August 14, 2009


Work to reverse the trend of people leaving the Church

You might remember that study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life about 15 months ago which showed that 33 percent of all Catholic Americans have left the Church.

That means, the study said, that 10 percent of Americans identify themselves as former Catholics. More people are leaving the Church than are coming into it.

The study also reported that the only way that Catholics continue to remain at approximately 25 percent of the population is the influx of Catholic immigrants, mainly from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Indeed, Latinos now make up about a third of American Catholics.

Unfortunately, a new Pew Research Center poll shows that Latinos are leaving the Church, too. About 15 percent are now evangelical Christians.

According to Gaston Espinosa, a professor of religion at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., almost 4 million Latinos have left the Catholic Church and joined evangelical congregations. “For every one who comes back to the Catholic Church, four leave it,” he said.

We can understand why that’s happening. It’s mainly that the evangelical services are conducted by other Latinos and the Catholic Church in the United States doesn’t have enough Latino priests.

Our Anglo priests assigned to parishes with a high number of Latinos are doing the best they can, with Masses and sermons in Spanish, but it’s not exactly what the evangelicals offer.

Also, more than half of the Latinos describe themselves as “charismatics.” They want livelier liturgies than what they find in most Catholic churches.

Obviously, the Church should be doing more to keep its members—both those identified in last year’s poll and the Latinos in this year’s survey.

The Catholic Church in this country is not accustomed to losing members. It had a phenomenal rise in membership from a miniscule percentage at the time of our country’s founding until it became the nation’s largest religious community. Admittedly, most of that increase occurred because of immigration from Catholic countries in Europe. But a great deal of it also came from conversions.

Older Catholics can remember the days in the 1950s when Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was responsible for the conversion of thousands of people through his popular weekly TV program. Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton was also able to use television successfully, with dramas featuring prominent movie stars, to draw people to the Church through his slogan “The family that prays together stays together.”

Archbishop Sheen made converts simply by teaching Catholic doctrine, both on his TV shows and in the literature he sent in answer to the 25,000 letters that he received each week. People realized the truth in what the Church teaches. That’s why the Church has had so many prominent converts, including such people as Cardinal John Henry Newman, G. K. Chesterton, Cardinal Avery Dulles, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Edith Stein, who was canonized as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

However, something changed during more recent decades. Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., told participants at the National Catholic Educational Association’s meeting in Indianapolis in March 2008 that too many of the young adult children of Catholics of the baby boomer generation suffer from a vast religious illiteracy.

It’s a religious illiteracy fueled by our modern media that have convinced young people that one religion is as good as another and that, if there is any sin in the world, that sin is intolerance. Added to that is our society’s philosophy of relativism that teaches what might be right or wrong for one person might not be right or wrong for someone else, and, therefore, that we must be nonjudgmental at all times.

Throughout history, people have been drawn to Catholicism once they learn what our Church teaches. Our Church has the answers to people’s spiritual and religious questions.

Besides that, only our Church has the Eucharist, another fact that attracts many people to Catholicism. And still others are attracted by our devotions to Mary and the other saints, and all the other things that comprise the culture of Catholicism. That is true for Anglos, Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and all the rest of mankind.

Let’s try to reverse the results of those Pew studies.

—John F. Fink

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