Seven 2011 Events That Will Change the Church’s Story in America

photo composite. main image: stephencuyos.com via flickr

Catholic Vote editor Josh Mercer is going to be ticked that I didn’t think of any of these when he asked bloggers for this sort of thing a few weeks ago. But, as 2012 approaches, here’s a quick run-down of events from the past year that will impact the Church in America in our time, in no particular order.

1. Denver Babies Start College

Tim Drake and others have noted the big influx of religious vocations sparked by Pope John Paul II’s Denver World Youth Day. At Benedictine College, at least two leading monks trace their vocations to that 1993 event.

But apart from the event itself, Denver marked a “metanoia” for America’s Church. That was when we realized the faith could be serious and energetic, and that it wasn’t just the bastion of old age. Ever since, Americans have been organizing pilgrimages to ship young young people to World Youth Days around the world.

The Denver metanoia didn’t just produce many religious and priestly vocations, it produced Catholic family vocations too.  And in 2011, babies born in 1993 are turning 18 and beginning their Freshman year in college.

The renaissance of faithful Catholic colleges and universities that America has witnessed is therefore booming – and many of the schools are maturing to meet the new demand.

It is hard to overestimate the power of universities to change a culture. A Spanish Marxist once said “give us 10 universities and we will change the face of Europe,” and that is what happened. As Catholicism becomes even more of an intellectual countercultural force in America, developing leaders convinced of its truth and its importance, its influence will grow exponentially.

2. The Penn State and Hollywood Wake-up Calls

For years Catholics have been alarmed and saddened by a steady drumbeat of news stories about Catholic sexual abuse, which often recounted incidents from decades past. But the storyline was: “That awful Catholic Church is so out of touch they allowed child sex abuse to occur in their midst!” The problem: by focusing on that sub-story, the media has been ignoring the even more important story: “There is an enormous child sex-abuse epidemic that our society is ignoring, a problem so pervasive that even religious institutions are caught up in it.”

The Associated Press reported about the widespread sex abuse problem in the public schools, but the series got no traction.

After 2011, the tragedy of Jerry Sandusky at Penn State and the burgeoning Hollywood casting scandal could change that. If the media gets serious about rooting out child abuse in the society at large, then the Catholic Church can even switch from villain to important ally. Thanks to the media’s attention, Catholics have now become the leaders in protecting children, and can share the knowledge we have gained from our successes and failures.

3. “Catholicism,” by Father Robert Barron

The Catholic Church was the great shaper of “mass media” for centuries as we pioneered communicative art forms from painting and sculptures to manuscripts and cathedrals. The Church learned to speak to the masses in ways that informed their minds, moved their hearts and strengthened their wills.

But in the 20th century, the Church slipped from being at the vanguard of media to being the trailers. The Church’s use of the forms of communication was mired in mediocrity. The Catholic Church of Michelangelo and illuminated manuscripts had birthed the Catholic Church of felt dove banners and “We Celebrate” workbooks. The Church had triumphantly embraced the radio, then stopped as the world kept moving.

Several developments are changing that. CatholicVote.org’s own pro-life Internet videos are one example. But the best example of the new Catholic excellence in media is Father Robert Barron’s Catholicism series. This DVD review of the beauty, truth and goodness of our faith is itself a model of beauty, truth and goodness. And it is not just a great achievement of its own. It is a sign that our talk of the New Evangelization is bearing real fruit.

4. Pro-Life Victories

This year has been a great year for pro-life victories. So much so that Lifesite news is celebrating with “The 12 Days of Pro-Life Christmas: Marking Victories in 2011.” Among them: The House voted twice to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding, five states have restricted abortion coverage by insurance, and 70 pro-life bills have passed in statehouses.

The impact of pro-life victories is deep and wide. The abortion issue is a “gateway issue.” Once you adopt a position on abortion, a lot of other issues fall into line behind it. Once you believe that innocent human life needs to be protected even when you can’t see it, you have to reset your entire worldview: To be pro-life reverses relativism, moral indifferentism, and utilitarianism.

And, even greater, in this season when we watch It’s a Wonderful Life we can remember that each human being allowed to be born instead of aborted will help transform America in a unique and unrepeatable way.

5. Conscience Battles

In a stinging article this month,  Miami, Fla., Archbishop Thomas Wenski explains how the Obama administration “is running roughshod over conscience protection provisions long part of the law that find their justification in the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion, a foundational human right.” Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George has called the administration’s actions “the first step in moving our country from democracy to despotism.”

These attacks on conscience might mean the end of Christians’ use of public institutions to serve the world, Father Robert Barron suggested in remarks at Notre Dame’s Ethics & Culture Center. We may soon no longer be able to operate adoption agencies or service organizations. Our service will have to take a different form.

6. Marriage Defeat in New York

The redefining of marriage in New York ― the biggest defeat for traditional marriage since California ― does not pose a threat because of what it does for homosexuals so much as for what it does to the rest of our marriages.

The state is only in the marriage business to start with because marriage is the unique procreative relationship that creates, protects and nurtures the next generation. The state has an interest in guarding and encouraging that.

To redefine marriage to include homosexual relationships changes the meaning of marriage for all couples. Once that’s done, marriage is just a piece of paper from the government acknowledging that a couple said “I love you in a special way” in front of a witness. Marriages become government-issued Valentines.

The ramifications for the Church and the family are huge. The fundamental building block of society is the family, not the couple. The family glues one generation to the next one (and the previous one) and inspires us to make life continually better. With marriage redefined, the family will no longer be protected by the state any more than any other relationship. As Pope John Paul II put it, “families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference.”

7. Liturgical Changes in the English-speaking World

If you think in terms of 100-year blocks, a lot of the news events I have mentioned will pale in their significance to the American Church compared to the liturgical changes Pope Benedict got done this year.

In 100 years, the loss of marriage will play itself out as the culture learns the hard way that the definition of marriage wasn’t just an arbitrary thing after all. Conscience battles will drive our increasingly faithful Church to be more inventive and less bureaucratic in our works of mercy. Just as abortion replaced slavery, the devil will find some other seemingly unthinkable evil to dupe the public into accepting once abortion is gone.

But the change in the Liturgy will be more like a tectonic shift: Slower and more significant. A generation of Catholics will grow up in the Church Vatican II intended, learning a theologically accurate creed (believing in things visible and invisible, not just “seen and unseen;” believing that Christ is of the same substance, not “one in being” with the Father); repeating a more befitting penitential rite and forming their relationship with Christ with a more reverent Eucharistic rite.

This liturgy teaches us how to be like Christ. The new liturgy will help raise up Catholics who understand that God is unapproachably great, our sin against him is a disaster of eternal proportions, and his renewal of mankind is as quiet, subtle, total and unstoppable as the dewfall.

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Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.

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26 thoughts on “Seven 2011 Events That Will Change the Church’s Story in America

  1. Max says:

    You are incorrect regarding gay marriage. The notion that the State should be involved in marriage is a proposition put forth by the vehemently anti-Church French revolutionaries. Before the French Revolution, no Christian would consider going before a civil magistrate to be “married”. Marriage licenses in America only began in the 1890s, to prevent interracial marriages (not to “promote” marriage). By 1920 all 50 states had marriage license laws because they saw it as a great source of revenue. If you were writing this article during the French Revolution, you would be arguing that the State has no business in marriage. Funny how you defend the philosophical positions of one the largest anti-clerical movements in history. We have a duty to promote our vision of Sacramental marriage, we don’t need the power of the State to do that.

  2. Sir Robert says:

    Father Barron Rocks! He is Bishop Fulton Sheen’s successor!

    1. john p says:

      Father Barron…blows away Sheen…I can barely stay awake listening to Sheens old stuff…as for father Barron..over 300+ homilys I have listened to and look forward to his next 300…just hope he stops hanging out with the rich and famous..least he loose his humulitas..he needs to go to India for a year..and stay out of the light..to recharge his humility. Left the Catholic church years ago for another church..as was more interested in having my chilren learn Christianty and not so much religion/$$$.

  3. Steve Song says:

    Enough with the rhetoric under #6. Marriage wasn’t “defeated”. There are now more married people in New York. “Traditional” marriage wasn’t “defeated” either. People are still free to get a “traditional marriage” in New York just as they always have been. Marriage hasn’t been “redefined” either, just as marriage wasn’t “redefined” when we finally allowed a black woman to marry a white man in 1967. The ramifications are indeed “huge”, with this new law, New York has embarked on a journey to insure that ALL their families are treated equally under our laws as our Constitution requires. Families won’t be the “victims” as even MORE families are now protected by New York’s laws. What has changed is that families headed by gay couples will no longer be the victims of unjust laws that denied them the ability to protect their families. I’m proud to be a Catholic New Yorker (for marriage) this year!

    1. You're Wrong says:

      What you consider “marriage” is not the institution given to us by God. Sticking feathers on your butt and a rubber glove on your head makes you no more a chicken than two men saying “I do” in front of a ‘celebrant’ makes them a married couple.

    2. Lucy K says:

      Well, first of all, marriage is a contract between a man, a woman, and God, for the purpose of uniting to create a family. Any union between persons which does not work towards this end is not a marriage. Hopefully you already where children come from. If so, you also know that man and woman were created for each other, and any other combination simply doesn’t work! As for these “families”, wwe should pray that they stop living in a state of sin. This is not the kind of family God wants for His children. As for the “unjust laws”, they are not unjust if they discourage the perversion of marriage through the sin of homosexuality. If you truly are Catholic, I encourage you to discuss with your priest the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of Holy Matrimony. I will be praying for you.

  4. Philip says:

    So I clicked the link about the school abuse and found that there were 2.500 cases of reported abuse in schools over the course of 5 years, but about 3,000,000 teachers during that time. That works out to about 0.8% abuse. If the Church would come clean, we could get a better estimate, to compare, but currently at least 4% of American priests have actually been accused of sexually abusing youth and estimates of actual abuse that has occured range from from a obviously incorrect low of 2% to as high as 11% once you consider all the abuse that is not reported. Even at the low end of the scale, the problems within the church appear to be 5 times worse than those within our school system. To make matters worse, our Church had, and I believe still has, a process of covering these abuses up, while our school systems have programs designed to uncover abuse and clear guidelines for reporting the abuse to authorities. Until we accept the reality of the problem in our church and address it, we are not going to get anywhere. Providing cover for these priests by making false claims that it’s just a broader problem in society doesn’t help anyone, and it just makes Catholics look stupid.

    1. Tom Hoopes says:

      Read it again. That 2,500 was not “reported”, it was “punished.”:
      “An Associated Press investigation found more than 2,500 cases over five years in which educators were punished for actions from bizarre to sadistic.”
      As the series points out, much abuse goes unpunished.

  5. Matt says:

    If Point #5 is correct, the bishops you referenced have a lot of examining of conscience to do. Talk of moving from democracy to despotism? This comes from a Cardinal who believes that gay people don’t even have the right to gather formally in public once per year because their gathering would block access to one of multiple Sunday masses at a Catholic Church (interestingly, marathon runners in Chicago do the same thing annually to multiple churches, but the Cardinal never cared about that). And I’m sure Archbishop Wenski wrote a similarly scathing op-ed about Gov. Rick Scott’s desire to block-grant Medicaid…with no conscience protection: no limits on federal-to-state money to pharamceutical companies that produce abortifacients, no limits on federal-to-state dollars to insurance companies that sponsor abortion.

    1. Rick S. says:

      The protesters in Chicago tried to intimidate people not to enter the Cathedral. A marathon does not intimidate people.

      1. Scott says:

        I think you are confused Rick. They were talking about a future event. Further, the event is a gay pride parade, not a protest. The only thing I could find about a protest against the Catholic Church in Chicago is some YouTube fake documentary that was produced by the National Organization for Marriage. They tried to make it look like the protesters were causing problems, but about the worst thing that any of the Parishioners could point to was that there were so many people picketing, that they had to walk down a few feet to get around and into church. If our church and church leaders publicly speak against the rights of gay people to get a marriage license from city hall, I think the people affected have a right to protest don’t you? Or do you think free speech only applies to the people that share your viewpoint?

    2. Bruce says:

      (1) Matt said “a Cardinal who believes that gay people don’t even have the right to gather formally in public once per year because their gathering would block access to one of multiple Sunday masses at a Catholic Church” Can you give us a quote where Francis Cardinal George said that he doesn’t think homosexuals have the right to gather in public? I’ve read several articles on this topic, and I have yet to see this quote. Can you give us the quote and a link? Otherwise, it would be quite easy to assume that you falsely attributed a rather inflammatory statement against another person. (

    3. Greg Smith says:

      Dear Matt ~ What was so sad about the Pride Parade incident was that it should have seen as a logistics problem. The organizers wanted to move the start time up to 10:00 in the hope there would be less drinking. That, of course, ran into the parish’s mass. They tried to work out alternate entrances, pathways etc. to no avail. Finally, after Cardinal George’s unfortunate remarks, all parties agreed to a noon start time. Many gay people believe that the Church, which they see as only the hierarchy, not the body of Christ, hates them. The cardinal’s slanderous and ridicules comment will only reinforce that belief. ~ Pax tecum, Greg

      1. Bruce says:

        (1) Greg, do radical homosexualists speak of the Church in similar terms as the KKK or not?

        1. Greg Smith says:

          Bruce ~ Do misguided extremist, Catholics (The Dimmond brothers, Gary Matatics et. al) speak of the Holy Father in similar terms to the KKK? Every group has its bad elements. The logistics problem Cdl. George was being interviewed about had nothing to do with the radical minority within the gay movement. ~ Greg

          1. Bruce says:

            “Pride” parades and “award-winning” websites such as Joe.My.God tell a different story than you. Extremism and bigotry against the Church seem to be the norm, not the exception.

          2. GREG SMITH says:

            Dear Bruce ~ Next June, please come to the Pride parade here in San Francisco and we’ll see together if any floats, marching bands etc. etc. present an anti-Catholic message. Happy new year, Greg

    4. Chase says:

      I think Catholics have quite a bit of soul searching to do this year. The hypocrisy o our leaders, while always extreme, is becoming laughable and embarassing. It’s also contributing to a generation of Catholics that simply don’t know what our values are anymore. I remember a church that held its arms open for all. That is no longer the case.

      1. Bruce says:

        Chase said, “a generation of Catholics that don’t know what are values are…” and blamed that on the hierarchy. That is rather odd, considering the hierarchy is reminding Catholics what are values are, particularly with regard to chastity and marriage (and offenses against both). To me, that would be their job, and they are doing it. And the Church does hold its arms open for all – she is the Body of Christ. She asks, as He asks, that we take up our crosses and follow him. That means we are to “go and sin no more,” so if you are committing sinful acts against chastity (such as homosexual acts, fornication, masturbation, etc), you must stop and follow Christ instead. So I disagree that she is not holding her arms open for all. She is – there just happens to be a segment of a segment of the population that does not want to die to themselves.

  6. SAM J DE MEO says:

    GOING TO BE VERY HARD FOR CHURCH MEMBERS TO PICK CANDIDATE.GOP TRYING TO PUT ABORTION ON BACK BURNER.GOP SHOULD HAVE STARTED PLATFORM POSITION WITH PRO LIFE STATEMENT THAT GOD IS THE CREATOR OF ALL LIFE,

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