England/Wales: efforts to bring back lapsed Catholics

We have heard from time to time of efforts to bring lapsed Catholics back to the practice of their Faith.  WDTPRS thinks this is very important.

To that end, I read in – of all places – The Guardian that the Bishops of England and Wales will launch an effort to bring Catholics lapsed in the Faith back into the fold.  Re-Evangelization?

My emphases and comments:

Catholic church plans campaign to re-evangelise inactive members
National tour of talks and workshops to help clergy and parishioners reach out lapsed membership of five millionRiazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent

The Roman Catholic church in England and Wales has launched its first outreach campaign to get people back into the pews, with its lapsed membership thought to number as many as five million.

It started at the weekend in York with Crossing the Threshold, a national tour of talks and workshops to help clergy and parishioners re-evangelise friends and family. Around a million people regularly attend mass on Sundays, but church leaders say there are many more who are baptised but do not go to church. Kieran Conry, bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said no-shows were more likely to do with laziness and children’s extra-curricular commitments than controversies surrounding the pope or clerical sexual abuse scandals. Conry said: “We have something we’re trying to market and we’re just reminding people there’s something that can bring you happiness, satisfaction and friendship.”  [Not to mention salvation.]

“There are probably people out there who would like to come back but don’t know how to go about it. There is a fear of standing out, of doing the wrong thing.”  [A good point.]

The tour will also take in Birmingham, Crawley and Cardiff. Catholic churches could be intimidating places, said Conry, and it was important for those taking part to offer a personal invitation to lapsed Catholics to come back[And there it is.  The Personal Invitation!  I have mentioned this many times in these electronic pages.  Moreover, the great Fr. Finigan, p.p. of Blackfen, His Hermeneuticalness himself, in preparation for the patronal feast of his parish, Our Lady of the Rosary, asked his flock to invite people to come with them for their celebration.  He said that the turnout this year was bigger than ever.  It works.  Invite people!]

“Some congregations can be entirely white, middle-class and wealthy and if you don’t fit in you might not feel comfortable. I don’t think clergy are always friendly and sometimes Catholics appear quite cold. [On the other hand, some people do like to be left alone.] We had a tradition of not speaking out of respect: you said your prayers and minded your business. We have to be careful about that.”The York event attracted around 140 people. Topics for discussion included how to reach out to someone and how to make “small, effective gestures in parishes“. One of those attending was 73-year-old Shelagh Preston, from Sheffield. “It’s important to discover why people don’t go to church, to listen. Most of they time they can’t be bothered, they’re doing other things. It’s not about hating God.

“Some people do come back and they have to be welcomed back. We’re not as good as we should be at that.”

Evangelisation was not about standing on the corner with a Bible or knocking on peoples’ doors, she added. [Hmmm.]

Last year the Pope opened a new Vatican department to try to reinvigorate belief among Catholics in developed countries where church attendance has dropped.

The Church of England, along with other Christian denominations, heavily promotes Back to Church Sunday, an annual event to reconnect with the lapsed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Andy Milam says:

    I understand the human part of all of this Father (and it can’t be overlooked), but it sure seems that this is more a work of community organizing (a la Obama, and Salinksy) than a call for a return to Holy Mother Church. I mean it took you in red type and brackets to include salvation. And shouldn’t that be the reason why?

    The Church has traditionally gained membership through preaching the truth (Dominic, Clare, Francis, etc….ad nauseam), as opposed to “a personal welcome” (cue the butterflies and music from Cat Stevens {errr…Yusef Islam}).

    I realize that we live in a different time, but look at what community organizing has done to the Church, it has failed. It has spent the last 50 years driving people away, yet here we go again….if you build it, they will come (I am from Iowa after all). The real growth comes when the Sacraments are offered unencumbered by emotion and feelings. A very strong argument can be made that this is why the resurgence in the TLM has gone so well since 1984.

    It just seems to me that if community organizing didn’t work in America, it certainly isn’t going to work in England. Perhaps the reason that Fr. Finigan’s, success isn’t in the fact that people are going door to door, but rather that he is doing something authentically Catholic?

    I apologize for my rant, but it just seems that the pattern needs to be broken. And this is reason number 30049928839399928817727438437748282 why Vatican Council II needs to be gone over with a fine toothed comb, the human person is fallible, the Church is not.

  2. chantgirl says:

    I’m sure that these workshops do help, but I have to think that if we really want people to come back into the Church, we have to do a lot more praying and sacrificing. We can’t just leave it to the contemplatives to do alone. I’m sure we all know family members and friends who have left the Church. I am reminded of Mary’s words at Fatima that souls go to hell because there is no one to pray for them. All of us Catholics can be evangelists by prayer, and I have a feeling that for every revert to the faith, that there is a nun, a mother, a soul in heaven praying for that person. My personal strategy is to pray for the souls in Purgatory, and entrust my loved ones to their prayers when they are admitted to the beatific vision.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    What is wrong with knocking on doors? I know of two parishes-one in England and one is Wales, where the priests did door-to-door re-evangelization. The only problem were the really old people who are so afraid to answer the door. But, a priest dressed as a priest, should not be a problem.
    The British Catholics have little public Catholic life, as compared with the Anglicans, outside of the large cities, such as Manchester, Liverpool, or London. Re-evangelization should be a number one duty of the priest and his teams. The personal invitation is really important. I am doing that right now with someone who is fallen away, and he went to church once. Hopefully, this will work. One must be tactful, but also aggressive to a certain point. Did not Christ, God-Man Himself tell us to evangelize?

  4. Centristian says:

    Our bishops and our episcopal conferences and our pastors all “get” that they need to get people back into church, but they still don’t get how.

    Welcoming workshops. Honestly. Yes, a chatty usher is what will keep me coming back to a church every time.

    How about public worship that captivates the mind and the heart and the soul and makes the worshipper understand the profoundness and the majesty of the event taking place? If I’m not convinced of the importance and the sublime character of the liturgy, a handshake and a smile from a stranger standing at the door isn’t going to get me to return next Sunday. And if I have been personally invited to attend something banal and uninspiring, I won’t be back, either.

    It does no good to invite fallen away Catholics to return to what probably caused them to fall away to begin with.

  5. BV says:

    Re: Supertradmum: “What is wrong with knocking on doors?”

    This is exactly what St. John Vianney did when he arrived in Ars. He went house to house, visiting every family in town.

  6. Andy Milam says:

    It does no good to invite fallen away Catholics to return to what probably caused them to fall away to begin with.

    @ Centristian;

    That is a great point. My brother has been lapse since about 1994. He has said time and again, why do I want to come back? I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that I could get him to come back to the TLM much easier than to the banal, on the spot, Novus Ordo that we grew up with. Perhaps the next time he’s home, I’ll ask him to come and assist at the TLM with me. Heck, it can’t hurt. And it might just get him to stare his salvation in the face. Who knows….

  7. Andy Milam says:

    @ BV,

    But I’m sure that the Cure d’ Ars wasn’t promoting happiness and friendship when the door opened. I’d be willing to bet that salvation and a holy fear of God had a much bigger part to play.

  8. nialasfitch says:

    I just pray it won’t be merely a watery, superficial campaign. [Volunteer to get involved.]

    There needs to be a new robustness in the Church of England and Wales. We need to preach the faith in all its incredible richness; our manner of celebrating the liturgy needs to reflect the amazing reality of the eucharist; our churches need to reflect the glory of God and the beauty of the historic Christian faith. In other words, we need to reinvigorate our Catholic identity. People will not come to church for I’m-ok-you’re-ok-God-is-nice interchangeable fluff. They want and need meat.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Centristian and others,

    I worked for many, many years with Catholics returning to the Faith. Not one left because of the NO. The number one reason why Catholics leave the Church is an irregular marriage (marrying a divorced person without annulment or themselves in that state); the second most common reason was years of fornication, that is, choosing to live with someone outside of marriage; the third reason was contraception. Not one person who came back left originally because of the Liturgy. All the reasons, all in many years of catechesis and adult re-evangelization, were moral reasons. It is a myth that people leave the Church because of the NO. People may switch parishes or go to the SSPX for that reason, but not leave Catholicism entirely. Sexual sins are the number one reason why people leave and conversion of heart is the main reason they return.

  10. Jack Hughes says:

    Could I ask people to pray for the return of my next-door neighbor to the Faith? I don’t know him that well but I’m hoping to try and catch him at some point, strike up a conversation and drop in the invitation to come back to Mass.

  11. Andy Milam says:


    Sorry, I don’t buy it. I am sure that many left over the moral issues that you state, it is a fact, but try a small town in Iowa, where Catholcism was once the #1 “denomination.” Now the Baptists and the Lutherans are a virtual tie, not because of death, but because the Catholics have become banal. There is nothing of substance left. Those are their words, not mine.

    The reason people leave is that they got bored. The Church didn’t have anything left to offer them. They didn’t have a strong moral base any longer (that is across society, not just Catholicism), but when you have people “switching religions” it is because they have lost intrest in the one thing that held it, the Mass.

    We can wax poetical all day long about morality, but the sad fact is that contraception existed and was used in the 1940s, 50s, and earlier…yet people remained Catholic. There were irregular marriages and people have been fornicating since Abraham. The reality is that when they lost the Mass, they lost the basis for being Catholic. What is different about a Lutheran worship service and the Novus Ordo? Not much from the average pew goer’s standpoint, because Bugnini, et al. envisioned it to happen that way.

    Go get the ex-Catholic back that bailed to the LCMS and see how easy it will be to get them to come back, without the TLM. It’s pretty darn tough.

  12. pelerin says:

    The comment from the Bishop rather shocked me particularly as he is our Bishop here. He states that the Church can bring you ‘Happiness, satisfaction and friendship’ . Surely these could be found probably by joining a gym or an evening class? Fr Z is right to add the word ‘Salvation’ and a great pity the Bishop did not. And isn’t the Guardian being disrespectful by referring to the Bishop as ‘Conry?’ [Probably not. Just journo shorthand.]

  13. Supertradmum says:

    I lived a great part of my life in Iowa and worked in Iowa with adult catechesis. I do not retract my statements. However, none of the places I lived and worked were primarily Catholic. The Catholics would have been between 10-20% of the population, at most, and where I grew up and worked for sometime, in Davenport, that is still a Protestant area, by far. As to people practicing contraception in the earlier years, that is simply not true. All the families in our parishes averaged six to eight children, some ten, twelve, even twenty. My mother lost four children and we were four who survived. I attended Assumption High School and St. Ambrose University, and I can assure you the families of my confreres were huge, including my own cousins, second cousins, etc. Your statement that people contracepted is simply not true. It was not even considered by good Catholics, at all. Humanae Vitae shocked the Lutherans more than the Catholics in my area.

  14. BV says:

    @ Andy Milan

    Actually, if I recall correctly (it’s been a few years since I read the story of the Cure of Ars), but he just entered the home of the people and gradually shamed them into returning to mass or having their children come to his catechism classes… …he made his enemies in the beginning, but that didn’t stop him. At first, many just went to mass to stop him from visiting, to “shut him up” so to speak. But once he got them there, he grabbed them with his powerful sermons. They could not resist the power and conviction of his preaching. He gradually converted the town of Ars by both his visits, then his preaching, followed by the example of his humility.

    1) Go visit them, get them into the church
    2) Celebrate a most reverent mass and preach with power and authority
    3) Be a living example of true humility

    I am sure I could add much much more if I had read his life more recently, or if I were to read it again. (I eventually will… so much to read, so little time)

  15. Supertradmum says:

    I stand up for Bishop Conry. He is stating a truism, that only real happiness and confraternity happen when people share their Faith. Your statement is superficial, at best, and rude, at worst, There is a great satisfaction which comes from being a Catholic and “coming home”. Our only true family and friends are our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the Church. And, this good bishop has been very outspoken on many issues of late, including coming out against same sex marriages being allowed in the Church, and the bullying of the homosexual agenda. He deserves our praise and support 100%. When I am in England, that is my home diocese and I am proud of him for many reasons. He has become more and more outspoken in the encroaching secularism and anti-Catholicism. That he did not mention salvation does not surprise me in the Anglican/Catholic atmosphere of “coming home” which is happening to a great extent in the A and B Diocese. As a Brit, you should recognize diplomacy, as it is one of the better marks of a citizen of GB.

  16. Centristian says:


    I did not suggest that the “NO” (Ordinary Form of Mass) caused Catholics to fall away from the faith; my suggestion was that the sort of banal and insipid presentation of Catholic public worship so typically seen today was largely responsible.

    The Ordinary Form of Mass may, just like the Extraordinary Form of Mass, be celebrated beautifully, majestically, reverently, and in a way that makes a worshipper conscious of the fact that something profound is occurring. It can also be celebrated just sort of acceptably, in a way that at least does not repel people even if it doesn’t necessarily “wow” them. The latter is true of Mass in the Extraordinary Form, too. But Mass in any form hasn’t got to “wow” the congregation every time. It should never, however, appall the congregation. Unfortunately, modern clergy and liturgists are all too capable of coming up with liturgies the sort of which undermine faith and turn people away.

    The Catholic Mass is, unfortunately, capable of being celebrated poorly, in such a way that causes people to lose interest, to fail to understand the importance of Mass, or even to repel people, causing them to imagine not only that it isn’t necessary to attend each week, but that it is, in fact, something to be positively avoided.

    Many years ago as a youth I stopped going to Mass altogether because I concluded that Mass was silly and boring and that there was simply no point to attending it each week. On the surface, I was right: what I was being subjected to each week was silly and boring and apparently pointless. I was not catechized to properly understand the significance of Mass (as most of us of my generation weren’t), and the Masses we attended, deformed as they were, were incapable of speaking for themselves. “Why do I do this every week?” I asked myself, then. I couldn’t answer the question and so I abandoned Mass. I just stopped going, for years. There was no point to any of it, so far as I could see, given what was being presented to me.

    There are lots of reasons why people leave the Church (or at least leave behind the practice of the Faith). In my case, it was her deformed and seemingly pointless public worship. Fixing that worship will, I am convinced, go a long way toward getting people back in the pews. The grace of discovering genuinely Catholic worship is what finally drew me back. I wasn’t looking for it, either; I just happened upon it. Now that I have matured in my Faith somewhat and have a greater understanding of the Catholic liturgy, I am able to understand the point of Mass, even at liturgies which are presented in a manner that is less than ideal. I can endure (with irritation) a less than perfectly presented Mass (and often do). It takes a journey for some to arrive at that point, though.

    I think my experience is not unique, and if persons who have shared my experience decide, after many years, to come back and give Mass a second chance, so to speak (perhaps even at someone else’s invitation), and find, upon their return, the same banality and pointlessness that drove them away in the first place, it will not matter if there is a well-trained welcoming committee in place to greet them. What they find will only be a confirmation of their original decision to leave, unless, of course, they can be invited to attend a Mass that is properly celebrated, a liturgy that does what liturgy is meant to do. And that does not have to mean the Extraordinary Form of Mass, by any means. It certainly shouldn’t have to mean that, at any rate.

    If the bishops want to get people back into the pews (and I hope mere numbers aren’t their motivation, in any case), forget about hospitality ministries. Do worshippers really want to be greeted or chatted up in church in any event? I know the idea doesn’t appeal to me. Dear bishops and clergy, if you want to see more of us in the pews each Sunday and you hope to find a true liturgical renewal within this Church, start with worshipping well (and obediently) yourselves, in the chancel and at the altar. Execute your liturgical offices properly, and train inferior ministers to do likewise. Employ within your celebrations the timeless and captivating music and ceremonial and externals and texts and language that ought to be seen and heard in celebrations of the mass of the Roman Rite.

    Do that, and the faithful will take notice. Lethargic worshippers in the pews will begin to wake up, and anyone returning to Mass for the first time in years will experience something that may very well impress them enough to keep coming back for more and more. Approach matters more fundamentally, dear bishops and clergy, and we who love the liturgy will have something to which we may be proud to invite our fallen away brothers and sisters to return to. More importantly, we may invite them with confidence, no longer having having to worry that the Mass they experience upon their return will actually frighten them away again, because it is so insipid. Rather we can be certain that those of upright hearts will respond positively to the celebration of Mass.

  17. Andy Milam says:

    @ Supertradmum;

    I’m in North Central Iowa, just North of the “biretta belt” (Carroll, Shelby and parts of Audubon counties) and I can tell you from living in a very “Catholic friendly” (priests retired out of my home parish) town of 45oo for 85% of my life, the reason my friends and their families quit going to St. Mary’s wasn’t over contraception and irregular marriage, but it was because they got bored with what was going on at church.

    I can remember one family in particular, with 6 kids, who started going to the Baptists, because the “spirituality” was so much better and the services were so much more “fun.” One of my childhood friends (one of the three best friends I’ve had, my whole life) became a Catholic when he married, after growing up ELCA Lutheran and he and I discussed his conversion; his response to me, “Oh, well, Milam there’s nothing really all that different, I’ve been going to Mass with [my wife] for almost a year and it isn’t anything different from Our Savior’s, except that the preaching isn’t as long….

    I can go on….

    The sad reality is that the Church lost members because it abandoned being Catholic. I’m sure that Bob would have had a much harder time converting if the Mass were the TLM and I’m sure that the the family I mentioned would have had a much harder time leaving if the TLM were normative….why? Because it was inherent to something in their religion.

    We can go round and round, but the sad fact is that the Mass (and the injustice done to it) has had a very profound effect on Catholicism; just as profound as any moral issue out there….including abortion, contraception and irregular marriages. I would contend that the liturgical changes loosened up the catechetical changes and even opened the door to dissention. For without a strong base (which the Novus Ordo is not), how can we expect our house to stand?

  18. Supertradmum says:

    How can the True Presence ever be banal? If a Mass is invalid, there would be banality. Not otherwise, as Christ is truly, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, present, despite bad hymns or boring sermons. How can one be a Baptist, when the True Presence is partaken? No, there are other reasons, or else, these people did not really believe in the True Presence, which is the duty of the adult to learn. I have no patience with adults who have not learned their Faith. Young people, yes, adults, no. It is their fault and their fault alone, especially with the plethora of information, including the Catechecism. I taught religion,by the way, at a famous high school in Fort Dodge for one year, and left because the priest, who is long gone, did not want the rosary, or Mary, as Mary was unimportant “now” and because parents did not want me to teach that contraception was wrong…. But, even that priest’s Masses were valid, and therefore, not banal.

  19. Andy Milam says:

    @ Supertradmum;

    The Mass can be banal. The Eucharist cannot. But the ceremonies most certainly can. The banality isn’t in the Eucharist, but how the Eucharist is confected.

    As for whether they stopped believing in the Real Presence, that is not for me to question, but for Father. I do know that both parents were raised Catholic and it was the great sadness of the father’s mother that her son became a Baptist. They knew their faith, they are my parents age so, I know they were taught the faith more or less authentically, for if you know Iowa, you know that the diocese of Sioux City has always been the most conservative of the four. Both of them knew their faith. They were married in the Church, they lived a Catholic life until 1983 (I remember the year, because they left the same year the new school opened), then they left.

    So, a priest from St. Ed’s drove you away, huh? He must’ve been from Holy Rosary. The other two parishes in Ft. Dodge were more or less conservative until the mid 198os.

    But to underscore my point, validity doesn’t trump banality. Proper celebration of the Mass trumps banality. At least that is the view of Pope Benedict and those who ascribe to his hermeneutic of continuity.

  20. catholicmidwest says:

    If you want to solve a problem, you have to look to see what’s contributing to the problem or you won’t solve it. So, what’s causing the exodus?

    The Pew Report applies to American Catholics, but it does give some insight into the landscape in an area where there appears to be little other substantive research. In the US, at least, here are the reasons why individuals raised as Catholics leave the Catholic Church:
    1. Just gradually drifted away: 71% now unaffiliated; 54% now Protestant
    2. Spiritual needs not being met: 43% now unaffiliated; 71% now Protestant
    3. Stopped believing in teachings: 65% now unaffiliated; 50% now Protestant
    4. Found a religion they liked more: 10% now unaffiliated; 70% now Protestant
    5. Unhappy with teachings about Bible: 29% now unaffiliated; 43% now Protestant
    6. Dissatisfied with worship services: 26% now unaffiliated; 32% now Protestant
    7. Dissatisfied with clergy: 18% now unaffiliated; 27% now Protestant

    If these reasons are the real reasons, and I think they are pretty close, then there are some things that are sort of obvious about this that ought to be investigated.
    1. We need to find out why people “just drift away.” Are they not connected to parishes? Is nothing going on at parishes for them to attend or be interested in? Are people not friendly? Is Catholic identity so weak that there seems to be nothing at stake when a person just opts not to participate? What’s going on? And how can it be fixed?
    2. Why do people feel “not fed?” Are there no prayer groups, bible studies or intellectual or spiritual resources available to people when they have the interest and time to devote to them? Or are those resources hard to get to, or target the wrong group, or are at the wrong level? What’s going on? And how can it be fixed?
    3. This is where some of the moral stuff starts appearing, but it’s 3rd on the list. Why do people not agree with the teachings? How deep are their arguments, do they come from popular sources like newspapers, and do they know the “whole story?” Are they engaged in working through them inside the church in an atmosphere of obedience but tolerance for the time it takes to work through things like this? [or are they being encouraged in dissidence or alternately treated badly for their troubles?]
    4. Dissatisfaction with worship services is clear down on the list, #6; dissatisfaction with priests is even lower, #7.

    I think that we have some work to do if we want to reach people, but I think making this situation at least some better is doable, if we are willing to do it.

    PS, at least 3/4 of most towns in the US, and maybe more in the UK, are not even nominally Catholic; in fact, they’re Protestant, secular and other. They might find it novel to be confronted with evangelizing Catholics, but it would be a mixed bag. Some of them would be quite offended.
    I’m not sure what going door-to-door among lapsed Catholics might be like. It could work, if they don’t feel “caught up with” or “chased” in a negative way. On the other hand, the mere fact that someone seeks you out and invites you to come back is kind of flattering, especially since if this research is to be believed, many of them may feel as though they’ve “fallen through the cracks,” and no one cared to even notice.

  21. Simon_GNR says:

    Why go back to Church?

    1. Because, for a Catholic, chosing not to go to Mass is a grave sin which puts your immortal soul at risk of everlasting damnation and separation from God.

    Why does nobody suggest this line of reasoning with the lapsed? Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (or something like that).

    2. By being reconciled to the Church you will have access to the sacraments, which are powerful channels of God’s grace which can greatly enrich your life.

  22. Ezra says:

    There’s a reason Bishop Conry didn’t mention salvation. Forgive the extended quotation from his 2008 interview with The Catholic Herald, but I think it speaks volumes:

    We met a few days before National Youth Sunday (Feast of Christ the King). Since the Catholic Youth Services were closed down earlier this year, Bishop Kieran has supervised youth ministry in this country.

    A Youth Mass with a liturgy designed to appeal to youngsters had been proposed. The website for it displayed the bishops’ logo. Suggestions included distributing tips on high-energy light bulbs, handing out Fairtrade chocolate and in a list of things to be sorry for in the penitential rite: leaving water in your kettle.

    Did the bishop think any of the suggested liturgy was a bit silly?

    “Well, it might be. But it’s youth. We’re not going to switch light bulbs on in young people’s heads, not at a single event. But it was felt some of that would be appropriate for young people.” Leaving water in the kettle? “For young people that’s an issue – energy saving.”

    Could the Church be more radical? Talk about the serious questions – repentance, salvation?

    “You can’t talk to young people about salvation. What’s salvation? What does salvation mean? My eternal soul? You can only talk to young people in young people’s language, really. And if you’re going to talk to them about salvation, the first thing they will understand is saving the planet. You’re talking about being saved and they will say: ‘What about saving the planet?’ ”

    Doesn’t Jesus talk in black and white terms, as if we might be in danger? “Shoulder my yoke and learn from me,” quotes the bishop, “for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

    Doesn’t he also say we should repent, beware of sin – a stark message? “Not stark. According to where you look in the Gospel, and again if you go to Matthew 25, the final parable of Jesus, only in Matthew’s Gospel – ‘When I was hungry, you fed me … naked and you clothed me … you visited me in prison.’ That would resonate much more with young people.”

    Does he think people should have a sense of personal sin? “Yes [firmly]. And I think young people do.”

    He gives an example: the helpers’ reconciliation service on the diocesan Lourdes pilgrimage. It started at nine o’clock and the last young person left the chapel at 11.15.

    Is it a good idea to go to Confession regularly? “No, because my own experience when we had Confession every day at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham was that regular penitents came back with exactly the same words week after week. So there you would say, actually, there is no conversion taking place.”

    What about the Four Last Things? Has the Church lost the vigour with which it used to talk about Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven?

    “Again it would be inappropriate to say ‘the Church has lost…’ People have lost a sense of sin.”

    So the Church shouldn’t bang on about sin?

    “No, not necessarily. Because that won’t necessarily re-instil … and you don’t know whether you want to face people with a primary experience of Church which is sin.” Was the Church morbidly obsessed with guilt and sin in the past? “Might have been, but again I haven’t got enough evidence.”

    Too much emphasis on sexual morality? “It’s sometimes distorted. For instance, we rarely talk about economic honesty, financial honesty, we rarely talk about greed and wastefulness.

    “But to young people, boiling a kettle, wasting water, saving the planet, that’s language they will understand. Then you can move on from there: ‘Right, do you understand what saving means? Do you understand what good and bad is here?’ And they’ll say ‘yes’ and you can say: ‘Right now, if you look at your own life…’ And again I think for a lot of the claims there is simply no evidence.”

    People have the evidence of their own parishes, I said. You don’t hear the word “hell” mentioned that often in the average parish church, compared with in the New Testament.

    “Why should you? How many times is hell mentioned in the New Testament? Do a word count.” I wanted to pin this down: has the traditional homily featuring fire and brimstone been abandoned for the reason that it puts people off?

    “No, no, it’s not because it puts people off. It’s because the truth is that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to die for us.”

    His stated views on Humanae Vitae (same link) are also worth reading.

  23. pelerin says:

    supertradmum: yes I do recognize diplomacy but for far too long our bishops have been so diplomatic resulting in their lack of commenting on anything of importance. We wait to hear their comments on so many subjects but they seem to remain silent. I seem to remember our own archbishop replying to one questioner ‘Who knows what’s round the corner?’ when surely he should have been telling the interviewer what the Church teaches on the subject.

    I agree that Bishop Conry is becoming more outspoken and for this I am indeed grateful – I believe he was the bishop who instigated the return of Friday abstinence here too. I certainly did not intend to sound rude.

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    There is also an interesting attitudinal thing among American Catholics. Orthodoxy is absolutely necessary, respect for others is absolutely necessary, but this sense of unfriendly heavy-duty propriety that’s so often seen among Catholics, isn’t. It’s just forbidding and overwhelming. Being a Catholic, contrary to how it sometimes LOOKS, is NOT a personal disaster, folks. It’s a GOOD THING, and thing worth sharing. Therefore, we should act like it. How? We need to be more friendly with each other and with the general population as a whole, in the parish, and in the natural community we all have with each other. We should have events, open to everyone, that are BOTH thoroughly orthodox and thoroughly out-going and friendly. That’s not being “unorthodox;” it’s being decent to one another and taking JOY in the Good News.

    How about movies & popcorn? How about sandwich suppers open to the public, out in the yard on summer nights? Picnics, potlucks, hot dog roasts and sloppy Joes. Sledding with hot cocoa. Why? Don’t need a huge reason. No heavy duty stuff now, but fun for members of the parish and a way for them to connect to each other and reinforce the fact that they belong to the parish, something you would simply miss if you went away. [And so you wouldn’t want to go away.] And sandwich everything in prayer, ordinary everyday prayer-before and after events, before and after meals.

    Be a Happy Believing Catholic in Public. It’s a good thing. And it’s more contagious than you think.

  25. pelerin says:

    Ezra links to Bishop Conry’s interview which caused quite a stir at the time – I had forgotten the lightbulbs and kettles. But it is sad to read his comments on the Extraordinary form of the Mass which he says is followed by a very small but vocal group. One of the two churches mentioned is impossible to get to without a car. Since the interview I understand there are two or three other churches in the diocese where the Priests celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary form and last week I attended the Latin Mass Society Requiem in Arundel Cathedral. The Bishop kindly gave his permission though I don’t think he attended himself.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    Grace builds on Nature. When we want to bring people back or help new people come into the Church, what does that suggest that we do?

  27. Andy Milam says:

    @ Ezra….

    smh….there is no other way to respond. I get it. I think you get it too.

    @ pelerin….

    I think that it would cause a stir right now. The only thing he didn’t advocate were puppets. Sadly, that bishop is completely legit (well…legalistically speaking) and the bishops of the SSPX are “without canonical status.” Again, the only response to this is….smh.

    I’m going to go pray a rosary now and find someplace to go to confession, so I can continue to confess that one sin which sticks with me….smh. In the immortal words of “the cat,” “I haz sadz for Bishop Conry.”

  28. pelerin says:

    ‘The only thing he did not advocate were puppets’ Please don’t give him ideas!!

  29. Ezra says:

    Bishop Conry is clearly aware there’s a problem in terms of Church teachings filtering down to the laity. Just this April he was observing,

    “As far as I am aware,” says Mgr Kieran Conry, the Catholic bishop of Arundel and Brighton, “there are not any of these ‘Catholic women priests’ in Britain, and the position of the Vatican is very clear – that Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger has been excommunicated. But from my experience, especially when I visit parishes in my diocese that no longer have a resident parish priest because of the shortage of vocations, I do not detect any great level of opposition among Catholics in the pews to the idea of ordaining women. Usually they are the ones suggesting it.

    “So the view of the Vatican does not seem to permeate down to the parishes on this question.”

    The question is, why is this view not permeating down to the parishes? Some might say it’s because the British laity are a rebellious lot, and not given to accepting teaching from Rome. Others might say that when you have bishops of the Church sniggering on the radio about Bl. John Paul II’s teaching on this issue, it’s not entirely surprising if the teaching isn’t being comunicated effectively.

  30. pelerin says:

    Ah that was the famous ‘I could not possibly comment on that’. but what we want ARE comments – and positive ones putting forward the teachings of the Church not side stepping all the time. Non Catholic listeners to that must have been puzzled.

  31. pelerin says:

    And what about the story (true or apocryphal I don’t know) of the bishop who it was said put any communication from Rome directly in the wastepaper basket/trash can. And they wonder why our churches are emptying.

  32. Rlee1833 says:

    I recently watched Father Barron’s magnificent series Catholicism. In it he discusses Thomas Merton and the role of the Mass in his conversion. I read Seven Storey Mountain years ago and have often reflected ruefully on that passage. My own experience of the Mass, more often than not, has been one of intense irritation at the implicit condescension of the liturgical reformers. “You aren’t smart enough to appreciate the riches of the Latin liturgical tradition, so here, have a balloon!” If the church wants lapsed Catholics to take it seriously, it needs to take itself seriously. I personally hope and pray that the new Missal is going to help make that possible. The language is far too weighty and substantial to go well with banners and balloons.

  33. Giambattista says:

    I believe there are 3 variables that cause people to leave:

    1. Centristian said “It does no good to invite fallen away Catholics to return to what probably caused them to fall away to begin with.”

    2. Supertradmum said ” Sexual sins are the number one reason why people leave and conversion of heart is the main reason they return.”

    3. The whole concept of salvation has been lost and people don’t see the necessity of the Church (the Church is about social justice these days, not salvation) or if they do, the Catholic church is just seen as one of many ways to salvation. Consequently, many have made the ultimate ecumenical gesture and just left.

    People I know who have left (and there are dozens!) fall into one of these three camps. I have fallen into the first camp. Although I’ve returned (Byzantine rite or non-diocesan TLM), as far as the diocese knows, I’m still lapsed. It would take a lot more than a personal visit to get me to return to a diocesan parish in my home town. Centristian sums my thoughts exactly.

    It seems to me that efforts to bring back Catholics need to involve deep self reflection on the part of the dioceses. They can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect different results – they need to change. Speaking for myself, I need to have a spiritual home (i.e. implement SP locally) and a feeling that I’m not regarded as a second class citizen. If a “personal visitor” would show up at my door with this message I would be setting in a pew at a local diocesan parish this coming Sunday. I’m not asking for anything more than what the Pope said I have a right to have. However, for now, the bishops around this area know better and want to play it their way.

  34. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    I wish news of this initiative had reached Lancaster diocese, where the programme of church closures and parish mergers in my home town of Preston is continuing.

    The bishop’s secretary was interviewed in our local newspaper only last Thursday, bemoaning the falling off of elderly congregations. It’s “impossible” to expect full churches over the next decade, apparently, even in Preston and despite the influx of catholic immigrants. This, I should like to point out, is in a town where my family has not had a visit from any of our parish priests for over 20 years, where permission was withdrawn for the ICKSP to celebrate mass in one of the churches under threat for lack of priests, (and where they were refused or, which might be worse, ignored when they offered to take responsibility for the parish which has been without a parish priest for about five years now and which is shortly to be formally merged with a neighbouring parish), and in a diocese in which the bishop thinks there’s sufficient provision of the extraordinary form, despite there being no regular Sunday mass anywhere, forcing those of us attached to the extraordinary form to go elsewhere…

    I’m afraid I’ll believe it when I see it.

  35. Joanne says:

    “Is Catholic identity so weak that there seems to be nothing at stake when a person just opts not to participate?”

    This is huge, imo. I want to blame the Kennedys with their Harvard and political aspirations, along with their finding priests who were willing to tell them whatever they wanted to hear, for a large part of Catholics in the 1960s favoring assimilation over orthodoxy. I want to blame the Kennedys for everything, though, so maybe that’s just me. :-P

    The Mass of course matters in terms of our identity. I was was walking by my OF parish on Sunday while Mass was being offered, so I decided to go in and sit in the chapel, from which Mass in the main church can be heard. I was reminded of why I make the trip over my EF/OF parish on Sundays (for the OF), as much as I love so many of the people at the exclusively OF parish. At my EF/OF parish, I find: tabernacle behind the main altar, Latin incorporated into the OF, cantors in the choir loft, not on the altar, an altar rail, servers with patens, etc. The altar configuration and liturgy matter, imo, and play a vital role in our Catholic identity.

    Our pastor has said that he’s not sure how effective media campaigns will be in returning people to the Church. He believes that Catholics living their faith authentically is the best “advertising” possible.

    Another huge issue is the sex abuse crimes. Until the people perceive that these are taken seriously by the Vatican and the hierarchy, many will not give the Church a second look.

  36. LaudemGloriae says:

    A thought … sometimes people who have been “away” aren’t ready for the sanctuary yet. I have had more success inviting people to mom’s groups, fish fry, advent wreath making, Bible study, music concerts, guest speakers, etc, etc. I also invite people to visit local monasteries and convents with me – that generates a lot of interest. The public witness of consecrated life is very powerful and many are curious about it.

    Also, never underestimate the power of giving someone a rosary or a religious medal when they are going through a tough time. Let people know you are thinking about them and praying for them. Eventually they will feel more comfortable and be receptive to going to Mass. Invite them, offer to pick them up, take them to breakfast.

    It also helps to know a little bit about the annulment process in your diocese. Irregular marriages keep a lot of non-practicing Catholics away.

  37. digdigby says:

    Thanks for the quote. Bishop Conry”s kettles and ‘saving the planet’ and groveling to youth is almost as surreal as Bishop Finn in the middle of a firestorm of grief, hurt and disbelief…. passing out cards to parents and asking them to put down “one hurt” and “one hope”. This is the language of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

  38. Johnno says:

    This is going to fail for one simple reason:

    No apologetics instruction or actual academic approach to the Bible, Salvation History, the teachings of the Church, Science, philosophy, Logic 101 etc.

    So long as the people can’t fully committ themselves to the faith and have no idea how to defend it, they’re not going to be able to evangelize anybody for the simple reason that they cannot give a reasonable account for the faith that they hold!

    Here’s a better idea. Forget about any large scale efforts to evangelize anybody right now. I’m not saying to not bother. I’m saying make that secondary. Next, focus on educating the faithful that are still showing up in all of the above. Particularly in basic apologetics! As their own faith and understanding grows, so too will their desire and confidence to evangelize and this will occur automatically!

    Young people are idiots that need to be called out on their stupidity and misplaced priorities. Believe me! I should know! I used to be one! Get in their face about it by challenging their basic assumptions. Start with this:

    “Why the heck should I care about the environment if in the end according to materialist and atheistic beliefs, the universe is just going to end one day anyway? What arguments can they make to convince me to care about the environment? What long term good will it do me?”

    ^ Get in their face and get them to seriously think about these things, then lead the conversation to topics of ultimate authority, standards of right and wrong, the grounds for altruism etc. Play Devil’s Advocate! Get them to talk themselves into a corner and question the foundation for the things that matter to them and expose the futility of their assumptions about nature and principles of right and wrong. Demonstrate any contradictions their own personal philosophies about life carry.

    Demonstrate the design and evidence for God that exists in nature. Challenge them on why they believe anything exists at all, and how did life get here and why science points to a creator, and why history points out that same Creator is involved with His Creation.

    From there explain the existence of logic and order in the universe and evident in nature and our conscience and conscious thought. Explain to them the nature of eternity and time and the Trinity. Explain about the nature of angels and their existence. Explain about man made in God’s image, about sexuality created to match the nature of the Trinity working together to love and create, and thus so too does a man and a woman together with God through sexual intercourse also involve themselves in the process of creation. Explain the Fall and Eden and how a perfect and good creation was undone by man putting God unwisely aside not realizing that it is God who upholds his existence and the existence of the planet and universe and that the best way of restoring nature and man to that perfection is through Christ’s redemption where the new Eve that is Mary kickstarted the whole new creation process, where many men shall be redeemed, and nature as a whole shall be remade!

    There is SO MUCH STUFF in the faith to address and find the interest of absolutely anybody! The tip is to be uncompromising and to KNOW YOUR STUFF! People don’t stop attending mass simply because it’s boring, they left because they could no longer believe in it or believe its relevance to their life and their eternal salvation! They need reasons, consistency, apologetics, rational arguments from many fields. The heart cannot rejoice in something that the mind cannot comprehend…

    Those who wish to evangelize should be able to deal with atheism, protestantism and secularist philosophies and be abel to deal with a whole host of general questions concernign the Church today (Abortion, contraception, marriage, the sex abuse crisis etc.). And above all, those who evangelize should LIVE the Gospel! Demonstrate that they actually do believe that white thing on the altar is God! Their actions, responses, lifestyles, etc. should all show that they are deadly serious about their faith!

  39. catholicmidwest says:

    Getting non-Catholics to consider the Church and getting lapsed Catholics back are probably two different tasks, and they may not overlap much. We tend to blur them together, but the two populations are quite different.

  40. pelerin says:

    Like many readers it is painful when members of the family fall away from the practise of their faith and we struggle to find the right way to approach them to bring them back.

    Richard Collins in his blog Linen on the Hedgerow today links to a letter written by an American Bishop last year to what he terms ‘inactive Catholics.’ Bishop Tobin of Providence diocese has put it so well. Apologies if this has already been pointed out.

  41. Supertradmum says:


    Protestants accept both contraception and abortion. They accept private interpretation of the Bible, ergo everything. They allow divorce and re-marriage without an annulment. They emphasize experience over the rational.These are the reasons for the statistics. Do not blame the Church for the individual reasons and emotions why people leave the Church.

  42. catholicmidwest says:

    Ancient grievances against the concept of Protestantism are simply not at all the point if you want to convert a person. Besides, many Catholics accept both contraception and abortion, no matter what they say. Our rates of all those things are no different than the Protestants, let’s be honest.

    The Church is not guilty for the fact that many people leave, but individual Catholics often are. Catholics, regardless of the fact they have literally everything, can often act like they are ashamed of the Church, and they act like they have been wronged for having been born into it. It’s disgusting. Sorry to be so blunt, but it is.

    Chastity and goodness are gifts that a person gives God willingly out of love and gratitude, and the Church concurs that this is true. Yes, Catholics are expected to grow in goodness and holiness, because the Church is presumably not planning on wasting its time and resources, and so the Church naturally expects that it would be normal for these kinds of gifts to be given by Catholics. I happen to think the Church is right in this rather common-sensical expectation. Those things are not things that are being extorted out of individual Catholics-they are free to withhold them, which they often do, whether they care to admit it or not. Regardless, they have no grounds for having an attitude like Attila the Hun and coming down on other people with threats of eternal damnation at the drop of a dime. The Church will not keep people that way; the Church will not attract converts that way. It totally misses the point. Totally.

  43. catholicmidwest says:

    I love what Laudem Gloriae had to say. Many people are curious about Catholics, but wouldn’t just walk in the door by themselves in a million years. Taking people around to interesting and lovely things is a great idea, and helps them to understand what we are about, which of course, is the first step to overcoming resistance and invisibility in their eyes.

    Taking someone to breakfast because you like them and are interested in them is a great idea too, and lets them know something else about us. People are important to Catholics because they are created in the image and likeness of God, and the Church knows that even if the culture doesn’t.

    BTW, you can’t convert or return somebody you are going to treat like a thing, and you can’t convert or return somebody you’ve already made up your mind to condemn, and you can’t convert or return somebody you’ve already made up your mind to dislike. It doesn’t work that way. They can tell and nobody wants to risk their life and their soul on what looks like a wooden nickel.

  44. catholicmidwest says:

    Okay, here’s some recent data for people coming into the Church. It’s from CARA, which again may not be the only word on the topic, but this data is really hard to come by, so here goes:
    Percent from infant baptism: 84%
    Percent from childhood: 8%
    Percent as teenagers: 1%
    Percent as adults (18 or over): 7%

    Of those adults:
    Percent 18-29 years old: 48% [So this is .07*.48 = .034 or 3.4% of the total Catholic population]
    Percent 30-39 years old: 16%
    Percent 40-49 years old: 21%
    Percent 50 or older: 15%

    Note how many come in as young adults. There is reason for believing that this is at least partially due to the fact that Catholic couples with one Catholic partner generally will want to marry in the Church. Also, this is the time of peoples’ adult lives when they are most malleable and open to new influences, so this probably is also a factor for those who aren’t converting simply to be married in the Church.

    Children who want to convert are usually not accepted by themselves because there is no one to promise they will be raised Catholic. Those listed above are probably almost all accompanying a parent who has converted.

    Prior religion for converts (rounded to the nearest percentage point)
    64% Protestant
    28% None
    8% Other
    0% Orthodox
    0% Jewish
    0% Muslim

    I believe that this is 2008 data.

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