Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said he has seen the future of the Catholic Church and it is diminished, in numbers, at least.
"My conclusion to the question of the face of the Catholic Church in the United States is that we will be smaller but stronger because we will stand for the truth given to us through the Holy Spirit's presence in the church instituted by Christ," the archbishop wrote in an email to Milwaukee Catholics.
The comments are similar to those Madison Bishop Robert Morlino made to me a decade ago when he came to town.
I'm sure they mean well, but I can't help thinking we seem to have bishops who don't particularly like Catholics, which strikes me as downright weird.
Why would a bishop not like Catholics? Listecki gives a hint in his column: He loves the Roman Catholic Church.
"The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are like a wall of well-placed bricks. Removing any of the bricks weakens the whole wall -- the structure of the truth that supports the Church -- risking collapse upon itself," he said.
"It was obvious to me that eventually those who arbitrarily pick and choose the teachings that they follow would eventually come into conflict with the question of the church's authenticity. If the church's mission is to lead us to salvation, then rejection of the church's teaching would endanger that salvation which we seek," Listecki said.
He's not really saying that if you question the church's teaching you will go to hell. He's saying that if you question the church's teaching you will start to lose faith in the church and in the Catholic faith in general.
The problem is that he's wrong.
Let me explain why by quoting Listecki himself:
"More and more, it will be imperative for the Catholic who lives in an ever-growing secularist environment to embody a commitment to the totality of the church's teachings. A half-hearted Catholic will not be able to stand against the criticisms of those who find the church as an archaic remnant of a time passed. They will be ill-equipped to defend the church against a material rationalistic society."
I guess that could be true if you define as "half-hearted" someone who questions the church teachings on various subjects. But, if you accept that definition, then no one can qualified as being full-hearted, and I'd include the archbishop himself in that assertion.
The people who can best defend their faith are those who face up to questions and doubts, think through them, pray about them, and then embrace their overall faith in God despite the challenges thrown up at that faith.
In other words, the vast bulk of practicing Catholics today, especially those who live and worship in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, which has squandered tens of millions of donated dollars and squandered the priceless faith of thousands of parishioners by covering up crimes and trying to cheat victims of clerical abuse. These people have lots of doubts about their church but they maintain their faith in a loving God.
I'm not sure telling those people that they aren't real Catholics unless they give unquestioning loyalty to whatever church leaders tell them is a very good way to help them maintain that faith.