John Zmirak is back to pester (unintentionally) Jason and the Callers with an explanation for what conservative or traditionalist Roman Catholic culture is so weird. He thinks the problem is numerical. Not as many good Roman Catholics exist as “Sunday Catholics”:
How many people in America actually believe all the central truths of the Catholic Catechism? Public opinion surveys have revealed that high percentages of Sunday Mass-goers do not hold, or perhaps never learned about, transubstantiation (the change of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist). Depending on which faction of the Catholic fragment you belong to, you can chalk up that ignorance to either the collapse of Catholic schooling, the dumbing down of the liturgy, or even to the suppression during the 1970s of the “unconscious catechesis” that used to occur every time the most unlettered peasant knelt for the Host and reverently took it on his tongue from the blessed hands of a priest.
I don’t know that public opinion surveys have asked “Sunday Catholics” what they believe about the physical resurrection of Christ, or the Immaculate Conception, but if average Catholics believe what I was taught in my Catholic high school, then they are heretics – and probably don’t even know or care.
Practice is not a perfect mirror of what we believe, but surely it tells us something that the rates of divorce, premarital sex, and cohabitation are not a whit lower (and in some cases higher) among Roman Catholics than among most churchgoing Protestants. The explosive growth of annulments is partly an outright abuse on the part of bishops, and partly a recognition that many Catholics enter the sacrament with “defective intent.” Remember that if either party going into a marriage considers divorce and remarriage a possible option it invalidates the marriage. So most of the annulments given out nowadays are quite likely valid – unlike too many Catholic weddings. . . .
The implication of this sad fact is clear: On a grave moral issue where several popes have invoked their full moral authority short of making an infallible declaration, 95 percent of U.S. Catholics (the number is surely higher in most of Europe) have rejected the guidance of Rome. They are not “bad Catholics” so much members of a new, dissenting sect – which happens to occupy most of the seats in most of the churches, and many of the pulpits and bishop’s offices, too.
This means that the market for serious Roman Catholic reflection and works is small:
A good friend of mine who works for a major Catholic publisher reported to me the results of some very pricey market research his company undertook, to turn up the actual size of the “orthodox Catholic market.” Many thousands of dollars later, his company learned that if you count Catholics who go to Mass more than once a week, or spend a single dollar on Catholic books or other media, or volunteer for any parish activity, the grand total for the United States of America is no higher than 1.2 million.
That is the whole Catholic market. No wonder there isn’t enough revenue to go around. All the quarrels between traditionalists and Novus Ordo conservatives, between the lovers of Dorothy Day and fans of John Courtney Murray, are fights for pieces of this tiny pie. A pop tart, really.
And pop tarts aren’t health food. It isn’t normal for the Church to consist just of saints and zealots, ascetical future “blesseds,” and Inquisition re-enactors. Faith is meant to be yeast that yields a hearty loaf of bread. But since 1968 there has been nothing left to leaven, and we find ourselves eating yeast. (My apologies to English readers who love their Marmite.) The last time I was at the Catholic Marketing Network, which includes all the leading companies in the orthodox Catholic market, most of the attendees seemed to be people who’d bought their own booths – so the whole day was spent watching vendors try to sell each other their stuff. (“I’ll trade you three copies of The Secret of the Rosary for one of those 3-D Divine Mercy holograms.”) . . .
The weirdness, bitterness, crankiness, and the general mediocrity that pervade the Catholic subculture – from its newspapers to its TV shows, from most of its tiny colleges to the poorly-penned books, and sloppy, sentimental blogs that flood the tiny market of conservative Catholic readers – is the direct result of having few people to choose from. Right off the bat, 95 percent of potential applicants for any position have disqualified themselves for doctrinal reasons.
Well, John should console himself. At least Roman Catholics have newspapers, tv-shows, and colleges even if it is weird. With only 30,000 in the OPC, the best we can do is a summer Family Bible Camp at some state park in need of serious renovations. And even if you are the much “bigger” PCA, at 300,000 large, the best you can do is one college and a magazine that is sometimes in print.
Even so, Zmirak makes a useful point. When your numbers are low, your options for communicating are meager. If you want to blame this on the free market system — maybe Pope Francis would — then consider how much you can subsidize with only 30,000 small donors. If a potential market of 30,000 doesn’t provide the kind of scale that makes modern media affordable or even conceivable, the potential giving of 30,000 will hardly allow you to subsidize a college or radio station.
So if conservative Roman Catholics feel marginal, try being a conservative Presbyterian.