The future of the Catholic Church in America looks rather bleak, and its decline in influence and status seems to be inevitable. Dr. Stephen Bullivant’s latest course for the Word on Fire Institute, Understanding the “Nones” and How to Reach Them, confirms this all too convincingly. Religious affiliation trends were bad before COVID, but they’re expected to only get worse. In concurrence with Ross Douthat, I do not see how the Church can reverse this trend among Catholics unless the Holy Spirit somehow conjure up a religious revival among the masses and the meritocratic elites.
What is most alarming to me, though, is that few Catholic leaders seem to be taking this to heart and preparing for the future. In order to be better prepared to face what is before us, all Catholics need to heed the call of the New Evangelization and actively form intentional disciples.
But first, some basic questions: Right now, where are the frontlines of the New Evangelization? In which Catholic institution can intentional disciples best be formed? Echoing Dr. Daniel Burns, I would argue that, in both cases, the answer is “K-12 Catholic schools.” Catholic schools are the institutions most concretely shaping people (in this case, students and their parents) into would-be Catholics and continuing the formation of the faithful. Accordingly, Catholics should direct their attention, efforts, and money toward founding or (where needed) reforming Catholic schools. This will serve the Church well in the coming years. But Catholic schools are suffering, especially the urban Catholic schools in economically poor areas. Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an article about Catholic schools closing around the nation and why they are closing at an even faster rate than expected.