Statistics published by Discern, the research institute of the Archdiocese of Malta paint a very grim picture for the Church in our country. A mere fifty years ago, the number of faithful who attended Sunday mass was at a whopping eight-two percent of the population. Fresh from the abhorrent religio-political war of the early sixties, with people still reeling from the horrific effects of ‘id-dnub il-mejjet’ (interdiction), eighty-two percent was then a huge number indeed.
Fast forward five decades and that number has dwindled to a scant thirty-six percent, which figures show is hugely made up of attendees who are over fifty years of age. The same published data also predicts that if numbers keep on declining at the current rate, by 2040 only ten percent of Malta’s Catholic population will be attending Sunday Mass. Interestingly, against this scenario, the same study also reveals that ninety-two percent of the population believe they are Catholic.
So, in a nutshell, we can conclude that the decimated Sunday Mass attendance is not due to some existential crisis of faith, but to other perhaps more telling issues, which are increasingly keeping the faithful away from their Church.
Why are people, and more to the point young people, turning away, especially since religious indoctrination in Malta starts at a very young age? Religion classes in schools and ‘il-Muzew’ seem to be having no impact on our younger generations. Why is this? The answer perhaps lies in the advent of better education for all. Not so long ago, the threat of fire and brimstone kept us all in check and those who dared challenge the Church were treated as pariahs and worse.
But today’s youngsters have no such qualms; they are inquisitive and would not accept the dogma previous generations have been force-fed, just because the priest ‘said so’. And what is the Church doing about this? Nothing, except wring its hands about its current state of affairs. Instead of providing moral leadership and guidance to the younger generation, it chooses to pontificate from its pulpits in much the same way it has done for centuries, leaving a trail of lethargy in its wake.
And yet, in certain instances it chooses to keep up with the times. Its various media outlets, as well as its presence on social media is on a par with that of most modern organisations, but instead of cultivating innovative ways to appeal to the masses, it chooses instead to be divisive on matters which have nothing to do with Christ’s teachings and which do the very same Church no favours at all. It simply prefers to give voice to those with an axe to grind who happen to share its biased political agenda. Try to reconcile the at times deplorable commentary emanating from these outlets to the teachings of Jesus Christ and it’s quite easy to understand why people no longer look to the Church for moral guidance.
All this without even touching on sex abuse scandals which have been dogging the Church for the past few years. It is not only its failure to prevent such tragedies that irks, but more so, its disgraceful way of dealing with the perpetrators and the culture of ‘omerta’ which surrounds these cases. The Church stands for moral rectitude and when it fails in its duty, it undermines people’s faith in its soundness and integrity. Perhaps because it has gotten away with pushing its own agenda for centuries on end, it still believes that the faithful can be duped into blindly doing its bidding. Well, if the current numbers are anything to go by, this is no longer the case.
Focusing on problems plaguing our society in a modern-day scenario, also seem to be beyond the Church’s capability. Parish priests in their majority are simply there to perpetuate the sense of pomp and circumstance surrounding the Church, more interested in its traditional pageantry when the occasion calls for it, than actually invoking all-year-round true community spirit within the parish.
Surrounded by the usual ‘cliques’, these parish priests’ priority is the embellishment of the church building itself and rarely the spiritual wellbeing of their flock. This is a harsh sum-up, but I wonder how many parish priests make a true effort to know their parishioners, regardless of how far-flung from the village centre they might live, except when ‘it-tberik’ comes along. Of course, funds must then be raised for some new, dazzling embellishment within the church.
There are so many issues, so many factors which are contributing to the terrible malaise conflicting the Church. However, through the Church’s own findings, we can only deduce that it’s not us, the people, who are the problem here… And there are so many solutions which with goodwill and a better approach could reverse this sorry decline and stop the alienation of a faithful flock which for all intents and purposes still believes. But never mind all this sorry devastation, at least the Church is busy counting cranes…