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August 20, 2013

The Texafication of American Catholicism

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced earlier this summer that he is running for Governor, but a neglected aspect of the coverage was that Abbott (the favorite in the race next year) would, to my knowledge, be the first Catholic to hold major (Governor or US Senator) statewide office in Texas (Lorenzo de Zavala, Vice President of the Republic for a few months in 1836, notwithstanding). While this is only one small indicator, there is a major and still somewhat unappreciated shift underway in American Catholicism away from its historic geographic core in the belt running from Saint Louis and Chicago across the Great Lakes up to Boston (with outposts in places such as New Orleans and the major cities in California), one that I think is interesting to contemplate for the future of Catholic culture (in law and otherwise) in the US. But because many of us live in the vestigal culture of American Catholicism and read media (First Things, Commonweal, and America) produced out of it, the change is easy to ignore for now.

As dioceses in Northeastern cities close parishes, sell real estate, and face financial difficulty, the Church in Texas (as Rocco Palmo pointed out last year) is booming. Galveston-Houston is now a cardinalate see (occupied by a Pittsburgher), while Detroit and Saint Louis may never be again. What will emerge is a Church different in important respects--more influenced by Latino Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism and much less dependent on large Catholic institutions. The liturgical forms of American Catholicism will likely become more mega-church than Tridentine. The massive system of universities, hospitals, and parishes of Midwest and Northeast Catholicism will probably not be replicated in Texas. Consider there are about 7.2 million Catholics in Texas and about 3.4 million in Pennsylvania (source: Pennsylvania and Texas Catholic Conferences), but Texas has seven Catholic colleges or universities and Pennsylvania has 26 (source: ACCU). While Catholics build up some institutional presence (under the presidential leadership, for example, of former Illinois and UST law dean Tom Mengler at St. Mary's in San Antonio), they will also be entrepreneurs in non-Catholic institutions, such as the outstanding Catholic campus ministry at Texas A&M. And just as Catholic social teaching in America for the last century was shaped by (and shaped) the New Deal and the Great Society, Texas is, to put it mildly, more libertarian and distrustful of the state, and this will surely affect how the Church thinks about social problems.

Now, I happen to love Texas and think this is all great (if disruptive and inevitable) for the American Church. The major institutions of higher education in Midwest and Northeast Catholicism--Boston College, Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame, Fordham, and so on--will endure, in part by educating the burgeoning Catholic population of Texas. But as we think about how Catholicism and its social doctrine contibute to our public life in the United States, we would do well to consider how the exuberant and "strange genius" (to lift a phrase from former Economist reporter Erica Grieder's recent book) of Texas and its religious and political culture may soon be the dominant force in the American Catholic Church.

Posted by Michael Moreland on August 20, 2013 at 11:44 AM in Moreland, Michael | Permalink

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Texas has a very old Catholic culture, especially south Texas. The Cathedral of San Fernando in San Antonio is the oldest active Catholic Cathedral in the United States.

I don't know how "megachurch" a Texified church will be. Evangelicals seem to be running away from that and toward more traditional forms. I think real change will be a trend toward more of a Latino Catholicism and away from the generally Irish Catholicism that has dominated the US Church, which I see as a good thing.

Posted by: James | Aug 20, 2013 12:29:06 PM

James anticipates my comment. I think Prof. Moreland's assumptions about the liturgical and institutional life of Catholic populations in the South are relatively poorly reasoned. Catholics worship in the churches their bishops and pastors build for them, not in the buildings their Evangelical neighbors occupy. Unless God gives us the bishops we deserve, we won't continue to build parishes of that sort. And that current demographic trends result in an institution-less Catholic population overly influenced by a strange American phenomenon with a limited lifespan is not something we should feel sure in predicting.

Posted by: Titus | Aug 20, 2013 2:38:05 PM

James and Titus: That's why I wrote with probability adjectives. While the Church outside of its Northeast historic strongholds won't be "institution-less" (parishes, for one, will continue to be built and sustained), I don't foresee the creation of institutions (most especially capital intensive projects) on the scale that we saw in the US from the 1840s to Vatican II. And though I agree Catholics will continue to have their own distinctive ecclesiology, I'm only hazarding a hypothesis for now that proximity to and cooperation with Evangelical Protestantism (and numbers of converts from Evangelical churches into Catholicism for the reasons James notes) will have some (yet to be seen) effect on the American Church.

Posted by: Michael Moreland | Aug 20, 2013 3:02:57 PM

Tom Pauken, former head of the Republican Party in Texas and a Reagan administration conservative, is competing with Mr Abbot for the gubernatorial nomination in the upcoming election cycle. He is a very good and devout Catholic father and husband. Lots of people praying for his success-including myself.

Posted by: Patrick Wells | Aug 20, 2013 3:24:55 PM

'You can all go to hell; I will go to Texas' - attributed to Davy Crockett.

Posted by: ck | Aug 20, 2013 4:21:16 PM

Michael: I predict the growth in the Catholic Church will be from evangelical converts and Latinos. (Both of which are plentiful in Texas.)

I agree that evangelicals will influence the Church, but I see this as more in culture than in liturgy. I'm already seeing this in the South and it's a mixed bag. The good side is that evangelical converts tend to be very committed, well educated about their faith, and especially willing to share with others. The downside is that some have not completely left their Calvinist views behind, they tend to be overly political about faith issues (Cathopublicans), and they have no problem with parish shopping, too much of which can really divide a Catholic community into factions.

Latinos, on the other hand, are culturally Catholic, but are dealing with very different issues and have different priorities than the Anglo community. Politically, they overwhelmingly vote Democratic, but this is mainly because the Republicans have gone out of their way to alienate Latino voters. (No, Cuban Republicans don't count. Pretending that they do just alienates non-Cuban Latinos.)

If you're optimistic, the various Catholic communities will build on each others strengths and revive the faith. If you're pessimistic, we'll have a very fractured Catholic Church: An evangelical Catholic Church constantly at odds with itself and everyone, a dying old, urban Church, and La Iglesia Catolica

Posted by: James | Aug 20, 2013 4:51:32 PM

"I'm only hazarding a hypothesis for now that proximity to and cooperation with Evangelical Protestantism (and numbers of converts from Evangelical churches into Catholicism for the reasons James notes) will have some (yet to be seen) effect on the American Church."

I think this is a credible hypothesis with regard to the Church in the South and the Southwest. I have seen in states like TX and AZ how dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals has led to a number of Evangelical converts, including some Evangelical ministers and theologians. Out of this dynamic, growth in vocations and in the pews has been substantial.

In contrast, such a dynamic is noticeably absent in places like CT, where religious dialogue in both the public and private squares is essentially mute. In CT, the Evangelical population is a mostly silent minority and the Catholics are mostly "cradle" in the worst sense (poorly catechized). This situation, amidst a radically secular environment that is hostile to Christianity at large, will not likely bear much influence on the American Church.

Posted by: ck | Aug 20, 2013 5:25:02 PM

Forgive me for commenting on Prof. Brennan's defense of Abp. Chaput, but I think it is relevant to the "Texification" hypothesis if we think of Texas more broadly. Although the Archbishop did not hail from Texas, it is important to note that he and a number of other recently appointed bishops came from the middle of the country to serve the decaying Catholic coasts. Abp. Chaput came from Denver to Philadelphia; Cardinal Dolan from Milwakee to NYC; Abp. Gomez from San Antonio to LA; and Cardinal Wuerl from Pittsburg to DC.

Each of these Bishops came from places where Evangelical and Hispanic Catholics are growing the Church in new and decentralized ways, to Shepard and hopefully save what has become cradle Catholic decay on the coasts. Denver, Milwakee, and Pittsburg, like San Antonio are closer socially, economically (energy), and politically to Texas than they are to NYC, Philly, DC, and LA. So it's interesting that bishops from these Texas-like places now have direct influence over the cradle flocks of the coasts.

Posted by: ck | Aug 20, 2013 7:31:03 PM

It should be noted that Baylor (in Central Texas) has a number of Catholics on its faculty, one of whom is the Dean of the Honors College, and some of whom actually were received into the Church after they had arrived on campus. Just click my name and read about it.

Posted by: Francis J. Beckwith | Aug 20, 2013 8:08:53 PM

I hope that the Catholic Church in Texas does not forget Catholic social thought in becoming imbued with the "religious and political culture of Texas." I have very fond memories of time spent at Bishop Sidney Metzger's church in El Paso, Texas, in the 1970s, when Bishop Metzger and his church were mainstays in the multi-year strike at the Farah Pants factory there, a strike that my father and the almost entirely Mexican-American workforce were proud to run and to win. Perhaps Catholic social thought will be able to change what seems to be the political culture of Texas to bring it more into line with the principles of Catholic social thought to which Bishop Metzger was devoted.

Posted by: Ellen Wertheimer | Aug 20, 2013 9:14:21 PM

As hispanics become more assimilated they leave the Church just like other immigrant groups historically. Anyone who insists they are the "future" of the Church is beating an old and discredited drum of wishful thinking on the part of certain groups, who are as much political as religious. In addition, painfully and obviously omitted from the current discussion is the large number of Northern Catholics who have moved to Texas over the past several decades for jobs (economic reasons). My parents are among their number and were in an early wave in the mid-nineteen sixties, when I was a young child. To say such people have an impact on the Texas Church is an understatement. For example, my father is a permanent deacon for a major Texas diocese and is a product of 16 years of Catholic schooling in what I would call a large northern-midwestern city whose population is historically about 50% Catholic. The newer transplants want to keep their Catholicism but have to adjust since they don't find the mega-institutional Catholic structure they left and which is mentioned in the article -- Catholic parishes each with its own school on practically every corner, Catholic hospitals and colleges aplenty, etc. They are confronted with having to be the "pioneers" they may have romanticized before coming to Texas. For example, they are shocked that there are so few Catholic schools compared to where they came from. They can't believe they have to put their children on a waiting list to be considered for admission. They have to make the decision to be Catholic pioneers and build the institutions they want, or forgo certain things they took for granted up North. Obviously this article is incomplete in its assessment of Texas Catholicism since it doesn't even mention this transplant demographic. It also ignores the fact that Houston was chosen at least in part for a Cardinal for geographic reasons --because the Vatican wanted a Cardinal for the (entire) Southern U.S. and Houston is smack dab in the middle of the country. Another factor is the diversity of the Catholic population there. It's not just white Catholics, evangelical converts, and hispanics. I hope the Northeast and Northern U.S. Church don't give up on themselves just yet. I have spent time visiting relatives and the Catholic culture in my parent's home city "up north" and there is still much good there. It would be wonderful to see it renewed.

Posted by: Texas Catholic | Aug 20, 2013 11:47:55 PM

The large Hispanic community alone leads me to be unsurprised about this development except to how long it took. I would add there are various sorts of Catholics, which we can tell by looking at the different types of Catholic justices on the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 21, 2013 11:04:16 AM

Enjoyed this article. I came over from patheos. After years living in Latin America and Texas, I believe that the emphasis on Latino Catholics is overrated except in traditional areas like San Antonio. Most Latino Catholics are also very cultural Catholics, much like those in the northeast. not well catechised and easily distracted. The southern and southwestern Catholic Church, though are alive and well, active, evangelical, faithful and orthodox. Down here devotions like Adoration, Saints' observances and processions are very well-attended as are Bible Study, men's devotional groups. I don't know how vocations are compared to the traditional rusty Catholic belt.
Our parishes in suburbs especially tend to be huge because of the newness of the Church's growth. Another Texas influence may turn out to be the Anglican Ordinariate, headquartered in Houston with various parishes in the State.
Don't forget, Texas is huge. It stretches from the piney woods in east Texas to another world and time zone in El Paso.
One more thing I can't let pass. We may be Cathopublicans who believe in helping our neighbors without government involvement, rather than Cathocrats, or the "Democratic Party at prayer" in the northeast. We are faithful to all Church teaching and practice subsidiarity.
I do not see any rush to go to traditional, northeastern formerly Catholic colleges, either.
Most cities and lots of towns have Catholic hospitals, btw, if they aren't Methodist.
A question, will there be another revision of the liturgy so we can say, "The Lord be with y'all?

Posted by: AnneG | Aug 26, 2013 8:31:17 PM

Having lived in Texas for 3 yrs and moved to an old Catholic "stronghold" in the Midwest (St. Louis), I would like to testify (no pun on evangelical converts here) to the profoundness and uniqueness of Texan Catholicism.

I think the author was spot on in his general assessment of the Church in Texas. One phenomenon I had never experienced growing up is the number of evangelical converts who are enriching the life of the church at the parish level. They are often the best of both worlds - well informed on both scripture and their newly-embraced Tradition. They are the most active in sharing their faith with others. My own faith as a cradle Catholic is enriched in learning of their own process of coming to accept the Catholic faith. Because they have converted as adults after careful study and struggle with Catholic faith, they are often the most orthodox of Catholics in belief.

Nonetheless, they bring the best of their evangelical past with them to the altar. Reverent Novus Ordo Masses with passionate congregational participation - responding and singing with reverence and intention - give hope to those of us who love tradition but aren't as extreme as the readers of the blog Rorate Caeli. And the sort of programming seen in evangelical megachurches that successfully keep a church campus alive on the other 6 days a week - young adult ministries, children's ministries, etc - are popping up at church campuses everywhere. Bishops in Texas are more prone to choose megachurch campus models with large catchment areas and thousands of families due to priest shortages (while Texas has a vocations boom, it cannot match growth), and this sort of programming keeps people connected. As for the lack of Catholic infrastructure - Dallas and Fort Worth's Catholic hospitals - St. Paul's and St. Joseoh's - have been dead for a decade. But a resurgence is coming - the renowned St Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston and its 5 hospital health system (home of the Texas Heart Institute) was just sold by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to Catholic Health Initiatives, returning the Church's health ministry to Houston a decade after it's only Catholic hospital, St. Joseph's, was sold off and secularized. Christus Health based in Dallas is building San Antonio's first free-standing children's hospital. And Seton Health - already running Austin's county hospital and Dell Children's Hospital - has entered into an agreement to build and operate the new University teaching hospital for a new medical school at the flagship University of Texas at Austin. That's right - a Catholic health system will be the primary healthcare provider for a flagship state medical school (the ACLU is already all over this). Seen nowhere in the Northeast. Only in Texas.

The University of Dallas is already regarded among many as a vibrant center of Catholic intellectual life, and in a generation could be seen as a rival to Notre Dame as the unofficial flagship Catholic university in this country.

I shudder at the condescending attitude many people have towards Latino Catholicism. Some families in my old parish traced their ancestry to original Mexican settlers prior to Texas secession, and have kept the faith alive for the centuries when the Southern Baptists ruled the roost. Their devotionalism and cultural connection to Catholicism is no less valuable or holy than that of the Irish/Germans/Poles who built the former Catholic strongholds of Boston, NY and Philadelphia 2 centuries before.

Having never lived in the Midwest, I honestly have found my faith challenged in this former bastion of faith. The number of empty, grand old churches in the city is depressing - it looks like a parish graveyard. I am reminded of why NCR is based in Missouri. Cradle Catholics here are ill-informed on their faith (the third-generation descendants of the Irish and German Catholic immigrants have the same issues with cultural Catholicism thrown on Texas Latinos, though perhaps worse, given the depth and availability of Catholic infrastructure here). You see a lot of the angsty, self-righteous dissent from the faith often spewed from the pulpit by jaded priests (no wonder LCWR had their first conference post-doctrinal assessment here). This is particularly true at the Jesuit church on the SLU campus, which seems to be a weigh station for many Catholics on their way out the door, who are often pandered to by the Jesuits, still spewing their Jesus-was-a-community-organizer rhetoric from the 80's. In the city in particular, anemic parishes fall into two camps: navel-gazing and clinging to the past and the glory days of the Catholic ghettos and Latin Mass (see St. Francis de Sales Oratory or the Cathedral Basilica), or marching to a post-Christian future where the Church is a social service organization with a Catholic history (see St. Cronan or St. Francis Xavier). Pope Francis, ironically, recently condemned both these parish models in his closing address to the bishops of Brazil after World Youth Day. The affluent suburbs are no better - large, impersonal parishes where families stare silently at the altar through uninspired sermons, Mass ends promptly and in no more than 1 hour, and the campus is empty by 1pm until the following Sunday. Yes, I have been parish shopping, and I've come up short.

If the future of American Catholicism is Texas, the future is looking great.

Posted by: Dom | Aug 27, 2013 12:09:31 PM

Having lived in Texas for 3 yrs and moved to an old Catholic "stronghold" in the Midwest (St. Louis), I would like to testify (no pun on evangelical converts here) to the profoundness and uniqueness of Texan Catholicism.

I think the author was spot on in his general assessment of the Church in Texas. One phenomenon I had never experienced growing up is the number of evangelical converts who are enriching the life of the church at the parish level. They are often the best of both worlds - well informed on both scripture and their newly-embraced Tradition. They are the most active in sharing their faith with others. My own faith as a cradle Catholic is enriched in learning of their own process of coming to accept the Catholic faith. Because they have converted as adults after careful study and struggle with Catholic faith, they are often the most orthodox of Catholics in belief.

Nonetheless, they bring the best of their evangelical past with them to the altar. Reverent Novus Ordo Masses with passionate congregational participation - responding and singing with reverence and intention - give hope to those of us who love tradition but aren't as extreme as the readers of the blog Rorate Caeli. And the sort of programming seen in evangelical megachurches that successfully keep a church campus alive on the other 6 days a week - young adult ministries, children's ministries, etc - are popping up at church campuses everywhere. Bishops in Texas are more prone to choose megachurch campus models with large catchment areas and thousands of families due to priest shortages (while Texas has a vocations boom, it cannot match growth), and this sort of programming keeps people connected. As for the lack of Catholic infrastructure - Dallas and Fort Worth's Catholic hospitals - St. Paul's and St. Joseoh's - have been dead for a decade. But a resurgence is coming - the renowned St Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston and its 5 hospital health system (home of the Texas Heart Institute) was just sold by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to Catholic Health Initiatives, returning the Church's health ministry to Houston a decade after it's only Catholic hospital, St. Joseph's, was sold off and secularized. Christus Health based in Dallas is building San Antonio's first free-standing children's hospital. And Seton Health - already running Austin's county hospital and Dell Children's Hospital - has entered into an agreement to build and operate the new University teaching hospital for a new medical school at the flagship University of Texas at Austin. That's right - a Catholic health system will be the primary healthcare provider for a flagship state medical school (the ACLU is already all over this). Seen nowhere in the Northeast. Only in Texas.

The University of Dallas is already regarded among many as a vibrant center of Catholic intellectual life, and in a generation could be seen as a rival to Notre Dame as the unofficial flagship Catholic university in this country.

I shudder at the condescending attitude many people have towards Latino Catholicism. Some families in my old parish traced their ancestry to original Mexican settlers prior to Texas secession, and have kept the faith alive for the centuries when the Southern Baptists ruled the roost. Their devotionalism and cultural connection to Catholicism is no less valuable or holy than that of the Irish/Germans/Poles who built the former Catholic strongholds of Boston, NY and Philadelphia 2 centuries before.

Having never lived in the Midwest, I honestly have found my faith challenged in this former bastion of faith. The number of empty, grand old churches in the city is depressing - it looks like a parish graveyard. I am reminded of why NCR is based in Missouri. Cradle Catholics here are ill-informed on their faith (the third-generation descendants of the Irish and German Catholic immigrants have the same issues with cultural Catholicism thrown on Texas Latinos, though perhaps worse, given the depth and availability of Catholic infrastructure here). You see a lot of the angsty, self-righteous dissent from the faith often spewed from the pulpit by jaded priests (no wonder LCWR had their first conference post-doctrinal assessment here). This is particularly true at the Jesuit church on the SLU campus, which seems to be a weigh station for many Catholics on their way out the door, who are often pandered to by the Jesuits, still spewing their Jesus-was-a-community-organizer rhetoric from the 80's. In the city in particular, anemic parishes fall into two camps: navel-gazing and clinging to the past and the glory days of the Catholic ghettos and Latin Mass (see St. Francis de Sales Oratory or the Cathedral Basilica), or marching to a post-Christian future where the Church is a social service organization with a Catholic history (see St. Cronan or St. Francis Xavier). Pope Francis, ironically, recently condemned both these parish models in his closing address to the bishops of Brazil after World Youth Day. The affluent suburbs are no better - large, impersonal parishes where families stare silently at the altar through uninspired sermons, Mass ends promptly and in no more than 1 hour, and the campus is empty by 1pm until the following Sunday. Yes, I have been parish shopping, and I've come up short.

If the future of American Catholicism is Texas, the future is looking great.

Posted by: Dom | Aug 27, 2013 12:09:32 PM

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