The U S Catholic Church : The KODAK Syndrome


Once the largest company in the world, the legendary Eastman Kodak is on its death bed. The fatal illness is what I shall call the Kodak Syndrome: a series of stategic leadership blunders and an institutional inability to understand contemporary trends and needs.

The Kodak Syndrome, sorry to say, infects as well the contemporary American Catholic Church.

I thought about the Kodak Syndrome last week, reading about Archbishop Charles Chaput’s announcement that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will be closing schools in record numbers during the coming year.

As NCR and other observers have reported, from Philadelphia to Newark, N.J., New York to Boston, Cleveland to Chicago to Detroit and beyond, the church of the immigrants is going the same route as the old industrial America of our parents and grandparents. The once huge parish plants — churches, schools and parish halls — like the great steel mills and manufacturing plants of old, are being abandoned, sold or demolished. The old American Catholic institution is being dismantled. (Something very similar of course is happening in Western Europe.)

According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, the Catholic Church in the United States has lost 1,359 parishes during the past 10 years, or 7.1 percent of the national total. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.

Archbishop Timothy-soon-to-be-Cardinal Dolan, explains it this way:

“I’m developing a theory that one of our major challenges today is that American Catholic leadership is being strangled by trying to maintain the behemoth of the institutional Catholicism that we inherited from the 1940s and ’50s.”

The hierarchy is being stanged? No way. It’s the Kodak Syndrome.

I grew up in Detroit. The Archdiocese of Detroit has closed three dozen schools and fired a third of its diocesan employees during the last decade. It now projects that as many as 40 parishes will be closed in the coming decade. When I looked at photos of an abandoned and crumbling Detroit church, recently, it reminded me of my parents’ old Kodak Brownie camera: for years it witnessed births, baptisms, first communions, graduations, weddings, and deaths and burials. Their camera now sits unused gathering dust on a bookcase shelf. Once so important a part of my family life.

Tim is a congenial fellow but I cannot resonate with Archbishop Dolan. I do resonate with the words of Franciscan Father David Couturier (just appointed Director of Patoral Planning for the Archdiocese of Boston): “We have before us a generation of young adults and young Catholics who are negotiating life and faith in a wholly different way.”

We don’t need more demolition crews. Our bishops need more smart phones.

- John Greenleaf

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Explore posts in the same categories: Roman Catholic Church

2 Comments on “The U S Catholic Church : The KODAK Syndrome”

  1. richard Says:

    John,
    Interesting article. You should, however, use your spell check. Three words were not spelled properly. It detracts from the impact of the article. Cheers.

  2. Michael Skiendzielewski Says:

    “I’m developing a theory that one of our major challenges today is that American Catholic leadership is being strangled by trying to maintain the behemoth of the institutional Catholicism that we inherited from the 1940s and ’50s.”

    Words of Wisdom(???) from the Cardinal-elect……….he too has a set of those prescription-strength rose-colored glasses that views everything that has happened to the Church outside of the control of Catholic leadership. Institutional Catholicism…………Cardinal, just hold that mirror up a little bit closer and maybe you just might catch a glimpse of Mr. Institutional Catholicism !

    As George Costanza told Jerry Seinfeld in Jerry’s anxious anticipation of a pending polygraph exam…….
    “Don’t worry, Jerry, remember, if you believe it, it’s not a lie.” Seems to me that this maxim has been adopted by Cardinal Timothy.


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