The Thirsty Gargoyle

A certain kind of Catholic, sometimes writing for the conservative journal Crisis and sometimes for the liberal journal The Commonweal (which now sometimes claims to be moderate), complains about the declining faith of Catholic children. The Church, they argue, is no longer doing an adequate job of educating them and Catholicism as a result is patently in decline. Somehow, they seem pleased to be heralds of this bad news. Rarely does it occur to these writers that the primary religious educational responsibility is theirs, not the Church’s. Formal Catholic education makes an important contribution but cannot substitute for family influence.


Where, then, does the institutional Church fit into the paradigm I have been describing? Parents, relatives, neighbors, friends, teachers, classmates, local clergy, lovers, and above all spouses are the primary religious socializers, the most powerful sources of the Catholic sensibility. The papacy and the hierarchy are usually mediated through these local socialization agents, or through a thirty-second clip on the evening news or a seven-hundred-fifty-word press association dispatch. The typical Catholic has probably never read a papal or hierarchical document or listened with any attention to what a pope or a bishop has said. They probably have sat through religious instruction in Catholic school and may even have read a book or two beyond the textbook. But these are weak influences compared to stories told by the family, the peer group, the parish priest, and the spouse.


The mistake of many Catholic leaders is to assume that what they say and do really matters or has ever mattered unless local socialization agents are willing to tell the same stories. Who has more influence on religious preference, the pope or a warmly loving spouse? If you are not sure of the answer to that question, then you are kidding yourself.

Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Imagination, 178-180.
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