More Church Closings – So What is God Teaching Us and How Will We Respond?

It has become routine these days to here of multiple church closings in various dioceses throughout this country. The recent news comes from the Archdiocese of St. Paul – Minneapolis which is planning to close 21 parishes over the next three years. The plan is a bit ambiguous in that some of the closed parishes may actually remain open for some services as a “mission” of another parish. But they will no longer be full-service parishes with a priest and other essential services. Each “merged cluster” of parishes will have some say over its own fate and what buildings will be used and arrangements can be made. That is a relief to some of the older parishioners. But, I am sure that communities that try to keep two buildings up and running may soon discover that maintaining two or more sets of the the large and older buildings is very costly. If they continue to decline in membership, as it seems most of them will, some painful choices await them. (The Parish in the Photo at right is Holy Trinity in Syracuse, NY and it closed in Feb of this year along with 14 other parishes in that diocese).

One of my own frustrations with the closing of large numbers of parishes is that we do not do a better job of using these situations as a teaching moment. The usual approach is for media, secular and Catholic is  to interview grief-stricken members of a closing parish and to ask them how they feel. Well, of course, they feel awful. Some are also angry at the diocese in question, and the bishop. The usual goal of these sorts of interviews is for us to feel bad with them. And there is much to regret. Some very old parishes with wonderful histories and beautiful buildings are being lost in large numbers.

But where is the assertive teaching about the need for evangelization, summoning fallen away catholics back to the sacraments, increased family size, and so forth? The “ain’t it awful” attitude doesn’t get us very far. We have some serious repenting to do as Catholics. It is so easy to blame “mean” bishops, arrogant chancery offices and so forth.  Surely there is some blame to be had in these areas. But in the end this is about the numbers of the faithful. It is simple to say the priests should do something, but  it is also a fact that shepherds don’t have sheep;  sheep have sheep. And it is a simple fact that the sheep are not in the fold. Every survey agrees, only 27 – 30% of Catholics even bother to go to mass any more, much less support their parishes financially. We simply cannot continue to maintain our parishes and other entities with this decline of people in the pews. The faith has largely been set aside by most Catholics who still expect their parish to “be there” at important moments like wedding and funerals, baptisms and crises.

And for those who do remain faithful and attend each Sunday, (God bless them), there are also questions. How serious have they been about evangelizing as they saw their parishes growing empty? How did it get to this point? There are some demographic trends that many will point to that really don’t seem to excuse what we are experiencing. For example, there is “people have moved to the suburbs” argument. True. But are there still not homes in the city? There ARE some parishes that saw their neighborhoods replaced by office buildings, but these are rarer. The “they all moved to the suburbs” explanation does account for the low percentage of Mass attendance which seems to be the real culprit here, along with declining birth rates among Catholics. These are choices made by Catholics in droves and we are paying the price. If even 50% of Catholics were going to Mass most of these parishes would not be closing. This is a teachable moment and we all, clergy and people have a lot to repent for.

Indeed, I would like to propose that all of us who face the reality of only 27% of Catholic going to Mass have some soul-searching to do. As parishes close in waves, what repenting are we personally doing? Are we just blaming the clergy, or the liturgy? I assure you there is plenty of blame to go around. It seems to me that every parish, especially those that are getting very small, have some serious things to ponder. Let’s begin with the clergy and radiate out to the parishioners:

  1. How serious are dioceses about declining numbers? Our dropping attendance is shocking. What is the plan of any given diocese to address this?
  2. Are clergy and people being trained to address this problem?
  3. Does the diocese see the  viability of parishes only in terms of money? Or do they look inside the numbers and toward the future?
  4. What discussions take place with the pastors of declining parishes?
  5. Is the pastor ever asked to account for declining numbers or asked to present a plan for parish renewal?
  6. Is the pastor merely rewarded for maintaining buildings and finances, or does the diocese also give him other priorities such as Church growth and involvement in the life of parishioners and communities?
  7. How serious is the diocese about training priests to be better evangelizers?
  8. How serious is the bishop in teaching his people, in times like these, about the necessity to be sober and serious regarding our steep decline?
  9. Does the flock ever hear from their bishop about the this matter except when he puts them on a Church closing list?
  10. Does the Bishop visit declining parishes to admonish and encourage them to evangelize and grow the parish?
  11. Do the faithful in a given diocese really even know serious the decline in numbers is? Have they been challenged on this?
  12. How does the Bishop evangelize? Does his flock see him reaching out to the fallen-away and unchurched? How?
  13. And what of the pastor?
  14. He is just in maintenance mode or does he really want to grow God’s Church?
  15. What is his plan to growthe Church?
  16. Has he ever considered studying various plans of evangelization to see what might work best in his parish?
  17. Is he engaing leaders in this central task?
  18. Does he ever talk to his people about the declining attendance and summon them to sobriety about it?
  19. Are his homilies well prepared and the liturgies beautiful so that, when people do bring a friend to Church, they can be proud to bring them?
  20. Is the Pastor praying (fasting?) for new members and growth?
  21. Is he asking others to do so?
  22. Does he seek to understand why his numbers might be decliningand why people don’t come to Church?
  23. Does he teach that missing Mass is a mortal sin? Does he explain why?
  24. Does he speak of the glory and the necessity of the sacraments so that his people see them as more than just rituals or rites of passage?
  25. Do his people understand how and why coming to Mass and confessing regularly are essential for them and their loved ones?
  26. Does he thereby inspire an urgency for the work of evangelization and help people to know that the eternal salvation of others may well depned on our work of evangelization?
  27. Do his people know that their own salvation may well depend on whether they have been serious about announcing Christ and growing the kingdom?
  28. How does the pastor evangelize? Do his people ever see him personally reach out the fallen away, the unchurched, and those who have been hurt by the Church? How?
  29. And what of the people in the pews?
  30. Have they been serious about summoning lost loved one back to Church, co-workers, the unchurched?
  31. Have they witnessed to their faith and personally invited people to discover the Lord in the liturgy and sacraments?
  32. Are they urgent and persistent in this work?
  33. And what of the “domestic church,” the family? Are the faithful willing to examine the low birth rate among Catholics and consider this has played a role in Church closings, the decline in vocations, the precipitous decline in Catholic schools, and so forth?
  34. Are Catholics willing to repent of this and consider that we may in fact, as a community, be contracepting and aborting ourselves right out of existence? (CARA Statistics show that the rate of baptisms per 1000 Catholics have dropped 75% since 1955).
  35. Are Catholics willing to consider more fulling embracing life and encouraging others to do so?
  36. Are Catholics striving to encourage marriage and family life? Without strong families, parishes are not strong. (CARA Statistics show that the rate of marriages per 1000 Catholics has dropped by 76% since 1955).
  37. Do we prize the larger families in our parish and support them spiritually and even, where necessary, financially?
  38. How supportive and encouraging are Catholics when the parish leaderships does summons them to evangelize?
  39. Are they willing to walk the streets and knock on doors, or go to the local mall and greet people in the Lord and invite them to God’s house?
  40. Would the average parishioner be willing to accept the goal and be accountable for bringing five new people to Church in the next six months?
  41. How serious are they about greeting new people who do come to Mass and helping them to find a role in the community?
  42. Or, it all this just up to “Father” and the “Evangelization Committee?”
  43. How faithful is the average Catholic in being at Mass every Sunday without fail?
  44. What example do Catholics give their children and other youth in this regard?
  45. How faithful are Catholic parents in teaching their children the faith? Are they as serious about attending to this as they are to making sure they qualify for academic scholarships or excel in sports?
  46. How serious are parents about preparing their children for sacraments and supporting religious education efforts in parishes?
  47. How financially supportive are Catholics of their parish and diocese? Does God get more from a Catholic than the movie rental agency or  the local sports bar?
  48. Are the clergy and parishioners of declining parishes willing to try new things? Will they reach out to new ethnic and racial communities? Will they make necessary liturgical changes, and support the possible need to set aside personal preference and the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality?
  49. Does the Pastor and parish leadership see evangelization as job one? Or, is the parish just in maintenance mode?
  50. Are we going to be serious about this, or just watch parishes close and say,”Ain’t it awful!”

So, parish closings are sad but teachable moments. And also a time for some repentance and soul searching. In a rampantly secular time we have to be very serious about handing on our faith and inviting others to God’s house. Blaming others is not enough. What will I do about it? If we are not willing to take personal responsibility for growing our parishes, last one out, turn out the lights. There is a kind of judgment on us right now. And we have a decision to make. Will we preach, invite and summon others to the Catholic faith, or not? To preach and teach the faith, uncompromised, not watered down, to share it with joy and confidence is our only hope. By God’s grace our parishes can and will grow but God is going to do it through you. Not just your pastor or the person next you. God wants to do it through you.

How say you? My list is long, but I’ll bet you want to add to it. Comments are wide open for additions, distinctions and rebuttals.

96 Replies to “More Church Closings – So What is God Teaching Us and How Will We Respond?”

  1. These churches in many cases architectual gems. This saddens me on so many levels. I wish I was a billionaire. I would buy out all these properties and donate them to the FSSP.

    1. OK, I agree that the TLM would be wonderful in these old closing churches. But as I said to Jason above, the TLM seems to appeal to only 1-5 % of the Catholic Population. Even the Fraternity can’t get filled churches in a diocese if they open too many sites. The solution seems to include more than the TLM. If you’re interested in the TLM, have you brought at lest 5 new Catholics in the last six months? What are you doing to increase Mass attendance TLM or otherwise? I suspect you are, but make your repsonse personal here. How many new or returning Catholics can you claim to have had an instrumental role in bringing back to the faith? I hope dozens!

      1. I wasn’t saying the TLM was the answer, by my comment. I was inferring that the FSSP know how to build a thriving Catholic community from scratch. They have done it time and again. Do I have an attachment to the TLM over the New Mass. Yes, but if there was an EWTN style new mass closer, I would consider that.

        In answer to your question,….I have invited 10 in the last three years [2 continue to attend with me]. Perhaps that is not enough, as you say 5 in the last six months should be the bar.

        So as I try to digest your gentle prodding on my participation, I have this to respond—
        5 new every 6 mo is very impressive to me. I don’t think I meet that many new people in a year. I use what talents I have, and my strengths are not with interpersonal skills. I would like to also mention that having to drive an hour just to get to an orthodox mass, is an obstacle for me, not to mention my efforts with casual invites. My main contribution to the new evangelization comes in the form of free Catholic bible study software that I write. But perhaps I can do better, and I hope to.

  2. Hmmm. The Novus Ordu churches in our area are losing membership and consolidating. Yet our Church that celebrates the Tridentine Mass is growing in both membership and in activities. What does the New Mass offer to distinguish itself from the various Christian Protestant denominations?

    1. OK, I am a celebrant of the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) and I love it. I also celebrate the Ordinary form in English. But one reality check we have to do here is to remember that less thatn 1% of the current Catholic Population goes to a TLM. Now it seems clear to me that one or two parishes which offer the TLM might boom if they offer it. But there would be lower returns in investment the more that this model was used. There seems a finite interest in the TLM at about 1-5 % of the Catholic population. How about the rest? Also Jason, I want to offer the personal challenge that you are bringing people to the Mass, TLM or otherwise. Are you? I suspect you are. If so keep it up and don’t be satisfied with the TLM being only 1% of catholic interest. Pack out the Churches, whatever rite or form.

      1. Bender,

        BTW, I am well aware that the TLM can be celebrated just as poorly. However, there is a reason it is so much rarer. Perhaps a little x-pollination like the Holy Father intended would do some good. I attended a NO mass in latin with gregorien chant in Philly. It was trancendant. It would even venture to say more pleasing than any TLM i have ever attended.

        The problem is people like you, who are reactionary opponents who oppose anything that resembles pre-vII worship.

    2. Somehow, I suspect that a message of evangelization that effectively says “the Ordinary Form of the Mass is lousy” is not likely to bring many people into the Church. In fact, it is likely to alienate people away from the Church, just as it has alienated this Catholic away from tradism.

      1. Yes, I think this too. I love the TLM but understand that it is not something that attracts everyone. Simply going back to it isn’t going to ultimately resolve the bigger issue. There are other groups that I will leave unnamed which also take up the mentality that “if everyone just did things our way” all the Church’s problems would be solved. I guess its a human tendency. In my own mind, our approach in this matter has to be multi-faceted for the Church is very diverse.

      2. Come on Bender, we are not asking for that much from our priests. Give us an EWTN style(in terms of reverence) novus ordo in every parrish and people will start to think something important is actually happening at the altar. If the priest does not show reverence for the blessed sacrament… who will.

      3. I will say it again —

        Rad-trads are their own worst enemy. Do you really think that sentiments like this help? That they help anything or anyone?

        What is it with you people, what is it with this uncontrollable compulsion you have to bad mouth the Church and the Holy Mass at every occasion? Frankly, I am long past sick and tired of it. Your constant criticizing of the Mass is an assault on the unity of the Church, by these remarks, you set yourself against communion with your fellow Catholics. It is divisive, it is hostile, it is uncharitable.

      4. Bender said-
        [“What is it with you people, what is it with this uncontrollable compulsion you have to bad mouth the Church and the Holy Mass at every occasion? Frankly, I am long past sick and tired of it. Your constant criticizing of the Mass…”]

        What are you talking about? Was I criticizing the NO mass for what it is. You need to read what is written, and not what you wish it to read, for your own affirmations. My complaints about the degraded quality of mass celebrations near me is a fact, causing me an undue commute (fact) to a known quantity in terms of reverential worship(fact) This is not an attack on the Church.

        It is an observation that is quite pertinent to this blog post.

        I shared this because the situation places a burden on me and many other Catholics. I could be supporting my local parrish, but instead I am supporting one that is far away. How often do you think this happens? I think very often. It is the same problem with Catholic schools. I am considering home schooling because of the degraded quality in Catholic schools near me. I would much rather pay the local parrish school to educate my child, but they dont have a suitable Catholic identity that differentiates them from the public system. So this might wind up being another undue burden on me, that is another environment that could have been beneficial to the local parrish.

        So, I dont know how observations that are true, amount to being libel. These are the kind of feedbacks I think Father was requesting. I am not in the habit of mincing words because that would only lead to confusion. But I dont read any comments about the NO being inferior, just inferior celebrations.

  3. When the Church talks about evangelization it far too often is really only talking about the Church. The Church has no power/authority or appeal without Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Without stressing/preaching/teaching and witnessing Him (HIM) the Church is “just” a church maybe just a building.

    In reading your post and its 50 points I didn’t see any mention of Jesus, just the Church.

    There’s an old saying from the automobile business-“To sell um you gotta tell um”.

    Maybe the Church should have as it’s highest priority to continually teach and preach the fact that only through Him and by Him are we saved and that Jesus has a purpose for each person that therefore gives their life real meaning.

    Then, as I see it, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

    Sorry, but we must admit the Church is failing in it’s purpose to “preach the Gospel to all mankind” and failing to stress the words of John 3:16.

    1. Alright, fair enough. Though in a Catholic setting, the CHurch is the body of Christ and also it is Christ himself who ministers the sacraments in every liturgy. To draw people to the Church is to draw them to Christ who is the head of the body, the Church. But obviously you are an example that most people don’t get this connection and, hence we have that work to do as well, namely to show that the Church is not an institution but is the body and bride of Christ.

      1. Respectfully, I do understand the connection and agree. But something isn’t working as you observe. For example, upon encountering the lost the laity can say “come to Church” with me! But my point is often the response is, why? The laity must be equipped and encouraged by the Church to respond with knowledge of who Jesus is what He did and why He did it. Often the beginning point of evangelism is not through the Church doors but through the understanding of and willingness of the laity to communicate the gospel one-on-one.

  4. One last point with due respect. The vast majority of the laity are NOT theologians and for some reason priests and deacons far to often are “preaching to the choir” rather than addressing the needs/hopes/desires/fears etc of the every day folks.

    1. OK, Bill so it the clergy? Is that all? What are/have you done to bring people to Christ. Perhaps a lot! Looking for testimony and results here more than just blame. THere is plenty of that to go around!

      1. I’m surprised and a bit shocked at your challenge i.e. “What are/have you done to bring people to Christ.” And your comment “Looking for testimony and results here more than just blame” requires a response. Regarding your query about “results” I will only say I have chosen to allow Christ to use me and hopefully lead people to Christ for over 40 years in the inner city, third world countries, hospices and prisons but the “results” are unknown to me. Counting numbers just seems so un-Christ like. Insofar as your not wanting to seek “blame” I would hope you would accept the word “accountability” as quite critical to the effectiveness of our joint calling from Christ and the Apostles.

        My post was genuinely attempting to respond to your comment “Surely there is some blame to be had in these areas. But in the end this is about the numbers of the faithful. It is simple to say the priests should do something, but it is also a fact that shepherds don’t have sheep; sheep have sheep. And it is a simple fact that the sheep are not in the fold.”

        The shepherds (leaders) are priests and deacons and if we, the sheep, are not “getting” the message of who Jesus is, what He did, why He did it, who we are, what we are to do and how we are to do it then maybe some introspection, assumption of responsibility and humility is necessary among the shepherds.

        The world of commerce is how we feed and clothe our families it is how we support the Church. In our world, the CEO of an entity is totally and properly responsible for its success or failure.

        Sorry but leadership begins at the top. It’s all about the shepherds and their effectiveness by obeying Christs teachings regarding educating, encouraging and leading the laity.

      2. Glad to hear your testimony. Also be of good cheer. Your “leadership begins at the top” also needs response. I think you are quite right, and I spent 2/3 of the 50 points on Clergy. But my point is that leadership may begin at the top but it sure doesn’t end there. There is pleny of blame to go around in this problem and I am not interested in this blog post simply engaging in the blame game. In the end I want the questions to be very personal for all of us: “What am I doing?”

  5. The parish I grew up in was joined with several other parishes in our city when Boston reorganized five years ago. It was a difficult transition, and my parish was lucky to keep it’s Church building unlike some of the other parishes, but I must say that the result is truly wonderful. There is a greater diversity in Church membership and leadership. Our St. Vincent DePaul Society flourished because instead of having four separate chapters within the community, there was one unified organization. I am saddened for the parishes that saw their churches torn down, especially because they were much more active parishes than ours, but were smaller and with less property. But God does work all things for good, and I believe with faith and determination parish reorganizations can be even more than just a teaching moment but a chance for experiencing what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

    One last side note: at first the Archdiocese referred to the churches that survived but were joined to new parishes as “worship sites.” Technically correct, but that sounds cold and corporate to me. I think “Church” sounds just fine.

    1. Yes, “worship-site” has all the grandeur of “shopping mall” “Church” or Parish is just fine. As for your first point it would seem you are expereincing that there is a kind of synergy created with the numbers are what they should be. The proper number and mix in a congregation can created a good “critical mass” so there are many reasons why combining can and does make sense beyond money. However, I cannot avoid struggling with the fact that all four parishes were once filled and functioning. Demographic shifts, sure, but in the end we’ve dropped from over 80% attendance at Mass to 27% and that’s why we need real soul searching. ANyway, I am glad your expereince has been good. I’m curious though, has the combined parish learned the need for vigorous evangelization?

      1. You know, we have learned of the need for evangelization, but not re-evangelization. We started to reach out to the new influx of Brazilian immigrants who live in the city, especially with a Portuguese spoken mass once a week. We were even given a Portuguese-speaking priest who was able to hold the mass on Sundays. Sadly, our English speaking attendance wasn’t high enough to maintain three priests in the Parrish. I strongly support welcoming the immigrants into the Parrish fold, but more still needs to be done to keep the rest of the flock in the pews.

  6. At work, I am known as ‘the good Catholic.’ I sign myself as I pray before lunch. I defend the Church in discussions. I work Church into discussions whenever possible, just talking about what activities I participated in or relaying something poignant from a homily. To known (tepid) Catholics, I am a bit bolder, talking about how I’ve been to daily Mass or how I handle difficult colleagues by seeing Christ in them. As for friends, I am now able to speak comfortably about my love for the sacraments and tell personal stories about our parish priests. (One friend has returned to the Church after not attending Mass for the better part of a year!) Sometimes it requires hearing about their hurt, and responding with your own love. All of this takes time and courage to develop, but the Advocate will be there if you call. Good luck, brothers and sisters!

  7. “What is God Teaching Us”
    1. The US public schools seduces the young away from spiritual values and towards promiscuity, greed and godlessness.
    2. The US government encourages a culture of death, corruption and indolence that wreaks havoc to the mental and spiritual health of the entire population.
    3. The clerics and religious are still not as faithful and devout in their commitment. One Mother Teresa or Francis of Assisi can spark fervor in multitudes.
    4. Bishops compromise faithfulness in their pastoral approaches to the point of spiritual adultery. When they abandon God, then they have nothing to offer except political correctness, strong and warm handshakes, winning smiles and captivating attentiveness, but no God.

    1. OK Ricky, so it the schools, government, clercis and bishops. There is some truth in all you say. But I am going to challenge you as I have others. What is Ricky doing? I challenge myself, What is Msgr. Pope doing? Are we evangelizing? How? Have we helped increase the numbers attending Mass and so forth? If we are not, we need to add Ricky and Msgr Pope to the list of problems.

      1. Yes, Msgr. Pope. I am evangelizing my 4 children & wife in my domestic church. I am striving to raise the holiness in my domestic church by word and example. I still have more to do and a long way to go otherwise the heavenly Father would have granted me my eternal respose. For details, one can visit my blog at

  8. Monsignor, as usual you raise some excellent points. While the low Mass attendance and need for evangelization in the Church today are major, fundamental issues on the subject of closing churches, you can’t really ignore demographic shifts as an integral component of the problem and in some ways that is almost a uniquely American facet of the issue. You cite St. Paul and Syracuse in your post. These cities have lost nearly half of their urban population over the last century. My organization, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will host its next annual conference in Buffalo, a city that was one a pre-eminent American tour city. Its collection of architectural and historic treasures — many of which are ecclesiastical buildings — is enormous and rich. Yet since 1950, the city of Buffalo has lost over 60 percent of its population with a 42,000 drop since 2000 alone. No urban diocese, no matter what manner of aggressive evangelization and outreach it pursues, can stave off the inevitable — church closings. Suburbanization — some might argue a particularly American trend — is a significant factor in the abandonment of older, more urban institutions. Look at our own archdiocese. While we closed Catholic schools in the city, many suburban parishes were expanding their facilities. I leave you with a couple of encouraging sites. One is the wholesale purchase and relocation of historic St. Gerard’s in Buffalo to an expanding congregation in Georgia. This chuch is a copy of the basilica of St. Paul in Rome. Check this out:


    The other example that you might have seen posted on my Facebook page is of the old St. Clara’s on the South Side of Chicago. My grandfather’s old parish. Until his dying day he believed a miracvle was worked for him there. Now, this once abandoned church is being restored and a new congrregation os being cultivated by the magnificent work of the Institute of Christ the King. Check out this awesome story:

    1. Thanks for these insights. I am not saying demographic shifts are no factor at all, which I think you understand. However, I wonder if over all Mass attendance were above 50% or closer to the 80% it was in the 1950s if these parishes would be closing in such large numbers? Further, many city parishes have survived the shifts by a kind of “niche marketing” where they have liturgies with some special feature such as music, latin or a late Sunday eve. Mass. In this way they are Evangelizing by trying to reach out to a particular sector of God’s vineyard. At any rate my only point about the “demographic shift” argument is not to wholly discout it but also to avoid the use of it as a 100% excuse clause that does not make us look deeper.

  9. God sits truly present body, blood, soul and divinity in every consecrated host in every tabernacle throughout the world as a prisoner of love for us awaiting our acknowledgement, appreciation and response of his presence. How lonely and heartbreaking it must be to locked away in a box and forgotten all week? As the lay faithful, I wonder how many of us truly reflect on this fact, take advantage of this physical presence and make frequent visits to keep him company and thank him? I wonder how many of us encourage each other or are encouraged to constantly be aware and respond in some way every week between Masses?

    In these closing parishes I would be interested to know how many organized weekly forms of Eucharistic holy hours, benedictions, or devotional prayer groups were being organized and gathered in praise and thanksgiving for his physical presence?

  10. Msgr. Pope is correct that simply imposing a TLM (which isn’t going to happen) wouldn’t solve the problem overnight. It would correct the liturgical abuses, and that’s big. Lex orandi, lex credendi. But at least in the intermediate-term, you would still have an unchurched Catholic population contracepting themselves to death.

    I think the real question is not the TLM or not, but good liturgy or not. A parish should adopt a TLM not just because it’s the will of the Church or the Mass of our tradition, but because it makes the Saturday 5PM vigil Mass more reverent and faithful by osmosis.

    Here’s a test: find a parish with a TLM. Now find a clown Mass, or a female emcee Mass, or “Gift of Finest Wheat” as the 10AM communion hymn. I bet you can’t.

    The goal is sound liturgy, especially in the ordinary form. This is made infinitely easier by the “peer pressure” presence of its big sister, the TLM. It’s possible without it, but not using it is like the Dallas Cowboys not using a blocking fullback in front of Emmitt Smith in the 1990s.

    Once we have sound liturgy (TLM, reverent Novus Ordo Masses, maybe some Divine Office), the truths of the faith which the liturgy communicates will begin the slow process of re-evangelizing the lukewarm masses.

    But what are we doing? Here’s a few questions for those of us who demand good liturgy:

    1. Are you bringing a Missal even to vernacular Novus Ordo Masses? The sight of reading out of a Missal has an effect on people. It also allows one to meditate on the silent prayers of the priest, the rubrics, etc. You can learn the responses in Latin. You can benefit from the ancient pre- and post-Mass prayers.

    2. Do you know what the Gospel is at Mass BEFORE you even get there?

    3. When your pastor makes a change in the direction of liturgical tradition, do you send him a quick email or note of thanks? Do you know how much push-back these poor guys get from Baby Boomers?

    4. Are you amplifying the liturgy in your family life by praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the extraordinary form Divine Office? At least Sunday and solemnity vespers?

    5. Have you offered to buy those things which you complain your parish lacks (e.g. a set of black vestments)?

    6. Have you spoken to the music director at your parish about what the Church teaches on music?

    7. Have you volunteered to train altar boys? If there are altar girls, have you told your pastor how distasteful this is, and how you don’t want your sons to be altar servers as a result?

    8. Have you spoken to your Baby Boomer friends and relatives about their errors on liturgy, and what the Church really teaches here?

    9. Are you practicing the devotional life to amplify the liturgy (e.g. Rosary, Eucharistic adoration, First Fridays and Saturdays, novenas)?

    10. Do you encourage your family to make all the proper liturgical gestures and postures, even if you get strange looks from Baby Boomers at the 5PM anticipated Sunday Mass? Have you bought your children a Latin-English Missal when they are old enough (First Communion in my opinion)?

    1. Forcing a TLM on folks is a totally bad idea. BUT the “people of God” might be given the chance to decide for themselves: Priestly societies which only celebrate Holy Mass according to the E.F. (TLM) could be invited to take over their lovely, old churches and keep them going (and then some). Hey, Holy Mass will be in Latin, but it’s still Holy Mass! Do they really want to save the old place or not? “Paris vaut bien un Messe!”

      1. I’m all for FSSP, ICKSP, and (someday) SSPX priests taking over parishes. But we must be prudent. Opening a TLM personal parish in suburbia only to get 100 families will ensure an unpaid electric bill. Do you want personal parishes to open and fail, or open and flourish? Merely opening them is not enough. You need a business plan, like any prudent businessman would have. George Jefferson did it with laundromats; we can do it with parishes.

        We must plant the seeds before we can reap the harvest. TLMs in more parish settings will expose more people to the beauty of the TLM. This will make it easier to open and maintain a personal parish.

        The Church needs money, too.

    2. Ryan,
      You obviously feel strongly about a particular experience of liturgy. I agree with some of your suggestions–encouraging prayer and devotions for instance–but to villainize “baby boomers” as you have brings a harmful prejudice into play which is destructive. In some of your points it sounds as if you are trying to legislate taste. If you don’t like the music at your parish you are certainly free to discuss it or to find a parish more in tune with your taste,but it’s not fair to therefore presume that no one could ever be edified by it (e.g.”Gift of Finest Wheat”). Likewise, if you like to see black fiddlebacks or if you prefer to see boys but not girls serving at mass I’m sure there are parishes where that is the practice, but it is certainly not a doctrinal issue. There’s no argument about what you prefer, but it’s not reasonable to expect all to prefer what you do–the Church is “Catholic” and has many mansions.

      1. Daniel:

        What I “feel strongly” about is not my experience of liturgy (this is secondary and maybe irrelevant, since Catholic liturgy is not about the worshiper but the worshiped). What I am concerned about is that every parish do their level best to celebrate the liturgy according to the letter and spirit of the Church’s rubrics.

        There are objective rules on music; “Gift of Finest Wheat” is not fulfilling them. There are rules on when altar girls are permitted; most parishes ignore the qualifications. We can go down the list of every liturgical abuse/imprudence.

        And the simple fact is that the group of bishops, priests, and laity most hostile to being obedient to the Church on liturgy is Baby Boomers. Not all of them, but 80-90 percent of the bad apples reside here.

        If every parish “said the black, and did the red,” there would be very little to argue about.

      2. I am reminded of a joke about the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist…namely, that at least you can negotiate with a terrorist!

  11. I recently moved to Georgia from Colorado. In Colorado new parishes are being built in all three dioceses. Now that I have settled in the South, I see the same thing is happening here. Not only are there new Roman parishes popping up all over the place, but new Greek Catholic (Eastern rite) parishes also. Certainly there is a demographic issue involved, as mentioned in a previous comment above, but the socially conservative culture here is also much more receptive to and supportive of Christian faith.

  12. Monsignor, as a member of the laity discerning a call to the diaconate, I can attest to the fact that the laity is crying out for education and faith formation.

    Living in the deep south, we see Evangelicals and Baptist who know thier faith, can articulate it and are sincerly trying to live it out. Living among these, Catholics are forced to either learn and defend our own faith or be converted.

    To take a line from James Brown…. Please, please, please… teach the faith! Preach the catechism from the pulpit, explain the biblical, moral and theological basis for believing that contraception is a sin, explain why Mary is Mother of God, our mother, Queen of Heaven and mediatrix of all graces. Many Catholics can’t explain the communion of saints, or even the trinity and recite the creed at mass from rote. Explain the significance of the Unending Hymn of Praise at Mass and what a “Mystery” is.

    Fr. John Corapis said of the theological virtue of faith, “How are you going to believe it if you don’t know what it is!?” I think you get my point. I think people don’t show up for mass because they simply don’t understand the faith. If they undestood the faith, they would crawl on their hands and knees to get to Mass.

    Our faith is the most beautiful, most spiritual and MOST biblical. Part of why I am discerning a vocation is because I want to help let the tiger out of the cage.


  13. OK fellow bloggers and author, this list is so long I don’t know where to start. At one point I thought I shouldn’t even try to comment on this extensive list and then I thought “Why not”. But what approach should I take. There are so many to choose from. I think I’ll try to tell it they way I see. That doesn’t make it right, but here goes it.

    1. MONEY, MONEY, and some more MONEY – (i.e. tithing). No church Catholic or Protestant can effective institute Evangelization programs without a fixed budget for that purpose. I promise you, if your church budget is not geared towards evangelization, all your efforts will be minimal. As the old saying goes. It’s tight but it’s right. It takes more than a good testimony to evangelize. It takes money. I’ll get to that in a minute.

    2. Collaboration among priest. How many priest embrass evangelization in their parishes? Hmm? How many priest are willing to embrace and support neighboring parishes in evangelization that maybe outside of their jurisdiction. For example: Would a priest encourage someone seeking to join his parish to join a parish that was closer to where he lives. Especially, if that parish was experiencing low attendance? Would parishioners that have expereince success in Evangelization reach out to other parishes and help them to Evangelize with the support and encouragement of their priest. Hmm?

    3. Thinking outside the box. Oops. This seems to be a tough one for Catholics, especially cradle Catholics. The Catholic Church has a rich history of tradition that we all should be proud. Not only should we proud and have confidence in the Church teachings, we should always try to challenge ourselves on how we can convey our faith in new and innovative ways without compromising the basic message. Let me give you some Protestant and Mega Church examples of what I mean.

    I am a convert but I remember as a young girl every Spring and Fall our church would have a “Tent” revival. What is this? Even though we had a church building we would hold our services outside for all the neighborhood to hear. People would come by and stop and listen some would even take a seat. We would have food afterwards and invite all to come to church the next Sunday.

    4. Fellowship. Again, I’m comparing Mega Churches and Protestants with the Catholic Church. We as Catholics are taught that Holy Communion is the source and summit, the Ultimate in our thanks and praise to God. And it is. However, we tend to end right there. Mega churches are BIG on Fellowship. Every gathering is an opportunity for Fellowship. Well the arguement is probably, well that’s all they have. But let’s just try to focus on the fruits that fellowship brings. I have been to many Catholics churches where folks barely talk to one another, IN AND OUT. Done for the day.

    5. Ministry. This term hangs Catholics up. I’m fortunate that I belong to a parish that embraces christian ministries. However, I have observed that many catholics see ministry “outside” of their parishes. In comparision to Protestants where everything is “in house” one stop shopping. Let me give a few examples. I will volunteer at a soup kitchen, but am not willing to start one at my church. I’ll volunteer for Project Rachael, but won’t give any effort to starting a pro-life movement in my church. You get what I mean. I could give several more examples.

    Lastly, the money issue again. Mega Churches “STRESS” tithing. I don’t think I have ever heard a priest outside of my own pastor talk about tithing. Again, if you think you can evangelize without a tithing church, you are in trouble.

    OK. Those are my few points, I could come up with more but it would take up too much space.

    1.Money (personal testimonies are not enough)
    2.Collaboration among priest (support each other)
    3. Thinking outside the box (do something different, get out of your comfort zone)
    4. Fellowship (connect with each other)
    5. Ministries (give the people what they need)

  14. I agree with Monsignor Pope and the other posters that the pewsitters need to step up to the plate. However, as a fifty year old woman who grew up in the midst of terrible confusion and upheaval, you can’t share what you don’t know or understand. No priest or bishop in my area ever mentioned Humanae Vitae or taught any “hard teaching” from the pulpit. I was twenty-two years old before an old priest at my pre-Cana class said clearly that contraception was wrong and that no Catholic could use it. I was shocked, but that literally changed my life. There was a lot of hostility from others to this announcement, but what effect could clear teaching have had on others, if it had been tried? What effect does Cardinal Sean of Boston have when he sits on the altar during Ted Kennedy’s funeral? Did he ever try to bring Ted to repentance?

  15. First off I want to send a note of thanks to Msgr. Pope. The post sends a fantastic message that is absolutely essential to the modern church and this has been on my mind more than ever before. I work as a full time campus missionary for the Catholic Church in FOCUS. I spend my days working to bring students to Mass and I can’t even begin to tell you how disappointed I am with many Catholic Churches and Dioceses. It is amazing that the students we work with would respond so well to personal investment and solid Catholic teaching. If you know anything about FOCUS, the movement grows slowly at first but then really starts to take off. We try to follow the example of Christ from the Gospels and work with a smaller group in the context of the ministry to train them for service to the others. The reason for my disappointment is that there are so many churches and places where the people haven’t had a priest visit them in their house for years if not decades. There is not a diocese I know that officially sponsors evangelization. Pope Paul VI said this is the HEART of the church and the VERY REASON why she exists. In my mind this is a huge failure. However, it is not the only one.

    Here is where I think the problems lie (these are going to over simplify things, because otherwise this would be a book length exposition)

    1) Bishops and priests -> we lost some of the real Christian leadership these men were supposed to give to us. They got busy with meetings and administration and stopped living the radical Gospel by and large. The ones who didn’t the church Canonizes.

    2) Lay People -> the challenges lie equally here. They lost sight of the faith, forgot or chose not to teach their families, stopped inviting friends to Mass, minimized the importance of everything and started to make a religion out of children’s sports.

    3) Cultural shifts -> the world changed from the times before. People need to be approached in different ways. The concerns and questions that people are asking have changed. And in many ways a culture of death has been formed. The media fell off the deep end (and people listened to it). The government became based on the “will of the majority” instead of the “inherent dignity and rights of people.”
    3a) Government
    3b) Schools – they have changed much too and become bastions of secularism
    3c) court systems
    3d) all of the various other political and social institutions

    4) Deeper Philosophical roots -> Here is where the problems need to be really examined. We see the result today of what happens when things loose their natures and are subject to the whims of man. We see the result of a morality proposed by the prophets of death from the Enlightenment. Along with the results of utilitarianism, pragmatism, and the rejection of classical philosophy.

    Proposed solutions:

    1) Begin and IMMEDIATE dedication to prayer in every church
    1b) Begin an Immediate dedication to fasting as a whole parish/diocese several times a month

    2) Start sponsoring on a corporate level Evangelization in some form

    3) Religious education classes are often not working. We need to work on introducing people to the PERSON of Jesus Christ and God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The teaching of the church however wonderful without the context of a relationship with them is meaningless.

    4) The radical message of the Gospel must be preached and lived by priests and bishops. They must begin to model it in their lives. Meetings and committees need to be minimized. They need to publicly gather for prayer, reach out to people, and serve the poor like at food shelves. Confession times should be expanded and Mass should be celebrated in every parish every day. They need to work to immerse themselves in the Scriptures and in their relationship with God so they can bring it to the people. They need to teach the theology of the church to the laity. Create a series of homilies on how to PRAY. Teach people WHY contraception is wrong. Confront the far more enormous demon of pornography in their parishes and dioceses. They need to TRAIN other leaders to follow them. People need to hear that God loves them. This should be preached at every Mass. I know far too many Catholics who no longer practice because no one ever told them or helped them encounter the radical love of God in their lives. Celebrate the liturgy with reverence and dignity. Throw away the garbage. Don’t put it in a closet. Just get rid of it. Commit to Adoration and promote the church as a 24 hour a day place of prayer. Give lay people a way to come in and be with Jesus. Go to the church often. Let people see you there praying. PRAY before Mass. Do not just be visiting. Get on your knees and lead the whole parish in prayers to prepare their hearts for Mass. Make this a significant amount of time. Teach classes about the Catholic tradition.

    5) Lay people do not need to wait for their priests and bishops to get the message. It is important that they do, but the call of Christ is more important than the style of liturgy your bishop celebrates. You can respond to Christ, you can only encourage and exhort your bishop. So DO something about it. Start a Bible Study. Build a shrine or chapel in your home and when guests come over to your house, invite them in and pray with them there. Invite people to Mass every Sunday, even if they are NOT CATHOLIC. They will come if you are inviting and nice about it. (i do this every day and am constantly suprised by how open people are) Teach your children they are called to share their lives with God. Pray as a family. Pray as a single person. Intercede specifically for people who you want to reach out to. Pray for your parish to grow. Fast. Find other people who get excited about the Gospel and encourage them to do the same thing. MEMORIZE parts of the Scriptures, especially the basic Gospel presentation of Peter from Acts 2 (it might run into chapter 3). Most other people who don’t come to church have never really met Jesus.

    6) take stock, make focus groups, consult, and learn from others. Protestants have been kicking us in the tail for years on Evangelization. We need to take this back. We need to learn from them. Take stock of the lessons they can teach us. Take the good parts and throw away the false doctrines. Pray for people and with people. Pray over them. Pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is authentic New Testament and Catholic. Get together and plan and consult with other excited people about how to reach your entire parish/diocese/country. Map out the key people you need to win and then work on it. Support each other because it is a challenge.

    This is a little long, but I think these things and this kind of renewal would go a long way in our modern world. This is by no means a comprehensive list. Nor do I claim it is perfect, but I know that a lot of this would be better than what we are doing now.

  16. I was an Episcopal priest for 33 years. During that time, I did doctoral work in Church Growth. I was a consultant to bishops across the country, primarily in conflict management between priest and parish. I taught church growth in a seminary. I converted to the Catholic Church because I found it to be true. I am editing a compendium of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas for the laity. I am so happy to be a Catholic! I would like so much to be able to share my knowledge and experience with the Church. Unfortunately, I have not received any encouragement from any priests. What am I supposed to do?

    1. Your post makes me quite sad.

      I’m also quite surprised Fr. Pope hasn’t replied with some words of encouragement.

      Just know you are not alone in your sense of exclusion.

      1. Hi Robert–don’t lose hope! Have you been in contact with the Coming Home Network ( They can provide you tremendous support. From one convert to another, God bless you, and welcome home!

  17. I really like the idea of physically moving churches to where Catholics are moving. For over a half century, Catholics have been moving from the inner cities to the suburbs while the great big churches remain in the inner city (and the suburban churches are almost always extremely ugly).

    In addition to the above example from Buffalo, there have been other churches literally moved from one location to another. In D.C., do we really need Saint Mary’s at 5th and H (which was established for the Germans), Holy Rosary at 3rd and G (which was established for the Italians) and Saint Patrick’s at 10th and H (which was established for the Irish)? Probably not. Move one or two of the churches to P.G. or Montgomery counties after blowing up the spaceship auditorium church that was built in the last 50 years there.

    On the subject of the traditional Latin Mass, let’s not toss around lame attendance numbers when the fact remains that Mass is offered in a whopping four churches out of 150 in the Archdiocese of Washington. Put the Mass in every parish like the pope wants — — and then let’s tally some numbers.

    I like the recommendation for each of us to bring friends to Mass. Personally I have helped well over 100 people come to the traditional Latin Mass, and several still attend on a weekly or semi-weekly basis. People keep complaining the laity doesn’t have much of a role with respect to the traditional Latin Mass. Hogwash. Our role should be, among other things, to indeed double and triple the number of people in the pews by personally inviting friends.

    1. LOL at “spaceship auditorium.”

      The Lutheran congregation in which I grew up built a new facility several miles from its original location. My husband’s and my immediate reaction to the initial design was “it looks JUST like a spaceport.” My spouse considered scanning the image and changing the cars to spaceships (a la “The Jetsons”).

  18. Msgr. Pope’s questions are applicable not only to the Catholic Church, but to any mainline denomination. Some questions I would add:

    What is the retention rate among those confirmed in the Church?
    • Of youth confirmed as 8th-graders, how many still are attending Faith Formation classes and/or are otherwise involved with Church life as high school seniors? After beginning their careers?
    • Of adults confirmed through RCIA – where are they a year after confirmation? Five years?

    How many never get to being confirmed?
    • Of young people listed on parish registries, how many are attending Faith Formation classes?
    • Of those who start RCIA, what percentage actually finish the process?
    • How many non-Catholic adults are listed on parish registries?

    Of those who have fallen away, how was it they became disengaged?
    • Is it desirable, let alone possible, to bring back into the fold those who disagree with the Church’s stance on abortion and other “nonnegotiables?”

    How does one identify an effective pastor?
    • What, exactly, does the diocese expect from a pastor?
    • On what criteria are pastors measured?
    • What are the key KSAs (knowledge, skill, abilities) that a pastor must have to be successful?
    • What support does the diocese provide in terms of mentoring/training to newly-placed pastors and/or pastors who are struggling in their roles?
    • How are pastors matched with parishes? What involvement can/should a parish’s lay leadership have in the selection process?
    • Granted the buck stops with the pastor in terms of finances, programs, and other goings-on with a parish, but in terms of day-to-day operations what tasks are the direct responsibility of the pastor, as opposed to what can be delegated to deacons or laypeople?

  19. Msgr. are you the priest who asked for some of his parishoners (who felt called) to go door-to-door evangelizing? If so I praise you to the Heaven for this idea and those with the courage to act on it.

    We are THE Church, yet all the other denominations seem to be the one’s out in the streets doing the evangelizing and filling their pews.

      1. May the work you and your parishioners put into the outreach to your community pay off!

  20. I would add another: to parishioners: What have you done to uphold and defend your pastor, deacon, bishop in the face of criticism (as long as the criticism doesn’t involve heresy, criminal acts or outright dangerous activity)? I am sick and tired of Catholics who leave the parish or refuse to support Christ’s Church because they have a personal dislike of the pastor or the liturgy, or they have been told “no” to some inappropriate request. In my former life, I had a name for such an attitude: Protestant. My job is to love and support my priest even if he doesn’t always suit my own personal preferences. And I find that the priests who get the most criticism are generally the ones who take the teaching of Holy Mother Church seriously and who try to instruct their Cafeteria Catholic parishioners in what the Truth really is. Hard and discouraging work for priests sometimes. My own promise to myself is never, ever again to let unjustified (see above) criticism of a priest, bishop, deacon or religious go unanswered in my presence. And never to let criticism of Church teaching by my Catholic bothers and sisters go unanswered. That, and prayer, fasting and holy hours for our clergy and our Church…..

  21. Plain and simple, the decline in parish numbers is the delivery and complexity of the Catholic faith which has only gotten more so since Vatican II. I can hear you now saying ” Oh, so let’s blame it on Vatican II !” But seriously, the Church has lost it’s ability to clearly and simply explain what Christ’s, life, mission and our’s, is in our faith. I find it appalling to read in these blogs how far people dig into academic and liturgical minutia to drive home a point which Jesus and his disciples were able to do on the spot. Simple, clear descriptions to the point, like in the old Baltimore Catechism were just fine. I’m not going to get very far with someone by saying come to mass because the Catholic Church is the body and bride of Christ. Most people now day’s would think you’re some kind of pervert. I have spent fifty nine years in the Church with strong Catholic influences from both sides of my parent’s families that included members having taken religious vow’s. The Church has over the last fifty years fialed in the simple message of Christ and lost the interest of the young because it’s teachings and actions have become convoluted. Clean up the mess and simplify the teaching. Life is short and you have to catch one’s attention and interest with basic truth that enlightens and changes one’s perspective on the spot. Other than that, the Catholic Church is doing a fine job. It’s the parishoner’s that need to take up the slack.

    1. Being from Oklahoma I recall an old cowboy saying: “Time in the saddle beats time in the books.”

      Your post is “right on”!


  22. I have seen postings of all that needs to be done. Yes there are things to do. However what about prayer? We are first of all human beings not human doings. We can run around doing a lot of things but what about asking God how am I to contribute to building up the church with my gifts.

    I sometimes wonder how we can as Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life and yet Catholic churches in my area only have one hour Eucharistic adoration once a month even in parishes where the priest are orthodox. It saddens me that though I live in a urban area I need to go almost half an hour to get to a 24 hour adoration chapel.

    There are things we can learn from Protestant churches. One is their emphasis on small groups and for people to join these. I do believe that though the graces of the mass and the sacraments are infinite we need to encourage Catholics to be part of some church organization or movement so they can share their faith with other Catholics. The idea of small groups is also part of the Catholic Cursillo movement. Secondly Protestant churches try to get people involved in ministries based on their talents. People who are committed to doing something are less likely to leave.

    I do believe leadership does begin at the top our priests and bishops. We need to pray for them and for our local church. Satan and his demons attack our priests first. Let us pray for our priests that they would become men of prayer and take care of the parish of their own soul so they can take good care of the parish community that God has given them. However as the laity we are not off the hook either. By our baptism we laity share in the missionary mandate of the Catholic church (Vatican II Ad Gentes) so we have much to do. Pope John Paul II wrote, “Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated the face of Jesus.” (Novo Millennio Ineunte16) In this Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte John Paul II laid out the plan for the church in the new millennium.

    I shall end with a longer quote from this letter (NMI 29)
    We shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!
    It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new program”.The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its center in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until is fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures… This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium. But it must be translated into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community.

  23. In today’s 2nd reading(Dedication of The Latin Basilica), St.Pauls reminded us in Corinthans that we are God’s building. For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one which has already been laid, that is Jesus
    Christ. He added that “didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and YOU are the temple”.
    From this we can safely be assurede,that the physical temple (Church) is taken away, and we will face the downturn, but the temple within us established by baptism will live on, as steadfastly promised by Jesus, “destroy this sacturary, and in three days I will raise it up”.
    In Ezekiel, Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it will brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows.
    There is in Sarawak(East Malaysia) a Church by the river. They are able to attend Mass once a month and during that period, attendance is phenomenal; they all come by boats, foot and whatever mode available. Thus says the Lord, ” whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in my Name, I will be there”.

  24. Many good points here, near us is a baptist church; they have no school, they pack people in on sundays and wednesdays for worship, bible study, and fellowship…..generally, Catholics don’t gravitate to that sort of thing because our hearts have not been touched by Christ; we simply indoctrinate people into the rituals and trivia of catholicism and hope it takes; folks, it doesn’t work anymore…..we have to touch people’s hearts, they have to know that God loves them (oh my!) and expects love in return…..being Catholic is basically belonging to a poor man’s country club; it has very little to do with preaching Christ, Catholics, (no matter what era they are from) cannot do this because we are simply programmed into ritual, and until that changes…..

  25. Msgr. Pope,

    Thanks be to God that you’re saying this! I’ve been saying the same thing for a few years myself, especially on Catholic schools (see my comment at the end of this piece:, and these blog postings:,,,, but my voice certainly isn’t a very loud one. I’m glad to hear someone of your stature saying it.

  26. Msgr Pope
    I would first like to thank you for instructing us on our faith. We have used many of your articles in our Life in the Spirit prayer group, and it has spoken to many of our hearts. I do not know how much longer we will remain a prayer group in that our parish is also closing. A while back, we had collected money we needed to build our parish, but we had a pastor at the time who thought the building plans were too simple and he decided to get a different design which placed the parish in debt. In addition, hurricane Andrew hit and left the building damaged. Long story short, when the parishioners finally learnt we had a debt that was ours, we were sent a misleading letter of proposol from the Archbishop to merge with another parish that did not have the number of parishioners to sustain them. We have asked to meet with the Archbishop but he refuses to see us. There is a lot that I am not saying because there is a lot that was not done right by men who you think you can trust, mainly the Archbishop and the pastor. When you have leadership like this, you almost want to be a nominal catholic. I never thought it could hurt like this when someone’s parish is closed.
    I ask for everyone’s prayer. And Monsignor please keep teaching us. Life in the Spirit and Emmaus retreats are wonderful for awakening faith in people. Also, I took classes from the Institute for Pastoral theology program associated with Ave Maria university, and it was worth every minute and penny. These are the kinds of classes that are essential for educating Catholics about their faith, because these men teach the Catholic faith not their opinion of the Catholic faith. Maybe you can invite them to Washington, Msgr., for they only come to a city by invitation from the archdiocese.
    God Blessings, and may the Truth that is Christ always have the victory.

  27. Subject: Church Closings
    Dear Msgr Pope, the article on closings is timely for my parish. In January 2011, we’re going to evaluate the need for closures. But I know from first hand experience that a parish can be revitalized. When you get a chance visit the St. Gerard Majella Parish web site at, and you’ll see for yourself. If you need any additional info, please don’t hesitate.
    Thanks for being there,
    Tom Cubbin

    1. Just one thought from looking at your parish web page: all faith formation seems to be aimed at children. This can lead to the difficulties expressed in many of the posts above. The truth is that we graduate from faith formation only at our Mass of Christian Burial. Perhaps increasing the emphasis on lifelong faith formation can also be part of your parish’s discussions.

  28. Dear Msgr Pope,

    Do not be misled by the comments that suggest that other denominations are doing it better because they have packed churches. As a blogger wrote a few months ago, many of these churches teach that Christianity is the Cult of “Nice”. It is easy to attract followers if you do not expect too much of them as Christians. I realize that such a comment does not address your question/challenge to us all. But it is also important to not be distracted by what others do. We all need to concentrate on passing through the narrow door. The Catholic Church is most successful, I believe, when it does not follow the latest fashions and trends of the modern world.

    Yours in Christ

    Mark Ferris
    Maronite Catholic

  29. I can only speak for my own parish & pastor and I can confidently say that with regard to points 14 – 28, the answer is affirmative. 🙂

    With regard to boomers (and others) who are seeking formation in the faith, please consider the Education Parish Service program if you live in the Washington, Arlington, or Bridgeport diocese. You can learn more about it here:

    1. My, how lucky you are then! I would have to say ours is pretty darn close to a resounding negative. I feel the parishioners do more for the parish than our leader does. Very nice man, very likable. But sadly not effective where he needs to be. I feel awful for saying this, but I feel he does just what he needs to do to get by. He passes all he can to the Pastorial Associate, minus the sacraments. very sad.

  30. re parents passing on the faith

    The other day I was chatting with a confirmation classmate from 30 years ago.

    Thinking about our peers who had remained active after confirmation, I realized that nearly all had had at least one parent who was somehow active in the parish – singing in choir, teaching faith formation, ushering, serving on some committee or other. I see the same in my current parish – the youth who are involved have parents who are involved.

  31. This may not have 100% to do with this article, but I feel that part of our Catholic Faith “problem, if you will” is Marriage/Divorce. If you go to the link on this website’s front page for Catholics Come Home, wonderful website, great info, but when you click on their link re:marriage/divorce it gives lots of wonderfully beautiful quotes about why divorce is bad and all the bible quotes to back it up. The deed (divorce) is done, how about all the forgiveness quotes in the Bible? I thought there was no sin too big for God to forgive, so why, pray tell, is it so hard for the men/women of our tribunal boards to forgive? Almost all the Catholics I know who no longer practice, and unfortunately I know a Lot, this is their number one issue. I work at a church, and thankfully our priest is a forgiving man, as is his Chief Shepherd. Until the Catholic faith and all the men who run it, start realizing that God forgives, why can’t we, our numbers will continue to dwindle and where will that get us?
    I am not advocating divorce, by all means no. But since MOST second marriages end in divorce, maybe, just maybe if we (meaning the Catholic church and their tribunal boards) had a forgiving heart, accepted divorced people with open arms (much like Christ did/does) we might be able to save them before they make their second mistake.
    Honestly, I love my Catholic faith and can’t imagine leaving it, but sometimes, they are their own worst enemies.

    1. Dear Mary L.,
      I like that in your comment you think of the sheep who need to hear how to come back to the Church after a truly hard time! I think we need to learn how to saw, from the Master, before we can rip the harvest the Master had. Or for that matter, from Our Lady of Guadalupe, who brought millions to the faith by affirming the dignity of the indians -as opposed to damming them to h. She brought the balanced needed at that historical moment.

      Msgr. Thanks for this post. I think your point #30 is very important. And to reach out to others lay people and pastors and priest have to be in the same page. Otherwise we may not have a place where we invite the hurting people we encounter.

      A friend of mine shared with me that the Church is like “surgery for souls.” (Chrisostomo) I hope we are able to receive and admit for treatment all who need the Divine Doctor and that we do not close our many “clinics”.

  32. The ailments facing THE church today are great – and society has and is going to do nothing to help the Catholic church – or any church for that matter – in building a vital and sustainable CHURCH.

    While some catholic stand back and look at Mega-Churches in admiration at the number of people they are able to attract to their Sunday services. However, research proves that the average ‘non-mainstream’ protestant church will see it’s congregation come and go every three years.

    SO – while our protestant brothers and sisters may be ‘beating’ us Catholics hands down at evangelism and recruitment – it’s because they have to.

    Point of all this – it’s not just Catholics that aren’t attending Mass/Church on Sundays (or any other day of the week for that matter) – it’s a growing problem of apathy and lack of true knowledge of scripture/teachings.

    I have taught CCD (usually Jr. High age) in some form or another for about the last 10 years. I’ve found that the major problem is in fact the weakening of the family unit – and a loss of respect for custom, tradition, and the truth in general. “If I’m happy – I’m going to heaven, because God wants me to be happy – and I’ll only be happy if I go to heaven”

    Uhhhhh – that’s not quite how it goes – as I’m sure you are all aware.

    My wife and I were just thanking GOD this morning at Mass for having a pastor who speaks the truth – no matter who it makes unhappy. The truth is the truth – regardless. All pastors should preach the truth – and THEN the church would go. I can stay home if I’m not interested in the truth – it can be found on all 100+ TV channels. But if I want the truth – I know where to find it.

  33. I’m not sure if this angle has been addressed (forgive me if it has already), but what about the glaring reality that the Catholic church goes out of its way to accomodate the millions of “Illegal immigrants” — who are documented to then leave the Catholic church in droves (after reaping all the “benefits”), for more traditional protestant churches???

    The also fact that most of these illegals are from ostensible catholic Mexico, which uses armed guards on its own southern borders to prevent — and shoot to kill — its own fleeing bretheren from other latin nations? This hyprocrisy certainly doesn’t sit well for any half-intelligent parishoner who ses his “weekly contributions” squandered in a scheme to “increase numbers.” Numbers that are diminishing due to the very watering-down of theology, and this glaring scam. A “scam” indeed, considering that while there is no religious, tribal or eceonomic persecution south of our border, there are billions of people in war-torn and famine-ravaged Africa and Asia. Are people from these truly persecuted nations lesser humans in the eyes of the catholic church?

  34. It would seem to me that what has been lost is not just TLM, but the sacramental life that flowed out of the liturgy. I believe the issues stem from the abuses of Novus Ordo and over the last 40 years the entire sacramental life has followed. I believe the Pope also recognizes this and is trying to turn the ship around but it will take decades for this to happen and will require future Popes to share this vision.

  35. Nice blog information. Its posts like this that I’ll link to it to promote on the internet because its properly written.

  36. I am a Catholic, baptized and confirmed. A lovely Catholic lady evangelized me and got me to go back to church (I left because you abuse children and this was before the child abuse scandal).

    When I got there the priest was giving a sermon and saying that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuals. I am never coming back until you honor women, and stop abusing children and gay folk.

    Chaput was sent here to the Philadelphia diocese to prevent the state from changing the child abuse statute of limitations. He is the scum of the earth for being willing to do that.

    Here is the conclusion of one of our Grand Juries that indicted the Secretary of the Clergy here. Why cannot the RCC obey the civil law? You do not occupy the moral ground here in any way, shape or form.

    I quote from the Grand Jury Report 0f 2011 Summary:
    “The present grand jury, however, is frustrated to report that much has not changed. The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again. The procedures implemented by the Archdiocese to help victims are in fact designed to help the abusers, and the Archdiocese itself. Worst of all, apparent abusers – dozens of them, we believe remain on duty in the Archdiocese, today, with open access to new young prey.”

    No one is coming back. You will keep only your frightened, evil and boring members, I am sure. I wish joy of them.

    Here is what I am writing about being a Catholic. It is the fourth most popular essay on my blog..

  37. “What is God Teaching Us”?

    God who?

    “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

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