The poor quality of catechism probably does effect the numbers. My son and nephews attend a Catholic high school and they tend to do very well in theology class compared to their Catholic friends. Even one of the theology teachers mentioned the Eastern Orthodox students seem to have a better handle on Church history and Biblical stories than the Roman Catholic students. My son was shocked at the level of ignorance among his friends when it came to understanding their own church. He said he had to explain basic Old Testament stories to his friends to help them understand our Christian heritage. He also mentioned that the Greek Orthodox and Arab Orthodox students he has met at this school are usually quite pious. One Arab boy, who is the son of an Orthodox deacon in the JP, was a very strict faster. My son compared the fasting rigor of his Arab friend to that of the cafeteria menu during Lent and was amazed at the laxity of fasting rules at his high school. It seems Orthodox families who care enough to place their sons in Roman Catholic high schools tend to take their faith more seriously.
But the other thing my son and nephews are disturbed over are the Masses. Because our boys have been exposed to the Divine Liturgy since they were babies, they have a real hard time swallowing the shallowness, lack of reverence, and modern relevancy associated with the Mass and common prayers used during the school day. My son said he doesn't feel like the Mass is about worshipping God but about hearing rock and roll music sprinkled among sentimental, drippy prayers. I explained to him that not all Roman Catholics worship the way they do at his high school and that there is a drive to return to more ancient traditions of worship in Rome.
Still I am grateful for the Catholic High School my son attends because the school encourages our boys to be leaders in the community and tries to mold them to be future good husbands and fathers. In public high school, there is an effort to neutralize gender differences and to encourage feminine personality traits over masculine personality traits which I believe is a big mistake. The results of this philosophy is that our colleges are now disproportionately female. I have read news articles that predict this trend will continue as we head to female to male ratios of 60/40 in most of our nation's colleges and universities.
In regard to my own extended family, I have observed that many of my relatives on the Italian side of the family are no longer Roman Catholic due to divorce or disgust with the abuse scandals. And some loved hearing the Orthodox wedding service when they attended my and my sister's wedding years ago. They said the service reminded them of what Roman Catholic worship used to look like.
But just to be clear, I think we Orthodox shouldn't throw stones at the Roman Catholic Church. We have had our own abuse scandals and the only reason we aren't known for them is because we are still relatively unknown to most of the Western world. I realize the magnitude of abuse in Orthodoxy is relatively small but it does exist and I have known Orthodox priests who were abusers.
Also, we have lost a number of our own people due to an emphasis on ethnicity over Christianity and poor catechism of our faithful who came after the immigrant generation. We need to do a better job of retaining our people too.
Well, I would like to lay the primary blame on the poor catechism not on the Church, but on her parents. Catechism begins at home. Unfortunately, parents often send their children to Catholic school and assume it will produce a Catholic child. Likewise, many send their children to school and assume it will produce an educated child. The idea of a parent taking responsibility for a child and the community enforcing proper standards of behavior has resulted in a very, very lax American Church. Parental involvement is key. I know many people who were raised Catholic and have not an ounce of Catholicity in them - cultural Catholicism has consumed and destroyed the American Church.
The fast rules are actually so integral to Christianity; it is a pity that in the West, we have almost done away with fasting. I have recently started following the old fast rules, that the Orthodox Churches still maintain. It is such a blessing! I found that my desire for foodstuff turned into a desire for Easter this past year, when I first followed the fast for Lent. I've also started trying to keep it on Wednesdays and Friday, and when I get around to it I'll figure out the other days we used to fast in the West. I blame much of the problems in the Western Church on the lack of this discipline. The joy of Easter and Christmas are so much greater with the Lenten and Advent fasts. The control over life and sin, and the closeness to God that it brings are tremendous. I have heard that there is some thought of changing the fast rules if there is ever a pan-Orthodox synod - for God's sake! Do not change them. They are fine. If anything, use the synod to recommend to us that we make our fast rules stricter.
As for the Mass, you are correct. Can you imagine what Orthodoxy would be if the Iconostasis were removed, the altar turned around, and the beautiful icons replaced with flowery photographs of hippie Jesus? It would cease to be Orthodox. Pray for us, brethren, the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great was modified by His Holiness Pope Paul VI, and while this was not sin, it came along with a massive destruction of our liturgy. Our priests turned their backs on God and kicked him out of the sanctuary (quite literally). The priests, instead of leading the congregation in divine worship, entertain an audience.
There is no greater signifier of the focus of the new liturgical style; the priest turns his back on God, and our attendance at church becomes focused on who he faces. In the Old Mass, it was God. In the New Mass, it is the people. We turned inward towards ourselves instead of turning eastward to heaven.
It's not the Mass of Paul VI. It's what people have done with it. Vestments not fit for representatives of Christ are worn, the altars are backwards, we sing rock-and-roll instead of chanting the ancient hymns, the sanctuary is no longer set-apart by the rail and the rood screen, and it is hardly recognizable.
It's horrid. We claim to be the true Orthodox Church, yet our liturgy reveals something sorely lacking. Luckily, as you were saying, there is a move to return to a more orthodox and Catholic form of worship. I, however, am fully a Western Christian in thought and deed, and I cannot abandon my beloved Holy Father Benedict XVI, or the Western Church to worship primarily in the East, where the liturgy is still strong.
I appreciate your charity for my church. While is saddening that so many, like your relatives and the 11 million Irish-Americans, have left, in the end, it will produce a smaller, but more orthodox Catholic Church.