Monday, April 16, 2012

The Loss of Working Class Catholics

"The greatest scandal of the nineteenth century was the loss of the workers to the Church. The Church needs the workers, and the workers need the Church."

---- Pope Pius XI, March 1925

This is not directly on topic for this blog, but speaks to an important issue I may return to in the future to develop more fully. Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an article saying “Traditional Catholicism is Winning.” It referenced hard, objective data about an increasing number of priestly vocations, presenting some hope that there would be a stabilization of the ratio of priests to lay faithful in the United States, although it just offered speculation about the “traditionalism” of these priests. The Journal is on the right track but modesty prevents them from being more exact. The truth is the American Catholic Church is increasingly in leadership and rank-and-file made up of those who rather than being called “Traditionalist” could be better described as persons who mirror the readership of the Wall Street Journal.

Catholicism among working class/blue collar/non-college educated Americans, particularly white Americans, is in a free-fall decline. Working class Catholics have gone from being the backbone of the Church in the USA to a small, declining and ignored minority.

College educated, white collar, corporate executives form the social element that now dominates the Church in numbers and influence and which receives the lion’s share of pastoral care and attention.

A generation ago, Catholic bishops knew more about working class life than most union stewards (and a good number of stewards had been trained in that role by Catholic Labor schools). Now bishops stumble and get wrong basic facts about blue collar work and give you a blank stare if you use the term “third shift” in conversation with them. They come mostly from affluent families while in the past not a single American Catholic bishop was the son of a college graduate.

Yes, it is sad to note that the Church has backed off its historic economic justice apostolate, almost always now limiting itself to vague statements about the dirt poor and the jobless. It is rare to hear the bishops say anything nowadays about economic justice for the lower middle class, factory workers, and other hourly workers. But this is secondary to the problem. The great crisis is the huge unmet pastoral need that is not being addressed and we have a Church in its clerical and lay leadership that is out of touch with working class life. The white working class is now the most secular and unchurched American demographic group. And among the declining portion that is religious, that religion is not Catholicism. Working class Catholics who have not given up on religion have moved to Protestantism.

The Wall Street Journal reminds us that the number of priests and the number of white collar lay Catholic families (from which most priests are drawn from) has stabilized. But among non-college Catholics, they are dropping out of the Church at the highest numbers ever in history. The Journal’s Catholic readership may be holding even, but not so for the Daily News or the Sun-Times.

Pope Pius XI cried over the Catholic Church's loss of the European working class in the 19th century. Today, this tradegy has come to America.


simple simon said...

Is it any wonder given that Wall Street-oriented "traditionalist" bishops keep closing ethnic working class parishes in our post-industrial cities? I also think using the word "traditionalist," in this case, is misleading. Actually, I see them as extremists. Traditionalists honor the past, the sacrifices, accomplishments and values of our forebears. Not so this lot.

Max said...

If you see them as extermists they must be doing something right.

You might not like the Catholic Church, but at least you have Obama, until November.