Guest Post: The Children of Babylon


By Matt Keppel

It was a minor ripple in the onslaught of news this week, but the Catholic Church’s CARA report came out. It’s something that some dioceses live and die over; numbers and interpretations that intend to take the pulse of the Church in the United States.  Upon reading it, much of it was more of the same: seminaries can’t produce enough priests, parishes are closing, changing ethnic demographics.  Much of it screams gloom and doom to American Catholics clinging to the old order.  And they are right, by the numbers things are changing, but I’m not sure it’s the doom we’ve been told.

The reality is that the tide is turning.  Lay ministers were once the ones who used to have the time and money to earn degrees or certificates in theology. They were the soccer moms whose children had grown, or former religious who had left orders. This was the first generation of religion teachers, DRE’s, and pastoral associates to answer the call to lay ministry by the Second Vatican Council.  Yet, between 2002 and 2005 the Church lost nearly half of its lay students (from 36,048 to 18,847) in certificate and degree programs for ministry.  Yet, what has developed out of this despair is cause for great hope in the Church.

No longer are the ranks of lay ministry swollen with second-career-minded individuals, though they still make up a significant portion of ministers.  Now, our theology departments are growing.  We have already been disillusioned. Our hearts have already been broken.  However, we are aware of the Church in which we have come of age.  We know its flaws, and we also know what it could be.  That’s why we are here. That’s why I have hope!  No, we do not have the numbers we once did, but those here now are here as their vocation.  This generation of lay ministers is coming of age in a time of greatest need within the Church.  These men and women are answering a call in a time of distress, not out of a desire to fill holes, but because they are truly called by God to do so.

When I look at the CARA report I do not despair.  I, we, have lived through a difficult time in the life of the Church and survived.  The numbers tell us this, and they also tell us that we are not out of the woods.  More importantly, our faith tells us that won’t be out of the woods!  We must continually strive to grow closer to God, for if we do not we will be doomed to the sins of our past.  As lay ministers we are not called to fill holes but to answer our vocation of bringing to Christ.  These numbers and charts need to serve as that reminder.  We ought to be reminded daily of that voice crying out in the wilderness.  It is a voice of comfort and hope, releasing the captive, and calling the broken-hearted home
Link to the Cara Report:

Classic Matt Keppel, MTS
Classic Matt Keppel, MTS

One thought on “Guest Post: The Children of Babylon”

  1. I think that we see two issues at play. First off, there’s the simple fact that there’s always a learning curve involved. Like you said, we just went through the transition of the “switch” from volunteer catechists and such to the rise of the LEMs — which many folks still don’t know all the details about certification about, and many of us are stuck in that gray area of age where we were too young to be in the volunteer ranks but too old to suddenly switch out of other other graduate programs we’re in/were in to do formal work.

    Which brings me to the other issue. With enough time passed, we’re at that point were the ‘original generation’ of lay leadership at parishes are way past the age of retirement, but have been holding onto their roles — either in ministry or administration — for decades. There was simply never ideas figured out for how to pass lay leadership along in any real formal manner, since everything was volunteer, leading to the infamous “pantsuit fiefdoms” that those who dislike the changes in praxis of Vatican 2 complain about. Even those of us supportive of the Council still find ourselves trapped outside of any real lay role in the parish if we’re under age 60, especially if we have the temerity to be unmarried. With the ticking time bomb of certified LEMs pouring in from theology and divinity programs, those of us with secular degrees in our thirties and forties are basically doomed if we expected to ever contribute to our parishes…

    (I write this as a 34-year old who’s still a member of the parish that I was baptized in — I lector daily masses and serve as an usher and an extraordinary minister on Sundays (I’m also Knights of Columbus, but that’s irrelevant here), but anything else I attempt — included trying to get either a Singles or Young Adult Ministry started — is overruled as being “of no interest” to the folks in administration and involved on parish council (which, BTW, one has to elected to a nomination for in our parish))

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