F Rosa Rubicondior: Catholicism's New York Meltdown

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Catholicism's New York Meltdown

St Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York, USA
Patric D’Arcy Is N.Y. Archdiocese’s Only New Priest - NYTimes.com

I came across this while researching for another blog and it illustrates just how low Catholic fortunes have sunk in New York since the world-wide scandals of physical and sexual abuses of minors and other vulnerable people began to hit the Church.

In 2012, the Catholic Church in New York ordained a priest by the name of Patric D'Arcy. Nothing remarkable in that you might think.

However, he was the only one to be ordained in that year. In the 1960s the average was somewhere around 25-30 ordinations a year, almost all home-grown American Catholics from New York. Patric D'Arcy isn't an American but came to St. Josephs Seminary from Toronto, Canada because he wanted to work with the poor and dispossessed Hispanic population, almost wholly Catholic, who inhabit the poorer parts of New York such as the Bronx.

The heyday
Beginning of decline
*2012 estimate. Actual number unavailable
According to figures supplied to the New York Times by the Rector of St. Joseph's Seminary, Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, from its heyday the number of ordinations of new Catholic priests had been declining steadily from the 1980s to the end of the 20th-century, but had almost collapsed completely by 2012. And this is against a backdrop of an increasing Catholic population relative to Protestants that has recently seen Catholics become the majority as 'white' protestants become the minority group in many states. Both sects have declined in absolute ratios of course as "nones" have inflated rapidly to some 20% of the US people.

The Archdiocese of New York needs about 20 new priests a year just to replace the natural wastage due to retirement, death in office, suspensions, sacking, etc. At this rate of decline, further mergers of parishes and closure of churches is inevitable, with a further decline in attendance and donations.

To make St. Joseph's an ongoing proposition, the archdiocese and neighbouring diocese closed several seminaries and transferred students to St.Joseph's, hence the apparent rise in estimated numbers for 2013. It has also been drumming up trade from abroad and plans to increase the number of students from 50 to about 90. Few if any of these will be from New York or indeed the rest of the USA.

Fr D'Arcy attributed this catastrophic decline to, "an air of anti-Catholicism, anti-Christianity, anti-religion, maybe", and complained of being cursed and spat at in the street, which he thought was in response to the sexual abuse scandals. At least he seems to have a firm grasp of the situation even though he shows no signs of understanding what it is about Catholicism in particular that produces so many abusive priests and nuns and what it is about their recruitment process that allows those with obvious personality disorders through, albeit a small number are caught before making it into the priesthood.

It would be interesting to see whether the rejection rate has increased since these scandals engulfed the Church, or since Pope Francis promised to clean it up and put a stop to the systematic abuses and cover-ups.

This evidence of decline in religion in general and Catholicism in particular in America is consistent with other reports such as this one drawn to my attention by Facebook user, Bil Wight. This report concentrates on the relative decline of "white Christians", who are now a minority in 19 US states. 'White' Christians are defined as Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Mormons who self-identify as 'white, non-Hispanic'. Part of this proportional decline is due to the large number of Hispanics, mostly Catholics, whose numbers have pushed American Protestants into a minority for the first time in History.

However, a major cause of this decline in 'white Christians' is the huge rise in 'nones' who now comprise the largest 'religious' group in 13 states and equal Catholics in the USA as a whole. By far the largest number of 'nones' are young people but there is no comfort for Christians in that fact, as research has shown that the 'millennium' generation is tending to become less religious as they age, not more as many people assume. If America follows the UK, the most strongly religious people also tend to be the young. The evidence is that, as their youthful zeal moderates, they are likely to lose their faith, as non-belief becomes the norm within their culture. Religious extremism is a form of youthful rebellion; non-belief is becoming the moderate norm.

So, although the influx of Hispanic Catholics might have boosted the number of Christians locally, it has failed to replace the loss to the 'nones' who now make up 20% of the population - an unheard of figure just 20 years ago. Even in New York with it's large Hispanic population, attendances at mass has slumped to European levels, prompting some Catholic clerics to speculate that there may be almost no Catholic congregation left within ten years, as I mentioned here about a month ago.

Incidentally, as an amusing aside, the St. Joseph's Catholic Seminary mentioned above is the one Manuel de Dios Agosto (aka @Sacerdotus) claimed was closed in the 1970s before he was born. Since students were being trained there in 2013 according to its rector, Bishop Walsh, news of this closure doesn't appear to have been passed on to the staff or students there, the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan, the Bishops of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, or whoever maintains St. Joseph's website.

Now, why would Manny, who denies being himself but claims to be a prominent Catholic theologian, a widely-respected academic of international renown and lecturer with hundreds of adoring students, who tells people on Twitter that he will probably soon be a Cardinal, but who is currently unemployed and living with his mother above a shop in the Bronx, just round the corner from the New York Zoo, make such a silly mistake? People who know about Manny and his unfortunate past can probably hazard a good guess.

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