For Catholicism to have a future in the United States, it must ensure that Catholic children are educated in the ways of the church, a visiting Jesuit said on Feb. 23.
“The inroads being made by evangelicals into the ranks of younger Catholics are extraordinary,” said Gerald P. Fogarty, S.J., the William R. Kenan Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and Loyola Chair at Fordham for the 2008-09 academic year.
“They are innocent of all knowledge of religion,” Father Fogarty said. “Evangelicals tell them they can have a personal relationship with Jesus that is non sacramental, and it’s compelling because of the lack of religious education on our children’s part.”
Father Fogarty, who delivered “From Confidence to Confusion: The Catholic Church in America since 1960” at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, said youngsters aren’t the only ones who would benefit from lessons in catechism.
“We should really take adult education seriously,” Father Fogarty said, recalling a conversation he had with an adult religious educator who debated him on whether or not Jesus had a human will. “Obviously, there’s a huge gap there.
“We’re still not training people in [Catholic] scholarship and it’s something we need to do,” he said.
Father Fogarty, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fordham before earning a doctorate from Yale, said Catholics enjoyed a confidence in the late 1950s that has since dissipated.
“Ethnicity of the immigrants enforced religion and religion enforced ethnicity,” he said. “We went from the big church, big rectory, big convent, big school and walking to church on Sundays, to big parking lots in the suburbs, where you need a retired police officer to direct traffic. But also the talking to your fellow parishioners seemed to fade. Going to church was private.”
A person needs only to look at the declining rate of Mass attendance to see how Catholicism in America has changed, Fogarty said.
“In 1957 and 1958, 74 percent of Catholics attended Mass weekly. In 2003, only 30 percent of Catholics said they attended church on a regular basis,” he said.
“1960 brought a decade of change,” Fogarty said. “We had a euphoria with the nomination and election of Kennedy that was short-lived. We thought we were being accepted as Catholics, but in the election of 1960, religion was something indifferent and Kennedy made it more indifferent,” Fogarty said, referring to Kennedy’s statements during a question-and-answer session in which he said he would resign if there were a conflict between his conscience and his office.
“Kennedy implied that Church teaching had nothing to do with his political views and was merely private. Maybe he had no choice, but the answers he gave remain the only ‘correct’ answers to give in the relationship between religion and politics,” Fogarty said.
Referring again to the future of American Catholics, Fogarty said there will be more lay involvement in the church. “Whether the bishops or I like it or not, there will be more lay Eucharistic ministers and lectors, and talk about why the Holy See doesn’t allow women to be ordained.”