The message from headquarters was sent to field agents worldwide:
“This is your mission — if you choose to accept it: Take one of the most powerful institutions in history and change it so radically, in all the wrong ways, that in the span of 50 years, it will be a shell of its former self, relegated to a backwater shaped only by the sad ghosts of the past.”
Was this a “Mission Impossible” communiqué sent at the height of the Cold War
to implode the Soviet Union? Certainly could have been.
But interestingly, that message could also apply perfectly to another mammoth entity -- the Roman Catholic Church.
There is one critical difference. The Soviets fell from outside forces, namely the influence of the United States. But the church is falling from within, and its decline is of its own making.
The above message could well have come from the Vatican, 1965. The “field agents?” Cardinals, bishops and priests. The objective: implement Vatican II.
The result? Disaster.
In the tumultuous 1960s, the world was on fire as secularism and moral relativism were in vogue. Rather than fighting those concepts, the church went in the opposite direction. Vatican II allowed Catholics to be “Catholic” in any way they wanted, playing into the hands of the Woodstock culture. Unwittingly, that carte-blanche decree served as a launching point for the now-dominant “do whatever makes you feel good” mentality.
In an instant, what made Roman Catholicism the world’s dominant force vanished. To many, the “rock” upon which St. Peter built the church no longer seemed solid, but more “flexible.”
Some church officials, to be sure, disagreed with the new vision, but they were powerless to stop it, and for good reason. Not only were they forced to follow orders, but they could no longer hold their flock accountable when the church itself abandoned many of the tenets which made it so attractive.
Give people an inch, and they take a yard. And unequivocally, that isn’t limited to religion.
When a political party strives to become a very large “tent,” trying to be all things to all people rather than affirming its platform — what it stands for — it eventually becomes impotent.
When a belief is irreparably compromised as to make the original tenet unrecognizable, the result is the most unintended of consequences: no one is pleased, and people abandon the organization in ever-growing numbers, both officially and through indifference.
Has a football team ever won a championship when the coach tells his players to practice in whatever way that makes them feel good about themselves? Has a team ever been successful after making mandatory team meetings optional?
Morale and pride mean everything in building a successful team or institution, but they can only exist when sacrifice and dedication is demanded of the individuals who make up that entity. The only part of JFK’s inaugural address that people remember was when he demanded greatness of Americans by asking “what you can do for your country.”
The church lost that when it stopped demanding greatness, instead letting folks off the hook by making things “easier.” It thought that by doing so, it would be the recipient of goodwill and see its membership increase.
It thought wrong.
Holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday? You don’t have to go to church, since we’ll just make Sunday mass count for both.
You want to wear cut-off shorts, sports jerseys and flip-flops to Church? If it makes you feel good, then no problem.
Fasting from meat on Friday get in the way of ordering sausage pizza? The heck with it. We’ll eliminate that rule too.
The more the church gave in to such expediency, the more people stopped going to mass, and yes, the more parents stopped sending their children to Catholic schools. Since the church took away the essence of Catholic identity, the very point of being a proud Roman Catholic, then what was the point of doing either?
And now, several generations later, the carnage is everywhere.
The mosques are full, as are many evangelical churches, yet the churches are empty.
And in those evangelical churches, a significant percentage of the congregation are former Catholics who left the church not because it was too “hard,” but because it stopped demanding.
Vocations are nonexistent, elderly out-of-touch priests have no replacements, schools are being shuttered at a staggering rate (which goes way beyond this latest round of closings), and scandal and corruption are rampant with no end in sight, as criminal trials and more billion-dollar settlements loom.
And worst of all, the cover-ups continue, serving for many as the final nail in the coffin. Why go to church to listen to a long-winded uninsprational sermon about “morality” when church leaders actively stonewall investigations and protect society’s absolute worst — child predators?
So what does the church do?
An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Friendly Fire Zone.
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