I was at the meeting organised by the Catholic Union reported by The Reluctant Sinner. The commitment and energy of the lay people and their organisations is very heartening. There is also an interesting degree of consensus, not only on the urgency of the problem, but of the means to tackle it. Archbishop Smith spoke about the 'Million Postcards' initiative, which is excellent; we should think of it, however, as the bare minimum: a personal letter in an envelope is better, and best of all is to ask to see your MP face-to-face in a 'surgery'.
My MP is, ahem, David Cameron. We've written in fact but I'm not expecting a change of mind.
It made me think about the longer-term causes of the crisis we are now facing, in relation to the organisations represented around the room. I don't think anyone there would be offended by my saying that, encouraging though the meetings (this was the third such meeting) have been, the world of lay Catholic associations is not in especially good shape, from a historical perspective, to face this supreme test.
the membership of the Masons in the USA has been falling steeply since its peak in the mid 20th C - see the graph - so it's not all bad.
This is something which has effected membership organisations: organisations based around people attending meetings or events and sending in subs. But there is a self-inflicted aspect to the decline of Catholic organisations, which is the dilution of Catholic identity of many of the organisations themselves, even, or especially, ones not based on membership.
These are often organisations with significant property or resources - the kinds of organisations which it is worth someone's effort to take over. This dilution is very often to the point when they cease to be Catholic altogether. One then usually finds the organisation disappears from the Catholic map, sometimes by merging with another organisation without even vestigial Catholic connections. In any case, such organisations were not represented at the Catholic Union meeting: the organisations which were once called Catholic Marriage Care (now 'Marriage Care'), The Catholic Prisoner's Aid Society (now PACT), Catholic Institute of International Relations (now 'Progressio'), and of course the Catholic adoption agencies (RIP). The justification for shifting the pennies of the Catholic poor, which usually established such organisations, to the service of the state and, very often, to the culture of death, are familiar: essentially, Why not? Surely we can reach more people, and more money, if we 'widen our appeal' beyond the Catholic population.
The question was asked with increasing urgency from the 1970s onwards because the people in these organisations, and above all their trustees of Catholic Great and Good, had lost the sense that there was anything of value about a distinctively Catholic approach to the problems which the organisations were addressing, or indeed that there was a distinctively Catholic approach at all. This is a familiar 'spirit of Vatican 2' attitude: the idea that 'opening to the world' meant ceasing to take anything to the world; taking 'dialoguing' to mean the disappearance of the Catholic dialogue partner; and taking the recognition of good in non-Catholic individuals and groups to downplay, or even deny, the existence anything distinctive and good in the Church.
This is the classic 'spirit of Vatican 2' which actually contradicts the texts of the Council.
These were coupled with two other factors from the 1970s onwards. One was the professionalisation of charities, starting with the biggest, which was an excuse for employing non-Catholics and tidying away distinctively Catholic aspects of their work. The other was the increasing attractiveness of Government grants, and the onerousness of regulation, each of which tends to lead to the adoption of Government policies and attitudes. These trends could, however, easily have been managed if trustees had been determined not to risk their organisations' Catholic identity. The 'spirit of V2' rubbish gave them an excuse not to bother.
The disappearance of these organisations means the drastic decline of the Catholic charity sector, as a benefactor, as an employer, and as a something needing trustees. Far fewer people, from the widows and orphans to the Catholic Great and Good, are now exposed to the effectiveness of Catholic values in action, and to the problems which social and legal changes pose to them. The question of what Catholic teaching has to say about our society has become an increasingly academic one.
Catholic charitable work gives, even in the eyes of the World, the Church a right to be heard in society. The work of lay Catholics, as identifiable Catholics, using an identifiably Catholic approach, to social problems, to those left behind in society, demonstrates that we really do care. That can no longer be demonstrated today with such force. We've been robbed.