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A number of years back, when the crisis in the Church was just becoming evident to me, I had the opportunity to sit down with a local bishop — a pleasant enough man. I had asked for an appointment with him to discuss what was coming more into focus for me concerning the Church. I had, after all, left behind a dreadful life of mortal sin, so at the time I wasn't that much plugged into the crisis.
I had grown up in the Church of Nice like almost everyone my age, so all these hootenanny Masses and soft-sell Catholicism seemed normal to me. However, I had spent most of my career in investigative reporting and producing in TV news, and the more I "hung around" the Church, so to speak, the more things seemed out of sorts to me. Intuition, instinct — call it whatever you want, but something was wrong.
I kept coming across polls and surveys and articles talking about the decline of the Catholic Church, first in the United States, and then as I learned more, I discovered this was a phenomenon present in the entire Western world. My reversion to the Church was earth-shaking for me. I had been rescued by the prayers and sacrifices my mom had made, and I was in love with the truth of the Faith, because it really is miraculous.
A new man is possible, and had happened zillions of times before in the Church's history. But in this frame of mind, of exhilaration, I couldn't understand why so many people were leaving the Faith, abandoning the Faith, indifferent to the Faith, rebelling against the Faith, clergy.
The polls don't lie. They may be wrong here or there by a percentage point or two, but polling is pretty much an exact science these days; my time in news showed me that in the world of cultural and political coverage. Sure, some now and then can be slanted and manipulated, but not all of them, and not consistently. These polling companies make their bread and butter on making accurate predictions and representing sample populations with a good degree of certitude.
So it was in the spirit of concern about what I was continually seeing and even reporting on in our early newscasts and "Vortex" episodes that I went to this bishop and asked what was going on. He was very polite. He was an auxiliary bishop, so he had some more time on his hands than the bishop.
So we sat down, he asked what was on my mind, and I told him. I was concerned about these polls, the findings, the reality behind them that was being measured. I've always had a pretty good head for stats and polls and so forth, so I reeled off a good number of them in quick succession: falling rates of this, major decline here or there, tumbling vocations, disastrous catechetical results — everything we have come to know and see as the current reality, which again was new to me at the time.
As I sat telling him this, he had his legs crossed and just quietly kept picking lint off one of his knees. I thought he was considering what I was saying. I was wrong. When I had finished, he said, "Well, Michael, you can't believe every poll your read."
There are no words to express my reaction to his response. First of all, yes, you can believe practically every poll you read when they are all tracking the exact same trend; they are all worthy of belief. Second of all, you can certainly consider the credibility of them when there are no polls showing the opposite. Every single poll was and is showing a death spiral for the Church in the West.
There are no polls, surveys, data anywhere present to show any kind of sustainable incline or increase in the Faith. An entire industry practically now exists of hundreds of books, thousands of articles, dozens of apostolates that are tracking the decline.
I left that meeting not disillusioned but shaken. At times you feel like you are the only person, isolated in the knowledge that you possess. Am I crazy? Is there something wrong with me? So you dig down deeper and study more and analyze even further until everything comes into focus. You go back to your source material and look even closer, more intensely. You learn.
The Faith is being demolished in the West. The more you study, the more you learn. You learn, for example, that way back in 1970, Pope Benedict, when he was still a monsignor, said the Church is shrinking and will become very small — 46 years years ago!!
What did he know back then, you ask yourself? And you detect the trend — and no, polls and such do not lie —they present an overall accuracy, even allowing for the occasional outlier. So yes, I was saddened by that bishop's seeming excuse-making, or head in the sand, or fear of facing the reality, or whatever it was.
But eight years later, things are very clear. The Church needs saints. She doesn't need fear or hesitation, or denial. She need saints. Brother, does She need saints.