When the collection basket comes around, Catholics give half of what Evangelical Protestants give and less than half of what mainline Protestants give. According to a study by the Presbyterian Church (USA), the average Catholic gives $727 annually, the average Evangelical $1,448, and the average mainline Protestant $1,627.
Why the disparity? Some people immediately say it’s because so many Catholics are poor, and that pulls down the average. Actually, in the U.S., the average Catholic is wealthier than the average Protestant, when all Protestants are lumped together, so an appeal to relative poverty doesn’t work.
A better argument is that most Catholics decide what to give just as the collection basket comes around, while a near-majority of Protestants plan their giving on an annual basis. You’re more likely to give what you really can afford if you sit at the kitchen table and think things through. When you open your wallet or purse at the offertory and realize there isn’t much within, you’re likely to give a small amount.
That line of thought has merit, but I suspect an even weightier one is this: most Protestants are taught (or trained) to give, and most Catholics aren’t. While not every Protestant congregation is encouraged to give at the rate of the biblical tithe (ten percent), most are told that giving is both a duty and a privilege. Few Catholics hear the equivalent at Mass, so for them giving to the parish becomes almost an afterthought.
Some Catholic women are reviving the once-universal custom of wearing head coverings at Mass. I never think to look around to see which women do or don’t cover their heads, but for some people counting scarves and mantillas seems to be a Sunday hobby. A few go so far as to imbue the custom with a dash of divine inspiration. Case in point: an article by John Salza in the August 27, 2012, issue of The Remnant.
Salza’s argument is that certain customs are part of “ecclesiastical or ‘church’ tradition.” This tradition “is the infallible and immutable expression of the Deposit of Faith, which is inspired by the Holy Ghost and nurtured by the Church. . . . Because ecclesiastical tradition is divinely inspired and takes its form from the Deposit of Faith, it, like the Sacred Tradition, is inerrant and unchangeable. Hence, the Church has never abrogated the practice of head coverings, and never could do so, because the practice has been inspired by the Holy Ghost who dwells in the Church and infallibly guides her to both teach and express the faith.”
Actually, the Church has abrogated the requirement that women cover their heads at Mass. Head coverings were mandated by the 1917 Code of Canon Law, but the 1983 Code is silent about them. Many Traditionalists say, “If the new Code is silent on a matter, then the provisions of the old Code apply.” Wrong. The new Code specifically abrogates the old: “When this Code takes force, the following are abrogated: (1) the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917. . . .” (canon 6). This means that anything not explicitly carried over from the old Code to the new no longer is binding. Since the new Code makes no mention of head coverings, there now is no canon law provision regarding them.
But Salza’s argument goes beyond canon law. He says that ecclesiastical traditions—which are to be distinguished from Sacred Tradition—are themselves divinely inspired. This just isn’t true. Yes, as he notes, ecclesiastical traditions act as bulwarks to the truths taught by Sacred Tradition. An example he doesn’t use: we genuflect when entering the pew as an acknowledgment of Christ in the tabernacle; the very act of genuflection reminds us of the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence. And, yes, as Salza notes, if you strip away these customary bulwarks, people’s appreciation of the faith can weaken; we believe with our intellects but confirm our beliefs with our postures. Remove the latter, and sometimes you remove the former.
Salza draws too much from this. While ecclesiastical traditions can be useful (and more than useful: they can be ennobling), that doesn’t make them unchangeable or infallible. Customs can change; revealed doctrines cannot. We need to keep the distinction in mind.
A researcher at the Diocese of Rockford surveyed people who left the Catholic Church and then returned. He said that 44 percent “just drifted away,” while 27 percent had “disagreements with Church teachings” and an equal number thought there was a “lack of welcome in the Church.” (Respondents could choose multiple reasons.)
As for why these people returned, a majority—58 percent—cited a desire to return to the faith they had in childhood, and 49 percent said they had a “deeper desire to know God.” The same number said they “miss the Catholic Church in general,” while 47 percent said they “just decided it was time to return.”
What is remarkable is how contentless this is, both the leaving and the returning. There is not much indication of intellectual engagement—or of intellectual disagreement. For the most part, the reasons for travel in either direction are affective, perhaps because these people never had their minds challenged when they first were in the Church. It’s a common story. People go through life becoming ever more instructed in their occupations or hobbies, but their religious formation remains at the level of eighth-grade CCD classes.
In its September 14 issue the National Catholic Reporter featured side-by-side columns about the state of women religious. One was by Joan Chittister, for decades a leader among feminist Catholics. The other was by Diane Brown, who wrote about becoming a postulant when in her mid-fifties.
The gist of both pieces is that the dearth of young vocations to (liberal) religious orders “is neither a sign of loss nor deficiency,” to use Chittister’s words. It is a sign instead that religious life is attracting mature women who have lived through the rough spots of youth and middle age and now have a certain wisdom to bring with them to their new lives.
Chittister says, “While the Vatican pronounces women’s religious life dead because there are no 18-year-olds around anymore, we may all be missing the obvious: There are no 18-year-olds around anywhere anymore.” She means that things come later in life now: marriage, children, careers, education. No longer are recent high school graduates—or young women in general—in a position to think about vocations of any sort. They still have too much living to do.
Chittister knows better. She knows that there are 18-year-olds—and women who are only five or ten years older—who are entering and delighting in religious life. She also knows that they aren’t joining the kinds of orders she approves of. All of the liberal religious orders are in terminal decline. In most of them the average age is well past 70. In ten or twenty years many of these orders will cease to exist because their members will have graduated to the grave.
Diane Brown, now well into middle age, no doubt is one of the youngest women in the order she is joining. Its leaders may be wondering what to do with the largely empty buildings they own. There is no prospect of filling them as they once were filled, forty or more years ago. The sisters are now on caretaker status.
The new orders, the ones that Joan Chittister makes no mention of, tend to have the opposite problem. Many of them are out of space and have to turn away prospective members. It’s a good problem to have, and it points to the way things will be in the future, once writers such as Chittister have passed from the scene and once well-intentioned women such as Diane Brown come to realize that they have hopped on a freight train just as it was coming to a halt at its final station.