American Catholic progressivism: An “exhausted project”?

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According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the good news is that things may be looking up for the U.S. Catholic Church.

Despite all of the bad press it has endured in recent decades, the number of vocations to the priesthood—the all male, celibate priesthood—is up.  Perhaps the Vatican’s incessant calls for priestly celibacy and its denunciation of  women’s ordination have struck a resonant chord among some young U.S. Catholic males.

According to the article, these candidates for the priesthood

…are attracted to the philosophy, the art, the literature and the  theology that make Catholicism countercultural. They are drawn to the beauty of  the liturgy and the church’s commitment to the dignity of the individual. They  want to be contributors to that commitment—alongside faithful and courageous  bishops who ask them to make sacrifices.

To wit:

  • A new seminary is in the planning stages near Charlotte, NC.
  • The Archdiocese of  Washington, DC, has expanded its seminary facilities to accommodate the increase in number of candidates.
  • In 2003, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston was advised to close the seminary. But there are now 70 candidates.  More surprisingly, the seminary has had to turn away candidates due to a lack of  space.
  • In 2011, there were 467 new priests ordained in  the U.S. last year, up from 442  in 2001. Eighteen priests were ordained for Washington in 2011 and 26 for the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Astoundingly, the Diocese of Lincoln (NE)—where Catholics are 16% of the population, ordained 10 priests in 2011.

Of course the critics will say, “There’s nothing like an economic downturn to stimulate vocations.”  And, The Motley Monk would note that there is historical precedent to support that assessment.  However, the much-touted end of the celibate male priesthood and glorious future of the U.S. Catholic Church featuring the ordination of women seems to be a Siren song that’s falling on deaf ears.

Beneath the radar, the winds of change—perhaps the authentic “signs of the times”—seem to be empowering the long-dormant turbines of seminaries.  Popular books like “Full Pews and Empty Altars” and “The Death of Priesthood” may end up being the stuff of pulp fiction.

The Wall Street Journal is researching what may be transpiring beneath the radar.  The article notes:

Our preliminary research on the  correlates of priestly ordinations reveals that the dioceses with the largest  numbers of new priests are led by courageous bishops with faithful and  inspirational vocations offices.

Uh, oh!  Success correlates with “intolerant” and “conservative” bishops, like the Most Reverend Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, NE.

Of course, many who populate the Catholic left don’t much like this trend and believe these young Catholic men who are being attracted to the priesthood by these conservative bishops have been characterized, shall The Motley Monk say, as being “somewhat unusual.”

It’s all been said before.

They are “conservative, even traditionalists” who “cling to extrinsics” to reinforce an immature self-image shaped by a domineering father, and are “pastorally insensitive.”  Worse yet, these “John Paul II priests” don’t challenge Church teaching but dogmatically preach it.  They view the Church as a hierarchy, not as a Quaker Meeting.  And, worst of all, they are misogynists if not homophobes or potential pedophiles.  In short, they will be the death of the U.S. Catholic Church.

“Just you wait and see, Motley Monk.  You’ll be sorry.”


While many “Baby Boomer” priests and theologians continue to preach about the Holy Grail of the “unfulfilled promise” of Vatican II, these aging progressives and their Siren song criticizing the Church’s teachings about so-called “reproductive “rights,” homosexual marriage, and women’s ordination aren’t resonating with some young people in this generation.

The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, may have inserted his finger directly into the wound when he delivered a homily in which he pronounced liberal Catholicism “an  exhausted project…parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.”

The truth is that the Church is countercultural, challenging American Catholics in this generation to turn way from the ideologies of secularism, materialism, and consumerism.  Perhaps these so-called “John Paul II” and “Benedict XVI” priests will be well-equipped to evangelize the lapsed Catholic faithful and non-faithful alike.  After all, these men grew up hearing nothing but the Siren song and looked beyond American Catholic progressives to the Roman Catholic Church for leadership and guidance.

But, as with all things of this world, The Motley Monk would note, “time will tell.” Ultimately, Divine Providence always will achieve its end, which is always nothing other than the good.



To read the Wall Street Journal article, click on the following link:

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  1. Praise be to God! This is good news. Unfortunately, it may take years to undo the damage the left has done to the Church and our Country. We have our Lord’s promise that the gates of Hell will never prevail against his Church, but what about America?

  2. You can tell which way the wind is blowing by the frequently bitter combox comments at venues of the Catholic Left like Commonweal, America and Vox Nova. A typical recent example:

    This is a true gem comment:

    “We should thank the editors of Commonweal for standing up to the bishops. The bishops’ position appears to be that of partisan Republicans, and dare I say, perhaps, racist. Sadly, the bishops refuse to recognize that the Church is all of us—the community of believers. Instead they prefer to dictate to the laity, and never listen to the laity. I have seen nothing anti-Catholic, or even anti-religion, in the Obama Administration’s policies. Most Catholic women ignore the bishops heavy-handed posturing on abortion and contraceptives. Why don’t the bishops speak out against unnecessary, unjust wars, the torture of prisoners, , income inequality, the erosion of our rights as U.S. citizens under the so-called “Patriot Act”, and the need for a nuclear weapons-free world?”

    For many of these folks they are Leftists first and Catholics, maybe fifth or sixth, if that.

  3. “The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, may have inserted his finger directly into the wound when he delivered a homily in which he pronounced liberal Catholicism “an exhausted project…parasitical on a substance that no longer exists.””

    Catholic Leftism tends to be a halfway house out of the doors of the Church. Catholic Leftists often leave the Church and if they don’t their kids usually don’t stick around.

  4. One day I’ll be proud to tell my grandchildren that I grew up with JPII as my pope and Francis Cardinal George as my archbishop. Doesn’t get much better than that.

  5. Mark me down as a young Catholic male who has totally rejected progressivism, egalitarianism, and white leftist guilt, and who takes being called a “medievalist” as one of the highest possible compliments that can be paid to him.

  6. I’m a youth (posting from my iPhone) and I am witness to how this generation is kicking hippie @$$ thanks to the beautiful truth of church teaching; e.g.; theology of the body vs what society presents as love, media not reporting on stuff that we personally witness, government trying to shove lies down our throat… Thx current administration and lamestream media! You have opened our eyes to the truth… A good blog that I recently found is bad catholic over at patheos that shows how pumped the youth is to live in the truth. The truth is the truth is the truth, and that’s what we will teach our (many) children and thx to Internet and globalization we will live it more intensely. The last generation didn’t really have Internet to validate the crazy ol truth that grandparents espoused, but this generation—whatch out! Gramps and grand kids united in the truth!!!

  7. Motley Monk, I don’t think that the progressives/liberals in the Church particularly
    care if their movement is an exhausted project. In fact, they seem to take a
    perverse pride in the sight of all those bare, ruined choirs. Their experiments with
    the liturgy, with catechesis, with priestly formation, with religious life– none of these
    were experiments in the literal sense of the word because their outcomes were never
    examined or their effects questioned. The progressives are wedded to the ideology of their experiments, not to producing results that we would consider
    good for the Church.

    Say a congregation of sisters implodes and disappears after progressives persuaded
    them to abandon their habits, to drop reciting their Office together, to abandon their
    convent in favor of many apartments scattered across the city. In the mindset of the
    liberals, the sisters’ story is positive, for they had the right ideology. The operation
    was a success, even though the patient died. That is why one will hear progressives
    pitch all sorts of snake oil, even when experience has shown it is destructive to the
    Church. The only change you won’t hear one promote is the re-introduction of
    traditional Catholic practices. It might be good for the Church, but it’d be bad for the
    ideology, and we can’t have that…

    Progressives are uninterested in statistics about the number of seminarians in Lincoln.
    They are not concerned about indications that their ideology has produced failure.
    Cardinal George could state the obvious truth that theirs is an exhausted project until
    the cows come home– progressives don’t care. They remind me of the ‘cashmere
    communists’ one sees in academia. If you point out that communism has, for the last
    century, only resulted in suffering and failure, they reply that it just hasn’t yet been
    implemented properly. Birds of a feather.

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