Sheep Without Shepherds

Source: The New York Times

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo last weekend at the General Assembly of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.CreditCreditBrendan Smialowski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Here is a striking fact about the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The sex abuse crisis in the early 2000s, the horrid revelations of predation that began in Boston in 2001, did not have an obvious long-term effect on the practice of the faith.

Yes, American Catholicism has lost millions of its baptized flock over the last 50 years. But that decline was steepest in the 1960s and 1970s; by the turn of the millennium, some trends (attendance at Mass, for instance) had stabilized, and the number of Catholics marrying in the Church and baptizing their children had settled into a slower decline.

After the 2001 scandals Gallup showed a temporary plunge in reported attendance at Mass — but then a swift rebound. Other data showed no clear effect on attendance at all. Neither ordinations nor adult conversions dramatically declined. There were local collapses and individual crises of faith, and the moral authority of the bishops was dramatically weakened. But as an institution, the Roman Catholic Church seemed to weather the storm better than might have been expected. The Catholic belief that the sacraments are more important than the sins of the men responsible for offering them was tested — and seemingly endured.

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