Disconnected Catholics – your response
The following letters are in response to last week’s lead article, Disconnected Catholics.
The summary report to the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference on Catholics Who Have Stopped Going to Mass reveals very few surprises.
The report does provide, however, important initial qualitative research from a sample of only 41 people. Such a small sample size is often not representative of the general population and any conclusions and recommended actions should be made with considerable caution until more conclusive research is undertaken. Alarm bells ring when excited rumblings are already being heard in parishes about “programs to entice back those who’ve lapsed”.
The small sample size was justified in the report on the basis of the prohibitive costs of a larger random sample (page 4 of the report). If our bishops are really serious about understanding this issue then maybe they should consider channelling some of the substantial funds allocated for World Youth Day 2008 into this critical area of research?
Very little has been done
In his pertinent comments, Paul Collins remarks in reference to the deepening alienation of women and men particularly due to the Church's treatment of women:
“... in the seven years since then (i.e. the publication of Woman and Man. One in Christ Jesus) very little has been done and the alienation of women, especially younger women, grows ever deeper..."
I would suggest that the "very little has been done" is just as apposite to a much longer period and that the deepening alienation extends to all the laity. I contend that the Australian Church hierarchy and clergy have substantially destroyed the hopes born in Vatican II and squandered all opportunities to "throw open the windows".
So, it is no surprise that a study involving a trivially small sample is presented as a major effort, full results are delayed until one scholar (probably a carefully chosen "safe" scholar) from each of several disciplines is asked to comment, and little significance is given to the almost complete rejection of the Church by the young.
Perceptive commentators and critics such as Paul Collins have truly been voices in the wilderness. Our bishops appear content to continue neglect of the issues until their next scheduled conference. There is no sense of urgency, no recognition that current policies have failed and must be expected to continue failing. The only issue addressed is that of preaching skills - as though skill in oratory is far more important than the disconnections between hierarchy and other clergy and the 99 per cent of the Church who no longer sit in the pews.
Will the last person leaving the church please turn out the electric light and pray for illumination of the Holy Spirit?
Ashamed of the institution
With reference to the article, Disconnected Catholics, I agree with everything that has been said, and particularly the comments of Paul Collins.
As a priest who has remained, I feel dreadfully let down. I am supposed to be a representative of a Church that I never embraced. As a priest ordained just after Vatican Council II ended, I was enthusiastic about all the documents, and about all the changes embraced as a result, especially liturgy and ecumenism. I loved all the poetry and music that became part of our celebration of the Eucharist.
I have watched, with great sadness, people giving up, especially women. If we could have followed up on our enthusiasm and built on it, I think we could have kept people with us.
My basic interest has always been evangelisation, especially as a Dominican. But it is difficult to evangelise today because whilst I love the Church I am ashamed of the institution.
I take great consolation in the explanations of biblical scholars and the research that has provided us with an interpretation of the teachings of Jesus and the early establishment of the Church that should guide leadership today. The institution has chosen a different path, and seems to me to deliberately misinterpret tradition.
I am afraid that this will all die with me because the young ministers by and large are of a different ilk. I can only pray that the Holy Spirit will break through and bring about another conversion!
Who? Me? More morning teas, please!
Catholics who have stopped going to Mass. Who? Me? Surely not!
"... he and many others sense that the Church is not addressing or even comprehending the real questions that they face in contemporary life".
OK then, what exactly are "the real questions"?
Well, contemporary life has always been important to people throughout the ages, surely, and it seems to me that such questions would have also faced Jesus, coming from numerous well educated people, many even well meaning. So when I ponder what Jesus went on about, it seems to me he mainly talked about the imminent Kingdom of God and insisted on encouraging us not to be afraid. He wouldn't let it alone; went on and on about it.
When you say "...issues of leadership, sexual abuse and corruption, gender, reproduction, pluralism, equality, and at the deepest level, spirituality", the odd one out in that list is "spirituality". These material things in this list are the topics I seem to recall Judas going on about, starting with leadership.
Ah yes, leadership. Like Judas, I think many of us have lost the way and don't know it. It's all too easy to be blinded by the pace of life, TV, the share market and the pressures of populism. I know. I have been blinded myself at times. But for goodness sake, Christians have never really been popular - and so what? The Kingdom of God is at hand and that makes me happy inside. This is surely the place to start; the heart of the matter.
"This sense of alienation is particularly true of women." Well, all I can say to that is that all the Churches I have been to lately have many more women in them then men. Seems to me that upon doing a "reality check", if we want to divide up Catholics by gender, it's the men who are alienated - at least from going along on Sunday. But of course, reality is often no match for popular, strongly-held beliefs and that is easily confirmed with a quick count around at next Sunday's service.
To me, the best thing about going to Church is the morning tea afterwards. That's when I meet other Christians. I love that. It seems to me that the disciples liked that, too, as there are so many surviving stories of them all sitting around talking while eating and drinking. And surely, wasn't it Jesus of all people who said, where ever you get together in my name, there I am also. Voila, the Church. What we need then is more morning teas.
What kind of Church are we encouraging?
If it is true that the Catholic Church leaders feel that a change is needed to "win back" those who 'believe that the Church is out of touch with the current world and is not relevant to their own lives', then I would like them to carefully consider how such a change might affect those who are now the Church.
I am concerned that many people who currently are the Church, might then decide to leave for good. By changing, as suggested, it seems to me we'll end up with a "club" that is perhaps more popular than the local sports club because its rules are "fairer" and democratically chosen - but where is it in the Gospel that Jesus suggests that the Church be "fair" and democratically organised? And also, who is "the Church" anyway, if not those who meet in the name of Christ, with no other strings attached but the commitment to look for Him and make Him 'relevant to their own lives'?
In my opinion, being 'out of touch with the current world' is exactly what a Roman Catholic "ought to feel" these days.
A world where the only universally accepted guiding principles seem to be (in random order): Market shares; the dollar; profitability; business results; personal rights and unlimited freedom (which encompass any socio-political '/issues of leadership, sexual abuse and corruption, gender, reproduction, pluralism, equality', as well as numerous other post-modern "issues" that deny the true values of humanity, spirituality and Christianity). Such a world then is a slaughterhouse, where Jesus is being sacrificed over and over again. Feeling out of touch with such a world is a sane response for a Catholic, I think.
To state what I always thought as obvious, but apparently is not these days, Jesus died so that each of us could take a place in His Kingdom, not among those who have privileged status on earth. It really saddens me to find that increasingly large groups of "Catholics", following the dissociating examples of certain Protestantism, seem not to be able to resist the call of the material world and of its political, populist, money- and power-oriented "values", which already receive strong and constant endorsement from the Evil One, of course.
So I liked it when the Pope said words to the effect of having a smaller and purer Church, rather than one that was just large. For me, I would not recognise my Church if it gave in to the popular and worldly. May the Spirit descend on us all.
New cannot patch the old
Important influences in my grandparents’ UK backgrounds have been the Church of Scotland, the Huguenots and the Congregationalists. Australian influences on me have been the Presbyterian and Uniting Churches and Moral Re-Armament. Over the years I have treasured the writings of e.g. The Abbe de Tourville (Letters of Direction); Thomas Merton and recently Meister Eckhart. For 12 months I subscribed to Online Catholics (the editor published a number of my poems). I discontinued my subscription, however, because I tired of continually reading about the radical changes which I supported: which seemed so clearly right and necessary, yet nothing seemed to come of it. Against this background I am now emboldened to dip my toe in Disconnected Catholics’ troubled waters.
Paul Collins in his comments on the report on Catholics who have stopped going to Mass writes of forming ‘a Catholic imagination’... a pre-conscious filter and he quotes Graeme Garrett - of Catholics being held not 'so much by ideas as by something more poetic and symbolic, something sacramental’ of learning ‘through other people who already have it, and who mediate it to you via nurturing and formation’.
Eckhart and others refer to the heart as the area of God's activity in the soul. Paul Collins seems to be speaking of people who in their hearts, in their soul are alive to God, alive with God: souls in whom the three Divine Persons are at work producing the ever new: God’s new creation. God building His Church.
I was struck the other day by the practical common sense and power of Jesus' words: "No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one" (Luke 5:36). You just don’t do it. Yet over the years I have tried to do just that. To take something of the new things which God has given me in my heart and use them to try to patch up the rents, the deficiencies which I thought I saw in my Church and in Moral Re-Armament.
Patching to preserve the status quo or, even worse, to recreate the past, are lost causes and it makes no sense to try to do so. In fact, it is wrong - a misuse of God’s unique gifting to the world through me – and you. What happens with the old, with the passé, is God’s business. My task is to concentrate on what He is doing in and through me now as I continue to seek and find him.
Like it or not Disconnected Catholics is a new breed; having tasted the freedom of the Spirit they will never go back to Catholicism as it has been experienced in the past.
A Church in which the Papal pyramid is reversed and in which the Pope and his entourage become, in deed, the servants of the flock on a 24/7 basis, listening to their every word and meeting their every need in a selfless, sacrificial way would be another matter. When that happens - everyone and everything will be different – unrecognisable. Meanwhile, let’s move on and create and enjoy the fellowship we have together in and through our new-found freedom in Christ..