Byline: Armstrong Williams, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
I try not to mix politics and religion in my columns. There are too many variables and circumstances that impact the subject far beyond what a few hundred words can cover. But I feel the situation is so dire today with respect to the Roman Catholic Church and its rapid decline in everyday society that I can't help but point it out.
Full disclosure: I'm not Catholic, practicing or otherwise. This South Carolinian from the Bible Belt was raised more along Protestant lines. But Catholic and Protestant alike believe in and serve a living God. Still, I am well aware of the major importance and influence the Catholic Church wields in this country, and the role it must and should play as this nation plunges headlong into the 21st century.
This country is crying out for leadership, on both political and religious levels. America is in desperate need of a revival. It's during these dark days when the Catholic Church should rise to meet the challenge. Yet it remains so tangled in its own web of deception and institutional cover-ups to offer any credible, moral leadership.
The first evidence of this decline is also some of the most powerful. Worldwide, membership in the church is dropping at an alarming rate. While the institution still remains a close second among major religions with 1.1 billion members (compared with 1.5 billion Muslims), rolls are trending in the wrong direction.
In the United States, four American-born Catholics have left the church for every new member, according to Pew data examining membership since the 1960s. In 2008, Catholic membership plummeted by more than 400,000. Almost half of all Catholic high schools have closed since 1965. In that same year, 1,575 new priests were ordained in the U.S. By 2002, the number was 450. As the National Catholic Reporter stated in the Week magazine in April, it's the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history.
There's a cause and effect here, and as painful as it is to address, the topic must be dealt with. The years of reported sex abuse scandals have taken their toll; to the point where I believe they are the single greatest contributor to the church's struggles of late. When the first wave of allegations and outright admissions later by church elders were revealed, it rocked Catholicism to its core.
The latest wave of abuses created seismic reverberations as stories percolated to the highest echelons of the Catholic inner circle, including Pope Benedict XVI himself. Such episodes unfortunately are not isolated to the United States alone. In Latin America - a Catholic bastion - the same sickening behavior haunted parishioners in countries such as Mexico and Brazil. The latest reared its head in March with allegations of sexual abuse of altar boys in Germany. Ireland, too, produced reports detailing repeated advances and sexual violations by clerics. …