In a comment-box rebuttal to a letter in Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle warning that new Bishop Salvatore Matano’s “rigidity” will lead the diocese to “dwindle,” my friend Michael Shea, a contributor to the fine Cleansing Fire blog, sets the record straight on the true causes of diocesan decline:

From 2000 to 2012 both Bishop Matthew Clark and many of our parishes were fully open to the “broad perspectives and thinking” of many of the more liberal Catholics of this diocese and they were quick to implement the “creative spirit” these Catholics brought to the table. Among other forward-looking advancements we witnessed priests adlibbing the prayers of the Mass (as those proposed by Rome were deemed too restrictive), pastors openly challenging Church teaching in their parish bulletins, two prominent members of the Womens’ Ordination Conference being given their own parishes to run, and a significant uptick in the number of lay homilists at Mass. The Diocese of Rochester was fast becoming a progressive Catholic Utopia.

But there was just one problem: Catholics were abandoning their faith in droves.

During those same 12 years the number of Catholic weddings fell 54%, infant baptisms were down 47%, and weekend Mass attendance dropped some 32%. We closed 62 parishes and 34 Catholic elementary and high schools. 56% of our Catholic school students disappeared, as did 60% of our religious education students. (All this data is right out of the Official Catholic Directory.)

We spent those 12 years shedding as many of the “conservative”, “legalistic” and “regressive” dictates of Rome as we dared and the result has been an unmitigated disaster.

Progressive Catholicism has been exposed as a failure. It is time for a return to orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

At a time when dissenting Catholics around the country are trying to co-opt Pope Francis to their failed agenda, we should heed the warning of Clark’s disastrous “progressive” experiment in my home diocese.