Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What is "Mainstream" Catholicism?

By Carol Ann Larsen

No doubt most of us progressives would resist the term "mainstream" in describing ourselves. So who is the mainstream Catholic these days? For instance, is the so-called "cafeteria Catholic" considered mainstream? Take the issue of birth control. We Catholics practice artificial contraception/sterilization at about 2% less than our Protestant counterparts in the US. Does this make 92% of us mainstream? Does the mainstream Catholic want his priest to be able to marry? Women to be able to be ordained? How is "mainstream" to be defined in 2011? It seems to me that the traditionalists among us who are happy to take orders from the Roman Curia and the Holy Father without question are in the minority.

Unfortunately for the Church and for them as well, the young are voting with their feet in huge numbers. They do not protest, they simply leave. Who is responsible for this? Of course, our first impulse is to blame an overreaching and dictatorial hierarchy. But where is the sense of responsibility in the laity?

According to Vatican II, we have the right and the duty to shape our church, not merely to "pray, pay and obey" as our parents used to say. This overreach of the prelates of the Church took centuries to develop, and seems to be nearly impossible to reverse to a state more closely resembling the early church. Thankfully, there are Catholics working for reform who will attend the first ever meeting of the American Catholic Council in Detroit during Pentecost weekend, 2011.

These reform-minded people should resist being labeled as a disgruntled minority, or worse yet, a bunch of cranks, and claim their rightful status as, indeed, mainstream Catholics who love the Church that Christ founded and refuse to be marginalized. There is strength in numbers and our numbers will grow if we can convince ourselves and others that we have nothing to fear and a renewed and inclusive Church to gain.


  1. Excellent post! It's time for the laity to take control of their faith, take responsibility and make their voices heard. It is all too obvious that there is an ever-widening gap between what the hierarchy wants to profess as "truth" and what the laity actually believe and practice in their lives. We can't just bury our heads in the sand; it accomplishes nothing.

  2. Thanks for posting, Carol. I would really love to have some solid data on what the majority of Catholics think--in this Archdiocese and in the U.S. Do you think that the official institutional leadership is not in tune with the majority?

  3. Paula, I think there is some pretty solid data, especially in the data which shows Catholicism in the West is not at all in line with the Vatican on sexual morality. Even Malta has voted in divorce.

    I had a psychology prof once who maintained that Catholicism had maintained it's control on Europe by controlling what went on in the bedroom. Should the clergy lose that control, they would eventually lose all control. I think he was prophetic The clerical abuse crisis has only accelerated this process.

    I actually burst out laughing when John Jay Report blamed the clerical abuse crisis on the sexually promiscuous sixties and seventies. To some extent it's probably true, but it points to loss of control in all kinds of areas, not just the clerical bedroom.

    I personally think the Vatican has lost the war in the West. They just can't admit it. The question for the laity is where do we go from here?

  4. Hi...

    Colkoch is correct, Paula! Even in the very conservative Roman Catholic Portugal, 60% of the population voted for free abortion! And note: Before the pedophilia scandal of priests!... More: according to a survey at that time 49% of the Portuguese agreed with gay marriages!... And the Church is srinking... Only the old people, especially women go to the Mass every week! Sometimes I feel myself as a 35 years old baby on a grandmothers community!
    Of course in that conditions our Roman Catholic Church, or better the Vatican has lost the war in west. The question is what will happen the next times.
    Have a good evening!

  5. Hi, Colleen and Pensamento positivo from Portugal. Yes, I don't have any doubt that the Roman church leadership is out of sync with the majority of Catholics worldwide on sexual issues. There probably are numbers on other issues too and I just have not looked them up. What is the percentage of weekly Mass attenders in the U.S. who believe in literal transubstantiation? What is the percentage of weekly Mass attenders who believe in two natures of Jesus? What does "nature" mean? If no one asks those questions, we gather and go through the ancient rituals, entering into the re-enactment as mystery without making waves. Is it "mainstream" to do that? And is that the most fully human way to go about worship? I'd value your thoughts on that.

  6. Hi, Paula!...

    Concerning the US Church I can't tell you so much... But according the Portuguese Church, I can imagine what the situation is.

    First of all, as I said in the first post, Portuguese congregations are largely made by old or very old people on their 70's or even 80's. They are in majority women and women of an era when people, especially women didn't use to go to school. Worse, some of them aren't even able to sign their own names. So They don't really care about those theological questions... They simply had a basic Cathequesis or Sunday School of about 2 or 3 years where they learnt that they are Children of God who deserve the Heaven unless they pay, pray and especially obbey to their Church, respecting and obbeying to the teachings of their Priest who represent Jesus in their Parish and religiously go weekly to the Holly Mass! And they learnt that if they fail... They will go eternally into the hell when they die!... In conclusion: They are "just" Catholics no matter what the Church decides or not, they accept it as good!

    And the new generations? Well: Only 10% or so of them go to the Church, the majority of them because of the Catholic Scouts that for many complex reasons have a large implementation, especially in the parts of the coutry dominated by the left side of the parliament, the similar to your Democratic Party. No surprise that the majority of them only go in order to have radical sports and activities with no care of what the Church teaches or not!... The other that remain in the Church are especially conservative high class youths or young adults.

    And where can we find the other 90% of the young generations? Certainly in the nearer shopping mall!!!...

    I hope I tried to answer in part of your question!

    Have a good evening!!!...

  7. What keeps you going, Pensamento positivo? Something draws you? Thanks for talking with us.

  8. Hi!
    What keeps me going, Paula? Simple: I need spiritual food... The Word of God and the Bread of Life... The Eucharist!
    I live between 2 different areas of my coutry: The capital and a small village in the countryside but not so distant from the capital and fortunatly I have some confort in those 2 parishes that I regularly attend. In the capital it is near and mainly administrated by a Dominican Monastery that is... Er... Such a "guetto" for moderates and progressives in my city since the Cardinal started to "discipline" regular parishes! It is something like a "mega parish" with all kinds of modern techologies to help in services, like computer and projector; quite modern music, mainly in Taizé style and some charismatic or African songs too with gittars and sometimes drums... And some very good Dominican Priests of course!... No surprise the Church is almost full every sunday with lots of young families with children and youths!... 8 Sunday Masses with an ASA of nearly 400 per Mass!... But it is a unique fenomenon in the whole Diocese. The other parishes are more or less what I described in the last post. In my small village the community is very old as the usual with some or another inovation to the youths here or there... But the Priest is indeed quite supportive!...

    Good Evening!...

  9. Your Dominican parish sounds wonderful, Pensamento positivo. What is the key to that kind of vitality? Is it imaginative leadership? Freedom? Anyway, I am very glad you have that experience.

  10. Imaginative leadership, freedom and at least sense of community and understanding of the secular culture, modern music, new technologies, migrations, and so on. They are missionaries, they worked in poor countries, some of them are or were universitarian teachers and especially even when they don't agree, they try to understand youths even in sexual issues that they don't fear to discuss in their Sunday School or youth groups, what is rare with the Diocesan Priests! At least even within the conservatives here, the ones from Missionary Orders are the most supportive ones and where they stay the Church grow. No surprise that here seminaries for the Missions are full and Diocesan ones are experiencing emptiness... Good evening!