Monthly “Compendium” (February 18- April 3)

You may recall that I planned on compiling and summarizing posts from The Catholic Conversation into monthly “compendium” announcements.  I hoped that this would be an easy way to help readers navigate to earlier posts, which they might have missed but would find interesting.  Unfortunately, I did not keep up with these monthly compendiums in the spring and summer.  Fortunately, Sarah Moran has graciously agreed to help with our backlog of compendiums.

Honestly, the best way to keep track of all of our posts is to subscribe (for free) to The Catholic Conversation’s RSS feed through something like Google Reader.  For the future, you can also subscribe to e-mail updates through feedburner by clicking on the “E-mail Updates” link (in the right side bar), but this will not send you past posts, only future ones.  For people uninterested in RSS feeds, we will be working through our backlog of posts since Feb. 18 — the date of our last monthly compendium– and pointing out what topics we explored.  This compendium begins where the previous one left off and takes us up through April 3, 2012.  Thanks, Sarah for putting this summary together!


Monthly Compendium, Feb 18-April 3

Our previous monthly compendium can be found here.  In this “Monthly Compendium,” we’re recalling key insights from the conversation in February and March.  During that time, the Catholic Conversation engaged topics including religious freedom issues, the legacy of Vatican II, and the changing landscape of U.S. parish life.

With issues of religious liberty at the forefront of much news and Catholic discourse, several contributors explored, early on, sociological facets of the contraception and HHS mandate debate.  Gary Adler analyzed some sociological roots of this debate, especially how governments constitutionally approach religion, tensions between the sacred versus profane, and the decline of religious authority.  Brian Starks’ response highlighted how competing methods of framing this debate, especially those of Archbishop Timothy Dolan and the Obama administration, have evoked varied responses among Catholics.  Carol Ann MacGregor proposed several sociological “starting points” for explaining why certain issues, such as contraception, dominate a religious organization’s discourse at particular stages in that organization’s life.  Catholic identity politics, Brian added, must be included among factors that influence why an issue like contraception is being debated currently.

Both Carol Ann and Brian looked to the work of Melissa Wilde on Vatican II for answers as to the the sociological factors that influence why particular reforms come to the fore, not only at that council, but at any given time.  Brian posted and readers responded with comparisons of the Vatican II moment and our present moment, especially how the effervescence and hopefulness of the former compares with the mixed signs of “deffervescence” in today’s American Catholic context.

Several contributors built on a central thread of previous posts: the changing landscape of American parishes.  Gary Adler looked at an instance of communion denial in a Washington, D.C. parish to offer a fresh perspective on the Catholic Church as a bureaucracy, a helpful concept in understanding how priests and individuals negotiate between the wider Church’s unifying regulations and their local context.  Michael Cieslak offered a parish typology based on measures of importance to unpack how parishes’ “corporate personalities” influence they type of parishioners that gravitate to them.   Despite this diversity of parish personalities, David DeLambo suggested, there is a common and increasing trend toward participation and intentionality in parish ministries.  Finally, Brian examined recent data on growing Hispanic populations and the impact of this demographic shift on U.S. Catholicism and parish life.


Highlighting Research: New Report on Catholic Women and Contraception

Given my last post on NFP and divorce, I would like to highlight a new study that is making headlines on some Catholic blogs.  Commissioned by the Women, Faith and Culture project, the preliminary report, “What Catholic Women Think About Faith, Conscience, and Contraception,” analyzes survey data from a sample of 824 church-going Catholic women ages 18-54, looking at their views on the topics of faith, conscience, and contraception. From the website “Women, Faith, and Culture: Exploring what Catholic Women Think” we are presented with the following statistics:
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Congratulations to Dr. MacGregor and to Dr. Adler

Two of our contributors defended their dissertations this past year and earned their doctorates.  Congratulations to Carol Ann and Gary!  They have also both begun new positions this year.  After earning her Ph.D. at Princeton, Carol Ann is now residing in the lovely city of New Orleans and is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola University New Orleans.  After earning his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona, Gary continues his work at the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies, but now as Director of Research (and senior research associate at USC).

The Catholic Parish at Ground Zero

St. Peter Catholic Church and its mission chapel, St. Joseph’s, somehow survived when the World Trade Center towers collapsed around them on September 11, 2001. That these humble structures should escape with minimal damage (landing gear from one of the aircraft struck St. Peter’s roof) is itself remarkable.

Yet this community has nothing shy of a remarkable history.  St. Peter’s is New York’s oldest parish and home to the state’s first Catholic school.  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was received into the Catholic Church there in 1805. Venerable Pierre Toussaint, a Haitian-born slave who became a prominent New York businessman and humanitarian, attended daily Mass at St. Peter’s for 66 years, from 1787-1853.  As a Notre Dame graduate student, I was also delighted to discover that when Fr. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C and six Holy Cross brothers arrived to New York from France in 1841, they recouped and celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s before proceeding to Indiana to found the University of Notre Dame.

But perhaps what is most remarkable about St. Peter’s and St. Joseph’s, and timely on this the eleventh anniversary of September 11, is the parish’s witness during the weeks and months after the 2001 tragedies, captured in the dedication of the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero offered by their parish community:

“On September 11, a cloud of dust and ash from the imploding World Trade Center towers engulfed the Chapel.  In the wake of the disaster, government relief agencies used the chapel as their command station.  The pulpit and pews were moved ouside and destroyed in a rainstorm a few days later.  A tent erected where the priests of St. Joseph’s celebrated Mass for rescue and recovery workers.  For the next several months, the Chapel was used as a sanctuary for construction workers, police officers and firefighters who came to eat, talk with spiritual counselors from a range of religious traditions and simply rest from the physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting recovery efforts at Ground Zero…” 

What can we make of this striking image of a Catholic parish turned staging ground for rescue and recovery efforts?  Surely not every parish is given the opportunity to display such radical hospitality in its local community, to exhibit the kind of heroism of Fr. Mychal Judge, an NYFD chaplain whose body was carried by firefighters to St. Peter’s when he was mortally wounded in the North Tower.  And few parishes will see their sanctuaries turned into what pastor Fr. Kevin Madigan described of St. Peter’s: “Stuff was piled six feet high all over the pews—bandages, gas masks, boots, hoses and cans of food for the workers and the volunteers, many of whom were sleeping in the church on bedrolls.”

Nonetheless, in addition to the ongoing evangelization of its members through worship, formation and pastoral care, today’s parish is called to a bold evangelization of its community, beginning with extensions of hospitality.  As a pastoral statement of the U.S. Bishops described: “In urban neighborhoods, in suburban communities, and in rural areas, parishes serve as anchors of hope and communities of caring, help families meet their own needs and reach out to others, and serve as centers of community life and networks of assistance.”
 We will probably never see our sanctuaries become centers of emergency rescue efforts.  But how can they become staging grounds for responding to the Gospel calls and command centers for extending justice, peace and charity to our neighbors?

Who (or What) is influencing young, engaged Catholics religiously?

What do American youth want from their Catholic faith? How do Catholic youth describe its impact on their daily living? What factors strongly influence this faith? Recent posts to The Catholic Conversation have pointed to a need for up-to-date, quantitative research on these questions, especially as they are reflected in youth group attendance rates, average age of participants, and the correlation between liturgies designated for youth and youth group participation.  These questions press Catholic parents, parish ministers, Church leaders, and all of our readers, in their efforts, as one youth culture analyst describes, to “effectively lead youth through adolescence and into a healthy, God-honoring adulthood.” Continue reading