New Orleans I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on the Catholics. Organized religion’s membership in developed countries across the world has been dropping like a rock, and the Catholic Church, even in these tough times, stands tall in comparison to most. Furthermore, membership in just about anything from labor unions to scouting to organized sports this side of pickleball, supposedly, has fallen dramatically, so the Catholic Church could also justly claim its part of a worldwide trend that is inescapable. I also have to hasten to add, compared to many of the past leaders of the church, warts and all, Pope Francis has more often earned applause more than catcalls, and that’s saying something given all of the scandals that have beset the church, largely due to the sexual abuse by priests and more recently involving headlines over financial dealings and catastrophic investments.
That said and living in New Orleans, which still counts itself as a Catholic City from the “Red Mass” for judges to the roots of Mardi Gras, welcoming the Lenten season, there’s no way around it, the church is taking a beating pretty much on all fronts. That’s here, but it’s even happening in Poland, home of a past pope, and historically one of the most Catholic countries that side of Latin America. The Times writes that,
A report issued last November by C.B.O.S., a government-funded polling agency, found that only 23 percent of Poles under 25 regularly go to church, a third the level of three decades ago. The Catholic Information Agency reported that only 20 percent of young people now disapprove of sex before marriage.
In their case, part of the problem is not just the sex scandals, but also the welded at the hip connection between the Church and the rightwing, semi-populist government over recent years. The head of the church in Poland calls the desertion by young people “deplorable.” The head of the government blames the declining birthrate on young women drinking and partying too much. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that they are “reaping what they sow.”
Pope Francis in trying to deal with the revelations of financial improprieties recently released guidelines for ethical investing which echoed recent moves by the US Department of Labor and others in favor of ESG, environmental, social, and governance investing, as aligning the Church’s money with its mission. That’s not going to make believers and parishioners forget that there is a criminal trial ongoing for ten of the Church’s big-time officials for mishandling money that originally came from the collection plate. When the problems are right at arms’ length in the Vatican, rather than in Poland or the USA, that’s serious business. Add inflation and the general economy for low-income and working people who are the Church’s backbone, and they must know that many will hold onto their hard-earned money rather than giving it over to the Church. The new guidelines may be an example of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Like so many institutions, the Church has issues. Their problems seem to call for sweeping changes and aggressive action, but there really can’t be anything more traditional, more hide-bound, and harder to change than something like the Catholic Church, and good popes or bad popes, that might be its undoing, if they don’t find a fix fast.