This is the Rad Trad's 200th post, fitting as we are two weeks away from the blog's first anniversary. On the anniversary the Rad Trad will unveil the blog's new patron saint and give some statistics on the "state of the blog."
The Rad Trad is not much a fan of Michael Voris, although he thinks Mr. Voris is well intentioned and does say things that others shy away from saying. Recently Mr. Voris began a series called Dispatches, a program of five episodes recounting the state of affairs in the Catholic Church in America using the statistics published by the American bishops in the Official Catholic Directory, meaning the numbers presented are not the program's own, but the bishops'.
Here is the second episode in the series (begins 2:42), which would be more watchable if Mr. Voris would remain in one place!
In short, things are bad. A third as many religious sisters as a 50 years ago and double the average age. Half as many priests, but a tenth the number of seminarians (which also means many men who are being ordained now may not have been ordained in previous days). Mass attendance, in the United States, is also less than a third of what it was five decades ago and a net of 2,000 parishes have closed in the last two decades. All of this despite the population nearly doubling in the same period.
The organization of the Church in America is in a state of decay and it will eventually implode. The question in the Rad Trad's mind is: what happens when the Church structure does implode? Will bishops continue attempting to maintain, as they do now, the organizational features of the Church as it existed in their youth? A priest or two in every parish, several Sunday Masses, weekday low Masses, nuns, Catholic schools, and a lot of well funded social clubs? The reality is that this is no longer a feasible means of running the Church. The Rad Trad has written elsewhere on what happens when the Church is structured like McDonald's, so he sees no need in reiterating those points. Parishes built for three for four full Masses and two priests often have two half-capacity Masses and one overworked priest. This model not only suffers from lack of personnel, but it is very expensive. Running a parish can be financially plausible as long as the Masses are well attended and the congregation contributes. Beneficence remains, but attendance has dwindled. Barring a grand and immediate revival of the American Church, the old system will die, but what to do about it?
The Rad Trad hopes there might be a future in oratories and in collegiate churches (not to be confused with the Oratory of St. Philip Neri or collegiate churches full of retired monsignori). Living alone is not really natural. "Back in the day" there were usually two or three priests per parish. This kept the priests honest and also provided a normal social structure. It also meant parishes were well-staffed and could split duties among the priests rather than hire laymen (secretaries, financial consultants, lay catechists etc). Could an oratory system not recover some of this element and more? In the first millennium the priests of Rome, and in most European dioceses, lived in main houses in town and only went to the parishes for Sundays and feasts. Otherwise they would remain at the cathedral or main churches of the city and sing the Office and Mass daily there. There were two effects of this: 1-there existed fellowship in Christ among the priests and 2-the main churches became centers of Catholic life unto themselves. A large, beautiful church with the Divine Office and a high Mass daily is not just another parish, but a proper destination. Such places, where they still exist, are often the most vibrant churches in the area, as they practice the full Liturgy (the life line of the Church to Jesus Christ) and have full resources for running community programs (concerts, lectures, devotions, retreats, and the like). In most places though, the only different between a large church and a small one is the size. Nothing else. Whichever performs worse is not even likely to close, but to be "clustered" with some other parishes, stretching the priest and the utility bills further other more land and with fewer faithful.
Could an oratory system not be a solution to this coming predicament? Imagine that the city nearest you has only a few Catholic churches and that they are quite large and that their Sunday Masses are very full. Each one has 3-10 priests (depending on the town) who sing Mattins/Lauds every morning, offer Mass every hour, hear Confessions daily, the priests hold their own jobs (teachers, chaplains, chancery work etc), Vespers in the evening, and special events scattered throughout the week. Depending on the population of the surrounding area the church could perhaps run a school. Such a parish or oratory would undoubtedly be the center of Catholic life in the city, if for no other reason that it is one of the only churches and that it does everything well. Moreover, having all the priests under one roof and putting the faithful of the area in one parish cuts down on the overhead. Perhaps a few of the priests could go to small chapels or parishes in surrounding areas to celebrate Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. When a parish or chapel maintains a stable or growing congregation that could support two or three priests (no fewer) it could become an oratory. This modest proposal both cuts costs and improves the quality of return. It makes the church a spiritual focus and creates standards for future growth, unlike the current structure which seeks to stave off decay. The ancient Roman churches operated this way. Monasticism grew in Europe in the same manner. Monks were housed under one abbey's roof until enough there were enough monks to run a full second monastery, in which case an offshoot priory would be established. After time, if the priory proved itself viable, it could become an abbey. This system seeks to represent the faith in its fullest to a world that currently thinks the faith to be either a mere intellectual proposition or a social function. Complaining about Mass attendance and pointing at the "renewal" transpiring before our eyes will not recover the Church in the United States. Reorganization and reform must accompany renewal.
This proposed oratory system differs from the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in that it is a structure for the diocesan priesthood, not its own vocation centered around a particular saint's spirituality. And it differs from a collegiate church in that the priests in residence would have no special honors or revenues. Priests, although better supported, might make less salary in this system where one large congregation supports a great many priests, which could make it attractive to bishops and annoying to the rest of the clergy. Yet it is a start.
Do the readers have any better ideas?