Is Christianity in America Toast?

By Peter Wolfgang Published on August 22, 2018

Studies show our churches both losing members and getting older. Many Millennials are now “nones,” having abandoned Christianity altogether. Christians have suffered massive public policy defeats in our efforts to protect the biblical truth about marriage and human sexuality. 

Worse, from the leadership of Willow Creek to the bishops of the Catholic Church, there have been massive failures of sexual purity and institutional integrity. These crises have greatly harmed our credibility when preaching the saving truth of the Gospel to an unbelieving world.

It’s worse for Catholics, thanks to the recent scandals. We recently found out that a cardinal had been sexually abusing young men under his power. He’s been accused of abusing minors as well. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s report revealed seven decades of priests sexually abusing minors and their superiors often covering it up. (Although not much since 2002, when the bishops adopted the Dallas Charter.)

Things are so bad that any claim of good news within the Catholic Church is bound to be dismissed as delusional. That is how Rod Dreher reacted to George Weigel’s recent claim that the World Youth Day held in Denver in 1993 marked “The Turning Point” for the Catholic Church in the United States. Dreher’s sarcastic but not inaccurate summary: “Mission accomplished.” (Weigel also noted that the institutional Church objected, a lot.)

I understand Dreher’s reaction. As Austin Ruse wrote, Dreher has been prophetic in his reporting on the clergy sex abuse story that has once again in engulfed the Church. He was prophetic in the 90s and early 2000s, when reporting the truth got him widely hated, and he’s prophetic now. 

But there is lot more to the story of American Catholicism these last 25 years than what you are reading from Rod Dreher. And the parts that are left out could point to a brighter future for Christianity in America.

Turning Point or Crisis?

World Youth Day 1993 was not “mission accomplished.” Weigel wildly overshoots the mark by declaring it The Turning Point. Yet even now, even with the recent revelations about McCarrick and the clerical abuse in Pennsylvania, it is fair to say that World Youth Day 1993 was A Turning Point for the Catholic Church in the United States. 

I was 23 years old and I watched every minute of it on TV. I watched it with tears streaming down my cheeks. And I wasn’t the only one. That is how it was experienced — and lived — by serious Catholics my own age these last 25 years.

It was being with my old high school buddies at The Hungry Tiger bar a few years later, finding that one guy who was at WYD ’93. We felt like we were part of some underground movement that our friends did not yet know about, plotting the future. 

Signs of Hope

It was meeting Tom Hoopes in the early 2000s. He was already the editor of the nation’s most important Catholic newspaper (the National Catholic Register) while still in his early 30s. I realized that a lot of the best Catholic ministries in the U.S. were being run by guys my own age whose faith was ignited by World Youth Day 1993. 

It was meeting Jackie Boulier Tiul in the mid 2010s when she was the director of religious education at our church. I realized that people my age staffed parishes all across the country. The fire of World Youth Day 1993 still burns within them. 

It’s seeing those posts all over social media two weeks ago reminding us that the 25th anniversary of WYD in Denver also marks the 25th anniversary of Mother Angelica’s epic rant against liberal dissent within the American Church. That in itself was a turning point of sorts. 

It’s raising your kids in the faithful Catholic underground that has risen up in the past 25 years since WYD ’93 and sending them off into adulthood.

What Life There Is

None of this is to deny the bad news. But we’ve known the bad news the whole time. As Catholic World Report notes in a recent interview, faithful Catholic news outlets were exposing that bad news all along.

What life there is in the Catholic Church in the U.S. today, particularly among people my age, is owed largely to the faith in Christ Pope St. John Paul II reignited at WYD ’93. Even though the institutional Church objected, just as Weigel says.

Tom and Jackie and that guy at The Hungry Tiger and me and many others. We are the legacy of World Youth Day ’93.

If, please God, Christianity should recover from its present crisis, it will be due in part to those who kept the fire of World Youth Day 1993 lit through dark times. Christianity in America may not be toast precisely because we are still here, we kept the faith and we can lead the recovery.

Were it not for World Youth Day 1993, it might not be so. Many of us who have been keeping that fire of faith burning might not have done so, but for World Youth Day 1993.

So no, not Mission Accomplished. Never Mission Accomplished until Our Lord returns in His glory. 

But definitely A Turning Point.

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