Monday, March 26, 2012

New Study Explores Why Catholics Are Leaving the Church

Recommends "constructive dialogue"
between hierarchy and laity, rather than
"simple reiteration of church rules or policies."

Editor's Note: Following are excerpts from an article by Jerry Filteau first published March 23 by The National Catholic Reporter. It's interesting to contrast the study's recommendation of "constructive dialogue" between hierarchy and laity to Archbishop John Nienstedt's recent response to a group of Catholics concerned about the shortage of priests.

In an unusual study whose main results were released at a Catholic University of America conference in Washington Thursday, Villanova University in Philadelphia asked former Catholics in the Trenton, N.J., diocese why they left the church.

While the results themselves were not surprising, the researchers said, the study suggests new ways the church can approach Catholics who are dissatisfied with what the church teaches or how it acts — including those so dissatisfied that they have decided to leave.

One of their key recommendations was for pastors, bishops and other church officials to respond consistently to questioning or angry Catholics with constructive dialogue rather than a simple reiteration of church rules or policies.

Jesuit Fr. William J. Byron, a professor of business at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — who collaborated in the study with Charles Zech, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Church Management of Villanova’s School of Business — several times cited a response of one disaffiliated Catholic who complained, “Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule; you don’t get a ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it’ response.”

Byron and Zech told conference participants at The Catholic University of America that many of the responses from lapsed or disaffiliated Catholics in the Trenton diocese matched what researchers have known from other surveys: They object to what they see as the church’s unwelcoming attitude toward gays and lesbians or toward the divorced and remarried, they find homilies uninspiring, the parish unwelcoming, the pastor arrogant or parish staff uncaring, or they have suffered terrible personal experiences with a priest or other church official, such as rejection for being divorced.

. . . William Dinges, a professor in Catholic University’s department of theology and religious studies, said research in the 1940s and ’50s indicated that U.S. Catholics and other U.S. religious adherents were largely identical in terms of their adherence to religious beliefs and practices of their forebears.

That began to change for Catholics after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, he said, although he noted that it was not just the council, but a wide variety of other factors that influenced U.S. Catholic membership, participation and sense of affiliation with the church in the post-council years.

Byron said the Trenton findings urge Catholic leaders to be more sensitive to lay Catholic concerns.

At one point in the question-answer period of the discussion, as the growing shortage of priests was raised as a problem, Byron bluntly challenged official Catholic positions on priestly celibacy and ordination of women.

Calling the exclusion of married men and women from ordination “institutional barriers,” he said such ordinations “may not happen,” and many would argue that they “should not happen,” he said, but to argue those things are “impossible” is to deny that “nothing is impossible with God.”

“We may be stifling the Spirit” by “our resistance to respond” to the current priest shortage in the church’s refusal to expand its rules for who can be ordained, he said.

To read Jerry Filteau's article in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Link:
New Jersey Catholics Give Church a Piece of Their Mind – Peggy McGlone (
The Star-Ledger, March 23, 2012).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

No Priest Shortage, Says Archbishop

Editor's Note: We are posting the text of the letter at right from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt. It is addressed to Judith Pryor in response to a letter sent to the Archbishop by a group of Catholics asking for dialogue.

FutureChurch suggested that people request dialogue on the subject of married male priests and women deacons as a solution to the shortage of priests. The suggestion was to ask bishops to advocate for those changes during their ad limina visits in Rome.

February 18, 2012

Dear Judith,

I am in receipt of the letter from you and several others that you delivered to the Chancery.

Indeed, the Church in these United States overall may be facing a clergy shortage, but, thanks be to God, here in the Archdiocese we are not. We have 316 active priests and actively retired priests serving our 206 parishes. In addition, we have 68 seminarians studying for the Archdiocese with some 15 men applying next year.

Our strategic plan was a result of the challenging demographics of Catholics in the Twin Cities. When people move, their parish support goes with them. Merging parishes in the Archdiocese was not a result of a shortage of priests.

Therefore, I see no need to meet with your group to discuss a concern that does not exist in this Archdiocese.

I do assure you all of my prayer and ask for yours in return.

With every good wish, I remain

Cordially yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt
Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Here is the data, however, on clergy from the Archdiocese's Key Fact Sheet, distributed in June 2009 as the basis for its strategic planning and parish reorganization referred to by the Archbishop.

The estimated number of pastors will decline:

• There are currently 182 priests eligible to be pastor and there will be a total of 163 priests eligible to be pastors in ten years time: a drop of 19 pastors.

• The number of parochial vicars will decline from 44 today to 37 in ten years time.

• Priests doing special ministries, such as hospital and jail chaplains, as well as working in seminaries will decline from 34 today to 27 in ten years time.

If your experience is contrary to the Archbishop's assertions, please let him know. Mail can be sent to 226 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Many Kinds of Catholic

By Frank Bruni

NOTE: This commentary was first published March 19, 2012, by the New York Times.

If Catholicism is measured by obeisance to the pope, his cardinals and the letter of Vatican law, then Rick Santorum is the best Catholic to ever get this far in presidential politics.

He doesn’t just oppose abortion as a private matter of personal conscience. He has made that position a defining crusade.

He hasn’t just been fruitful and multiplied. He has promulgated the church’s formal prohibition against artificial birth control, yanking this issue, too, into the public square.

On homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography and more, he doesn’t just take his cues from church dictums. He trumpets that alignment as a testament to the steadfastness of his devotion, the integrity of his faith.

And for this he has been rewarded with a truly noteworthy level of Catholic support.

Noteworthy because it’s so underwhelming.

Exit polling suggests that he lost the Catholic vote to Mitt Romney, a Mormon, by 7 percentage points in Michigan and by 13 in Ohio. These weren’t isolated cases. In primary after primary, more Catholics have gravitated to Romney than to Santorum (or, for that matter, to Newt Gingrich, a Catholic-come-lately who collaborated with his third wife to make a worshipful documentary about Pope John Paul II).

This is a hurdle that Santorum must overcome to win the primary in Illinois, whose population is about 30 percent Catholic. And it’s yet more proof of most American Catholics’ estrangement from an out-of-touch, self-consumed church hierarchy and its musty orthodoxies.

For months now the adjective Catholic has been affixed to the country’s strange contraception debate, which began when many Catholic leaders took offense at a federal mandate that Catholic institutions provide insurance coverage for artificial birth control.

But most American Catholics don’t share their appointed leaders’ qualms with the pill, condoms and such. These leaders have found traction largely among people — Catholic and otherwise — concerned about government overreach. And the whole discussion has opened the door to plaints about morality from evangelicals, who warm to Santorum more than Catholics do.

American Catholics have been merrily ignoring the church’s official position on contraception for many years, often with the blessing of lower-level clerics. When my mother dutifully mentioned her I.U.D. during confession back in the 1970s, the parish priest told her that she really needn’t apologize or bring it up again. Which was a good thing, since she had no intention of doing away with it. Four kids were joy and aggravation enough.

Despite church condemnation of abortion and same-sex marriage, American Catholics’ views on both don’t diverge that much from those of Americans in general. These Catholics look to the church not for exacting rules, but for a locus for their spirituality, with rituals and an iconography that feel familiar and thus comfortable. In matters religious, as in “The Wizard of Oz,” there’s no place like home, and Catholicism is as much ethnicity as dogma: something in the blood, and something in the bones.

The Catholic hierarchy, meanwhile, keeps giving American Catholics fresh reasons for rebellion. As The Times’ Laurie Goodstein reported last week, lawyers for the church in Missouri have begun a campaign of intimidation against a support group for victims of sexually abusive priests: they’re trying to compel the group to release decades of internal documents.

This may be cunning legal strategy, but it’s lousy public relations and worse pastoral care. Which isn’t any surprise.

I’ve been monitoring and occasionally writing about the church’s child sex-abuse crisis since 1992, and most of church leaders’ apologies and instances of constructive outreach have come about reluctantly, belatedly or with a palpable sense from many bishops and cardinals that they were the aggrieved, victimized ones.

As they complained about excessive media attention, they frequently lost sight of its heinous root: a great many priests molested a great many children, who were especially vulnerable to them — and especially damaged by them — because they called themselves men of God. And for a great many years, church leaders actively concealed these crimes, which continued.

For the church ever to grouse that critics make too much of this, let alone to retaliate against victims and accusers, is galling. But it helps explain the breach between the hierarchy — invested in its own survival, resistant to serious discussions about the celibate culture’s role in child sexual abuse — and everyday Catholics. They’re left to wonder where they fit into their church and how it fits into the modern world.

They don’t really constitute a voting bloc, because their political allegiances reflect income and education as much as creed. That’s a big part of their resistance to Santorum.

But it’s also true that his particular Catholicism isn’t theirs. It’s the hierarchy’s. And his poor performance among Catholics should cause cardinals, bishops and the candidate himself to rethink the way they approach their religion.

Frank Bruni has been an Op-Ed columnist for The Times since June 2011. He has been a White House correspondent and, for The Detroit Free Press, a movie critic. Many of those experiences are captured in his best-selling memoir, Born Round (2009). To visit his blog, click here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Save the Date!

Calling all Catholics . . .

Come Out and Sing Out
for Marriage Equality!

WHEN:Saturday, April 28, 2012 (1:00-4:00 p.m.)
WHERE:Calvary Lutheran Church
(Chicago Ave. S. and 39th St. S., Minneapolis)

Please join us in the creation of an inspiring music video
that celebrates Jesus’ message of love and inclusivity.

Are you a Catholic who loves the Church
and also believes in a Minnesota for all families?
Bring your voice of conscience!

Do you no longer participate in the Catholic Church
but wish to join this prayerful act of compassion?
Bring your voice of unity!

Are you a member of another faith community
and wish to come out and sing out with us?
Bring your voice of solidarity!

Together we will record the song For All the Children
by David Lohman

Refrain: “May our hearts and minds be opened,
fling the church doors open wide.
May there be room enough for everyone inside.
For in God there is a welcome, in God we all belong.
May that welcome be our song!”

Listen to For All the Children in its entirety here:

The April 28th filming event will be a celebration of recorded song, a rally for love and commitment, and a benefit for our grass-roots movement.

For more information, contact Jim Smith at