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What I've Learned: The Outsider
Comments () | Published August 23, 2010
What is the Church going to look like 100 years from now?

It’s going to be very different. In the United States it’s going to be much more Hispanic. I think we’re going to get smaller.

Religion in the early 20th century and before was more like nationality. You were born into it. And you would never think of leaving, even if you disagreed with the Church’s viewpoint. In the United States today, religion is more like a consumer product. It’s a lifestyle choice. You move to a new neighborhood, you find out where your neighbors and your friends go, and you get a new church. Is the music good? Is the preaching good? Do they have a good program for my kids?

Why has that changed?


The Church is a lazy monopoly. The evangelical churches are entrepreneurial. They’re the Silicon Valley start-ups. The Catholic Church expects people to come to us because we’ve got the sacraments, we have the truth. Well, they aren’t coming anymore.

Pope Benedict is very focused on controlling the theologians and the thinkers in the Church to make sure they’re in tune with Vatican policy. But that has suppressed creative thinking.

The Church today is like Xerox. The whole icon system for computers was invented by Xerox. They had these creative people out in California playing with computers and coming up with ideas, but the management in New York had no interest in it. And Steve Jobs asked if he could go in and see this stuff. And the people in New York said, “Oh, sure, why not?” And the people in California said, “Are you out of your mind?” He saw this icon system, and he just absorbed it like a sponge and he went out and created Apple computers.

The Church is the same way. Would you invest in a company whose management and research-and-development divisions are not on speaking terms? You’ve got to let your theologians be creative.

The Vatican is still fighting the Reformation. It’s afraid another Luther will arise from the theologians and divide the Church. The fight should be against boredom and clericalism. Why don’t people come to Mass? Because it’s boring or because they’re mad at their priest for some small reason—he wouldn’t let them have their wedding in their garden or preached against the Democratic candidate?

How can priests make church more interesting?

The Church has to learn how to tell stories again. Jesus spoke in parables; we do doctrine. We need to present heroes to people. We’ve got to use art, literature, images, the Internet to get this message out. We still are functioning on a classroom model—you round up the students and tell them the truth, and they’re supposed to take notes and memorize it and follow it. It doesn’t work.

Should the Church change its message on some of these social issues?


Sometimes we just need to rethink how the message is presented. It should not be a series of no’s; it should be a series of yeses. We are saying yes to love, commitment, idealism, concern for the poor.

What have you learned from the scandals and debates?

The sad thing about what’s happening is that the credibility of the bishops and the hierarchy is being compromised, both by the sex-abuse crisis and by some of the positions they’ve taken where the people say, “This doesn’t make any sense to us.” On the other hand, this is forcing people to realize that to be a Christian is to place your faith in Jesus, not in the pope, not in the bishops.

Structure and organization are important, but whether you like or don’t like the pope is not central to your faith. You should respect him, you should listen to him, but ultimately our faith is in Jesus Christ.

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 08/23/2010 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles