics who have been absolved are very different from those who are not absolved …

But what of the period before the Church began flirting with de- sacralisation?

Before the Council, the Church was robust in ways often forgotten today.

Now, it is true that, in certain parts of the world, the Church was in decline before Vatican II. In France, certainly there was decline. But as we shall see later, France was a special – and truly ugly – case: French Catholicism had been persecuted for generations.

Elsewhere, the situation was very different. In places like Ireland, Poland and Italy, the Church was vigorous – not to mention Latin America, Africa and other parts of the planet which still benefitted from the intense missionary zeal which existed prior to Vatican II.

But most remarkably, it was in the Anglo-American world, where Catholicism had been weak, that the faith was growing – that is, until the Council. Thus, 1959 represented the high-point for English conversions.

And 1960 has been commonly regarded as the zenith of American Catholicism. For in 1960, the unthinkable happened in America. Prior to then, it was ‘received wisdom’ Americans would never accept a Catholic president. But that November, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was narrowly elected. As Charles R. Morris points out, Kennedy’s election manifested the growing Catholicisation of the United States, which proceeded right up till the 1960s.

According to Morris, the trend was so noticeable as to alarm the Protestant majority, which expressed noticeable fear regarding Catholic progress.

Then, the Council came and afterwards the Church began rapidly losing ground in American life …

What can I say? No-one is expressing fear about Catholic progress today!

Friends, friends at Crux and friends elsewhere, there is only one major place I know of where Catholicism is demonstrably not fading. That is Africa.

Nearly everywhere else I see fading at best …

And in America and the so-called developed world, free fall is nearer the mark.

What more can I say?

I think I shall simply close by citing the controversial, widely-criticised Malachi Martin writing nearly thirty years ago in the mid-1980s.

For whatever else one thinks of Martin, Martin was clearly awake to things which – even thirty years later – the good people at Crux seem fast asleep to:

[After Vatican II] attendance at Mass immediately declined, and within ten years was down by 30 percent in the United States, 60 percent in France and Holland, 50 percent in Italy, 20 percent in England and Wales.

Within another ten years, 85 percent of all Catholics in France, Spain, Italy, and Holland never went to Mass.

Seminary populations plummeted. In Holland, 2000 priests and 5000 Religious brothers and nuns abandoned their ministries …

Similar declines were registered elsewhere.

In the twelve years 1965-1977, some twelve to fourteen thousand priests worldwide asked to be relieved of their duties, or they simply left. Sixty thousand nuns left their convents between 1966 and 1983 …

The Catholic Church had never suffered such devastating losses in such a short time.

Very many teaching nuns simply doffed their religious habits, quickly acquired lay clothes, cosmetics, and jewelry, said good-bye to the local bishops who had hitherto been their major superiors, declared themselves now constituted as ordinary, decent, straightforward American educators, and carried on their teaching careers …

Conversions to Catholicism were cut by two-thirds …

For anyone who cares to follow this up, we have more from Martin about this here.

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One Comment

  1. Gervase Crouchback
    Posted 16 May 2015 at 23:09 | Permalink


    You forgot to mention China as the other engine house of Catholic and also Christian growth in general.
    I have heard it said that there are more Christians in Africa and China than the rest of the world.I don’t know how true that is but I think Francis if he ignores the African cardinals as Kasper did,would do so at his own peril

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