So what has been happening to the Catholic Church in this country and in Western society as a whole? Anecdotally, I encounter a large number of Catholic grandparents who tell me that few of their children, let alone their grandchildren, are regularly practising their religion.
I don’t want to flood you with statistics but I record here a couple of indications which suggest to me that this is widespread. Baptisms per 1000 Catholics in England and Wales have dropped by more than half since the ‘50s and ‘60s. The number of Catholic marriages per 1000 Catholics is four or five times lower than 50 years ago.
In any other context we would see such a collapse as a major disaster. A business which saw such falls in its customer base would know at once that it should take radical action or accept that it was on its way out.
Were we a business we would probably start by opening up two investigations. One of these would be to investigate our customer base and find out what our existing customers see as good or bad in our products and services. The second would be to consult with our own staff with a particular focus on those who deal regularly with customers and potential customers. Knowing that there is often a wide gap between what we believe our business is about and what it is actually doing, we might employ hard headed professionals to help us with this. We would also investigate what other businesses in our field were doing, with an emphasis on the most successful ones.
It may be that such a procedure would not fit the Western Catholic Church. After all, its mission and its values are set by Almighty God and not by the market. But I wonder if a deeper, and thoroughly objective, investigation would reveal some clues. And I wonder if some hardheaded thinking might point to possible solutions.
As far as I know, there are no plans to undertake any such investigation. So I rather fear that we will need to start by asking Secondsight Blog readers to tell us what they think to be the causes of our decline. And perhaps even suggest some remedies. They are a knowledgeable lot, and certainly don’t pull their punches. If they can’t get nearer to the heart of the matter, I wonder who can.
Perhaps we can avoid our hobby horses. (All too often when I see a name I can guess the sort of thing they are about to say.) Here, we must stand back a little, put on our professional hats, and think objectively about what may be wrong and what might be needed to put it right.