John Allen’s “All Things Catholic” continues to be a good read—a little more general and a little less “Vatican-gossipy”, but still informative. Thankfully not overly “US-centric”. He has covered some big general issues lately, and in his latest column he focuses on the situation in the Latin American Church, viz. the threat of the “sects” (read: “Protestants”).
Allen points out that in the 20th Century, more Catholics left the Church for the Protestant “sects” in Latin America than in Europe during the Reformation. Rather than ask the Catholic Church leaders why the Church is haemorrhaging, he does something really radical: he asks a Protestant: Samuel Escobar, “one of the world’s foremost Evangelical scholars specialized in missionary studies”.
So how does Samuel Escobar explain the “haemorrhage”? He answers:
“The Catholic Church recently carried out a study of more than 1,000 converts, which concluded that if the church had offered deeper Bible study, better worship, and more personal pastoral attention, these people would not have converted.”
It ain’t rocket science, as they say. Here in Australia, the Catholic Church is also haemorrhaging (as Archbishop Coleridge notes in his inaugural homily), not to the “sects” but to secularism. When I was a pastor, I spent most of my time teaching people in bible studies, improving our liturgical worship, and constant personal pastoral attention. Of course, I only had several hundred parishioners—a dream for most Australian clergy, let alone for the South Americans (where, according to Allen, “in 2001, there were 7,176 Catholics for every priest in Latin America”), but bible study, worship and pastoral attention can be led by lay ministers.
You want to stop the haemorrhage? Then get your parish into the bible, get them into the liturgy, and make damned sure you look after each soul that crosses the threshold of your narthex.
Oh, and by the way, the heading to this blog is a quote from Samuel Escobar about liberation theology in South America. The folk at Redfern might want to take some notice.