Reaching out to Alienated Believers:

                       1. The need of youth and young adult ministries

The Catholic Church in the United States has a weak institutional infrastructure of youth and young adult ministry, especially compared to other religious denominations.  It does little about it: approximately 50% of Catholic parishes do not have a youth minister.  Here in the Archdiocese of Detroit the situation is even worse: 50% of parishes have a youth minister but more than half of those youth ministers are part-time.  My point is this: if the parish or diocese does not have the infrastructure in place nothing is going to happen.

The Church in Detroit, for example, has declared youth and young adult ministry a top priority since 1995 but little has been done about it in terms of parishes hiring more youth ministers.  Moreover, the salaries of youth and young adult ministers are sinful.  I just interviewed 12 pastors about why pastors don’t hire youth and young adult ministers and the number one reason thus far is money.  But if the Church was serious about its ministry to youth then it would find the money.  Parishes need to have youth and young adult ministers going to high schools and colleges and local coffee shops and neighborhood gatherings.  The infrastructure needs to be there first; then perhaps alienated youth will give the church a try.  If the church is going to seriously reach out to alienated Catholics it has to have the ecclesial professional infrastructure in place, otherwise it will only continue to “talk” without any actual “reaching out.”
            Michael J. McCallion   
            Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit.

                       2. Synodality in the whole church
            Any productive approach to the alienated has to be one that comes from a faith community that has addressed the very problems that created the alienation in the first place. And that means not so much changing the church’s teaching on this or that issue as changing the way in which the members of the church are admitted into the conversation that may result in change.
            A way forward may be Pope Francis’ new emphasis on synodality which is participatory if not electoral democracy. No surprise here that the elephant in the room is clericalism. Here is where reform of ministry comes in.
            Simply admitting married men to the ranks of the ordained will not solve the problem. But admitting married men and women to a renewed form of ministry, a kind of team-ministry approach where a group of (probably part-time) ministers occasionally preach or preside at the Eucharist, might very well break down the walls of clericalist culture. Unfortunately, that requires the clericalists themselves to conspire in their own demise
            Paul Lakeland
            Fairfied university

                        3. Believing without belonging

Andrew Greeley famously introduced the distinction between meaning and belonging into scholarly discourse. . In recent decades not much has changed in terms of the meaning side of religion although there has been convergence between Catholic alienation with that for mainline Protestants and Jews in terms of dropping out of organized religion. According to the General Social Surveys from 1973 to 2012 Protestants who report never attending religious worship increased from seven to fourteen percent while the change for Roman Catholics went from three to seventeen percent.

As Martin Marty would have put it, believing without belonging seems to be the issue for Catholics along with widespread collapse in the moral authority of the Church.  As has been the case for centuries upon centuries, the organizational genius of the Roman Catholic Church seems to be the ability to engage in "aggorniamento" (updating) just enough and just in time to avoid completely losing relevance. 

Christ in culture requires aggorniamento but those efforts need to keep in mind that apostasy is less the issue than distrust of large institutional structures which look back in time for authority and inspiration, cultural lag where technology and society change faster than the ability of culture to keep up.  The issue of Catholic alienation needs to be viewed through spectacles that distinguish between meaning (belief, anyway), which hasn't changed so much in recent decades, and belonging/identity, which has changed in ways unfavorable to filling the pews, the formation classes and Catholic schools.
            Wayne Thompson
            Carthage College

                        4. My two sides: Protestant and Catholic

As a one-time Catholic, I know about both sides. My wife and I raised our kids in an evangelical church and sent them to a Catholic high school. Why? To teach them Protestant theology (I'm a leaky Calvinist) but I also wanted them to learn what I call "the Catholic Ethic", i.e. compassion. Catholics have a tremendous capacity for it and know its many facets. Sure, many Protestants do as well but Catholics do it best. There's an intelligent and articulate bearing to their compassion. What Protestants do better is theology. They care about the quality of their preaching and love to learn. They aren't afraid to explore the great truths of Christianity and see very clearly the primacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in all of life.

There are problems with both giftings, however. What good is it to plumb the great depths of knowledge and overlook your brother and sister in need? By the same token, it's just as phony to be nice to everyone while thinking whatever you want about God, making Him in your image. Self-righteousness, or pride, is the greatest of all sins and has many faces. Both sides need to recognize their own pride and turn from it. If we aren't childlike, says Jesus, we will never enter His Kingdom whether we're Catholic or Protestant.
            Al Baker,
            UCB, Canada

                        5. The painful story of people alienated from the church

The demographics do not lie, but the painful narratives of people alienated from the church tell the story better.  There is the woman in tears because she never knew there was such a thing as internal forum for a marriage dissolution.  There are the LBTG community who endure the vitriol that sometimes passes as doctrine for those who prefer power to pastoral sense.  There are those with horror stories from their childhood, actions and words probably rooted in the insecurity or flaws of those who inflict them. For me the most painful example is that of my own children, none of whom now attend church regularly. They know that the values they hold and practice are rooted in church tradition and teaching.  "But, Mom," said one. "I won't take my own children to a church that preaches hate." While there are pockets of good communities, often the public face of the church does not seem to be welcoming.

       Dee Christie,
            John Carroll University

                        6. Empowering communities
To Dee:

I agree with you that community is a key for the transmission of values - clearly shown
by research. But how do you create community?

All the thriving parishes and groups I have visited are empowering communities. They have hundreds of activities, ranging from fun, sports, to social services, prayer groups, and community services. The most successful groups are those that have strong prayer services – weekly, twice weekly, two or three hours, healing services of 4 to 6 hours, overnight vigils, etc.. In Guatemala City there is a prayer vigil for peace every October that lasts from 8 pm to 6 am; between 10,000 and 20,000 people attend.  In the town of Quetzaltenango there is a prayer vigil before Pentecost, from 7 pm to 5 am every year; 2,000 attend. To animate large and small prayer groups requires fluency in expressive praying and mastery in energizing music and singing. In all cases observed, lay people do that; rote prayer and ritualistic liturgies won’t do.

How do you create community, in families and church? By numerous common activities. No bowling alone. No cell phone self-absorption. And various spiritual practices – preferably not in church buildings, and not necessarily Catholic. Zen Buddhism may be a good beginning. Visiting an evangelical, or Jewish, or Orthodox Church can be challenging. Spiritually enlightened social activism can be a door opener. In short, “faith” is more than “religion” and community is part of faith.  

Can you find such communities/churches within 50 miles around you?
            Adelphi University
Reply from Dee:

There are at least three places in the Cleveland area that, in their own ways, demonstrate this. One is a dying Carmelite monastery, with aging sisters and aging physical plant. Yet everyone who goes daily and/or Sunday is aware and attentive to the material and psychic needs of the others. One is the parish we pass each week on the way to the monastery liturgy: outreach to El Salvador, great music, activities and outreach to many diverse groups.  The third is a schismatic parish (thank you, bishop) which gets ever larger as it meets in a rented building to which it moved after the church was padlocked. I'm sure there are more.

                        7. Cognitive dissonance

Emily Dickenson describes a certain unrecognized group of alienated Catholics, not those who have left the Church or stopped going to Mass, but those ministers, clergy and lay (including religious) who tote their unbelieving minds and weakened hearts to Mass or class, doing their utmost to convince others to believe what they themselves seriously question.

The cognitive dissonance between what is preached and what is so otherwise self-evident is too great a disconnect for many.  Catholicism, as it represents itself today, is a religion in denial, scratching its head while looking about blindly for explanations why previously highly-dedicated Catholics (clergy, lay and religious) have walked away along with the young who find no meaning in its closeted vaults.

The question is: will that "smaller, purer" version of Catholicism be the "salt of the earth" which Jesus envisioned and which so many of us have tasted before and after the Second Vatican Council?
            Lea Hunter and Consilia Karli

                        8. The Need of healing in truthful reconciliation

My godson and a family member have become “alienated believers.” The former has had multiple experiences of clericalism and power-craving parish council members and the latter experienced a divorce and no longer finds the Church as welcoming institution.  Their reasons for not attending the church corresponds to their experiences, which has to do with personal and institutional problems, respectively.  These two experiences are sadly all too common and symptomatic of the Church’s unwillingness to take up some existential problems she faces today.

My family member who is divorced is quite aware of the church’s theology. Because she is not remarried, she knows that she is still able to receive communion but she chooses not to. She can seek an annulment but she does not.  Why? The answer turns out to be much more personal and poignant than theological. According my family member, she thinks this “theoretical” theology does not understand how painful it is to relive a very painful part of the lives of the divorced. The process to demonstrate something that was “deficient” from the beginning of this union is a much more agonizing process than theologians realize. Knowing that this option is available, many are unwilling to see it as a real and viable option.

Rather than saying that it is all up to the alienated believers to find their way back to the Church, we ought to ask whether we have a ritualistic space in the church community for healing and reconciliation for the pain and suffering not only from their personal experience but from the Church that does not do enough to welcome them back. The alienated believers are not our prodigal sons/daughters. Often, we as members of the church are. I cannot find a church that starts the conversation with the acknowledgment of playing a part in the alienation of many believers, or with encouraging lay-led healing/meditative/retreat space within 50-miles around me.

One success story comes from Korean American Priest Association (KAPA). They had a reconciliation ritual where they acknowledged their responsibility in members feeling hurt and betrayed through clericalism and authoritarianism. It did wonders. Because of KAPA’s initial acknowledgment they allowed many faithful not to react defensively and to start a real process of healing. A self-reflective Church and the acknowledgment of itself as sinful are the first step for its followers to acknowledge their sinfulness and to take steps to be self-reflective and meditative. Then we can engage in open, inviting, less-hostile conversations that may lead to the discovery of what is helpful for their spiritual developments. My suggestion is for the Church to have its own version of a “truth and reconciliation commission.”
            Hoon Choi,
            Bellarmine University

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