Wednesday, 1 February 2012

When is a Catholic not a Catholic?

Substitute the words "Empty pews and empty altars".
The great revolution that would bring people flowing into the Church as it "opened up"to the world that many hoped after the Council has has indeed left only phantom faces at the window!

"They sang about tomorrow but tomorrow never came."
And yes,
"The very words that they had sung"
(on the hopeful day of so many First Communions)

"Became their last communion."

When is a Catholic not a Catholic? That is to say, just how far removed from the practice of the Church and from any ongoing relationship with the Church do you have to be before it can be said that you are no longer a Catholic? Included in this is the question of whether a person has any prayer life or relationship - daily, weekly, yearly - with the Lord. Of course, it's then said that we must not judge and many such lapsed may be living "good" lives but I think even with the most generous of interpretations, this could not be claimed of the present situation. Those that are lapsed are for the most part gone from prayer, from Christian living and from a Christian world-view - they follow the world on moral values and live their lives according to the norms of their neighbours rather than those of the Gospel.

This comes to mind having read the editorial of this month's "Catholic Voice" - the official newspaper for the Diocese of Lancaster. Brought to my attention by Deacon Nick of Protect the Pope. He says:
It is a response to the questions in Bishop Campbell’s recent pastoral letter that among other things asks,‘Is it time for us to admit that we can no longer maintain schools that are Catholic in name only?’ One of the conclusions the diocesan newspaper makes is that we are maintaining a sacramental and school system that has created 5 million lapsed Catholics.
"Now I know that in bygone times not everyone practised the Faith and came every Sunday but no one in the school or parish - not even those who were lapsed - thought this was alright or acceptable. No one baulked if a teacher told a pupil they should be at Mass on Sunday. No one thought the school should be facilitating this non-practising way of 'practising' the Faith. Facilitating a system that has created five million lapsed Catholics.

There is no sense of urgency or crisis about this lack of practice. It is the same in story in all the dioceses of this country. Someone quoted figures the other day for my own Archdiocese of 450,000 Catholics (in name) and out of this figure 52,000 attend Sunday Mass.

The few who are there at Mass each Sunday cannot continue to provide schools and churches for the many who never come. We close churches because we can't afford to keep them up but the schools are full. Those who want all the treats and benefits but do not contribute financially or spiritually should no more expect the school to be there for them just because they want it any more than they can expect a church building to be there for them just because they suddenly have a funeral or a wedding to arrange. How many generations of not practising do you need to come from before you are no longer a Catholic, even if someone is willing to baptise you despite a proven track record that there is no founded hope of being brought up in the Faith in any meaningful way?

Here is the article as it appears on the Protect the Pope site:
‘The stark fact is that of the Diocese’s 100,000 Catholics,around 80,000 are lapsed from the practice of the faith. To be honest,the word ‘lapsed’ is inaccurate for many because it suggests that these 80,000 once practised the faith though regular participation in the Mass. The truth is that the majority of Catholics come from families who for generations have never practised the faith and only have their children baptised,confirmed and make their First Holy Communion out of social convention. A useful model to understand this is the ‘cycle of deprivation’ that describes how generations of unemployment lead families into intense poverty and an inability to work entrenched and enabled by the welfare state.

In a similar way,the existence of 5 million lapsed Catholics in England and Wales,with only 880,000 practising,reflects the dynamics of a ‘cycle of faith deprivation’ in which there is a generational impoverishment about the faith and a disinclination to practice entrenched and enabled by our parish sacramental system and Catholic schools.

Simply put,we have created a sacramental and educational system that has created a startling 5 million Catholics who have never practised the faith,never had a living relationship with Jesus Christ. The real problem is that this huge group of nominal Catholics have the social convention of presenting their children for the sacraments but with no intention of raising them in the faith because they themselves have no experience of practising the Faith. Furthermore, baptismal certificates are highly sought after by many as passports Catholic schools system. The reality in Lancaster Diocesan schools is:you don’t need any baptism because you get in anyway if you want to!

Canon Law states that children should only receive the sacrament of baptism if there is ‘a well-founded hope that the child will be brought up in the catholic religion’ (Can. 868). Maybe when non-practising families present their children for baptism the Diocese’s clergy think there is a well-founded hope that the children will be brought up in the catholic religion because they have made contact with the parish and will attend Catholic schools in the future. The fact that there are now 80,000 non-practicing Catholics in the diocese suggests that this hope in the majority of cases was not well founded.

The truth of the matter is,as Bishop O’Donoghue put it so well in Fit for Mission? Schools,tens of thousands of children leave the Catholic school system just as lapsed as they were when they entered our schools. Two of the questions we need to ask of the Diocese’s clergy and school Heads and Heads of RE is how many children,and their families,experience conversion to the Faith and engaged with parish life? How many children from practising families lose their faith while attending their schools?

The Catholic Voice of Lancaster has learnt that it is not uncommon for children from practising families to be bullied by other children because they are a such a tiny minority in schools in which the majority of children,and teachers,are either non-practising or non Catholic.Furthermore,it is common experience that young people are so scarce in the parishes that those who do attend can feel out of place and alien,surrounded as they are by mainly grandparents. Bishop Campbell is right to ask the question is it just and honest that 21,000 practicing Catholics support and maintain schools that are Catholic in name only. If these schools are not powerhouses of the Faith,building up those children who have faith,and encouraging conversion in the rest,what is the point of them? If young people are not an essential part of parish life,what will be the future of the parish?

It’s time that the Catholic project of mass education rediscovered its vitality be insisting on a vibrant Catholic ethos in our schools,based on the Four Pillars of the Faith – Creed,Liturgy,Moral Life and prayer,while the connection with the local parishes becomes ever more strengthened,not gradually growing apart .If this doesn’t soon show signs of taking hold in our schools maybe it’s time that the Catholic project of mass education comes to an end.


Young Catholic in London said...

I would have thought that this was a simple observation for anyone to make - so why is there so much resistance within E&W to change, reinforce the doctrine and teachings of the Church, and promote the fullness of the Catholic Faith. Should we not be proud to evangelize the salvific nature of the Faith? It is frustrating that so-called ‘traddies’ are rejected out of hand, when in the eyes of God and his Church the one mission of the faithful is to love and serve God – a restructuring of thought, culture and belief is needed. Any half-educated person can see that if we continue on this path of false liberalism and weakness we are doing nothing save denying the riches of Catholicism to the laity (and clergy in many cases). To be Catholic is to defend and pass on the faith, not invent a new, baseless, set of values which are so disconnected with the Gospel. When will the hierarchy reassess the needs of God’s Church?

GOR said...

Some time back Michael Voris (of Real Catholic TV) visited Dublin to speak to a parish group. During his visit he did some “man in the street” interviews with passersby about their Catholic faith and practice of it. Most of the interviewees were young men and women. When asked why they went to Mass (if they went at all) it was instructive that the answers mostly revolved around the family - not personal faith or conviction. “My mother makes me go”, “I only go with my parents when I’m home”, “It makes my grandma happy” etc.

I kept waiting for just one person to say something like: “To honor God” “Because I believe in it” or even “Because the Church tells me to”. But…nothing like that. What do you think they will teach their children when they have them? What will the next generation do?

We have missed something in catechesis – and not just in the schools. And it didn’t start yesterday. Nor is it about just attending church. It is the basic concept of right and wrong, of life and death, of there being a God who loves us, Who wants our eternal happiness and to Whom we have a duty of love and service – whether our parents are around or not.

Yes Father, it is a living relationship with Jesus Christ that is missing. And if we learn better by example than fiat, then the example starts in the home. And not by just obeying rules - but by living what we profess to believe.

GWAM said...

A friend, born 1967, attended Mass each Sunday, but suddenly decided in 1987 that Catholicism "ain't for me".
He stopped practising his faith overnight.
He met and married a girl with exactly the same back-story. Genuinely they were both “lapsed”.
They married in a Catholic church because "it's the done thing."
Child No.1 arrived. They decided she would be baptised: i) "it's the done thing"; ii) because "we want to send her to St So&So". The first priest they encountered, Fr A, gave them "a hard time". So they went to Fr B, who was all cuddly. Fr A's reputation became the stuff of conversational bile. He was "everything that's wrong with the Church - it's why we don't go anymore. There should be more like Fr B." Yet for all Fr B's softness (aka - complete lack of fraternal support for his brother priest), they still didn't bother with Mass or raising Child No.1 in the Faith - save for attending St So&So catchment area school.
Child No. 2 came. Similar scenario. They sought out Fr B. Unfortunately he’d long gone - something they’d have known had they bothered to attend Mass. So they asked Fr C. But Fr C was worse than Fr A! Borderline evil. They needn't have worried, though, because fortunately Fr A had also left the catchment area so they were able to go back the very first parish that they enquired at, concerning Child No.1's baptism. Cue even cuddlier Fr D. So, the reputations of Frs A and C then became the stuff of even worse disparagement. And of course, the "attitude" of Frs A and C represented "everything that's wrong with the Church...and there should be more priests like Frs B and D, yada yada yada." Child No.2, of course, received exactly the same zero formation in Faith that Child No.1 enjoyed. Except for attending St So&So.
Plans were hatched to emigrate to Australia. Also Child No.3 came.
I waited to hear about Child No.3's baptism and the latest tales of, perhaps, evil Fr E and marshmallow Fr F.
Then: "The papers have arrived, we're emigrating next autumn."
I asked about Child No. 3's baptism.
"We're not bothering. Neither of us believe in it - neither do the two (older) kids and there's no need because when we get to Oz we won't be bothering with Catholic schools there - y'see (I was being educated) there's no stranglehold."
"Yes, stranglehold! Let's get this straight. We weren't sending our kids to a ‘Catholic’ school. We were sending them to an 'area school' - which just happened to be Catholic. Yeah, it was the best around but it would have been whether it was Catholic or not. We wanted to send our kids to the best. But the Church dominates the area. Like it dominates all aspects of life. We had no choice but to get the kids baptised. It was forced on us - that's why Frs A and C had no right to refuse us - because otherwise we wouldn't have been able to send the kids to the 'best' school, our 'local' school, the school we had a right, as a resident, to send our kids to. Thankfully, though, they're pretty clued-up and they don't force Catholicism on the kids like it was imposed on us. I mean we might get to Australia and find we're in the same situation - but we've been told that probably won't be the case - but if so, we'll just get Child No. 3 baptised. It's a piece of paper anyway. To be honest, the sooner Catholic schools are scrapped the better."
I told him I agreed.
"Eh? How do you work that out. I'd have thought a holy joe like you would have been banging the Catholic school drum."
Me: "Get a pint in and I’ll explain..."

FrP said...


Thank you.

You are correct.


John Radice said...

Interesting - I recommend you read my son's blog "Education Unchained"

Genty said...

A timely piece, Father, and Gregory, a brilliant summary of the attitudes of "grass roots" Catholics/former Catholics with the key date of 1967 etched into it.
There is absolutely no point in having schools which are only nominally Catholic and for which the rest of us pay a high price.
I listened to Any Questions? last week which came from a Catholic girls school founded by an order of nuns. The encomium supplied, (I would guess), by the school was full of striving for high achievement and encouraging girls to be the best they could be, but not a word about practising the Catholic faith.
But that's hardly a surprise when a school like the Cardinal Vaughan, which fulfils the precepts of a Catholic education, has to battle an attempt by the diocesan authorities to destroy it.

Part-time Pilgrim said...


I wonder if you have given any thought to how the editorial looks to teachers in Catholic schools in Lancaster Diocese?

It's clear from the Bishop's pastoral letter that a lot of pain is in store for those who work in Catholic schools. Some, perhaps many, schools will be closed. The teachers and other staff who work there will lose their livelihoods and may have to question what God is calling them to do having lived most of their lives believing they were called to serve the church by working in a Catholic school. They are entitled to consideration, support and prayers.

What they get is blame. You see it's the education and sacramental programmes that have caused so many to lapse. No blame attaches to the clergy or the hierarchy or congregations in general or parents or even the lapsed themselves. It's "education" and sacramental programmes" i.e. teachers an parish volunteers (many of who are also teachers).

The Bishop is right to ask hard questions about what Catholic schools are achieving. They may be part of the problem and they certainly are not part of the solution.

It is, however, disgraceful that his Diocesan newspaper is so ready to apportion blame and is either callous towards those who work in schools or ignorant of the implications of what the Bishop has started.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Part time Pilgrim - the programmes you mention did not appear from heaven on golden tablets ready to be inscribed into our educational material. They were written by teachers and clergy and sanctioned by bishops and then taught by teachers and clergy in parishes and schools.

Part-time Pilgrim said...

Teachers in Catholic schools are unlikely to be able to transform their schools into "powerhouses of the Faith" if they are being asked to shoulder the blame for all the lapsed Catholics in the diocese. Both inaccurate and unjust.

Athanasius said...

A very timely article, Father.

As far as the terms 'lapsed' or 'non-practising' are concerend, I truly wonder if they should also be applied to some of our bishops, priests and deacons as well as lay-folk.

If there is a premiss that children attend Catholic schools without believing, is it not also within the bounds of possibility that some bishops, priests and deacons also attend and carry out their sacramental duties without also believing what the Church teaches? It is these very people who, over the past 40 or so years, have inculcated their stagnant and sterile 'beliefs' on the unsuspecting people, who will invariably accept "what father says".

Our grandparents must be turning in their graves.

FrBT said...

I have posted this same opinion on the good Fr Ray Blake's blog, so I hope that you do not mind if I repeat the contents.

Being an 'older' priest and having served for a long time my chosen vocation, I can say that I have sometimes wondered if the Holy Spirit has been very busy elsewhere and forgotten these shores of God's world!

Of course you are right Father, Bishops have endorsed the changes in religious education.

In your Archdiocese, you had severe problems with Weaving The Web - but it was implemented by the Late Abp D. Worlock and supported by Bishop Rawsthorne.

It was absolutely disasterous. A dreadful syllabus, and it commenced huge problems in your schools.

Did the Ordinary and the Education Council listen?


Did any person on that Council take heed and listen to the rest of the priests?


A mess was created but never properly sorted out. There must have been occassions when the possibilities arose to put right what had been done so very wrong - but it was just not done.

So therefore, the poor state of Catholic Education in your part of England, is as a result of very bad decision making by the Ordinary and Bishop Rawsthorne and the rest of the Council.

Accountability, Fathers, we all have to face it. If the Catholic Ed. Council endorced the Weaving of The Web rubbish and subsequent rubbish - you cannot blame the poor teachers. They follow what they are told to teach.

If you notice, there are very little problems south of Birmingham. Why?

Answer is very clear - Good Catholic Education in Primary and Secondary Schools.