Church News Shows Problems Growing
IN RECENT years, Christendom’s churches have been buffeted by severe storms of criticism and opposition. Much of the dissent is internal, coming right from within the church systems themselves. The Roman Catholic Church especially has been undergoing inner struggle. The following recent news items show how these problems continue to mount with growing force.
GERMANS QUITTING CHURCHES
West Germans are formally quitting their churches at the rate of about 4,800 a week, says “Time” magazine. One reason why is that by taking this action they can escape the extra income tax that has for years been imposed on church members and which, since World War II, has been collected by the West German government. These taxes net Protestant and Roman Catholic churches more than one thousand million dollars a year. But more and more Germans are highly resentful of this forced taxation. Since the only way they can escape it is by officially quitting their church, they are doing just that. An estimated 480,000 have formally renounced their religion in just the past three years. Now, many of the new churches built with tax money during the last two decades are nearly empty most of the time.
POPE CRITICIZED BY ITALIAN NEWSPAPER, QUESTIONED ON WAR
“II Tempo” of April 17, 1971, carried headlines reading “Shaggy Haired Pacifists and Girls in Hot Pants in Audience with Pope.” The article criticized the pope for receiving members of several pop music bands in “scandalous clothing” after the Vatican had recently condemned sexy styles of dress. During the audience with Pope Paul VI, one of the young musicians asked him: “You who are so powerful that you can ban the pill, why don’t you get busy and abolish obligatory conscription? Why don’t you forbid Catholics to take part in wars and violence?” The pope answered: “It is not within our power.”
VATICAN RULES AGAINST PRIESTS
The papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” issued in 1968, reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s ban on the use of contraceptives in birth control. Among the many priests who disagreed were about fifty who were disciplined by Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington, D.C. Nineteen of these priests took their case to the pope. They lost. The Vatican has now issued its ruling in the matter: the priests must uphold the ban.
BISHOPS CRITICIZE PRIESTS
Sometime ago American Catholic bishops authorized a study of the priesthood and its problems. It revealed a “potentially dangerous gap” between the bishops and most priests on all major Church issues. Especially did the priests disagree with the Church’s stand that requires them to be unmarried. However, in their annual meeting this year the bishops criticized the report, and they greeted with applause a suggestion that the study be repudiated. Thus, the conflict between priests and the hierarchy of the Church gathers momentum.
CHURCH CHALLENGED IN IRELAND
For centuries Ireland has been one of the most conservative bastions of the Catholic Church in the world. But now, the Church in that country is coming under increasing attack from within and from without. It is being challenged on a variety of issues, such as church-state relations, priestly dissent, the alienation of young people, birth control and social morality. When Archbishop John McQuaid of Dublin issued a pastoral letter supporting the official ban on contraceptives, parishioners at two churches walked out when the letter was read. The primate of all Ireland, William Cardinal Conway, admitted: “There’s a storm in Western civilization and the church is involved in it. Things are not all calm and peaceful.”
How many clergymen are quitting the ministry in the United States? Accurate figures are difficult to obtain, but the Denver “Post” reports: “One estimate is that at least 3,000 Protestant ministers . . . and perhaps 2,500 Roman Catholic clergymen . . . are dropping out annually.”
SEMINARY ENROLLMENT DOWN SHARPLY
The magazine “Christian Heritage,” for May 1971, notes the following: “Since 1966, the number of young men studying for the priesthood [in the United States] has dropped nearly in half, according to statistics in Washington, D.C., by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. About 46,000 future priests were enrolled in the United States seminaries four years ago, . . . By October 1970 the number had decreased to some 24,000. The exact 1970 figure—23,822—reflects a decline in enrollment at every level, from high school through graduate theology.”
Also, the Vatican says that during 1970 the number of new ordinations for the priesthood throughout the world dropped to 4,064. That represents a decrease of 12.5 percent from 1969.
PRIESTS SUPPORT MARXISTS
Eighty priests in Chile issued a document declaring: “We don’t see any incompatibility between Christians and Marxists.” They also said: “We categorically pronounce ourselves for a Socialist system, which constitutes the only way to escape from underdevelopment.”
Similarly, Thomas and Marjorie Melville, a former priest and a former nun, wrote in the New York “Times”: “It is worth noting that the Papal Nuncio to Cuba has publicly described Fidel Castro as ‘politically a Marxist but ethically a Christian,’ and that alliances are being built between Catholics—both lay and clerical—and Marxists, especially in Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.”
‘DOGMA BREAKING DOWN’
Toronto sociologist Martin Goldfarb states: “It is clear that some aspects of Catholic dogma are breaking down.” When Catholics were asked if they would follow the pope’s decrees or their own conscience in regard to birth control, 78 percent said they would follow their own conscience. And only 37 percent said they believed in the Church’s teaching of obligatory celibacy for priests.
SERMONS NOT MEETING PEOPLE’S NEEDS
The president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena says that many churchgoers are getting restless. Why? He states: “It’s getting so it’s sometimes hard to tell church services from Rotary luncheons. Many preachers have become political pundits, economic analysts, authorities on such subjects as the infield fly rule. . . . Very often, sermon content has been thin.” He notes that “the spiritual comfort people need is not always there. They’re tired of hearing about Vietnam; there’s no personal encouragement, no joy, no celebration; nothing to get excited about.” Yet, God’s Word, the Bible, is filled with information that encourages those who love righteousness. And it tells of thrilling events that will affect mankind in the very near future and beyond.
TURNING TO A ‘NEW GOD’
Catholic theologian Gregory Baum of Toronto says that modern religion is turning to a ‘new God.’ Instead of thinking about God as an invisible being who can be approached through prayer, Baum says the ‘new God will be found through self-knowledge, through talking with other people and deciding through political and social growth what is right and what is wrong.’
But this is precisely what has been done already for centuries. Men have leaned on their own understanding instead of following God’s wisdom as revealed in the Bible. They have decided for themselves what is right and what is wrong and have ignored what God says is right and what is wrong. The folly of leaning on human wisdom alone is evident to many now as the awful results of imperfect, often selfish, human rule and human thinking become more obvious daily. Long ago the Bible, God’s Word, warned: “Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding.” “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.”—Prov. 3:5; Ps. 146:3.