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The Catholic church has a changing of the guard, but not much else.
By RICHARD AMRHINE
It is a curious position for any organization to take, especially one that thrives on expanding its ministry and increasing its numbers. But perhaps it sees a payoff in the long run--that those who adhere to church doctrine, and those who now join the flock knowing its direction, will make it an even stronger, if more compact, institution.
An alternative strategy is illustrated by The Free Lance-Star's decision to switch to morning publication seven years ago. To prepare for the future, the newspaper decided it must switch to morning publication, even if it meant sacrificing some longtime subscribers accustomed to receiving an afternoon newspaper. Some readers did say goodbye, but in the long run that decision is paying off with growing circulation numbers and a bright future.
For the Catholic church, however, a turnaround of the troubling numbers is not in the forecast. It will instead remain true to its doctrine no matter what.
Conservative columnist and Roman Catholic Patrick Buchanan recently excerpted a book titled "Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II."
The book reports that since 1965, the number of Catholic priests in the United States has fallen from 58,000 to 45,000. By 2020, there will be 31,000 and half will be over 70.
In 1965, 1,575 new U.S. priests were ordained. In 2002, 450 were.
It also found that in 1958, three in four American Catholics attended Mass on Sunday, but only one in four do so today.
Buchanan notes that an actual dwindling of membership has been avoided thanks to the nation's Catholic immigrant population.
Pope John Paul II presided over the church during much of this period of decline. Nevertheless, with the huge turnout of mourners at the Vatican, coupled with the worldwide adoration expressed for the pope in the weeks after his death, it is clear that an immense core of faithful followers exists.
But if the church insists on pursuing its circle-the-wagons mentality to ward off even fellow Catholics with differing views, the only result can be increased divisiveness.
That's what last year's Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, found when he attempted to articulate and reconcile his own Catholic faith in light of his votes in favor of reproductive choice and stem-cell research. Many Catholics deemed the position philosophically unacceptable, which helped fuel the religious fervor that marked the campaign and election.