View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cardinal laments Catholics turning into evangelicals

A Vatican official has noticed that many Catholics are leaving the Church for evangelical churches, and is wondering what we are doing wrong in the battle for souls.


Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the Vatican's office for relations with other Christians, said to fellow cardinals that church must undergo a "self-critical pastoral examination of conscience" to confront the "exponential" rise of Pentecostal movements.

"We shouldn't begin by asking ourselves what is wrong with the Pentecostals, but what our own pastoral shortcomings are," Kasper told the gathering, noting that such evangelical and charismatic groups count 400 million faithful around the world.

Cardinal, I wrote an article about this a decade ago when I was a Catholic journalist. This is old news.

At least this is coming from a Cardinal, and not from a humble journalist. The reaction to my piece was a threatened boycott of the diocesan newspaper by a number of offended pastors (who were and still are losing members of their flocks to the evangelical churches).

But back to the Cardinal.

The Vatican is apparently increasingly concerned about the rise of Protestant evangelical communities, which it describes as "sects," in Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, and the resulting flight of Catholics.

In Brazil alone, Roman Catholics used to account for about 90 percent of the population in the 1960s; by 2005, it was down to 67 percent.

The stats here in U.S. would probably be eye-opening. I remember going to a rapidly growing Assembly of God to research the article. About 70 percent of the congregation were former Catholics. In fact, most of the minsters and pastoral staff members were former Catholics.

I found similar patterns in the other growing evangelical churches I visited. Lots of former Catholics, often in leadership positions.

Among the reason cited by the people I interviewed:

Enthusiastic leadership.
Better preaching.
Better music.
Congregations encouraged to be active in worship and in running the church.
Warmer welcoming environments.

I remember at one church I visited - one with more than 1000 members at the time.

It was recognized almost immediately that I was new there. I was warmly greeted by several people (ushers?), an assistant pastor, and the youth minister - all while I was still in the entry area. They regarded it as part of their ministry to greet people.

Talk about feeling welcomed!

Oh, and the collection would put almost any Catholic Church to shame. People really did believe in tithing.

So when was the last time you felt welcomed at a Catholic Church?

As for worship. Good preaching? Enthusiasm? Lively music? Right.

The universal reaction I get when talking to fellow Catholics about Mass is it's dull.

Yeah, I know that one of the arguments is that the evangelical churches offer a "shallow" faith for many folks, one based on emotion rather than deep belief.

There's a point to that.

But you'd think we could try to add some of that energy to our own worship. Even just making people feel welcome would be a help.

That's something each one of us can do.


Anonymous deanna said...

Maybe now that a Cardinal said something people may take notice. I think preaching is the most difficult thing to improve on, how do you tell the pastor he needs to work on his homilies?

4:48 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

That's a tough one.

Maybe offer some positive feedback, then suggest one thing to improve.

"Gee Father, I think your homily on XXXX was right on target. You've given me a lot of things to think about. I'd love to hear some real life stories to help me picture how to apply your ideas."

"Father, I thought your homily on XXX was great. You had a lot of good things to say. But there was a lot of noise around me with all the kids. Is there a way to turn up the volume a little?"

"Father, you have such a great sense of humor. But not everyone gets to hear it. Maybe you could add some funny bits to your homily so other peoel can enjoy it."

On the other hand, if you don't feel close enough to the pastor to say something, how about just sending him an unsigned note?

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Richard Grabman said...

Your critique is probably spot-on for Anglo North America, but in Latin America, the issue seems to be more nuanced. Evangelicalism is all about PERSONAL salvation, and doesn't speak of a "Community of Believers" or the "City of God," to quote Augustine.

The Evangelicals' growth has been among the very poor (especially Indigenous) who want to claw their way into the lower middle-class (looking for thier own economic "salvation"). Without resorting to the usual Latin American paranoid conspiracy mindset, it is worth noting that -- especially since the 1960s -- as communal values were seen as a threat by "neo-liberal" regimes (i.e., capitalist, corporatist ones), U.S. organizations have supported clandestine and overt evangalization throughout Latin America. It's worth remembering that the genocidal dictator of Guatemala, Efraím Ríos-Montt was ordained a "minister of the gospel" by an American church as part of his war against "Communists" (meaning Catholics and traditional Mayans) -- and received backing from the United States.

Certainly, the upper clergy, over the past half millenia, has backed the wrong horse in defining how the "City of God" should be organized, but it doesn't help the Catholic Church any when American Catholics try to foist the basically Protestant idea of capitalist individualism on a non-Protestant society.

Ironically, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is probably the only overtly "Catholic" leader in Latin America.(his parents were both Church activists and lay leaders) .. but being anti-corporatist, even the Roman Catholic press in the U.S. buys the "commie" tag.

5:34 PM  
Anonymous Karen J said...

As someone who grew-up, Catholic (25 yrs), then moved to a "Church of Christ" for another 20 years, and all the while being told that my "infant baptism" saved me...then in the C of C, that my CHOOSING immersion/baptism saved me, then at the age of 45, I actually MET CHRIST...and no, not in a "religious fanatic" kinda way, and not in ANY church, but in my yard, while confessing to God that I was helpless and needed Him. It was NOT a contrived encounter, but God knew my heart was ready, and HE CHANGED/CONVERTED me, that day. From THAT moment, God has been taking away bad habits, and filling me up with a constant desire to please Him. I could go on for the rest of the day, but will say that THAT conversion, led me to seek out, not a church that "tickled my ears", but one where others have had the same life altering experience. So that's where the difference comes from. I dare say that most priests and many pastors have not been converted BY GOD. Therefore, they do not have the Holy Spirit and therefore, cannot "muster up" the enthusiasm that a Christian has that has truly been born again. My life is "Christ"....and not an organization. I could, and HAVE spent hours and hours talking about God with others of "like mind and heart." <><

11:22 AM  

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