Too many converts in the U.S. church?

One of fairy tales American bishops must face in February

George Weigel: “To blame the media is a reflexive dodge.”

The following comes from a Jan. 9 story in First Things by George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II.

The Vatican is a hotbed of rumor, gossip, and speculation at the best of times—and these times are not those times. The Roman atmosphere at the beginning of 2019 is typically fetid and sometimes poisonous, with a lot of misinformation and disinformation floating around. That smog of fallacy and fiction could damage February’s global gathering of bishops, called by the pope to address the abuse crisis that is impeding the Church’s evangelical mission virtually everywhere.

Great expectations surround that meeting; those expectations should be lowered. In four days, the presidents of over 100 bishops conferences and the leaders of a dysfunctional Roman Curia are not going to devise a universal template for the reform of the priesthood and the episcopate. What the February meeting can do is set a broad agenda for reform, beginning with a ringing affirmation of the Church’s perennial teaching on chastity as the integrity of love. In a diverse world Church, that teaching applies in every ecclesial situation. And it is the baseline of any authentically Catholic response to the abuse crisis.

What the February meeting must not do is make matters worse by swallowing, and then propagating, some of the fairy tales circulating in Rome about the Church in the United States: like the noxious fiction that the U.S. bishops have overreacted to what is essentially a media-created crisis.

To be sure, inept or hostile journalists too often fail to report the significant reform measures the U.S. bishops have implemented since 2002 and the positive effects of those reforms. But there is still much reform work to be done in the American Church; most U.S. bishops know that; and for Rome to blame the Church’s current crisis of confidence on the media is a reflexive dodge and an obstacle to genuine reform.

Then there’s the “Protestantization” fairy tale. In Roman circles, it’s said that panicky U.S. bishops cobbled together reform proposals that would gravely diminish episcopal authority by handing great chunks of that authority to lay people—a “Protestantizing” move, as it’s called along the Tiber. To make matters worse, some in Rome blame this alleged “Protestantizing” on what are deemed “too many” converts in the U.S. Church today.

How to begin unraveling this nonsense?

First, it is beyond bizarre for anyone to complain about too many converts in a Church called by the pope to live “permanently in mission,” radiating “the joy of the Gospel.” In real-world 2019, American adults are baptized or enter into full communion with the Catholic Church because they believe the Catholic Church knows what it is, teaches the truth, and offers them Christ himself in the sacraments. They don’t “convert” to change the Church’s self-understanding.

Second, how does it diminish their authority for bishops to collaborate with orthodox, capable lay people in addressing the current crisis in both its dimensions: clerical sexual abuse and episcopal failure in addressing that abuse? What the U.S. bishops were prepared to do in November, before an inappropriate Vatican intervention prevented it, was to create a national body of competent lay people to receive allegations of episcopal malfeasance, assess them by a carefully crafted set of standards, and report credible allegations to the appropriate Church authorities. Period. Such a process would not only preserve the bishops’ authority; it would enhance it.

In any effective organization, the leader with ultimate responsibility engages the expertise of others in order to do what only he or she can do: make good final decisions. Not a jot or tittle of episcopal authority will be damaged by the American bishops collaborating with expert lay people who understand the boundaries of lay competence. On the contrary, that collaboration is essential if the bishops—and the Vatican—are going to recover the credibility necessary to do the jobs that only bishops and the Vatican can do in reforming the priesthood and the episcopate.

These points must be made forcefully in Rome in February. Fictions about American Catholic life and American attempts to impose a universal solution to the abuse crisis on the world Church must be firmly rejected. An appropriate pastoral response to a genuine crisis, well-suited to the ecclesial situation of the U.S., should be vigorously defended.  And the Roman voices saying there are too many converts in the U.S. should be invited to read Matthew 28:19–20.



  1. George Weigel is an excellent writer! I very much enjoy reading whatever he has to say!

  2. Just watch. Nothing will come of it. It’s a delay tactic. They hope the laity will forget and move on and they won’t have to do anything. When will Vigano release the goods he’s got on everyone?

    • Folks, this attitude of suspicion and antipathy towards the Holy Father and the bishops is nothing more than diabolic: “a delay tactic”….”when will Vigano release the good he’s got on everyone”. Satan wants separation between the shepherds and the sheep. So, keep on this attitude of suspicion and hostility towards the anointed of Christ, and you will find yourselves continually drifting away and away from Christ Himself. This latest media-induced “scandal” which is induced by the left-wing and right-wing medias has been disastrous to the faith of many, including those in the right. Beware…..beware.

  3. St. Christopher says

    And, “Mr. Weigel,” just what is the “genuine crisis” in the Church? Certainly, the central one, although not mentioned in your writing, is the loss of Catholic Tradition. Few, most particularly those in Rome, have any idea what the Church stands for, its mission, and what they are on Earth to do. Hint: you are here to help lead us to salvation, to return to God, who knew us before our birth.

    And, the “sexual abuse” part of the crisis is the acceptance and loving embrace of homosexuality, and other sexual immorality, by the Church (not all). Not a few randy priest here and there. Time to stand up for the Faith.

    • “SC”: the resident apologist for the religion of “traditionalism” is as usual, wrong. The Mass of Pope Paul VI is NOT responsible for the present “abuse crisis”–a frenzy from the right and the left medias.

    • Oh but according to Mr. Weigel JPII and World Youth Day and the Theology of the Body and the New Evangelization were supposed to herald a new dawn in the Church. Yeah, how’s that all worked out? The reality: the collapse of European Catholicism, of which the nearly instant decimation of the Irish Church is the most alarming and foreboding for the continent; the corruption of the Church in South America; 85% of millennial Catholics reject and leave the Church by age 22; laity’s distrust of the clergy at rates not seen since the Reformation; modernism in the clergy. And don’t point to Africa… rumor is that the still concealed clergy sex scandals there will make America and Europe’s problems looks like a sunny day at the beach.

  4. Will the laity forget, or vote with their feet, joining what some believe is the third larger ‘church’ in the U.S. — former Catholics??

    • I am over 70. Most of the people I know in my age cohort who were raised Catholic are not practicing. It’s not just the millennials who are voting with their feet and wallets!

      • The Church has left us! Not the other way! Nevertheless— that has never stopped me from practicing the Catholic Faith, lifelong! And I now am at the age, where I hope to see Our Lord, in Heaven! That is what we all are preparing for! I prefer to follow the example of the Parable of the Ten Wise Virgins!!

  5. helen wheels says

    Jimmy Mac:
    sadly, i must concur.
    What went wrong ???

  6. Of course– I am referring to the Parable of the Ten Virgins– in which five were foolish– and five were wise! I want to be like the Wise Virgins! The story is found in the Gospel of St. Matthew 25:1-13, as you might know!

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