- Few Roman Catholics in 1962 would have
predicted the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church of today. Fifty
years ago, when Pope John XXIII headed the Roman Catholic Church and
ruled Vatican City there was great optimism about the future of the
- Pope John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli on the 25th
of November in 1881 and died on the 3rd of June in 1963. He was elected
Pope on the 28th of October in 1958 and called the Second Vatican
Council (1962–1965) but did not live to see it to completion due to his
death in 1963. He died only four-and-a-half years after his election.
- It was fifty years ago in 1962 that Pope John XXIII made the
statement “let us open up the windows and let some fresh air in the
Church.” He was inviting change which led to the establishing of the
second Vatican council.
- The second Vatican council led to great optimism among
Catholics but in the end it was a huge disappointment. Catholics
throughout the world were expecting to see huge changes in the church to
address the social changes of the 1960’s. Most Catholics in the late
1960’s felt the second Vatican council did not go far enough and that
the Church was out of touch with the times. It also marked the beginning
of the decline within the church due to the church hierarchy’s
inability to relate to the spiritual needs of its congregations.
- Pope John XXIII would certainly be disappointed if he was able
to witness the problems plaguing today’s Church. There is also a growing
number of Catholics who no longer view the church as being relevant in
- The US Catholic population is approximately 77.7 million making
it the fourth largest Catholic population in the world, after Brazil,
Mexico, and the Philippines.
- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York believes the majority of
Catholics in America are Catholics in name only not practicing
- Most theologians would agree that one of the main issues facing
today’s Roman Catholic Church is its inability to adapt with the
changing times. It’s no surprise that the church has difficulties. They
are mostly due to a drop in vocations, lower church attendance and a
lack of donations. This has resulted in church closings not just in the
United States, but globally.
- The pedophile priest issues, the cover-ups, and the whispers of
a homosexual subculture among today’s catholic priests and seminarians
are not helping the church’s credibility either. The drop in vocations
has also resulted in the lowering of church standards among seminaries.
- Most Catholics today believe the church’s teachings are
somewhat archaic. They disagree with the patriarchal system and feel
women should have authoritative roles. The majority of Catholics also
disagree with the Vatican’s position on contraception.
- According to church statistics, fifty years ago, in 1962, there
were approximately 58,000 priests in the U.S. This was mostly due to
the influx of immigrants from the previous generation. Since then, the
numbers have drastically declined.
- In 10 years there will be less than 15,000 priests under the age of 70.
- The lack of viable vocations for the priesthood has also resulted in many seminaries closing.
- There were about 180,000 nuns in 1962. They were the backbone
of Catholic education, but within the next 20 years, they will be
- Seventy-five percent of Catholics went to Mass on a regular basis in 1962. Today, it’s less than 26 percent.
- This is mostly due to changing demographics. The younger
generations relocate for better employment opportunities. The average
person will relocate five times in their lifetime and their parents’
traditional church is no longer their core belief system.
- Many theologians describe today’s Catholics as cafeteria
Catholics because they pick and choose their beliefs. In 1962, a greater
number followed church mandates dogmatically.
- Most Catholics believe the church’s teachings are somewhat
archaic. They disagree with the patriarchal system and feel women should
have authoritative roles. The majority of Catholics also disagree with
the Vatican’s position on contraception.
- The church’s beacon of light must shine on the spirit of the
times, such as allowing women to become priests and priests to marry.
- Most of today’s Catholics as Cardinal Dolan stated are no
longer relying on the religious institution to tell them what they can
and cannot believe.
- Religious institutions have a tendency to give simplistic,
black and white answers. The reality of life, however, can be very
complex and very gray.
- The mystics of old discovered that when the mind draws a blank
to the world’s riddles, it turns to the soul for answers, for the soul
knows what the mind seeks.
- As for the church, its spiritual knowledge is only as relevant
as its application. Spirituality and religion are useless until properly
applied toward the needs of the time.
- I may not be a practicing catholic or a religious person but I
am spiritual. Centuries ago, the inward journey was taken by a few
privileged souls, but in today’s culture, it has become a healthy trend
among the young.
- Pope Benedict XVI the current Pope once made the statement that
he wants a smaller and stronger church. He also went on to say that the
universal church is not ready for a Vatican three.
- Perhaps the next Pope whenever that may come about may see the
necessity to reopen the church windows in order to invite the spirit of
the times in because in order for the church to survive. It will have to
bring about a positive, spiritual change, out of necessity rather than
convenience by reaching the hearts of its congregations.
- Pope John XIII’s legacy was inviting change but unfortunately
the change did not go far enough. There is a serious disconnect between
the spirituality that the average catholic is seeking and the church’s
- The Roman Catholic Church of today also seems to be slow or
reluctant to bring about the change that is necessary to reach the
spiritual needs of those Catholics who are Catholic in name only and
leaving the churches pews empty.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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