CatholiCity 2006

Reaction to the State of the Church in America

Deal W. Hudson
February 2006

My response to the report, State of the Catholic Church in America.

“Bishops do not like to be scrutinized by the laity” was the reaction of a friend of mine to the news of this survey. He predicted that the bishops would be irritated, to say the least, at the presumption of a Catholic magazine, owned and operated by lay faithful, to publish ratings of Catholic dioceses. That is certainly not the spirit in which Mr. Wagner and Father Hunter-Hall have presented their findings, the first of which is an appreciation of those bishops who are “truly unsung heroes of the Church.”

I hope Church leaders will find these rankings interesting and helpful. For example, with apologies to Bishop Kurtz, I had no idea the Diocese of Knoxville was so vibrant, or the Diocese of Savannah, either. This survey is valuable only if it gives credit to some “unsung heroes” and expands our awareness of where the Church has grown stronger over the past decade.

The authors offer a statistical baseline for evaluating the strength of dioceses, without the imposition of an alien theological agenda. Who can argue with the importance of clergy growth, vocations, baptisms, and conversions? Yes, there are many other indicators, such as the number of students entering the seminary, but that information is difficult to obtain from a diocese.

Numbers never tell the whole story: Renewal may well be underway in a diocese, the fruits of which are not yet seen in the statistics presented here. The survey is, no doubt, simply a snapshot, but a valuable one. What we see in the various rankings is attributable to many factors, not just to bishops. Bishops can be appointed to places where the deterioration is so serious that it will take a lifetime to rebuild. And, as was pointed out to me by an insurance man, this particular snapshot may have caught a diocese in its growth years and is not necessarily predictive of the years to come. Can the dioceses of Knoxville or Savannah sustain their growth patterns, or does this survey come in at the end of an upward trend line—and vice versa for some of the dioceses lower in the ranking? That is why it is important for a crisis to repeat this survey on a regular basis, perhaps adding other criteria made available through the cooperation of the 176 dioceses.

In terms of some of the success stories here, it comes as no surprise to me that the Archdiocese of Chicago is high on the list of vocations. In mid-2006 I wrote a story on vocations for my e-report, “The Window,” and reported that Chicago’s Web site for vocations was both welcoming and comprehensive. It’s also a tribute to Francis Cardinal George’s spiritual leadership that such growth is occurring in one of the “old” Catholic cities of the Midwest. As the survey suggests, it’s much harder to generate new growth and vitality in the places where Catholics first settled in the United States. This makes Cardinal George’s accomplishment in Chicago even more significant.

I’m particularly taken by the authors’ conclusion about the characteristics of bishops whose dioceses show growth: belief in the work of the Holy Spirit, joy, personal responsibility, and the engagement of the world through media like the Internet. Joy and a reliance on the Holy Spirit go together, of course. It has been my experience that when a bishop exudes these qualities, good things happen. When people meet bishops like this, they want to be more a part of their church, and they want to help their bishop. It’s just the common sense of leadership. Who wants to serve a spiritual leader who makes their burdens heavier?

Mr. Wagner and Father Hunter-Hall might have called this the “evangelical” dimension of a bishop—but Catholics seem to be afraid of that word. Such evangelical bishops, as the authors say so well, are “unwilling to acquiesce to decline.” The Catholic world in this country is divided in many ways, but one of those divides is between those who are confident in and committed to Church growth and those who see it only in terms of the hand-off between successive generations of Catholics, hoping against hope that their children and grandchildren remain in the Church.

What this latter group needs to realize is that a vital, joyful Church is the best bet for successfully sharing the Faith with the next generation. There is much more to being a Catholic than grimly carrying out our spiritual obligations. The added dimension is precisely the joy that these shepherds are sharing with their sheep.

Perhaps the most provocative observation made in this survey is that the Catholic Church counts as Catholic anyone who claims to be Catholic, regardless of whether he or she ever darkens the door of a parish. The authors point out how different this way of counting adherents is from Protestants’, especially evangelicals.

What would happen if Catholic priests and bishops began to count only religiously active Catholics as adherents? The numbers, naturally, would plummet. Catholics in the United States might not be any larger in number than, say, Southern Baptists. What would be the criteria used to distinguish a Catholic from a non-Catholic in this measure? If the criterion is Mass attendance, would it be weekly, the obligatory requirement? Would regular confession be thrown in?

I am not, by inclination, a “numbers guy.” But I have realized over the years that numbers tell an important part of the story about the past and present. Numbers also provide an opportunity to set practical goals for the future. Certainly, the one number that did not come under the purview of this survey, but is central to the strength of the Church, is the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass. Mr. Wagner and Father Hunter-Hall are right, I think, to intimate that the time has come to reconsider whether Catholics who never attend Mass can be counted as Catholic at all.

Love Where There Could Have Been Hate

Deal W. Hudson
March 1, 2006

I have just returned from Rome, where a senior member of the Curia asked me to tell readers of The Window the following story. You may have already heard its beginning but in all likelihood, not its end.

On Sunday, February 5, 2006, while praying in his church, an Italian priest by the name of Fr. Andrea Santoro was shot and killed by a young man who shouted, “Allahu akbar,” or “Allah is great.”

Fr. Santoro was a priest of the diocese of Rome who was serving in the city of Trabzon, Turkey, as part of a Vatican missionary program called “Fidei Donum” (Gift of Faith). The 60-year-old priest had been ministering in Turkey for six years where, from all reports, he was a man deeply committed to fostering understanding between the east and west, as well as peace among religions. He also served the poor and was notably active in the fight against sex trafficking of Christian women, a practice common in the region.

At Fr., Santoro’s funeral, which was attended by thousands including political and Church leaders, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, affirmed that he intended to open the priest’s cause for canonization. He also reported, “With all her heart the mother of Father Andrea forgives the person who armed himself to kill her son, and she feels great pain for him because he, too, is a son of the one God who is love.”

Television cameras recording the funeral panned to where the mother of the slain priest sat and showed her nodding at the Cardinal’s words. A member of the Curia told me that it was an extremely powerful moment of forgiveness, one which deeply touched all who saw it on Italian television. He thought it was important to bring it to the attention of American Catholics.

But there is more. Fr. Thomas K. Williams, a Legionary priest who teaches at their seminary in Rome, alerted me to another part of the story.

In response to the forgiveness of Fr. Santoro’s mother, the father of the killer, Hikmet Akdin, told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera,”I know, and ever since I heard those words I have a desire in my heart. I want to save enough money to go to Italy and kiss that woman’s hands as a sign of gratitude. Please tell her how much I appreciate her goodness, which has touched me. I want to embrace her. She’s a courageous woman, and I’m sure is an excellent mother. I’ll kiss her hands if it’s the last act of my life.”

Through these statements of his mother and the father of his killer, Fr. Santoro’s death, as well as his life, gives witness to the words he wrote in a letter published in his online magazine, “Window to the Middle East.” In what turned out to be his last letter to his readers, he wrote:

“Moreover, Jesus said: ‘I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness.’ If his light illuminates us, not only will it illuminate every situation, even the most tragic, but in addition we too, as he always said, will be light. The tenuous light of a candle illuminates a house; an extinguished lamp leaves everything in darkness. May he shine in us with his Word, with his Spirit, with the sap of his saints. May our life be the wax that is consumed willingly.”

We all find it hard to forgive. Sometimes we justify our lack of forgiveness by thinking the wrong suffered is too painful to forget. What could cause greater pain than the loss of a child? In the example of this mother’s forgiveness, we see an act of love where we normally see the birth of hate.

This is the message, I believe, I was asked to convey to you at this moment, the beginning of our Lenten season.

Ten Things Republicans Must Do To Keep the Religious Vote

Deal W. Hudson
August 26, 2006

A recent New York Times article reported a Pew Forum poll showing that significantly fewer people view the Republican Party as “friendly” to religion.

“The survey found that the proportion of Americans who say the Republican Party is friendly to religion fell 8 percentage points in the last year, to 47 percent from 55 percent. Among Catholics and white evangelical Protestants, the decline was 14 percentage points.”

Fluctuations up and down to the loyalty of political coalitions are predictable. What’s important is how long an up or down cycle lasts and what can be done to ensure ongoing support.

With the midterm elections a few months away and the 2008 presidential election already on the horizon, here’s my take on what the GOP needs to do to reinvigorate its religious base.

1. Consistently Defend Life: President Bush’s decision to allow Plan B, the morning-after pill, to be sold in the United States contradicts his consistent defense of the culture of life. Conversely, we recently witnessed his veto of legislation to fund further research on fetal stem cells!

2. Emphasize Judicial Appointments: After successfully nominating and confirming two solid Supreme Court justices, Republican leadership lost track of the importance of this issue to religious conservatives. Liberal judges legislating from the bench are one of the main reasons that religious conservatives became active in politics in the late 1970s. Judges will remain in office long after the Republicans are no longer in power, making Bush-appointed judges the most important legacy of religious conservative influence in the present administration.

3. Keep the Marriage Amendment Alive: Homosexual activists have supplanted feminists as the leading agents of extremism in American politics. The proposed marriage amendment to the Constitution should be made a rallying call for the Republican Party in the months and years to come, a clear expression of its commitment to the values of religious conservatives. Half-hearted support for this amendment will turn-off and dispirit the actively religious voter.

4. Treat Immigrants with Compassion: There is a tendency in the GOP to identify the religious conservative with the conservative activist – this is a mistake. The two groups overlap but they are not the same. For religious conservatives, compassion is a genuine value that should infuse political rhetoric and public policy. Polling shows Catholics, for example, who attend Mass regularly, are more supportive of the Bishops’ lenient attitude toward illegal immigrants than inactive Catholics. Other religiously active voters may well want to handle this issue without harsh rhetoric or punitive intent. President’s Bush’s compassionate position on immigration has not been heard above the shouting. The GOP might also keep in mind that most of these immigrants could become part of the religious coalition that has put the GOP into power. Hispanic Catholics are the single most important group missing from the GOP’s religious coalition.

5. Don’t Compromise on Iraq: Religious conservatives affirm the principles behind the decision to send U. S. soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq. They may join in the widespread criticism of the implementation strategy of the Iraq war, but this is not to be confused with a change of mind about the justness of the war itself. GOP leaders should remember that its religious supporters are patriots whose parents and grandparents invoked their faith to resist both Nazism and atheistic Communism.

6. Pick the Right Presidential Candidate for 2008: Polls show Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain leading the pack of Republican hopefuls. Nominating a pro-choice candidate would be disastrous for the Republicans. The argument, “where else can they go,” does not work because religious conservatives are religious first and Republican second: They will stay home or form a third party. McCain is attempting to repair his reputation with religious conservatives, but the gap is very wide and the memories on both sides are deep and bitter. Giuliani has estimable qualities but needs to undergo a genuine conversion on life issues. Governor Pataki needs the same conversion. Gov. Romney impresses people wherever he goes, but whether a Mormon candidate can garner Evangelical or conservative Catholic voters remains to be seen. Senator Allen is pro-life but inspires little enthusiasm (and his recent racial gaff did not help him). Senator Brownback, a Catholic convert, is slowly gathering steam but probably not quickly enough for 2008. Senator Frist was the initial frontrunner until he insisted that his medical training made him an expert on the bioethics of fetal stem cell research, thus losing the support of religious conservatives. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has proven his worth on issues important to religious conservatives, but would they accept his recent marriage and the circumstances leading to it? Other options? If Senator Santorum beats Bob Casey, Jr., which is very likely, he must be considered a candidate. And, of course, there is always the chance Gov. Jeb Bush could be talked into running, especially if Senator Clinton is nominated, thus eliminating the “dynasty” problem.

7. Remember that Terrorism is a Life Issue: The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that the first obligation of any government is to protect the lives of its citizens: “It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense” (CCC 1909). Religious conservatives do not share the left’s reservations about the just defense of our nation against aggression; they know those liberals are wrong who try to blame the U. S. for the attacks. Anything on the domestic front that distracts from the continuing war on terror should be put on the back burner.

8. Laugh at the “Theocracy” Label: Ever since the fight to save Terry Schiavo, the left and some Republican moderates have been accusing religious conservatives, including President Bush, of turning the United States into a “theocracy.” Anyone familiar with the history of religion and politics knows this is a laughable claim and should treat it as such.

9. Avoid the Demonizing of Islam: Thus far the GOP has done a good job of distinguishing between the religion of Islam and its extremist groups who make up the international terrorist network. However, until leadership within Islam steps forward to condemn Islamic terrorism there will be growing pressure to equate Islam with “evil.” GOP leadership should resist the temptation to write Islam off as evil. Such a move is based on bad history and worse diplomacy. It may appease a loud minority of religious conservatives, but it will certainly not make the party appear more “friendly” to religion.

10. Remind Religious Conservatives of the Record: In its first six years, the administration of President George W. Bush did more for religious conservatives than any other president, including Ronald Reagan. Bush went well beyond signing bills and defining a policy that protected life and the traditional family; he created a partnership with the religious community, a “faith-based initiative,” that invested in the ongoing work of churches to address our nation’s social problems. Nothing, I repeat nothing, has infuriated the political left more than the funding of church-related social services.

The GOP needs to remember what earned them the support of religious conservatives in the first place, and stay the course in the midst of the tremendous pressure to “moderate” its message. Religious conservatives know that in politics “moderate” is a codeword for compromise.

An Evangelical Ponders the Presidency

Deal W. Hudson
September 25, 2006

If you know the name Huckabee it’s probably from the popular movie or the highly publicized weight-loss campaign of the Arkansas Governor. My wife is politically astute and very knowledgeable. When I told her I was meeting with Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, she quickly replied, “Oh, he’s the guy who lost all the weight.” The health programs Huckabee subsequently implemented also got national attention, most notably, the purging of junk food from public school cafeterias.

Gov. Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist minister, was in Washington last Wednesday for a series of meetings testing the waters for a potential presidential bid in 2008. I had been asked by some Evangelical friends to host a D.C. meeting with Catholic leaders and was glad to do it, given Huckabee’s pro-life and pro-family record. As a former Baptist minister myself, I was curious to see how Huckabee would connect with this town’s Catholic crowd.

As the 2008 election draws near social conservatives are restless; they have no clear choice among the leading contenders. Some Catholic conservatives are already promoting the candidacy of the estimable Sen. Sam Brownback (KS), who has established credentials on issues such as life, marriage, and stem cell research. Evangelicals, who make up the majority of the Republican religious vote, may be somewhat hesitant to support Brownback, who is a recent convert to Catholicism.

Evangelical activists have been generating some buzz around Huckabee, who capped his years as a pastor by becoming president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. He told our group that his decision to enter politics came after some public remarks by Dr. Jocelyn Elders when she was Gov. Bill Clinton’s Director of Health in Arkansas. During a legislative hearing, Elders said, “Preachers need to get over their love affair with the fetus,” and, “Preachers need to stop moralizing from the pulpit.” Clinton called Huckabee to ask whether her comments would cause problems among Arkansas Baptists. When Huckabee told him they certainly would, Clinton arranged for Huckabee to meet with Elders to work out their differences. After the two hour meeting, Huckabee went home telling his wife, “If people like this are setting the policies that affect the way our children are educated in school and shape the culture in which we live, it is time to get out of the stands and get on the field.”

Gov. Huckabee follows the pattern of other Evangelical pastors who felt compelled by hostility to religious values to run for office. Yet, Huckabee comes across very differently from Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. If you didn’t know his background as an Evangelical minister, you would assume he had been a successful Southern businessman before becoming Governor. The predictable pulpit mannerisms and rhetorical fervor are muted. His manner is straightforward and disarming; he commands attention with quiet authority. In fact, he reminds me very much of his counterpart, the Catholic Sen. Brownback.

Some of Huckabee’s remarks, I admit, were something of a surprise. After recounting his journey into politics, he concluded by making the point so often made by liberals that pro-lifers don’t care for children once they are born. “I’m not sure we have much credibility,” he said, ” if we don’t care about what happens to a child “in between” birth and death.” Most of his presentation recounted his work in Arkansas to relieve poverty and homelessness, promote health, and strengthen education. (His wife, he told us, serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity.)

The Catholics at the meeting were impressed with Gov. Huckabee. None of them were thrown by his emphasis on the kind of social issues so dear to the Political Left. This was a savvy group who did not need to be assured of Huckabee’s pro-life bona fides, and who know a single-issue approach does not get a social conservative elected president.

I told the Governor during the discussion that his remarks reminded me of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” and asked if he thinks the GOP needs to be rebranded for the 2008 election. His answer was emphatic, “We must get rid of “callous conservatism” or we are going to lose the people we need to win elections.”

In national elections, Evangelicals tend to like a little fire and brimstone, and Catholics are turned off by it. Gov. Huckabee, striking me as someone who never pounded his pulpit, may be the kind of Evangelical who can be successful in communicating with Catholics.

Huckabee won’t make any decision, he told us, until January 2007. Gov. Mitt Romney may have already surpassed him in connecting with the high-dollar socially conservative donors. But, if the Evangelical community puts all its support behind Huckabee, he will immediately become a contender. If so, the public will soon find out the Arkansas Governor is more than the “guy who lost all that weight.”