Wednesday, November 16, 2011

As the Church goes, so goes The World

Printed in the U Matuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hagatna, Guam, November 20, 2011.
Last year, as outrage over the clergy sex abuse scandal in Europe reached a rabid pitch, Pope Benedict became the target of a torrent of hostilities including a movement to arrest him upon his visit to England and a demand to have him tried for crimes against humanity.
At this point, even some previous detractors came to the Pope’s defense. Those who knew the facts, knew that Pope Benedict, over many years, had done more to militate against the elements that had given license to the atrocities than any other prelate.
As egregious as the clerical crimes were, it was becoming ridiculously obvious that the personal persecution of the Pope was simply opportunistic anti-Catholicism, and the Pope could have rightly named it as such. But he did not.
Even though Church officials close to the Pope had chided the media and legal carpetbaggers (my word) for unjustly exploiting the scandal, the Pope did no such thing. Instead he blamed, not the media, not “the world”, but the ”sins within the church”, and admonished Catholics to “re-learn penance” and “accept purification.” 
The Pope’s assumption of blame is instructive. Today we hear much of the evils of The World and how its distractions are to blame for everything from dwindling Mass attendance to a dearth of vocations. But to blame The World is to deny that “in Christ all things have been made new”, and that through his saving sacrifice and sacraments, the Church is equipped in every age to regenerate the world in which it finds itself. 
Perhaps it is time that we Catholics begin looking at the state of our world not as an external circumstance, but as an internal report card, for “as the Church goes so goes the world.” We won’t find that phrase in the Catechism, but in essence it is exactly true, and has always been. 
In the Old Testament, ancient Israel’s temporal fortunes wax and wane relative to their obedience and right worship of God. How much more so now should the condition of our world be intrinsically tied to right worship and personal holiness now that The Father has given us The Son and sustains us with His own Flesh and Blood! And we blame The World?
By virtue of our baptism into the one, true Church, we forfeit any right to exclaim “what’s The World coming to?” The World is coming to exactly where we, the chosen people, are taking it. It is we Christians, and especially Catholics, who either consecrate or desecrate the temporal order. As the Church goes, so goes the world!
So how are we doing? What does our report card say? Do we have the courage to even look? 
Guam CPS reports 2000 cases of child abuse, neglect, and sexual molestation each year. Our out of wedlock birthrate is 1.5 times the national average (1). The suicide rate is 2.5 times higher. We rank 16th in the world in the number of abortions per 1000 people, and 2nd in the world in the number of divorces per thousand people. And with a less than replacement fertility rate of only 1.5 children per woman, Guam is in demographic free-fall and on collision course with socioeconomic collapse. So not very good.
As noted in a previous column, the decline in Guam’s population was noted as long ago as 1984 in a study published in the Journal of Bio-Social Science which called the decline of the Chamorro population “one of the most dramatic socioeconomic developments ever recorded.” 
The study attributed the decline in part to the “rapid incorporation into American culture”, but what does that mean? The study continues: “One reason for this decline has been the increasing defection of Guam’s Roman Catholic women from the traditional teaching of their Church on the subject of birth control.” In other words, “American culture” means more stuff, fewer kids.
This is a topic for another column, but at the root of the defection of the laity on this issue (and not just in Guam) is the defection from the traditional teaching on birth control by many of those who are tasked to teach it, resulting in an questionably loose interpretation of the teaching on periodic abstinence and even sometimes an admissive wink at outright birth control. 
Perhaps the most visible mark on our local report card though is the explosion of membership in non-Catholic churches over the last 25 years, a membership that is made up mostly of “used-to-be” Catholics. We can accuse them of not making the effort to learn their faith, but there we go blaming again.
If there is to be any remedy, we must, as Pope Benedict instructed, confess our sins, re-learn penance and accept purification. “For we have met the enemy and he is us.”

1. According to a 2006 CDC report, the most recent year for which national figures could be found, the out of wedlock birth rate for Guam is 57.7% while the national average for the rest of the U.S. is only 38.5%. This means that our out of wedlock birth rate is 1.5 times the national average in spite of mandatory sex education in the public schools and the high incidence rate of abortion on Guam. This implies higher incidence of pre-marital and extra-marital sex exists on Guam. 
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