Problems Confronting Those Who Still Go to Church
“CHURCH CRISIS AND CIVILIZATION CRISIS.” Under this headline French cardinal Daniélou wrote in the Paris daily Le Monde: “The real problem is that within the [Catholic] church there is a sort of internal collapse, a sacramental crisis, an inner-life crisis, a priestly vocations crisis. And behind all this there is . . . is a faith crisis. . . . These crises are real and serious.”
This avowal by a Catholic prelate was accompanied by letters sent to Le Monde by distressed Catholics. They indicate that sincere Catholics, acutely aware of the “faith crisis,” are suffering because they are gradually realizing that this crisis has been brought about in a large measure by faithless church leaders.
Priests Ashamed to Speak About God
One woman wrote: “In no church can you hear a priest who dares speak about purity, sacrifice, respect for self and for others, or virtue (a nineteenth-century word that raises a big laugh among priests dressed in light-blue pullovers and nuns in short skirts). The clergy ‘make overtures to the world,’ but rarely speak about God.—Le Monde, August 28, 1971.
A year later, a twenty-two-year-old student complained about the sermons he had listened to during his vacation. He wrote: “Like many French people, I have just spent a month traveling around France, and as in the case of many Catholics, that has meant attending Sunday Mass and listening to sermons in five different parish churches.” The first sermon, he explained, was about rural consolidation. The second dealt with “The mind on vacation.” The third priest asked the parishioners to speak in his stead. The fourth told the flock about a comic motion picture he had seen, and the fifth spoke on capitalism and brotherhood as being incompatible!
This young Catholic added: “Priests speak less and less about the things we want to hear. When I listen to a sermon, I expect it to stir up my faith, or what is left of it. I expect the priest to speak about God, and to explain Revelation. I could not care less about what Reverend Father X thinks about the change of government. . . .
“In short, there is a twofold problem. Regarding the faithful, there is absolutely no doubt that the churches are becoming empty. Any tourist will confirm that fact. Regarding the priests, they are said to be going through a vocations crisis, and there is a great increase in ‘deserters.’ . . . The real problem is that many priests, turned adrift, no longer believe very much in what they are doing. . . .
“These few lines are not meant to offend anyone. Their only purpose is to ask the priests, whose job it is, to speak again about God, love or sin. If they have nothing to say on those questions, let them remain silent!”—Le Monde, August 6-7, 1972.
Another student, age twenty-four and living in southwest France, wrote: “When in church, we would like to hear about God and the Gospel, not a commentary on a recent television program or on the cost of living. . . . The dissatisfaction, not to say the anger, I feel . . . is leading me to desert what I persist in calling the ‘house of God.’” A doctor in Mulhouse, Alsace, wrote: “At my son’s marriage service, the priest gave a sermon on the war in Biafra and on road accidents.”—Le Monde, August 23, 1972.
So, evidently one of the problems confronting those who still go to church is to find a priest who still ‘believes in what he is doing’ and who is willing to speak about “love or sin,” “God and the Gospel.”
But do Catholic bishops and priests mean the same thing if and when they speak about “sin,” “God” and “the Gospel”? For instance, when Dutch bishops Johannes Bluyssen and Hubert Ernst speak on such important subjects, is their conception of things in harmony with other Catholic bishops, or even with Catholic headquarters in Rome?
Apparently not, for, on October 13, 1972, the Vatican publicly ordered the withdrawal of a catechism issued under the authority of these bishops for use in their dioceses (Brabant, Netherlands). This book, supposed to teach the rudiments of Christianity, was found to be “heretical” in teaching the six following points: “The Gospels are not historical; Christ never claimed to be God; the Trinity dogma was not taught until after Christ; the resurrection is a legend; no church can claim to be exclusively Christ’s church; Christ’s body, present in the Eucharistic bread, is merely a symbol of the church community.—Le Figaro, October 14-15, 1972.
Actually, both the modernist bishops of the Netherlands and the traditionalists of the Vatican are in error. The modernists are wrong in stating that “the Gospels are not historical.” (For example, see Luke 2:1, 2; 3:1, 2.) But the Vatican is also wrong in classifying as “heretical” the statements that “Christ never claimed to be God” (see John 10:36; 5:19; 14:28) and that “the Trinity dogma was not taught until after Christ.”a The modernists are grossly mistaken when they claim that “the resurrection is a legend” (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) and that “no church can claim to be exclusively Christ’s church,” for Christ has only one true congregation, and it must be a “pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15, Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition) And both the modernists and the traditionalists err with regard to the statement “Christ’s body, present in the Eucharistic bread, is merely a symbol of the church community.” On the one hand, Christ’s body is not present in the bread, as the traditionalists claim, and, on the other hand, while it can be said that the bread is “merely a symbol,” it does not symbolize the “church community,” but, rather, Christ’s fleshly body offered up in sacrifice for his disciples.—Luke 22:19.
It can therefore be seen that sincere Catholics are receiving no clear doctrinal lead from their spiritual overseers, be they modernists or traditionalists. Commenting on these doctrinal differences within the Catholic Church, the French monthly magazine Le spectacle du monde wrote: “The Vatican stated that the Netherlands are not an isolated case in this respect.” The doctrinal confusion is general.
The same magazine reported: “The traditionalists blame secularization for the doctrinal and institutional breakdown of the [Catholic] church: secularized Liturgy has been sidetracked by ‘man worship;’ the sudden introduction of politics into the Church has led to materialism; the doctrinal crisis has been brought about by ‘pirate theologians’ and lax bishops.”—Le spectacle du monde, December 1972.
Thus, if the aforementioned young Catholic student had been fortunate enough to find five parishes where the priests condescended to preach on subjects other than economics, motion pictures or politics, he would not have been at all sure of hearing a coherent message from week to week. How can sincere Catholics have strong faith if they are told contradictory things by their priests and bishops? How can they be expected to know what to believe when faced with the conflicting teachings of the modernists and the traditionalists, particularly when both are often in conflict with what the Bible teaches?
Political and Moral Problems
In a front-page editorial, Le Monde recently wrote the following: “Politics is no longer a forbidden word for Christians. On the contrary, this word has become quite popular in the French [Catholic] church. . . . The French bishops have just studied the close relationship between faith and politics.”—Le Monde, October 31, 1972.
In point of fact, the 1972 Plenary Assembly of French bishops, held in Lourdes, was mainly devoted to the theme “Politics, Church and Faith.” It published a long episcopal report entitled “A Christian Way of Engaging in Politics,” of which the main promoter was Bishop Matagrin of Grenoble. This French prelate is of the opinion that “to meet all the requirements of Christianity, a Catholic is duty bound to take part in politics.”—Le Dauphiné libéré, October 23, 1972.
What is the result of the church-sponsored political involvement of Catholics? Reporting on a religious meeting held in Paris to discuss this episcopal report, a Catholic daily stated: “The meeting at the Mutualité Hall confirmed the wide variety of political opinions held by Christians [Catholics], ranging from extreme Right wing to extreme Left wing.”—La Croix, January 18, 1973.
The consequences of such political divisions are obvious. As a French newsweekly put it: “From now on, each Catholic can, Gospel in hand, build his own model of future society. . . . Thus, on a certain Sunday in March 1973, Catholics will be able to kneel down side by side and receive Communion, and then go and put in the ballot box radically different votes.” (L’Express, October 16-22, 1972) Can one imagine the apostles leaving the “upper room” in Jerusalem and then casting votes for different political parties?
But the problem is even deeper than that. Catholics with widely different opinions could easily let their political feelings predominate, with serious religious repercussions. In fact, this disunity has already appeared, as shown by the following quotations: “Political choices create classes that have trouble communicating with each other. . . . This is so much so that Christians [Catholics] are asking themselves if they can really partake of the Eucharist together.” (La Croix, March 16, 1973) “Some [Catholics] refuse to celebrate Mass with others whom they disagree with on what they consider to be fundamentals.”—Le Monde, October 29-30, 1972.
It appears, therefore, that differing political opinions constitute another problem for sincere people who still go to church. What about morals?
Traditionalists inside the Catholic Church speak of the need to “challenge the modern world’s idols: sex, money and State.” But the modernist clergy have adapted themselves to the present-day permissive society. Under the title “Who Still Keeps Lent?—Misty Sin,” Robert Solé writes: “Who does penance anymore, in a church whose members seem to be progressively losing all sense of sin? . . . Today, Catholics are asking: ‘What is evil’?, whereas not long ago they saw evil everywhere. . . . Formerly, sin was well defined and subject to appropriate rules, but at present sin is misty. . . . Cheap psychology has convinced Christians that religion, with its ancient prohibitions, was what caused the feeling of guilt.”—Le Monde, March 4-5, 1973.
Here again, because the churches are giving no clear lead on morals, sincere Catholics who still go to church are faced with serious problems. Should they follow their religious leaders, many of whom have adopted this world’s standards of behavior, or should they adhere to Bible principles and listen to their God-given conscience?
The Responsibility of Each Church Member
French Catholic author and philosopher Jean Guitton, member of the French Academy, once wrote: “We should be totally willing to abandon our religion if it turns out to be anything but the truth.” More recently he stated: “In the end, an atheistic Catholicism might appear not very different from Communism.”—Paris-Match, December 16, 1972.
How do you feel about this? Do you belong to a church where it is difficult to find “a priest who dares speak about purity, sacrifice, respect for self and for others, or virtue”? The distressed Catholic woman who made that complaint added: “The clergy . . . are gradually leading us to an atheistic form of Christianity.” Is that where you want to be led?
Are you a part of a church where theologians and bishops are teaching that “the Gospels are not historical” and that “the resurrection is a legend,” or where you are told that you are “duty bound to take part in politics,” with the resulting confusion and disunity? Is yours “a church whose members seem to be progressively losing all sense of sin” because their spiritual leaders teach morals based on “cheap psychology” rather than on Bible principles?
If so, do not think you can shift all the responsibility onto the leaders of your church. Each of us is individually responsible before God. As the Bible says: “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Rom. 14:10) Guitton was right when he said that if our religion “turns out to be anything but the truth,” then we should abandon it. The Bible summons sincere churchgoers to leave the entire world system of false religion quickly, before it is destroyed by God. (Read Apocalypse or Revelation, chapters 17 and 18.)
The Bible urges us to “worship the Father with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23) That is the kind of worship that interests Jehovah’s witnesses. It is for that reason that they put much emphasis on Bible study. They will be glad to study the Bible with you, free of charge, in your own home. You are also invited to their Kingdom Halls. There you will “hear about God and the Gospel,” yes, the good news of everlasting life in God’s new order, now near.—2 Pet. 3:13; John 17:3; Rev. 21:3, 4.
a Interestingly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), on page 295 of volume 14, admits that “one should not speak of Trinitarianism in the New Testament without serious qualification.”
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● Routine collections and appeals for special funds continue to yield results. Yet “Giving USA” for 1971 reports: “Religious institutions have probably been hurt most by inflation. Giving to religion the last 3 years . . . represents a net loss to inflation of at least 2.5 percent.”
● Are churchgoers happy about the giving? “Chanting anti-church slogans, 500 Italian-Canadians marched three miles in [Montreal’s] north end Sunday to protest taxes levied by some Catholic churches on their parishioners,” says the “Free Press” of London, Ontario, February 26, 1973.
● Parochial schools are feeling the pinch. There are 14,952 fewer teaching nuns in the U.S.A. than in 1970. By its decision on June 25, “the Supreme Court appears to have dashed any hope at either the national or state level for major new forms of public help for financially pressed parochial . . . schools,” observes the New York “Times.”
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Membership and Attendance
● It is reported that regular church attenders in Australia have decreased by 30 percent in the past 11 years. France has only about one in four going to church. In Lisbon, Portugal, just 15 percent of Catholics go to Sunday Mass.
● The “Daily Telegraph,” of April 16, 1973, commented: “A new analysis of church membership in the United States and Canada reveals that the Roman Catholic and most major Protestant churches either lost members . . . or failed to keep pace with the population increase. . . . The Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, reported a gain of 7.2 per cent.”
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● Many churches no longer advocate the high moral standard of the Bible. For example, an article in “The Christian Century,” of May 30, 1973, observes: “In attitudes toward sexual deviations, a very complex situation has arisen . . . a clergyman who is found to have some degree of homosexual tendency is not likely to be summarily dismissed.”
● Some churches are quite willing to encourage those in the gambling business. Says the British “Guardian”: “A trade Union for bookmakers’ employees has been formed with the help of the Church of England.”
● The record of religion includes bloodguilt. In eastern Africa, where over 100,000 tribesmen were slaughtered last year, “the Catholic Church . . . claims the allegiance of 60 per cent of the population. . . . Catholics killed Catholics,” according to “Newsday,” May 23, 1973.
● So many immoral things are going on these days that, as John Cogley writes in “Catholic America,” “preachers hesitate to speak openly about guilt or sin.”