Despite the enormous success of lay involvement and Catholic outreach to the world, several trends indicate serious challenges for the Catholic Church in the United States.
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- With family size shrinking and birthrates low, the total number of U.S. Catholics would have declined in recent years were it not for Latinos, who bring the Church youth and a higher birthrate. Will the Church be able to keep their loyalty? The bishops’ position in favor of comprehensive immigration reform ought to help.
- With fewer priests and a growing Catholic population, parishes are merging and becoming larger. The average parish has 1,200 families (not individuals); one-third of parishes are as large or larger than Protestant mega-churches. Will huge parishes provide the spiritual formation and community that Catholics seek and Vatican II envisioned?
- A majority of young Catholics (born since 1981) consider themselves “spiritual” but not religious. How will the Church engage this generation?
- More Catholics are marrying non-Catholics. Can the Church foster their faith and encourage them to pass it on to their children?
- Young Catholics hold much more liberal views on key issues of sexual morality than do the seminarians who are studying to become their future pastors. How will these differences be worked out in the parish?
- Some active, progressive Catholics have formed voluntary associations within the Church, such as Call to Action, the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, FutureChurch, Voice of the Faithful, and the American Catholic Council. Yet bishops tend to dismiss these Catholics as dissident, fringe groups. Can progressives make their concerns known when few, if any, governing structures allow laypeople to participate? —Karen Sue Smith