Renowned Catholic journalist Peter Steinfels launched Marquette's series on the Catholic Church in America Wednesday with a presentation on his new book, "A People Adrift: the Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America."
Steinfels, a religion columnist at The New York Times, discussed the current direction of the Church and the amount of change it has endured since Vatican II's close in 1965.
"Leadership by priests and sisters is giving way to leadership by laypeople," Steinfels said. From 1992-1997, he said, the percentage of laity leadership increased 37 percent.
"The face of the Catholic parish is not likely to be the male pastor" in the future, Steinfels said.
At universities, too, demographics are changing in favor of laypeople. Theology, a discipline normally dominated by priests, is employing more and more laypeople as professors, Steinfels said.
The Church in America is also guilty of "a hollowing out of the faith" and increased apathy to otherwise significant developments, Steinfels said. American Catholicism's path in the future will be one where faith is an increasingly marginal part of Catholic identity, he said.
"Church attendance is down without alarms going off," Steinfels said. And instead of searching for solutions, leaders preferred to deny any problems existed.
Still, Steinfels found hope in the American Catholic Church and in all Americans, Catholic or not.
"The Church in America is a bridge institution in a divided nation," he said. "It is a powerful moral force in society. The fate of Catholicism is of thoughtful interest to all Americans, not just devoted Catholics.
"American Catholics can have a significant impact on the world."
To hope, Steinfels concluded, is to "keep the faith and change the church, but put equal effort into both."
"Hope is the last thing, the first thing, the only thing," Steinfels said.
"He has a very significant voice as a journalist," said William Thorn, professor of journalism. "He's helping to make sense of the changes the Catholic Church went through after Vatican II."
While at The New York Times, Steinfels expanded its views of religion, Thorn said. He provided even coverage of all denominations and "was not overly Catholic — he didn't use The New York Times to accentuate Catholicism," Thorn said.
"Peter has been a steady voice and a steady hand" in the American Catholic community, said Thorn, who has met Steinfels on several occasions.
Steinfels can also voice his opinions "without getting caught up in one side or another," Thorn said. If he does prefer one view to another opinion, "he has not let it influence his work."
Before joining The New York Times in 1988, Steinfels, a graduate of Loyola University-Chicago, was the editor of Commonweal magazine, a Catholic publication. He has also been a visiting professor at Georgetown University and the University of Notre Dame, and has been nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes, said University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild before Steinfels' presentation.
In addition to "A People Adrift," Steinfels also wrote another book, "Neoconservatives: the Men Who Are Changing American Politics."