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The Pope's (Self Imposed) "Choice" Dilemma – "Cafeteria" Catholics or "Charismatic" Catholics" (Why Not Both?)

By       Message Brock Novak     Permalink
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Analyst Opening Statement:  

The article deals with two fundamental questions facing the Catholic Church and its membership drive going forward. "Why choose when you can change?" and specifically "Why not simply change?"   

On the aggregate change aspect, which transcends multiple fronts, the Analyst utilizes the priest sex abuse scandal/situation as a high profile proxy to illustrate the entire need for change argument. 

The Analyst too is a boomer generation Catholic.


Alternative Title: 

               The Catholic Church - Growth Through Abandonment

Pope Benedict XVI completes his initial U.S. visit today with a Mass at Yankee Stadium, an event destined for the same legendary status as the Aug. 1965 cross town Beatles Shea Stadium Concert. The Bronx stadium moment will as intended, memorialize his visit in pomp, circumstance and fanfare and forever mask the real goals and objectives of the visit. That being member growth, and to the Vatican’s “surprise”, itself now overshadowed throughout these 5 days by an unexpected onslaught of media and public questions way beyond what the Vatican forecasted (thus its “surprise”) on the clergy sexual abuse scandal and actions to date taken and/or lack thereof.

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On the surface, this was to be a 5 day meet and greet with his U.S. flock, dedicated as “Mission America”, yet of curious interest in many other ways. Most importantly, is the “mission” to merely show the flag or is it more clandestinely (member) research oriented? Or is it Mission Impossible?


The U.S. has the third largest Catholic population of any nation. Only Brazil and Mexico have more. It therefore is a critical cog in the Vatican’s global Catholic membership machine and one it needs to remain strong and growing. That desired growth however, as this article will delve into, is not necessarily balanced across all demographic and/or diversity fronts, and why this visit is much more than a superficial good will welcome aboard.

While the Catholic Church gets straight A’s in seeking and achieving meritorious ethnic diversity, its grade in achieving or maintaining economic diversity within its member ranks continues to falter and erode, slipping from A to C and now borderline F.

Indeed the visit had serious purpose. Consider it then as this Analyst will detail, an intended combination (member) loss mitigation and recruiting trip, designed to investigate and address the growing complexity of the U.S. Catholic membership problem, in a way that yields the best going forward strategic approach to future member growth.


In a current population of some 65 million U.S. Catholics, there has actually been net growth in recent years, despite continued erosion in its more traditional, core middle and higher income Catholic population bases. The Analyst will coin them the “Progressive” base. That decline being more than offset by the explosive growth in the Hispanic Catholic population, which now comprises 30% of the entire U.S. Catholic population, and projected to rise to 50% by 2030. In large part, that growth surge emanating from south of the border (and Asia and Africa), low to no income immigration  (legal and illegal).

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The two groups Benedict must therefore contend with, the “Progressives” and  Hispanic Catholic communities, might be further broken down into two characterizations. The Progressives really the offshoot or outgrowth of Vatican II, with its liberal agenda yet stifled execution by conservative pontiffs since. That includes Benedict, who this week campaigned for even more embracement of church conservatism, rather than a reinvigorated Vatican II initiative.

An forget about a Vatican III under the current regime.


The Progressives have evolved to what might be characterized as “Cafeteria Catholics”, where they pick and choose the church teachings they like (and make rational sense) and/or demand accountabilities from the Church, and take ample servings of same, and dismiss those they don’t. On that approach, Benedict will not waiver. He will never concede to an all night dogma buffet, and a clash between church and the cafeteria patrons over menu will continue.

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