Pope Benedict’s “To-Do” List to Keep Catholics in Church

What is the largest Christian denomination in America?

If you guessed “Catholics”, you’re right!  According to a 2011 study by CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate), there are 68 million Catholics in the United States—more by far than in any other group.

But the second group on CARA’s list—with 22.5 million, coming in almost 35% higher than the next on the list—are “Former Catholics.”  By comparison the third group, the Baptists, have only 16 million adherents.  They’re followed by the Methodists (7.6 million), then the Mormons (6.1 million), and so on.

So what makes Catholics, who once enjoyed the fullness of grace available to them in the Church founded by Christ, decide to slip out the door?  Some, perhaps, are weak in their understanding of the Faith; some are offended by a particular priest or hurt by a member of the congregation; some are attracted by other denominations; and some are just disinterested and would rather focus on their golf game or curl up with their pillow just a little longer on Sunday morning.

Pope Benedict addressed the problem head-on recently, offering some advice aimed at keeping Catholics in the pews.  The occasion was his June 22 meeting with bishops of Colombia, in Rome for their ad limina visit.  The pope offered a concrete list of ways to keep Catholics from falling away.

  1. Be better believers.  The Holy Father issued a call for Catholics to be “better believers, more pious, affable and welcoming in our parishes and communities, so that no one will feel distant or excluded.”
  2. Emphasize and teach the Faith.  “Catechesis must be promoted, giving special attention to young people and adults; homilies must be carefully prepared, as well as promoting the teaching of Catholic doctrine in schools and universities.”
  3. Celebrate tradition.  “It is important,” the Pope explained, “to emphasize the Church’s tradition, Marian spirituality and the rich diversity of devotion.”
  4. Keep avenues of communication open.  “To facilitate a serene and open exchange with other Christians, without losing one’s own identity, can also help to improve relations with them,” he said, “and to overcome mistrust and unnecessary confrontations.”

All of these things, the Holy Father averred, will help the baptized to recover “a sense of belonging to the Church and to awaken in them the aspiration to share with others the joy of following Christ and of being members of his Mystical Body.”

An interesting thing about the Catholic Church:  You can’t really leave.  If you do—if sin or sloth or distraction cause you to stay away—the Church waits with open arms, ready to welcome you home.  The Church has a name for people who don’t come around any more, and it’s not “former Catholics.”  No, the Church calls them “lapsed Catholics,” good folks who haven’t been at the 4:00 p.m. vigil Mass for a while, but who might return and stop in for Saturday confession any time now. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#27) seems to anticipate the homecomings.  Quoting from that most famous “lapsed Catholic” who returned to become a great saint, St. Augustine, the Catechism says:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.

To learn more about coming home to the Catholic Church (or to learn more about  teachings and traditions which you may have forgotten), visit the website of Catholics Come Home.

  • remove papal wasted time

    What’s needed is a new cadre of Popes who love administration and phone work and funnel all long liturgies and the blessing of churches and reception of endless dignitaries to Cardinals. Popes that work on administration from 9AM to 5PM. Papacy as work rather than papacy as 50% ceremonies. Homilies have been shallow and saccharine for decades. How about a Pope who is on the phone to the Cardinal of N.Y. asking, ” What progress are you making on improving the sermon quality….what steps have you taken?”
    Next hour he’s on the phone to the Cardinal of the Phillipines asking the same thing…..instead of receiving the President of Malta with cameras flashing for an hour. What you list above by Benedict is exhortations which modality has not worked in decades. How about Popes who love administration all day long instead of receiving Sarkosy and female companion and then doing administration part time. Remove the leisure at the top.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      This is satire, right? Because I was just saying to another friend this morning, “You always edify when you quote Pope Benedict.” He is clear, right on, and pastoral. When you are his age, you will likely be retired on the beach; instead he takes a vacation and produces a new book during his “free time.”

  • remove papal wasted time

    Being clear and right on is not productive. Administrating is. What’s the point of knowing that homilies are deficient if you are not going to get on the phone to Cardinals at a steady rythym and press them to do something about it. If you had a relative that had a drug problem, would you be terrific just in knowing about her condition and its causes and writing a book about it. Or would the relative who checked on her daily be the better sister to her. We are praising Popes for knowledge instead of requiring real administrative work from them. They have e.g. a special relationship to the Jesuits. You’d never know it with Georgetown having a gay- bi- transgendered pride association on campus. The Pope could squash that with a phone call but does not. He’s writing bestsellers instead…lol. We have defined Popes as having no responsibility for actually doing something judgemental. So they rarely decide. They WRITE to a captured audience who probably are the same million who bought their previous book. Canon law defines them as having “power” which is
    ” supreme” and ” immediate” over “all the churches”. That means Benedict could squash any gay pride groups on any Catholic campuses…if he could stop writing bestsellers. “Courage” is a group of chaste gay Catholics. That is wonderful. Research the situation at Georgetown….that’s not wonderful. It requires not a Pope who writes about it….not a Pope who laments it….not a Pope who exhorts about it. It requires a Pope who gets on the phone and orders it stopped by the Jesuit dean who takes a special oath to the Pope.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Dear “remove”: You have inverted priorities. It is the role of the Pope to be a moral leader and teacher– not to work the desk like some mid-level operative. Perhaps after you’ve spent a few years trying to control the actions of men and women in a sinful world, you will be a little more generous in your analysis of Pope Benedict’s accomplishments.

      • Fr Don

        Remove’s depiction of what the papacy should be is obviously ignorant of what human relations and religion, society, anthropology, and structure are about. Remove: go read some history, go analyze corporations, go look at government. For heaven’s sake, study healthy families and human behavior. Then come back and comment. I doubt that you would tell me that micromanagement of large organizations is the job of the President and CEO, Moral leader, inspirational speaker and exemplar of what a person within the organization should be.

    • Joe Wickham

      And what effect would an iron fist have on people who are already upset with the church? Will that love them back into the church? If you read scripture, Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors, you idea sounds more like the pharasees than the Vicar of Christ on earth.

  • Bob Bennett

    I have heard people say time & time again: I wasn’t getting anything out of it.” My answer: how much were you putting into it? I have been Catholic since 1995 and there were times that it seemed dry and then there are times that I don’t want the Mass to end. I take classes in our diocesan Pastoral Studies Institute, volunteer in RCIA, liturgy of the hours, the list goes on. I am proud to be Catholic.

    • Maggie Goff

      God love you, Bob. I returned four years ago this month after many years away. I’m like you. I can’t get enough of it. I’m in love with the Catholic Church despite all the human errors. God has a hold on me through His bride.

  • Jim

    I cannot celebrate a tradition that eliminates 50% of the talent pool available for the clergy because they do not have male sex organs, and most of the rest because they choose to use them. Limit the clergy to celibate men, and you severely restrict the available talent – settle for less than ideal candidates, and open yourself to lawsuits, church closings due to lack of clergy, and have uninformed inexperienced people so far attached from real life that their advice is worthless.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Jim, so I see that you are not Catholic. And this is a good thing: Anyone who exhibits such venom toward the teachings of his own church, the church founded by Christ, would be foolish to remain. Better to begin one’s own denomination, if one is not able to show respect and obedience toward one’s own church leaders.

      • Walter

        Kathy, I think you violated both #1 and #4 on the Pope’s list.

    • Ted Seeber

      The men who were truly celibate, didn’t abuse children. It was the ones who hated the vow of celibacy who failed in their calling.

      And unlike in your modernism, while sex organs do not play a part in the Eucharist- the image of God the FATHER does this. When you find a woman who is fit to be a FATHER, let me know.

  • bill bannon

    Then you must change canon law because it sees him as having supreme jurisdictional power not simply the spiritual power of a teacher. In terms of morals, probably most contemplative monks and nuns have a more sacrificial life. A thoroughly financially secure person does not most humans by example. He has a grand piano. personal cobbler shoes, a ten room apartment in Rome with marble floors, plus Castel Gandolfo, two cooks and a butler, and bodyguards. And he has a level of security in old age for that life style that maybe 20 other Catholics on earth have. Mother Teresa edified us all precisely because one Pope gave her a car and she sold it for her work. She had two changes of clothes. There are Catholic religious who edify alright but they don’t have two cooks and a butler; we need to return to the Popes who wrote almost nothing for centuries because they were….administrating….the thing canon law envisions.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Actually, Bill, I’ve met those two cooks. They are sweet little nuns who help to serve Vatican banquets and special events. Somewhere, I think I have a photo of one of those dinners, where he’s brought together journalists from around the world before World Youth Day. Think of it as a catered meal that you might have for your company– only the nuns do not command “chefs’ salaries.” And what, would you have the leader of the world’s largest religion taking an hour away from his prayer and study and writing and meeting (and administering) to cook his own dinner? What a waste that would be.

  • bill bannon

    PS. Read section 42 of Verbum Domine. In it Benedict is subtly saying that God did not command the massacres of the Old Testament which Scripture says God commanded against certain tribes in Canaan.
    Read how he iimplies that those trained in cultural context must interpret such passages….it’s very short.
    Then read actual scripture:
    Exd 23:23 “For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.”
    Now read the 12th chapter of Wisdom: ”
    3 For truly, the ancient inhabitants of your holy land,
    4whom you hated for deeds most odious– Works of witchcraft and impious sacrifices;
    5 a cannibal feast of human flesh and of blood, from the midst of. . .– These merciless murderers of children,
    6and parents who took with their own hands defenseless lives, You willed to destroy by the hands of our fathers,7 that the land that is dearest of all to you might receive a worthy colony of God’s children.
    Now read Benedict who is saying that the massacres could not be from God in sect.42 of Verbum Domine.
    He is a nice man, Kathy. The dooms are the hardest part of the Bible to acclimate oneself to. But Benedict is using modern hermeneutics to deny what the text says and to go back to your original theme….how is a man who disbelieves scriptural text going to lead anyone back to the Church better than you or I?

    • cermak_rd

      But the Catholic church does not believe in Sola Scriptura. They believe that the Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Tradition and Reason. If you start with the proposition that the Almighty is a good deity, then reason will lead you to doubt the face value of those Scriptures.

      Also, modern Biblical criticism has improved in the past couple of centuries so everyone has a better idea of who wrote which books and what the agendas of the writers were.

      I’m a former Catholic (though I usually identify by my current religious affiliation), and Catholic Biblical scholarship in general and Benedict’s scholarship specifically wasn’t any of the reasons I left. I left due to the hysterical you can’t be Catholic and vote for Kerry scene. The fact is, I was a city councilmember at the time and I did not like the idea of my priest being able to pressure me with the weight of access to Communion on votes. If I wanted to vote for a permit for expansion of Planned Parenthood or against the permit for expansion of the Church parking lot, then I thought I should have that right without having to fear punishment from my religious community. I would, in fact, need that right in order to properly represent my constituents, which, at least at the lower levels of government, is the point of the whole thing. Anyway, that was why I left at the time, of course, in the intervening years (does anyone even remember Kerry anymore–at least as other than a sitting Senator?) I’ve developed far more theological objections (in fact, now if I struck out every word of the creed I didn’t accept, I’d be down to maybe 7 words).

      • Kathy Schiffer

        Mr. Cermak: You left the Church because there were sinners, or people who did not exhibit wisdom in their dealings with you. And how’s it working out in the new place? All perfect people over there?

        I’m sorry that you felt oppressed by the weight of Church teaching. I do not believe there is an automatic excommunication for expanding a parking lot. For performing or directly contributing to abortion, yes; but not for the political acts of which you speak. I don’t know your former pastor, but I assume he was trying to impress upon the entire congregation the graveness of the matter of abortion. And grave, it is! That’s not the same as denying communion. You do know, though, that being in grave sin is a reason NOT to present yourself for the Eucharist? St. Paul, whom you may possibly still believe, warns against receiving the Eucharist unworthily, saying that the person who does so is “guilty of the body and blood of Christ.”
        I grieve that you have left. I spent a few years in other denominations, notably Assembly of God; and my observation was that if all those former Catholics had remained and applied their fervor there, in the Church, many of the social problems (indifference on the part of the uninformed, for example) would have been solved. I regret that we are not in union, and I invite you back. I’d recommend a book by one of my fellow Patheos writers, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, titled “More Christianity.”

        • cermak_rd

          Nope, I don’t believe or accept the writings of St. Paul at all. I have found a great degree of peace and autonomy in Judaism, to which I converted after a couple years of safe harboring in the Episcopalian church. In Judaism, I find the space and latitude to figure things out for myself, and, in the past, to serve my constituents without having to worry about the long arm of the church, but I still have the commentary and Torah to mold and form my ethics. I have a circle of friends I have made in my temple, all folks in their 30′s and 40′s. My religious change has drawn me closer to my father, who has also drawn closer to his faith in recent years. All in all, it’s been a very positive change for me.

          • Kathy Schiffer

            “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Mat 5:17-19)

            I remember that Jesus was a Jew, and that He read from the Torah in the Temple. He came, though, to fulfill the promises– He is the Messiah. God bless.

  • bill bannon

    Verbum Domini not Domine

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  • Mary

    I love the Holy Father’s first piece of advice: “Be better believers.” Maybe we can all work on that …