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April 20, 2008

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

By Brock Novak

With the Pope's 5 day U.S. visit ending today, this article deals with two fundamental questions now facing the Catholic Church and its membership drive going forward. "Why choose when you can change?" and specifically "Why not simply change?"


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.


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).


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.


The other major problem being the growing number of “Charismatic Catholics” within the Hispanic Catholic community, now representing about 50% of that total.


The Charismatics embrace Pentecostalism which the Vatican feels is at odds with its teachings, particular as respects ordained priests being the conduits to the sacraments.  In other words, a disagreement on “holiness access”.


Pentecostalists believe in “direct” holiness, i.e. no middle man – priests. Charismatics however, unlike the Vatican, do not believe Pentecostalism is necessarily incompatible with Catholicism. Thus, Benedict’s potential convert access point opening. They’re willing to listen (and maybe wooed). However, they pose as much a threat as they do opportunity, so cannot be dismissed for a variety of self interest reasons.


The current trend of the Charismatics is away from Roman Catholicism. Benedict needs to reverse that inertia and turn the exit threat into a member recruiting opportunity. Not an easy task. However, given the Charismatics being more fundamentally conservative than progressive minded in their approach to religious teachings and doctrine and existing in far greater numbers than the progressives, makes them (much) more appealing to the Vatican and its traditional conservative product offering. Unfortunately for the progressives, it further reduces the incentive and chances to see the Church embrace their many change demands, furthering, not closing the growing divide between the two.


Therefore, Benedict’s (pre-visit) goal on this first U.S. visit is clear and really two-fold.


1) To buttress the ranks in order to stem or mitigate the outflow of the progressive “Cafeteria Catholics”, while

2) Most importantly, learning and developing a “Charismatic Catholic recruiting strategy” to better engage and enlist this crucial subset or sweet spot of the Hispanic Catholic community.


The Charismatics and Hispanic Catholics, particularly the exploding immigrant base, being the real target and key to long term sustainable growth to not only the U.S. Catholic Church, but also in the aggregate for the global Catholic Church, as the rest of the article will elaborate.


With that, it’s important to look at why the Vatican is simply trying to slow the outflow of the Cafeteria Catholics rather than completely stop the bleeding and actually try to rejuvenate that member demographic inflow.


In fact, the Catholic Church shrewdly plots with regard to its rapidly changing membership mix. Evidence suggests it is seemingly interested in growing member ranks rather than building member diversity, not in ethnic terms but rather as respects the various diverse member economic segments. In fact, deciding to abandon progressives while embracing and growing the low income member ranks, albeit in ethnic neutral fashion. Why then this seemingly radical change from embracing “all” (ethic and economic) segments to only “some” (ethnic only) in an organization notorious for being change averse? 


While the global Catholic Church increasingly recruits in third world nations, and those numbers swell, it abandons many in its progressive thinking middle and upper income class segments. Specifically in Europe and the United States. In fact, European membership, in quite counter-intuitive fashion, has been in serious decline for several decades. Interestingly, the growing religion is Islam, exploding with the influx of Middle Eastern immigrants over the last two decades. Consider France for example, a perceived bastion of Catholicism, has 5 to 6 million Muslims. It is estimated that within 25 years at current birth rates, that France will have a Muslim majority.


Unlike France, the equivalent U.S. decline in the traditional progressive demographic group is being offset with an even greater bulge of new members, as noted earlier, from massive Latin American immigration.


The resultant aggregate Catholic Church global member expansion therefore masks the accelerating erosion of that traditional middle/upper income progressive base, caused by the Church’s reactive abandonment from its very own fate accompli conclusion - that the progressives are already lost. Why? Because the church refuses to change. 


John Paul II, viewed “aesthetically” as a model, almost mannequin like Pope, will never be known as the “Pope of Diversity”, but instead better remembered as the “Pope of Growth”. One need only look to his unflinching (church) conservatism and global travels to see why. His travels earning him the title of “Pilgrim Pope”. In the face of radical social change, he sought to maintain the conservative status quo, causing an ever widening gap between the church and the progressives. Too, he was the most traveled pope in history, yet with a disproportionate emphasis on third world nations. In retrospect, an agenda beyond being seen and adored. One with specific and key member growth purpose and intentions. Akin to a politician campaigning in a state before a primary. The purpose – woo voters. In his case, woo members. Certainly he traveled to developed nations but in retrospect one can argue those were (progressives) “erosion control” visits; not to stem it but rather to slow it. Not unlike one of the 2 purposes behind Benedict’s current visit to the U.S.


Why this apparent “abandon and grow elsewhere” strategy?


The answer is easy if looking upon the Catholic Church as a business and viewing it’s behaviors in corporate terms. The sea change in societal culture and value systems post World War II, led by the renaissance change in thinking baby boom generation progressives, did not go unnoticed by the Vatican hierarchy “Board”. Constituents began to do the unthinkable and necessary - challenge church doctrine and tolerance in such areas as abortion, priest marriage/homosexuality/pedophilia, women priests, and even papal infallibility to name but a “very few”.

Analyst Proxy “Change” Note:  

In one of these key “change” areas, for example, priest sexual abuse, the Progressives demand strict (and real) accountability and real universal, not one off justice to fix the problem in its “entirety”. To date however, the problem has only had some money and lots of rhetorical lip service thrown at it by the Vatican, seemingly hoping the issue will at some point just fade away.  The Progressives understandably are not satisfied and rightly demand real action – a complete “house cleaning” of the priesthood top to bottom, with actions not words.

Here is an excerpt from the April 19, 2008 New York Times on the Pope’s visit and sex abuse topic, outlining and reaffirming some disturbing Vatican views and reactions this week:

“The Vatican has been reluctant to focus attention on the scandal until this trip. But in what appears to be a carefully scripted effort…..he understands the lingering bitterness over the church’s handling of the issue…“It has overshadowed the trip,” said the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, the president of Fordham University..None of us expected it…Many victims say they have been heartened by the pope’s attention to the issue, but are waiting warily for him to match his words with actions. They want the church to do more to prevent priests from abusing children, and in particular, to hold bishops accountable for keeping abusive priests in the ministry.”

Clearly, the proof of this rhetoric remains to be seen, as the victims noted. That is,when the “actions (finally) match the words”. Clearly in the victims’ minds, they don’t yet. Then further in the same New York Times article is this very disturbing commentary which tells the reader that there is little hope for change and/or real solution to the crisis and problem, and it will remain “words, not action”.  

At the luncheon, where he sat on a stage and fielded a few questions, Cardinal William J. Levada, a top Vatican official said he did not foresee punishing bishops who failed to remove priests suspected of molesting young people.

“I personally do not accept that there is a broad base of bishops who are guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles…”.

“I am aware of bishops who have admitted to making mistakes, but those seem to be mistakes grounded in taking counsel that didn’t turn out to be good advice,” he said, explaining that he was referring to reports from psychologists and therapists.”.

In this Analyst’s opinion, Cardinal Levada should promptly be removed from office. His statement wrongly suggests an interpretive  attitude of “general or selective permissiveness” which in and of itself has plagued the church not only during the decades, if not centuries of the abuse but even so since the scandal broke 5 or 6 or so years ago. Rather as he should be promoting, a new attitude which vehemently dictates “we (the Vatican) will aggressively root out and prosecute every priest and every bishop either directly or remotely ever connected, no matter how many degrees of “awareness separation” from any victim - period. NONE will escape removal and punishment.”

His seemingly “no big deal” attitude is exactly the opposite – a very big deal to the victims and their families and the recurring source of the problem – i.e. any tolerance and/or excuses whatsoever of/for these fiendish individuals. Rather an immediate change in attitude for absolute and total justice for all victims and a wholesale commitment of “Never Again”.

Benedict, like John Paul does not seem to get it, treating the problem akin to “partial pregnancy”.  It’s never partial. You either are or you not. The church either has a problem or not. If it does, AND IT DOES, it needs to responsibly and aggressively deal with it. Not simply through selective high profile media driven one-off token tribunals, while sweeping the rest under the carpet, as has evidently been policy to date. But rather what it’s not done yet – deal with the problem in its entirety – and DECISIVELY. 

Note: While the Pontiff had some rather last minute, pre-arranged, pre-scripted meetings scheduled and conducted with 6 carefully pre-screened and selected victims being designed to proactively placate the progressives, the flood gates unexpectedly opened and the entire issue has become the principal focus wherever he’s gone. So much so that the Vatican is reportedly scrambling to put out notices that it is promptly considering even tougher approaches to the priest sexual abuse problem.  

Tougher? That right there validates the church’s “minimalist” approach to the crisis thus far. It should have already been as tough and hard as it could be 24/7. Clearly it's not been the case.  

The statement Benedict needs to make is not simple feel good expressions of sorrow and regret for the victims but rather that the church will act in concert across the entire spectrum of priests, bishops and cardinals to aggressively investigate, remove and bring to justice every priest retired or active that has (ever) brought harm to a child – period. No more talk.  

The only thing the progressives want is ACTION. Real action - finally. 

The jury will remain out and criticism will contnue to fester and grow until the Church makes a bold commitment to ferret each and every abuser and puts in (real) accountability protocols to ensure “the shell game” of moving of pedophilia priests from parish to parish ends and the open access door to the priesthood for deviates is permanetly closed. 

Benedict and the Vatican have provided no such indication of “cleaning house” so far on this trip, but for a few comments that he feels the victim’s pain and will delve deeper into the problem and maybe changing a few protocols, one being the statute of limitations. Currently, victims have ten years upon reaching their 18th birthday to surface an incident(s). After that, it’s effectively in-admissible and won’t be entertained by the Church.  

How utterly and absurdly ridiculous to put such a constraint given the shame and embarrassment the victims often feel, which thankfully is receding as more and more come forth and help others finally do the same.  

This Analyst argues the position of the Church should be that (statute) time is totally irrelevant and that there should be NO time limitation – period. And a comprehensive and painful rooting out approach of ALL (not a handful) abusers past and present must and will be conducted. If the latter is done and becomes an on-going process, there would never be a need for statute anyway because the problem is “finally and functionally” addressed and there theoretically should be no more instances, if the Church maintains a whole new standard of aggressive vigilance and action. 

Bottom line Recommendation to Vatican: “Practice what you Preach” - i.e. root out evil. 

The Vatican should immediately order and immediately commence a fully comprehensive global top down, bottom up formal investigation on EVERY existing and retired (living) clergyman. Those found linked to sexual abuse regardless of degrees of separation from any particular incident will be formally turned over to local law enforcement authorities with the Vatican’s full cooperation in prosecution.  

For those determined to neither be practicioner’s nor complicit in any way (including cover-up) to this behavior, they will be “Certified by Benedict as Pedophilia Free”. That  personalized Benedict certification will be placed  in their service file/dossier.   To put appropriate accountability and ensure all due diligence and attention necessary in the investigations, Benedict will be held accountable for any wrong doing priest who sneaks through the investigation, for whatever reason. His penalty – A condition within the decree to step down as Pontiff for failing future victims. That will surely get and keep his interest and attention on the problem in a due diligence way heretofore not seen or experienced by either he or his predecessors.  

In other words, innocent children remain at risk until the problem is truly addressed, which has not been the case to date. If children are at risk under his leadership due to his  not taking ALL the requisite preventative actions, which the Church has yet to, then so too should his job and title – be at risk too. I can’t think of any victim, parent of a victim or parent of any child who would disagree. Nor should Benedict. 

Let any of these people step forward now and say if they disagree, that the leader of the church should not be held accountable for the vile acts of his “employees”, if ALL prudent prevention measures were not responsibly taken.   

If he won’t do that, than it proves he is not sincere in rooting out this evil cancer which still lurks in the clergy’s ranks. His continuation as leader of the Catholic Church should then be contested and a campaign initiated to select a successor who is – sincere and willing to do the right thing – i.e. ACT NOW and ACT DECISIVELY. 

Consider this then a progressive referendum on Benedict’s sincerity (and real substance). 

Indeed, enough of the talk and total in-action, is the rightful position of the Progressives. The real question - Why is it not Benedict’s? 

This is a key part of the “change” process the progressives demand, and justifiably expect. Unfortunately, the lack of true action in this one particular area of change suggests Benedict seems more interested in looking photog sharp for his Yankee Stadium history capturing Kodak moment, then he does the forever damaged victims past, present and future, some of whom may even be in the bleachers watching, praying and hoping for him to hit them a home run and signal during his sermon that the time has finally come for true and real substantive justice.  

With that specific illustrative “change” example, back now to the broader and diverse “litany of change platform” the Progressives seek. It’s as if some top secret session then convened in the bowels of St. Peter’s Basilica in the mid to late ‘70’s to address this heretofore unheard of blasphemy, and a conclusion seemingly reached – we either change with our customers or lose the Progressive base.

Analyst Note:

Church hierarchy presents itself as unable to change under the opportunistic guise that change violates “church teachings”. To show that this is more of a smoke screen than reality, consider one example where it is not so. That is the issue of priests marrying, which itself is all balled up in the celibacy issue.  

Wikipedia notes “Celibacy for priests is a “discipline” in the Roman Catholic Church, not a “doctrine”: in other words, a church regulation, but not an integral part of Church teaching….Because the rule of clerical celibacy is a law and not a doctrine, exceptions can be made, and it can, in principle, be changed at any time by the Pope. Nonetheless, both the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, spoke clearly of their understanding that the traditional practice is unlikely to change.” 

Therefore, as respects” change”, it is not that the Catholic Church is unable to change. It simply prefers (chooses) not to.

So while Benedict “can”, the problem is simply that Benedict “won’t” – allow priests to marry or for that matter, relatedly allow women to be priests. If the Progressives expect change/movement on this and many other fronts, it may indeed be a case of Mission Impossible for them, as Mission America steamrolls right over it. 

Deciding to stay the course, and without a new market and customer base, the Church was doomed to collapse as that decision put the progressive segment in virtual runoff. The pivotal boomer generation abruptly changed its weekly services attending habit from the “every Sunday” frequency of generations before, to just twice a year in the newly formed C&E (Christmas and Easter) Club. That affect was compounded by the fact that succeeding generations were not ingrained with the “Catholic guilt” legacy, the pervasive bulwark of the Church’s progressives membership infusion these last two centuries in the United States, Europe and probably the rest of the developed world. The influence to view anything other than Catholic as wrong, coupled with a one way ticket to Hades for missing a Sunday mass became ineffectual. The robust recruiting/holding effect of that eternal damnation sword of Damocles was forever gone with the boomers and succeeding generations.


Again in corporate terms, and one losing relevance with its customers, the Church ironically decided not to reengineer the company, but rather boldly retool its customer base, to one more attuned to buying its traditional product offering. To do so however, would require the Vatican “Board” to find a new “CEO-like” symbol for the brand. Enter John Paul II, the de-facto Eveready Bunny of Catholic Inc. marketing and recruiting.


He kept going and going and going – everywhere, to mitigate member outflow, and grow elsewhere. His mission then to generate real global member growth by both slowing the erosion rate of the progressives, and simultaneously accelerating new demographic membership. The latter required focus on geographies where core church conservatism would still sell and sell well – i.e. third world nations.


Generally impoverished and seeking anything spiritual to latch their hopes and dreams onto, these people’s became easy prey for a clever and attractive sales pitch.  Perhaps the most “Popish” (although this Analyst has been impressed with Benedict’s unexpected ability to pull it off too) of any papal leader in modern times, in terms of his way and mannerisms, almost actor like, John Paul II was able to brilliantly make that important personal sales connection with this vulnerable audience, and reason why he sold so incredibly well. 


In conclusion, the Vatican shrewdly realized the 20 generation or so catholic guilt cycle is broken and it’s progressive base must be courted if it is to be retained. To do so requires the Church to compete with progressive Christian religions and do what it has made a very clear decision not to do – i.e. change. That decision not to change from hardcore church conservatism principles, evidence John Paul’s reign, was confirmed in a final swipe at the progressive membership with the selection of a staunch conservative, the German born and raised Benedict, as John Paul’s successor. Conservative, not as respects global issues related to defense and economics per se, but rather hawkishly conservative on church dogma and principles – i.e. the stand on abortion, inaction on sex abusing priests, women priests, divorce, stem cell research etc. A Pontiff who to be fair, and quite sympathetically, grew up an very difficult if not horrible environment, including being forced into membership in the Hitler Youth during World War II, which he appropriately then and since roundly denounced. Yet still one who’s hardened upbringing and embracement of religious conservatism is further evidenced in nicknames Benedict has been given in the press, including “God’s Rottweiler”, “Panzerkardinal” and “Cardinal No”.


With that background, the takeaway message from the white smoke billowing from the ancient chimney of the Sistine Chapel three years ago upon the election of Cardinal Ratzinger to Pope Benedict XVI - We’d (Catholic Church) rather grow by losing (.i.e. not changing) – the Progressives. 


Bottom line then, Benedict will assess the U.S. Catholic dilemma upon his return to the Vatican from this de-facto data gathering trip. It is clear his conservatism is non-wavering and non-negotiable. While he may on some fronts rhetorically cater to the demands of his Progressive constituency, particularly this week in the media spotlight, he will not do so substantively. The erosion of the U.S. Progressive Catholics may be temporarily stemmed with his charming visit, but will resume with a vengeance once this week fades to memory, and the Progressives realize the status quo is what it is - unchanged. His focus instead will be on leveraging Hispanic Catholic membership so as to adapt, embrace and draw in the real sweet spot and windfall prize in the Church’s recruiting bulls-eye - Charismatic Catholics.


In conclusion, growth is a good thing, but it too can be replete with disappointment and questioning why it can’t be further improved. Even with both overall global and subset U.S. growth, the Catholic Church can no longer even take pride in its long held position as the world’s most populous religion (currently 1.1 billion), having just recently abdicated the title to Islam. The loss of the Cafeteria Catholic progressive base being one contributing factor to that title loss.


The Vatican should be reprimanded for its rather un-Christian-like sacrificing multi-channel economic diversity in its member mix, for “less than optimum growth”, when with real accountability and a little open mindedness, modern thinking, and principles relaxation, become a true 21st century Christian religion and achieve “maximum growth”. That growth vis-à-vis both “Progressives and Charismatics”, rather than sacrificing one for the other.


Indeed a re-look, re-think and re-tooled strategy for “growth through (all aspects of) diversity” is in order, rather than continuing the John Paul, now PanzerPope’s dated non-Christian “growth through (Progressives) abandonment/divestiture”, income-centric discrimination based member growth strategy.


It’s time the Catholic Church responsibly evolve in true Christian spirit and fashion to provide rather than deny its cafeteria customers reasonable taste expectations, more menu choice. Indeed a better patron growth alternative approach than abruptly telling them “NO!” in analogous manner as the Seinfeld Soup character might a customer he cares for not, and sending them elsewhere for what they so simply crave - a practically prepared, sensible and fulfilling spiritual meal.

Submitters Bio:

The cleverest of all, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month

- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously...Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go

- Oscar Wilde

The situation is what it deal with it...and then as General Patton inspiringly told his tankers...ADVANCE!!

- Brock Novak