06/13/10-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
There is bad news in Vermont’s Roman Catholic Church. Recent numbers are showing that the Church has lost roughly twenty percent of its membership in recent years. Before Pope Benedict took over the papacy, Vermont had 149,000 Catholics, but five years later, they are reporting that they have 118,000. This decline of 31,000 members represents a steep decline. Where, once, Rutland City’s Catholic school, Mount St. Joseph Academy, was one of the strongest institutions of learning in Rutland County, it has dwindled down to less than one hundred students, and only twenty-eight graduates this year.
The Catholic Church in Vermont is also facing major problems with a severe drop in the number of priests. In 1975, there were 274 priests, but in 2005, there were only 81. It is expected that, by 2015, there will be only 55 priests in Vermont. Across the state, there are little rural churches that were closed beginning in the 1950′s. Those abandoned churches will be added to in the next half decade.
Vermont is one of the least religious states in the nation, and church attendance is declining across the board. A growing distrust of organized religion does not indicate that the state is becoming more atheistic. There are more people within the state who are either agnostic or turning to spirituality and less organized forms of worship.
Recently, a photo in the Vermont Catholic Tribune, which is now an online website instead of a newspaper, pictured a photograph of Bishop Salvatore Matano blessing a man in a manner that made the man kneeling in front of Matano appear to be engaging in a sexual act. This caused a further uproar and exacerbated the wounds left by the child sex abuse scandal which is now cost the Catholic Church in Vermont a lot of money and their diocesan headquarters in Burlington. The Church is selling off land in order to pay the settled claims.
“It is disturbing to travel throughout this beautiful diocese and to realize what was and what now is. It is no longer those halcyon days of 1950 when vocations were plentiful and the Catholic Church had many in its ranks to provide for its many ministerial services,” Bishop Matano stated in 2006. As the Catholic Church’s insistence upon excluding lesbians, gays and transsexuals as well as forbidding contraception and taking a reactionary view about abortion, believing that any abortion is wrong no matter what, the Church will continue to hemorrhage members.