Looking Back to Look Ahead: The Register’s End-of-Year Roundtable
What were the high and low points of 2022? What developments will continue into 2023 — and beyond? And what New Year’s resolution should the whole Church make?
A year is more than just an arbitrary collection of 365 days or an installment of disconnected events. It’s a distinct period of time within which we can observe patterns, glean insights into what’s likely to come next, and discern what God is doing in human history.
That’s what the Register asked three Catholic commentators to do for our end-of-year roundtable.
Jayd Henricks is the former head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ government relations office.
Catherine Hadro is the founding host of EWTN Pro-Life Weekly and an EWTN News contributor.
And Stephen White is a fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics in Public Policy Center and the executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America.
Scenario: You’re writing an article on the year in review, thematically tying together all the significant events and developments of 2022 from a Catholic perspective. What’s your headline?
Henricks: “2022: The Year of the Sensus Fidelium”: 2022 saw a claim to the sensus fidelium [“sense of the faithful”] from all corners of the Catholic world as a way to promote or defend a particular ecclesiology. How this develops in 2023 will determine many open questions.
Hadro: “God Was in Control in 2022, Even When It Didn’t Feel Like It”: Though 2022 was filled with devastating headlines — from Russia invading Ukraine to the Uvalde school shooting — Our Lord also reminded us of his divine Providence in a profound way. The long-prayed-for and long-anticipated Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade fell on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The liturgical significance continues — the June 24 anniversary of this decision will fall on the Nativity of John the Baptist moving forward — John the Baptist was the first to recognize the unborn Jesus while he was still in Elizabeth’s womb himself! And on that feast day, the first reading is Jeremiah 1:4-10. This means when we celebrate the reversal of the Roe decision, you will hear in the pews, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” There were 49 long years of prayers and tears leading up to the major Dobbs pro-life victory, and God reminded us that he was in control all along.
White: “Roe Falls, Russian Invasion Falters, German Synod Festers: The Best and Worst of 2022”: Roe was profoundly unjust, but it (mis)shaped American politics so deeply and for so long that the long-term effects of its demise are hard to predict. Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine has brought war to Europe on a scale not seen since World War II. However the war ends, it will likely have altered global politics in a more profound way than any event since the end of the Cold War.
The German Synodal Way remains on a collision course with Rome and shows no sign of changing course. That crisis, in its various manifestations, is likely to dominate the Synod on Synodality this coming fall.
From your Catholic vantage point, what do you think were the “high” and “low” points of the year that has just passed?
Henricks: High point: Certainly, the Dobbs decision was a high point. It was well reasoned and the fruit of decades of work on behalf of human rights. With respect to things specifically Catholic, a study showing that younger priests are more orthodox/faithful to Church teaching is a sign that seminary formation has been moving in the right direction. Very encouraging.
Low point: The war in Ukraine is without a doubt the low-point event globally, but in some respects, it is also a low point for the faith community. The Russian Orthodox Church sided with the political dynamics of Putin’s war, failing to uphold basic human rights, which undermines the credibility of Church leaders everywhere. It can also be noted that the response from the Vatican was slow and murky at times. An opportunity for clarity was missed.
Hadro: High point: The Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which reversed Roe v. Wade. The reason is quite obvious, as the United States no longer has nationwide legalized abortion. There will be media commentators who point to Election Day and the wave of state abortion ballot initiatives that followed, claiming the pro-life issue is now a losing message — but these are the very early ripple effects of what is a massive success.
Low point: The new reports of the Vatican’s alleged lack of transparency and accountability on clerical sexual-abuse cases. Two recent cases immediately come to mind: Canada’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor. Each case has its own unique details — the Vatican is accused of hiding Belo’s allegations and of improperly delegating Ouellet’s sexual-abuse investigations. It seems we’ve learned nothing from the McCarrick scandal that rocked the Church.
White: High point: The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization. The Dobbs decision doesn’t end the evil of abortion. It doesn’t suddenly strengthen legal or social support for women facing difficult pregnancies. Dobbs didn’t suddenly quell the rancor and division of our politics. In fact, it likely made it worse in the short term.
But the defeat of Roe represents a triumph for the cause of justice and legal sanity. And it vindicates the generations of dedicated prayer and patient, peaceful engagement with the political process — for all its messiness and faults — in the face of tremendous opposition.
Low point: The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine: I’m not sure that requires much elaboration.
2022 was a busy year in the Catholic Church, what with a new apostolic constitution promulgated, the Synod on Synodality continuing apace, and, in the U.S., the Church beginning a three-year National Eucharistic Revival. What ongoing development in the life of the Church do you think will make the biggest impact on ordinary Catholics going forward, either in the U.S. or universally?
Henricks: The propagation of the new Program for Priestly Formation (PPF) with a requirement of a propaedeutic year will have a significant impact on the life of the Church. Good discernment and formation at the seminary will serve all the faithful, as better formed seminarians are ordained, and those who discern out have better spiritual formation for a lay vocation. So much of the crisis within the Church can be connected to poor seminary formation, so the requirement of basic human and spiritual formation at the front end of the seminary process will benefit all the faithful. Pope Francis should be given credit for making this significant change, which likely comes from his Jesuit tradition of more rather than less formation.
Hadro: This may seem arbitrary, but I’m interested in watching the continued impact of Vatican II on the Church. This has been on my mind because October marked the 60th anniversary of the start of Vatican II, and I’ve been doing a reporting series on it for EWTN News Nightly.
One recurring theme that keeps coming to the surface in my interviews is that it takes at least 100 years to see the implementation of a council. We as a Church need to think in centuries — not merely in decades. There are competing legacies for Vatican II, and yet the implementation of it will still take a very long time.
White: Different developments from 2022 will matter to Catholics in different ways and on different time scales. Globally and long term, I think the Synod on Synodality — and all the debates that have been sucked into its orbit — will have a significant impact on the Church, for better or for worse. How that plays out is very much yet to be seen.
Closer to home and more immediately, the parish remains the primary place where most Catholics engage the faith and ecclesial community. If the National Eucharistic Revival can make itself felt in the everyday lives of Catholics at the local, parish level — and while that’s the hope, it’s no guarantee — then I think it could make a tremendous difference to the face of American Catholicism. For that to happen, the Revival can’t just be a top-down, multiyear, high-priced exercise in episcopal event planning. It has to be an invitation to experience, or reexperience, the transformative power of the Lord through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and his Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
What’s one pattern that emerged or deepened in 2022 that you’re keeping your eye on as we head into the new year? And what are your expectations for it in 2023?
Henricks: Events like the Synodal Way have become Rorschach tests for the various camps in the Church. So much of what happens in the Church (and the world) is seen through subjective lenses that pre-determine judgments. My expectations are that this will not change, but my hope is that the new emphasis on listening will open hearts and minds in a fruitful way.
Hadro: One trend we cannot ignore is the fastest-rising death rate among Americans: “deaths of despair.” These are deaths related to suicide, drug overdoses and alcoholic liver disease. One report found it accounted for 186,763 American deaths in 2020 — a 20% increase in the combined death rate and the highest number of substance misuse deaths ever recorded in a single year.
Experts point to a rise in synthetic opioid overdoses, financial hardship, and disruption to substance-misuse recovery programs. The unseen spiritual aspect of this also cannot be missed. There’s been a palpable heaviness from these past few years, often coupled with loneliness. It’s not uncommon to see celebrities succumb to these deaths, as well; no one is immune from falling into despair.
I unfortunately expect this trend will continue in 2023. But I also think — and pray — it will force us to seriously reexamine the rhythms of our life, the importance of mental resilience, the need for connection, and remembering the reason for our hope.
White: Not everything needs to be about politics, especially for Catholics, but … with the 2022 midterms in the rearview, the possible contours of a post-Trump-era politics are beginning to come into view. I know he’s running again, but there’s a growing awareness that, one way or another, both parties need to be thinking about “What Comes Next.” The last six or seven years have been a sort of “last hurrah” for the baby-boomer generation of politicians: Trump, Biden, Pelosi, etc. Generational turnover is coming for both parties, and that is something to watch.
Something similar is on its way for the Catholic Church in the United States. Over the next 24 months, more than 30 current American bishops — including 12 archbishops, four of whom are cardinals — will be at or past the mandatory retirement age of 75. Of course, some of these may stay on longer, but the fact remains that the next several years will see significant turnover at the highest levels of the American episcopate.
Making New Year’s resolutions is a common practice, but let’s spruce it up a bit: Suggest a New Year’s resolution for the whole Church. Perhaps it’s in response to something problematic that surfaced in 2022, or maybe it’s just a purely positive aspiration. What’s one thing that we, as the people of God, should resolve to do in the year ahead?
Henricks: A weekly Holy Hour. One hour of dedicated prayer a week, preferably before the Blessed Sacrament, from every Catholic would no doubt unleash a flood of graces on families, the Church and the world. Bishops and priests could model this by leading a public Holy Hour every week in their churches, but the faithful can model this themselves.
Hadro: Our 2023 New Year’s resolution should be to foster greater community at the parish level. We need to sink into our Church’s call for subsidiarity, so community issues can be dealt with at the most immediate and local level. This will help address the loneliness epidemic I mentioned. The more “connected” we are online, the more isolated we become. We need more face-to-face time with people near us — and the Church provides that forum.
With the reversal of Roe and the enactment of strong state pro-life laws, there will naturally be more unexpected births in the coming years. We need to be present to our people and to these families. Perhaps that means throwing a baby shower at the parish hall or finding a family in the Church who is open to adoption, for example.
From the pastors to those of us in the pew — let us all be better at establishing relationships in our Church. Attend the same Mass time each Sunday so you can recognize familiar faces and welcome the new ones.
White: In 2022, the people of God should spend more time listening to the word of God and the wisdom of the Church and less time listening to ourselves and to the world. There’s so such noise, so many reasons for worry and stress, so many different insistent voices directing us this way and that. All of this can build to a crescendo of worry, as if the only thing keeping disaster at bay are our frantic efforts. That’s bunk. God’s in charge. There’s much work to do; plenty to go around. But holiness is still what matters most. Without prayer and time listening to the Lord, none of our effort will amount to anything. Si Deus nobiscum, quis contra nos? [“If God is for us, who can be against us?”] (Romans 8:31).
- register roundtable
- year in review
- jonathan liedl
- Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization
- roe v. wade
- ukraine war
- national eucharistic revival
- vatican ii
- eucharistic adoration
- church teaching