Lapsed, but Listening


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TIMOTHY EGAN October 10, 2013, 9:00 pm 207 Comments

Lapsed, but Listening


Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.

Just days before he got the diagnosis of the cancer that would kill him in 2011, Christopher Hitchens was flinging word bolts at pilgrims while promoting his book “God Is Not Great.” After his presentation, I asked him why, given that so few Americans self-identify as atheists, his book had found such a large audience.

“Dear boy,” said the British-born provocateur, wit and world-class polemicist, “you do know that the fastest growing religious category is people who say they don’t believe in any organized religion?”

I did not know. But a slew of recent surveys back him up. Following the near-Godless Europeans, Americans are more secular than ever before. In a Pew poll, one in five describe their preference as no religion — the “Nones.” For young people, it’s nearly one in three. Flooding their ranks are many of the 20 million lapsed Catholics. All of these are high-water marks.

This mega-trend would have seemed as irreversible as a sunset until a 76-year-old cardinal from Argentina was named leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in March. That the pope would take the name of Francis — the 12th-century mystic, nature lover and friend of the dispossessed — was the first shock. Since then, the seismic waves have just kept on rolling.

Pope Francis has shown himself to be a free spirit and a free thinker. He loves the music of Mozart, the paintings of Chagall, the films of Fellini. He tweets. He talks to atheists. He stays out of politics. He calls for the faithful to “mess up the church.” He doesn’t moralize or sermonize, and famously said, when asked about gays, “Who am I to judge?” Is this pope Catholic?

Francis has befuddled the guardians of dogma and medieval sexual doctrines who have long kept sunlight out of the Vatican. He is — gasp — a liberal. Or at the least, as he said, “I have never been a right winger.” But to put him in those restrictive political terms does a disservice to the quiet revolution of Pope Francis.

It’s long been known that most North American and European Catholics ignore church teachings on gays, contraception and abortion. These teachings range from absurd to unscientific to outright hateful. Without specifically changing the official line, Francis prompted millions of Catholics to give the church a second look when he criticized the hierarchy for being “obsessed” with those issues. Amen, said nearly 70 percent American Catholics who agreed with him in a Quinnipiac poll.

The anecdotal reaction is equally intriguing. “People come up to me all the time on the street or at a restaurant and say things like, ‘I just need to tell someone how much I like this pope of yours,’” said Father Stephen Sundborg, a Jesuit (like Francis) who is president of Seattle University, based in one of the most secular cities in the United States. “Suddenly, it seems O.K. to be a priest out there.”

All of this is by design. Francis is working two broad strategies. The first is aimed at lapsed Catholics, and those who are open to a spiritual life with an intellectual framework. Thus, he dismissed proselytizing as “solemn nonsense,” in a recent interview. “It makes no sense,” he said of the blunt harangues over whose God is better.

The Jesuits have always tried to get people to think for themselves, to arrive at belief through an arduous process. When bishops started telling parishioners that their gay and lesbian siblings were sinners, and that family planning was a grievous wrong, people stopped listening to them — for good reason.

“In terms of people in the pews, the Catholic Church lost roughly one-fourth of its strength over the last 35 years,” wrote the political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell in their book “American Grace.” They argue that when the religious right politicized faith, they put a “not welcome” sign on the door for millions of people of faith. This was compounded by the hypocrisy of these same moral authorities protecting pedophile priests while ignoring the lifelong anguish of the victims. For much of the 20th century, the Catholic Church in places was essentially organized crime in clerical garb.

The spirituality of Pope Francis, like his namesake from Assisi, is by example. Shedding the glam trappings of power and the aura of invincibility, he lives in a spartan guesthouse, mixes with the folks and tries to give voice to the sick, the poor, the immigrant living in the shadows. He washes the feet of prisoners, and Muslim ones at that. He laments that worshiping “the god called money” makes for bankrupt human beings.

The church he envisions would be a “home for all,” not “a nest protecting our mediocrity.” It’s strong stuff, long overdue and as refreshing as a brisk wind blowing down from the Dolomites.

His second strategy is aimed at the hardened heart of the church inside Vatican Square — the curia. He has summoned the cardinals for discussions on how to reform the church, the role of women and posture toward divorced Catholics. One goal is to remove the adjective “scandal-plagued” from curia.

No fancy cars, he admonishes the high clerics. Clean up the Vatican bank. The word “monsignor,” which means “my lord,” is out for elites. And enough with the “interminable and boring homilies where no one understands anything.” If that weren’t enough, he went after the cult of power: “Heads of church have often been narcissists, flattered and thrilled by their courtiers.”

The only problem with Francis is his age. If he were 50, he might have a quarter-century to move his church up several centuries in enlightened thinking. His time is short. But what a miraculous sprint, producing this minor miracle: the lapsed are listening.



    32 Responses to “Lapsed, but Listening”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Age has nothing to do with the vision…the great work would demand inclusion so that the melody is not erased by the many that cannot sing. He must be careful in his appointments, what looks good on paper is not always what one gets. He must include the entire Church, and those outside her boundaries. Otherwise, everything remains circular and advancement past crime, sin, and operator error cannot take place. Yes, listen up…it is a different type of love that was always on the pages of the gospels—not isolated between the spaces of the text. Where the POOR: those without money, those without food, those without jobs, those without education, those without friends, those without a place to call home, those without health, those unChurched, and those without God are equally loved, unjudged, and included in redemption’s blueprint! Amen

    Francis is calling for action…in so many ways he is encouraging clerics to leave their rut and walk and don’t look back. Leave the darkness, and the clouds will eventually vanish.

  2. Thomas Says:

    Will the heroes of the Church please step forward…

    http://www.comicvine.com/francis-brother-of-the universe/4050-51805/

  3. Thomas Says:


  4. Frank Lostaunau Says:

    I DO NOT TRUST POPE Francis. He’s in a position to IDENTIFY priests/nuns who have raped children and vulnerable adults and has thus far simply opened his mouth, waved his hands, walked about town, and not slept in the shit hole known as the Vatican. He also eats well while millions upon millions of innocent children starve.

    Unless somebody his fat ass, he will never wake up to the HORROR OF RAPED CHILDREN.




  5. Frank Lostaunau Says:

    Correction: Unless somebody rapes his fat ass, he will never wake up to the REALITY OF THE HORROR OF CHILDREN, WOMEN, AND MEN.

  6. Frank Lostaunau Says:


  7. Thomas Says:

    A long long time ago, many more than you became one of the abused. If you don’t know by now, we have great difficulty with authority figures and trust. In fact, most would not wish what happened to them onto anyone. For Frances to know and act on any information of criminal clergy and nuns, that information would have to come to him through the Holy Office or the Papal Court…if the administration there is corrupt…he would not know and would be blameless. Blame can only be nailed to the enlightened…the one who has picked up, opened, and read the letter (charges).

  8. ERW Says:

    Honestly, why would anybody be so hateful and wish evil on others??????

  9. ERW Says:

    Is there not enough horror on this planet???? Evil only creates more of the same.

  10. Frank Lostaunau Says:

    Tough titty!

    I pray to jeezy and all the angels that Pope Francis not be appreciated or loved by anybody and that means plants, animals, and all people on planet ert!

    I ask that the great Archangel Gabriel will fly down and whack il papa on the head with his mighty sword!

    tee hee…


    Missy In Denial

  11. Thomas Says:

    Dear Ms. Denial…

    At a very young age, I became broken, became one of the abused…before I could even define the social anomaly. Super glue was not even invented back then. Nothing made sense…the pieces would not quite fit into the original…a sense of the perfect kid. I became angry and held onto it as a lifeline until I realized that it’s burden was too heavy, and I was sinking further. The things that one cannot wish away, hope away, or pray away are like a fungus eating holes in the spirit.

    Recovery from anything is never easy…a very slow, often impossible process. There is no curative soup, no band aid large enough to hide the scars and secrets that become internalized, no book binding big enough to hold your story…so often, it is never told.

    What happens to us along the path of life cannot be completely undone, and it takes many years to forgive…and the last one to be forgiven (although innocent) might be the self. To forgive, one may even have to become…

    A man who lived to forgive God

  12. Frank Lostaunau Says:

    have you considered giving preaching a rest? tee hee…

  13. Deanna Leonti Says:

    In the Psalms there are songs or poems that curse the wicked and are said by some RCC religious sects everyday.

  14. ERW Says:

    And I am a woman who suffered terrible childhood abuse (as a physical and emotionl punchbag for a large, cruel family) and sexual abuse by a priest as well. But I never even considered to wish the same suffering on the abusers or anybody else for that matter. Vengence is a perpetuating, vicious cycle. “Vengence is mine” says the Lord! I believe this to be a quotation in the old testament.

    And yes, I suffered side effects into my mid-fifties from all of it. Evil really can resonate for a very long time. One more reson not to wish upon or do it to others.

  15. Deanna Leonti Says:

    They pray for vengeance to their God to hurt those who were evil towards them?

    Arise, O Jehovah, in Your anger; be lifted up at the rage of those distressing me; and awake for me! You have commanded judgment. (Psalm 7:6)
    Give to them according to their deeds and according to the evil of theirs practices; as is the work of their hands, give to them, repay their deeds to them. (Psalm 28:4)
    Let destruction come on him; he will not know; and let his net which he concealed catch him; let him fall in it, into destruction. (Psalm 35:8)
    O God, break their teeth in their mouth; break out the big teeth of the young lions, O Jehovah. (Psalm 58:6)
    The righteous shall rejoice when he sees vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. (Psalm 58:10)
    Pour out Your wrath on the nations who have not known You, and on the kingdoms who have not called on Your name. (Psalm 79:6)
    O Jehovah, do not I hate those hating You? And am I not detesting those rising against You? (Psalm 139:21)

    I hate them with a perfect hatred; they have become my enemies. (Psalm 139:22)Let burning coals fall on them; let them fall on coals of fire; make them fall into deep pits so that they do not rise again. (Psalm 140:10)

  16. Deanna Leonti Says:

    There was a Jesuit who wrote a little blue book, called the “Mother’s Manual” and in that book, instructs the Mother how to raise her children in the “Catholic” way….always praying before she teaches or disciplines her children…for the Holy Spirit to guide her….
    Well, the discipline part instructs the Mother to use Corporal Punishment on her child…but pray first?.
    I don’t think those books are out anymore, they have revised them not to say that…
    But, I wonder how many Mothers read those little blue books and how many followed the instruction by that freak’n Jesuit?!.

  17. Deanna Leonti Says:

    I don’t know why every time the RCC has to deal with their Clergy Pedophile Scandals or their other scandals that they have to account for, they come up with a cause to make them appear as though they actually care for those who are abused in some way..
    They are against Child Abuse?, but no one seems to mind what that little blue book called the “Mothers Manual” written by one of their own, a Jesuit priest, says to administer CORPORAL PUNISHMENT for the child who does wrong or disobeys?.
    Doesn’t anyone else think that what the Jesuit taught those Mothers to physically abuse their children?…and pray before the beating so that the Holy Spirit can abide in you by making the right choice in what type of punishment that goes with the offense?.

  18. Deanna Leonti Says:

    I wonder how many Nuns and Priests who ran Orphanages, work houses or boarding schools read that little Blue Book “The Mothers Manual”.

  19. Deanna Leonti Says:

    Here is what quoting the bible …can do…


  20. ERW Says:

    It was actually the nuns in our schools– who, also strict(in class-rooms with 30+ children)– helped me survive it all. To this day, in our area never heard of any abuse by the nuns.

  21. Deanna Leonti Says:

    Not one person with an opinion?. hmmm.

  22. Deanna Leonti Says:

    Well the Nuns & Teachers in the Catholic Elementary Schools that I went to over 45 yrs ago whacked us with rulers, paddles etc. and the Brothers where my brothers went to high school used to get it also.

  23. Thomas Says:

    Who is preaching? I found this nifty hole in my neck, and I was just checking it out? If O were to preach, it would be free…no collection basket. It would be more like a request…to be honest, to do good, and to do something honorable for God.

  24. Thomas Says:

    Everybody has an opinion but with widespread clerical child abuse and cover-up all around us…we have escaped, and lapsed into a coma!

  25. Thomas Says:

    I had good nuns too—SSND. They were some of the most ideal Catholic women on the face of the earth. Some saw the handwriting on the wall and left early. Opression of women and their nature was always a part of the Church hierarchy. It is a wonder that they even recognize some females as saints. Along the way, what I learned… is life is rigged, and above all be fair in everything that you do–when the deck is stacked, that’s when you pray…that the cards become wet, and stick together. To get through any crisis…”stick together”.

    Lo Preacher

  26. Deanna Leonti Says:

    I had a 1st grade Lay teacher spank me @ a Catholic School and a second grade Nun/Teacher @ the Byzantine school. the Nun would use rulers and paddles among other forms of punishment on us 1st & 2nd graders. I don’t know the order that the Nun came from, she was strict and never smiled, everyone feared her.

  27. Thomas Says:

    Were you anticipating them all to be like Betty Boop? They may have been educated the same way too—theories change over the years….good thing teaching styles did too. :-)

  28. Deanna Leonti Says:

    No, I am not, nor was a Betty Boop fan…just because she was abused while she went to school doesn’t make it right for her to abuse her students.

  29. Thomas Says:

    No it doesn’t, that is why the abused tries everything in their power to not be like their abuser. Healer by day, revolutionary by night…nevertheless, a child of God …wielding only faith, hope, and charity along side the self to conquer evil. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…the comic books do come to life…

  30. Thomas Says:

    Did you know that Betty Boop started out as a dog? Way to go…she’s come a long way… Hope Francis can come a long way…Call a Council, and see the Milky Way!!!!! We want to see stars…set the Church afire with absolute goodness…

  31. Deanna Leonti Says:

    Ok Thomas, whatever you say 😊

  32. Thomas Says:

    Of course she was a dog…saints don’t lie. :-) You think I want to go to confession nowadays? You’ll have to find the very first cartoon or do an internet search.

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