Another Modest Proposal

Insight Scoop gives a preview of an interesting, but misguided editorial in this month’s Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Why are Catholics hemorrhaging in such numbers over the past two generations or so. Father Joseph Sirba echoes a theme I found on Inside Catholic today. Blame the liberals for a declining Church and send them off to follow the homosexuals in the dark of night to wail and gnash their teeth.

Sorry, but I’m not buying it. The theocons, reform2 crew, and the other sulking Republicans still have me in the Church and there’s nothing they can do about it. Can’t get me fired. Can’t shut down my blog. I’m pretty sure other progressives aren’t shaking in their boots either.

That immediate pre-conciliar generation must have been really strong on Church issues to bail so quickly after Humanae Vitae, a reformed liturgy, television, the suburbs, the sexual revolution, and all. Maybe the seeming decline in Catholicism has something more behind it than the usual liberal/conservative politics. But if some of them are still steamed over the Republicans getting it handed to them this past year, I can empathize.

Now let’s get serious with Father Sirba’s proposals.

All remaining dissenters must be expunged from their positions within diocesan offices, major parishes and influential positions in the Church.

Fr Sirba preaches every leader in the Church needs to be presenting a clear message. I’m assuming that’s one simple, single message. Problem is that most challenging obstacles need more than one perspective. I think we’ve seen the results of a purged episcopacy over the JPII years: bishops and their cronies appointed to the episcopacy sheltered sex offenders and then didn’t even have the guts to admit they were wrong–they blamed select psychologists, stonewalled the victims and their families, and by the way … how many Catholic losses in Boston? Lots of Catholics are upset and concerned about the criminal and immoral behavior of some bishops, but I suspect Cardinal Law and others won’t be part of Fr Sirba’s purge.

Fr Sirba also is concerned about religious ed.

(O)ur parish religious education programs must be reformed. In our present culture, an hour a week in religion classes is not enough to make our young people Catholic … We should reconsider what role Catholic schools should play in the twenty-first century and where we can get the greatest bang for our buck.

Granted, I would agree there’s always room for improvement in faith formation. The editorial’s focus on the academics of religion betrays a fatal bias. We’ve seen over and over again in Church teaching, the council documents and the rites, that faith formation is more an apprenticeship than a school. Teaching young people about the faith is only a part of living the faith, and inviting them, side by side, to share it with adults. We need more mentors and less emphasis on “buck-slashing,” though doubtless some pastors would lick their chops at the thought of shutting down their school and freeing up all that money.

Aggressive steps to retain Hispanic Catholics? No problem there.

The overt and covert feminization of the Church must end. Men and boys need strong male role models to look up to and to emulate. Masculine approaches to the faith must be developed and affirmed if we are to erase the significant gender gap that now exists and retain more of our male members.

Another aggrieved man whining about too many women. One of the reasons why women are more involved than men in every major religion and practically every minor one is that there are “psychological and emotional differences” between the sexes. I suppose that cassocks, surplices, frilly vestments, magnae cappae, and the like will inspire manliness in young boys.

I will say that boys and young men do indeed need better role models. So do girls and young women. The fragmentation of the extended family in our mobile society has done significant harm to every generation since suburbia, the car, and the mobile career have arrived on the scene.

If you want a masculine approach to Catholicism, join one of Richard Rohr’s drumming groups or something. Liberals have had their manly groups for a long time. Maybe the theocons are just fraidy cats about joining them. 

Finally, we must reach out to those who have fallen away.

Finally, a good point. Regarding inactive Catholics, one thing above any other single approach will bring people back.

An invitation.

My previous pastor once questioned when the parish communications director and I planned three weeks of print media ads welcoming people to our church for the Paschal Triduum. Practically every other church had Easter services. My colleague Bob and I thought, why not play up our Triduum? Why not invite people to the commemoration of the Last Supper, the Eucharistic procession, St John’s Passion, the veneration of the cross, and the Easter Vigil? After the fact we were told it was a waste of money.

Those kinds of attitudes: Catholics are entitled to full churches, our church is full anyway, why waste money on PR when we can give to the poor or the school instead–these are the errors that in part have landed the Church in this period of pouty decline.

If the situation is serious enough to merit purging liberals, shutting down Catholic infrastructure and go online, and sending seminarians out in cassocks to play football in the mud, I think Fr Sirba needs a lot more heads at the table coming up with ideas to reverse this decline, as he sees it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to Another Modest Proposal

  1. valery says:

    the post is great!!

    very interesting! I will definitely be back here.

  2. Great post and of course I agree 200 percent. In fact, I wrote an entire book about the need for understand that church communications is an important ministry. (The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today, Morehouse)

    One recommendation is exactly what you and your colleague attempted: tie communicating about the parish/church/faith to the liturgical calendar. And I also explain why priests like your former pastor balk at such suggestions.

    We have a lot of work to do, but then, haven’t we always? No one said The Great Commission would be easy peasy lemon squeezy.

  3. Liam says:

    The reverend leaps to assumptions from the data that are not necessarily proven. He’s leaping over the most important step: asking individuals about the practice of their faith. Instead, he’s inferring answers from the data.

    The problem is, while that makes for a nifty clear message, in my experience the character and circumstances of each individual are unique, even though they may have similar “results” at the surface level.

    One thing I will say: many people currently active in parishes blanche at the thought of outreach. But aping Protestant megachurches in outreach is not the solution, either. We don’t have a product to sell.

    On a seemingly contrary note to what I just wrote, I would like to add my observation that Catholic parishes (including many cathedrals) in the US do an awful job of using the internet – to communicate in real time with the flock, and the provide seekers with a sense of the individual place. Heavens, it’s uncommon for Catholic churches (including – even especially – those blessed with a beautiful church) to provide galleries of images (while images of parish festivals can be nice, seekers don’t know the people in them, so they don’t really work as well for seekers as insiders might think). What are they afraid of – that bridezillas and groomzillas will shop around on the internet for the prettiest church? That’s what it looks like to me. More importantly, it conveys the idea to seekers – this church obviously doesn’t think anyone would be curious about it. What a dreary message *that* sends, albeit unintentionally.

  4. Chase says:

    Excellent post, thank you! Just a few thoughts building on the above comments in regards to parish outreach. In my previous parish, we conducted a door-to-door census; knocking on the door of every house within the parish boundaries.

    The town is only 700 people not including the outlying rural areas. However, once the census was completed, we had 12 individuals or families that were interested in returning to the Church. Most of them noted that they simply had never been asked about returning.

    Again, excellent post!

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  6. Jim McK says:

    “All remaining dissenters must be expunged”

    This does not sound like the formula for a larger church. It is this unwelcoming attitude that lies behind diminishing numbers, as it excludes every person who has doubts. That is lot of people, since every person has doubts.

    At the last bishops’ meeting, Cardinal George spoke about how President Kennedy had to disavow his Catholicism in order to be elected president. I am sure many of us still wish to belong to the church of JFK, and have difficulties consciously or not, with a church that thinks he disavowed his Catholicism.

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  8. Jimmy Mac says:

    Fr. Pat Brennan and the Holy Family Catholic Community in Illinois ( have had many years of success of creating, fostering and maintaining a vibrant parish that appeals to both genders and all ages. This success story should be investigated by all dioceses and emulated as much as possible.

  9. former catholic says:

    “all remaining dissenters must be expunged”?
    what planet did this guy(sirba come from)

    If the catholic church expunges dissenters then 60% of it’s priests and bishops who are gay oriented would be gone.(see “The changing Face of Priesthood” by Father Donald Cozzens
    It would mean the resignation of one third of the bishops in the world (see boston globe-Vatican stance on gay clergy criticized)

    It’s 2009 Fr. Sirba, gay isn’t a bad thing anymore and the sooner the church and you realize that fact, the sooner the Catholic Church returns to the well respected institution it one was. You do the math… lets see… if 10% of the population is gay and all the gay people in the US have family and friends the numbers are staggering. Do you still wonder why people are leaving the Catholic Faith in droves?

    this church is caught in a quagmire and it’s membership will continue to slide.

    When the Catholic Church changes it’s corporate stance on human rights I’ll come back…. I’m not holding my breath though.

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