The Catholicity We’ve Lost

When I was growing up Catholic in New York City, two things were true that are no longer true. First, my parish always had somewhere between four and six priests on staff, as well as one or two transitional deacons. Second, everyone lived in the parish to which they geographically belonged. My family lived in the geographic boundary of Sts. Simon and Jude parish and we never even talked about going to another parish. No one did.

The result of that was a parish composed of priests and parishioners of varying perspectives. Sure, we all knew that Fr. X was stricter and more conservative than the younger Fr. Y. But, by luck of the draw, sometimes we had Fr. X for Mass, and sometimes Fr. Y (and sometimes one of the other several priests in the parish). There were parishioners close to my parent’s views on things and some very far away. And we all inhabited the same parish – and had to find some way to get along.

I think we have lost something very valuable. The combination of so many one-priest parishes and the now-accepted practice of joining whatever parish one finds most congenial has unfortunate consequences. Like our approach to news (where you either are a NYT or a Fox news adherent), we now have parishes that are echo-chambers, as “conservatives” leave parishes that are too liberal for them, migrating to more conservative parishes and “liberals” leave parishes that are too conservative for liberal ones. (I fully admit to being part of that migration.) So instead of being forced to live in community with people that we disagree with, we all form communities of people we already agree with.

Worse, in large part, the basis for many people going from one parish to another is their preference for Fr. X over Fr. Y. Some even play “follow the priest,” leaving one parish for another to follow a pastor’s transfer. This may seem like “business as usual” for some Protestant denominations, but it really isn’t very Catholic. And it is not a way to build up the Body of Christ.

I don’t have any good answer to this. (I’m actually part of the problem – I left one parish for another because of unhappiness with what I perceived as an uncomfortable move to the right in my former parish.) But this is what I see. And it saddens me.