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What Really Killed the Catholic Church in America

Appearing on a heavily trafficked blog today is an article by Fr. Dwight Longenecker titled What’s Killing American Catholicism. In it, Father Longenecker says two things worthy of note:

  • Ethnic Parishes destroyed America (!). Literally, he says “The first problem is cultural Catholicism”. I am flabbergasted and nearly speechless at the ignorance of this statement. His conclusions thereto are even more fantasy. He somehow conflated ethnic tradition with mainstream American Catholic Church lunacy:  “This is the core problem with Cultural Catholicism: by its very nature it goes with the flow.”
  • Father is looking at ethnic traditions from the outside. He doesn’t understand it, evidenced by this quote: ” I was brought up as an Evangelical fundamentalist.”  While Father goes on to explain that he understands traditions. I don’t find any of his explanations of Mennonite and other Anabaptist faiths to be compelling, however. Those are, after all, traditions that sought to rid themselves of humanity in favor of an insular “circle the wagons” in a safe community.

Father concludes with a fancy sounding label he created: “The answer to Cultural Catholicism, therefore, is what I call Comprehensive Catholicism–a Catholicism that embraces all things for their essential worth.”  I have to laugh at it.  He wants to make something up whole cloth from scratch.

I’ve got news for him:  people did that for the last twenty centuries and it’s called “tradition.”  G.K. Chesterton calls tradition “the democracy of the dead.”  People who lived through depressions, gnosticism, heresy, secular governments, martyrdom, aggressive cults and sects, as well as faithless priests and bishops figured out the “Best practices” and the “comprehensive solutions.”  We call it ethnic traditions.

Father is recounting his casual experience with the children of ethnic tradition, but he leaves something out:  those people have been assaulted by AmChurch. Yes, Father needs to account for the errors that are forced from within the AmChurch — they infect and destroy the cultureless, and this infection has been so festered that even ethnic traditions have been affected. What are the festering errors? It’s not ethnicity. Father seems to prefer the culture-less, whitewashed Church, like this one:


There is nothing from tradition or ethnicity invading that “worship space!”   It truly is a vacuum! You can bring whatever you want to that space and nothing in there will confront you with opposing ideas. That’s the AmChurch!

Over the years, I have heard Fr. Hardon give many explanations of the problems in the Church. Never did Fr. Hardon, or any other priest that I recall, complain that ethnic tradition was killing the Church. Rather, I’ve heard the following, and this is not an exhaustive list by any means:

  • Lack of clear teaching on basic Catholic faith. Error is not promptly crushed or corrected by the Bishops – that’s their purpose, yet we’ve seen:
    • Silence on the assertion that God is not a person, but a genderless “thing;”
    • Silence on the assertions that the miracles in the Gospel are mere stories;
    • Silence on the errors propagated by liberation theologians (social activism, Marxism, etal.);
    • Silence on Humanae Vitae – despite what Fr. Longenecker says, implying that people think contraception is OK is caused by ethnic traditions — the real cause is that his confreres and bishops have ignored the teaching for over forty years. It starts, as Fr. Hardon would say, with contraception (see Fr. Sauppe’s take, too);
    • Silence on divorce and excessive grants of annulments leading the faithful to a diminished understanding of the sacrament of matrimony; and,
    • Silence on the morality of telling the truth (seriously, when is the last time you heard this basic concept preached?).
  • Actual error taught to the faithful:
    • Fr. Hardon recounted the story that an Archdiocese refused to give him an imprimatur on a small booklet about the Blessed Sacrament unless Father would remove the words “real presence” before the reference to Jesus;
    • I can recall being told by numerous priests (and one archbishop) that the Blessed Sacrament was a symbol, never referencing that a physical real Person is there;
    • I can recall being told by priests in AmChurch parishes that confession is arcane, and that God could hear your confession anywhere;
    • That sin is “institutional” and “social” without ever referencing actual sin, that is, error by the person; and,
    • That hell is imaginary and implying that everyone goes to Heaven, no matter their choices.
  • Liturgical Abuses:
    • Liturgical Dance;
    • The removal of Gregorian Chant and traditions of the Roman Rite;
    • the regular use of so-called “eucharistic ministers” which are properly called “extraordinary ministers” (because they are only supposed to be used in extraordinary circumstances);
    • the tinkering with the english language, which is not resolved (the ICEL psalms are terrible);
    • the destruction of devotions, statues, things of beauty;
    • the construction of empty churches that have no statues, no painting;
    • removal of kneelers;
    • bowing instead of genuflecting;
    • removal of gestures of faith during the liturgy; and,
    • the insertion of inane music to the Mass (guitars, hippy music, and other experiments of things devoid of ethnic tradition).

This list can easily be expanded. Any of these are fatal to the Church. None of these have anything to do with ethnic parishes but with the American hierarchy and the parishes therein.

Ethnic Traditions are Part of Genuine “Comprehensive Catholicism”

The traditions I learned of Polish customs surrounding the Church are literally “Comprehensive Catholicism.”  Good lay people strong with traditions have been the ones that have preserved the true faith — despite the onslaught of the AmChurch. Frankly, a lot of what I read from the Bellarmine Forum (even though it was called Wanderer Forum Foundation back then) over the years helped immensely. It is, literally, lay people coming from ethnic traditions that could see the destruction of the Church occurring around them and said “enough!”  Documents and newsletters of the Forum weren’t welcome in AmChurch parishes. I can remember seeing them traded like contraband among little old ladies who still had prayer sodalities at their houses (because the parish priest refused to give them space at the parish church) and among regular blue-collar guys who talked briefly between wrangling their children. 

For Fr. Longenecker to lay blame on someone other than the crazy experiments carried out in the “spirit of Vatican II” is not very realistic. Whatever else I can say about ethnic Catholicism is that it is real:  it has to be. Let’s be real about what killed the Church in America.

I find it funny that among the various ethnic parishes I’ve been at, the old folks all complain of the same thing:  assimilation by the culture-less American Church destroying their children. For them, the AmChurch has been a gateway drug to nondenominational worship by their kids.  That is, among other things, what the ethnically cleansed parishes of the AmChurch were:  nondenominational, noncharactered, nonsacramental, nontraditional, and non-Catholic.

Little Vinny doesn’t believe in the sacraments anymore not because he went to St. Anthony’s Grotto Parish with quarterly ravioli dinners and a giant festival to St. Anthony every year. Little Vinny doesn’t believe because he experienced AmChurch which has no ravioli, no ties to history, no statues, no sacraments, and no faith. It’s really that easy.

The problem in the Catholic Church today is that it has made a generation and a half of little Vinnys, little Seans, little Margaritas, little Sashas, and given them a false belief that what AmChurch taught them is really the Church. One of the only things that might possibly provoke these people to wake up and realize that AmChurch was wrong is the niggle of ethnic traditions. Why? because it carries with it the democracy of all those people who built it with features of Catholic faith. Such traditions are an integral part of anything we might call “comprehensive Catholicism.”

This article, What Really Killed the Catholic Church in America is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

22 Responses to What Really Killed the Catholic Church in America

  1. […] We here at the Bellarmine Forum have often spoken of the revered traditional customs, especially those that take place at Easter and Christmas.  Pope Benedict XVI has spoken eloquently of these and we have endeavored over the years to celebrate and bring to a wider audience these traditions.  We have probably been disproportionate in our celebration of Central European traditions, but that is because of the heritage of the contributors here.  I have written elsewhere of these traditions and how they are a foretaste of the eternal banquet–what Chesterton called the “Inn at the End of the World.”  Manos has also never tired of repeating that the influence of the ethnic parishes and their traditio…. […]

  2. […] I’ve always chuckled that people called reacting to these things “extremism” — as if there should be no outrage, as if there were no victims.  The truth is that the error is damaging, ugly, and real — it is evil.  A further catalogue of the mess, which completes the image Frontline missed, is in the article I posted a while back on what really killed the Church in America. […]

  3. John Manos – coming to this late, but with a couple comments in defense of Fr. L, whom I’ll attempt to represent accurately:

    a) Patheos has been doing a major overhaul of the combox system, there have been bugs, and I imagine you got lost in that. The kind of comments Fr. L moderates are the profanity-laden, not honest arguments.

    b) I gather the point wasn’t “ethnic parishes are bad” — not by a long shot. Rather, a line of thinking I have certainly encountered:

    1. I’m catholic cause that’s what Italians/Irish/etc do
    2. Look, I’m American! But Catholic is still my “heritage”!
    3. So Catholic = American Culture

    I have seen this progression across generations, time and again. I think this error *causes* the AmChurch problem you point to. In day-to-day life I see it whenever some difficult topic is brought up, and some well-meaning, enthusiastic Catholic will tell me, “Well you need to get with the times. This is normal now. All the kids are doing this.”

    That, I think, is the challenge. Think of the moments in political history when folks said, “We’ve arrived. Someone Catholic ascended to ______ position.” Never, “We’ve arrived. People in _______ position now subscribe to the Catholic belief on this or that.”

  4. The picture of the ‘white’ church is an example of what killed the Catholic Church in America. For those of us who grew up in a cultural Catholic church, life revolved around the church, around the liturgical seasons, 40 hours’ devotion, processions, novenas. That’s what kept us Catholic. It was ever before us and in us.
    What did Vatican II really say about living the faith? About liturgy and environment and being the church in the modern world? Pick up a copy of the Bellarmine Forum magazine and find out. All issues of this quarterly are devoted to what Vatican II really said, not some “expert” opinion of what the Church should be this week.

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