Friday, February 26, 2010

Foreign Priests, "Plunder," "Retail," and a Valid Point

I never know what to expect in 'Catholic' publications.

Earlier today I was reading an article titled "Foreign priests and the risk of plunder," and hit this phrase:
"...American Catholicism at the retail level...."
(National Catholic Reporter (February 26, 2010))
"American Catholicism at the retail level"?! Christian groups here in America, at least, have struggled - unsuccessfully, too often - with the idea that Christianity is a service industry, just like dry cleaning and fast food.

And "plunder"?? Over the decades I've run into '100-percent-real-Americans' who felt that foreigners were nasty, greedy savages who only wanted American dollars.

And, I've run into 'open-minded' people who were equally convinced that Americans are greedy savages who only wanted to rip off foreigners.

I don't agree with either of those camps - but that's another topic.

So, between "plunder" in the title and "American Catholicism at the retail level" two paragraphs in, I was apprehensive about what the rest would be like.

Turns out, the "plunder" is what the author perceives as America's load on the resources of the Catholic Church.

It's a valid concern, sort of. About one in six priests serving in America is foreign-born these days, according to the article. That's because, overall, we're not producing enough here.

Which, given the appallingly groovy nature of many American seminaries - in my opinion - isn't altogether a bad thing. About the last thing we need here in America is another generation of predatory pedophile heretics in the pulpit. Not that all American priests are off the rails, of course. Some - most, I trust - know quite a bit about Catholicism, and behave themselves.

I'm not sure that I share the author's concern with the burden that the Catholic Church in America is placing on the Church.

The last I checked, the estimated American population was 307,212,123: of which 23.9 percent are Roman Catholic.1 Which makes the number of Roman Catholics in America around 73,425,000. (Not everybody will give this figure - I'm getting to that.) With over 1,200,000,000 of us world-wide, that puts roughly six percent of all Roman Catholics here in America.

I suspect that vibrant, active parts of the Catholic world, like sub-Saharan Africa, can stand the strain of bringing us up to speed.

Not that America is the only part of the world in trouble - but that, again, is another topic.

Besides knowing what the Catholic Church really is, I think priests who weren't run through the American academic mangle can teach Catholics here in America a great deal. Which the author points out:
"...Moreover, the growing presence of foreign priests is also a way of addressing the intellectual Achilles' heel of American Catholicism, which is a terribly insular frame of reference. Read any sampling of recent books or articles on Catholic affairs in America -- from left, right or center -- and generally the author's imagination stops at the water's edge. In reality, the 67 million Catholics in the States represent just six percent of the global Catholic population of almost 1.2 billion, and it's a blessing to be introduced to that wider and infinitely more complex Catholic world...."
(National Catholic Reporter)
I like being an American and, unfashionable as it is these days, I'm rather 'proud to be an American.' Not that we're perfect: but that is yet again another topic.

That said, the author has a point. Many Americans tend to forget that the rest of the world isn't America. Part of that, I think, is a matter of scale. The United States covers a large part of the North American continent. Between that much acreage and a population upwards of 300,000,000: it's a huge place.

But Earth is even bigger, and humanity passed the 6,000,000,000 mark a few years ago.

I've had more of a chance than many Americans, to get to know people from the rest of the world: and my interests encouraged me to learn about the world's people.

I think that priests from the rest of the world will help Catholics here in America realize that we're Catholics living in America.

Vaguely-related posts:
1 United States, "World Factbook," CIA. Last updated February 4, 2010.

A tip of the hat to newadvent, on Twitter, for the heads-up on this article.

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