Friday, July 3, 2009

Whither DOR's missing Catholics?

Rochester native son Rich Leonardi recently received a comment from an Evangelical Protestant pastor.  The full story can be found here, but I want to zoom in on just one part of that pastor's note.

I pastor a church in California that is over 60% former Catholics (100s each week). These former Catholics come to my church NOT because Catholic doctrine is necessarily wrong, BUT because they are coming from Catholic parishes who are unable or unwilling to teach Christ, and Him Cruficied.

Within just the last 8 years the Diocese of Rochester has lost over 27,000 of its weekend Mass attendees.  If we are to believe the explanations coming out of Buffalo Rd., all those missing Catholics have either succumbed to societal pressures or have moved away to the sun belt.

If we are to believe this pastor - and many of his peers who are saying the same thing - a large portion of those 27,000 folks are now former Catholics and are attending non-Catholic churches.

I tend to believe the guys that are actually counting noses, not those who are searching for excuses.

Over 1900 years ago St. Paul offered the following admonition to his fellow bishop, Timothy.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

When are our leaders going to start taking St. Paul seriously?


Nerina said...

Amen, Mike. Amen.

Lee Strong said...

Back when I was with the Catholic Courier, I did a major story on Catholics leaving for evangelical churches. I found a number of churches where the parishioners were anywhere from 60-80 percent former Catholics - and a number of the ministers were themselves former Catholics.

Among the major reasons they gave:

Better music.
Livelier services.
Better preaching.
Friendlier environment.
Church teachings on divorce and remarriage.
Church teaching on birth control.

Some Catholic pastors got so offended they threatened to cancle all subscriptions for their parishes, and some even called for me to be fired!

Lee Strong said...

That should read "cancel all subscriptions."

I'd like to add that a common theme was that the former Catholics said they felt more welcome, more supported at the evangelical churches (the divorced and birth control people were also upfront with thier doctrinal disagreements).

I'm not saying they are right - I have found wonderful, welcoming Catholic parishes over the years. But I have also had the experience of attending Catholic churches where not a soul said anything to me (other than the priest saying ("The Body of Christ")- yet when I walked into the Greece Assembly of God anonymously to scout out their service two ushers, an assistant pastor and several parishioners recognized that I was new there and went out of their way to greet me. I certainly felt welcome.

Of course, being "welcome" only lasts so long. The Catholic Church offers so much more - including the fact that it is the one true church!

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Mike said...

Lee & Dr. K.,

I fully agree that a church that is not very welcoming can be a real turn-off for some folks.

A few years ago I was visiting my brother-in-law in a town outside of Boston (think a Pittsford or Mendon type of neighborhood). Since he was not Catholic I walked into the local parish church alone one Sunday morning. Not one single person spoke to me or even seemed to notice my presence during the one hour or so I spent in their building. Had I been looking for a parish to call home, that place would have been quickly crossed off my list of possibilities.

On the other hand, as Dr. K. points out, "welcoming" can go too far and the before- and after-Mass cacophony at some parishes can be distracting, to say the least.

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Mike said...

Amen, Dr. K.

That's pretty much the way it is at Holy Cross and the way it used to be at Our Lady of Mercy when I was there.

RochChaCha said...

Or they could ask parishoners if anyone is celebrating a birthday and then break out into the happy birthday song like they do at Saint John of Rochester in Fairport. That's always a warm and personal touch to mass. Yes, i am being sarcastic.

Rich Leonardi said...

Great post, Mike.

There's a time and a place for everything. A warm smile during or before Mass followed by coffee-'n-donuts fellowship afterward can go a long way toward making people feel welcome.

FWIW, many of the evangelicals I know cite their local community's commitment to orthodox moral doctrine and core Christian principles as their reason for belonging.

We should also realize that many of these folks move around a lot, following a pastor renowned for preaching or, sadly, chasing the latest fad to run through evangelical circles.

Mike said...


FWIW, many of the evangelicals I know cite their local community's commitment to orthodox moral doctrine and core Christian principles as their reason for belonging.

That's been my experience too, although some of the former Catholics among them also say that their new pastors pay more attention to Scripture, in both their Sunday preaching and weekday Bible studies, than the Catholic pastors they left behind.