With the dust settling on the uproar which followed the Vatican’s April intervention into the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), it’s possible to put this and other emerging trends into a longer-term perspective. The blustering reaction of the LCWR and supporters such as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof (whose grasp of rudimentary Catholic teaching is, well, rudimentary) confirms what’s been apparent for some time: that it’s almost “game-over” for self-identified liberal or dissenting Catholics.
The demographic evidence for impending extinction is striking. The average age of members of female religious orders that are moving “beyond Jesus” into an alternative spiritual universe is over 70. This contrasts with those orders who joyfully embrace Catholic faith in all its fullness. They’re positively flourishing. Similarly, it’s very hard to find dissenters among seminarians – also growing in numbers – and priests below 50.
The dissenters’ replication challenge, however, goes beyond the clergy. It also affects laypeople. Many self-described liberal Catholics have either raised their children to think and act more-or-less like liberal Protestants (another fast-disappearing species), or they’ve decided their children should be “free to make up their own minds” about religious matters.