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‘Mission Accomplished’

George Weigel remembers how Pope John Paul II’s 1993 World Youth Day in Denver changed everything for Catholic America. Excerpts:

WYD 1993 was not just a triumph for John Paul II, and for now-Cardinal Stafford and his team; it was a turning point in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, and its effects are still being felt on this silver jubilee. Before WYD 1993, too much of Catholicism in America was in a defensive crouch, like too much of the Church in Western Europe today. After WYD 1993, the New Evangelization in the United States got going in earnest, as Catholics who had participated in it brought home the word that the Gospel was still the most transformative force in the world. Before WYD 1993, U.S. Catholicism was largely an institutional-maintenance Church. With WYD 1993, Catholicism in America discovered the adventure of the New Evangelization, and the living parts of the Church in the U.S. today are the parts that have embraced that evangelical way of being Catholic.

That crucial turning point on the road to a Catholicism of missionary disciples should be remembered with gratitude.

Read the whole thing. It’s delusional, seriously delusional.

Check out this review of a book the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith wrote a few years back about young Catholic America. Excerpt:

As in decades past, only a minority of Catholic young adults attend Mass most or all Sundays (34 percent in the 1970s, 20 percent in the 2000s), pray daily (36 percent in the 80s, 45 percent now), and rate their religious affiliation as strong (26 percent in both the 1970s and the 2000s).

Disagreement with the Church’s most controversial moral teachings is also common: 33 percent of young Catholics consider abortion OK for any reason, 43 percent consider homosexual sex not wrong at all (one of few numbers that has changed markedly), and more than 90 percent reject the Church’s ban on premarital sex. As the authors conclude, “whatever religious decline that may have happened must have taken place before the 1970s,” most likely during the upheaval following the Second Vatican Council and the 1968 release of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical reiterating the Church’s longstanding ban on artificial birth control.

Since that time, Catholics’ religious practices and moral views have hardly differed from those of their non-Catholic peers. In other life outcomes, from mental health and family relationships to educational attainment and volunteer activities, the same story broadly applies. Today, even young adults who were raised unequivocally Catholic—as teens they had Catholic parents, attended Mass regularly, and self-identified as Catholic—say that you don’t need the Church to be religious (74 percent) and that it’s OK to pick and choose your beliefs (64 percent). They do not accept the Church as an authoritative teacher of Christian doctrine and do not consider the Church necessary to their spiritual lives at all: by baptism they are Catholic but by belief, they are effectively Protestant.

So much for the New Evangelization. I’m not trying to be sarcastic here. You can certainly argue that without John Paul’s outreach things would be worse, and heaven knows World Youth Day is a fine thing. But to claim that the effects of that event are “still being felt” today anywhere outside the imaginations of aging nostalgists is bizarre.

It is especially so to appear at the same time that the Catholic Church is undergoing a second round of devastating scandal, this time focused on corrupt bishops. John Paul II made Theodore McCarrick the cardinal archbishop of Washington. How’d that work out? John Paul II created 231 cardinals in his long papacy. I don’t know how many bishops he created in the United States since his pontificate began in 1978, but by the time he died in 2005, the US episcopate — for good or ill — was his.

Weigel, who is 67 years old, says that the US church, prior to WYD ’93, was an “institutional-maintenance church.” These days, it’s struggling even to maintain the institution, in part because of John Paul II’s failures to govern. Even the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, a Wojtylan showpiece, is struggling this week to contend with the legacy of bad governance and cover-ups.

I get that the dreams of Weigel’s generation of neoconservative Catholics — including the late R.J. Neuhaus and Michael Novak — crashed. It’s a tragedy. But it is no use to try to save what can be saved of the Roman church in post-Christian (increasingly anti-Christian) America based on nostalgia for the days when it was possible to believe that a “Catholic moment” (to use Neuhaus’s term) was at hand.

Meanwhile, this “Open Letter From Young Catholics” appears on the First Things website today, along with the Weigel piece. It reads, in part:

We are angry over the “credible and substantiated” report of Archbishop McCarrick’s abuse of a minor. We are angry over the numerous allegations of his abuse of seminarians and young priests. We are angry that “everybody knew” about these crimes, that so few people did anything about them, and that those who spoke out were ignored.

In addition, we have heard reports of networks of sexually active priests who promote each other and threaten those who do not join in their activities; of young priests and seminarians having their vocations endangered because they refused to have sex with their superiors or spoke out about sexual impropriety; and of drug-fueled orgies in Vatican apartments.

As Catholics, we believe that the Church’s teaching on human nature and sexuality is life-giving and leads to holiness. We believe that just as there is no room for adultery in marriages, so there is no room for adultery against the Bride of Christ. We need bishops to make clear that any act of sexual abuse or clerical unchastity degrades the priesthood and gravely harms the Church.

We are scandalized by the fact that men like Archbishop McCarrick have held positions of authority in the Church. Indeed, we are alarmed by reports that Pope Francis acted on McCarrick’s guidance in creating cardinals and appointing men to senior positions in the Church. Men McCarrick mentored and lived with are now important archbishops and heads of Vatican dicasteries. We want to know what those men knew about McCarrick and when they knew it, especially since “everybody knew.” If the pope himself knew, we want to know that as well.

You are the shepherds of the Church. If you do not act, evil will go unchecked. As members of your flock, we therefore ask the following of you.

Read the whole thing to get their demands, and a list of signatories. This is the generation of Catholics that are going to have to hold things together, and build something amid the ruins. Those triumphalist days of the 1980s and 1990s are gone forever, even if not everyone has noticed it yet. This matters. Nostalgia for past glory is something that no Christian — Catholic, Evangelical, or otherwise — can afford.

For your edification, read the Catholic philosopher Michael Hanby on the meaning of the present moment. Because he can see the present so clearly, Hanby is a more reliable guide to the future.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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