I’ve been meaning to blog on this all week, but things have been a little busy at the office and at home. But it’s Saturday morning, and the rains have gone, and the sun is shining (and it’s bloody humid) and I am now outside with my pipe and my coffee and my computer and its TIME TO BLOG!
Readers of this ‘ere blog will know that Brian Coyne and I have had a long running discussion about the group he calls the “85%” of people who are baptised Catholic and who have ceased to participate in the life of the Church. To put it absurdly and reductionistically simply, Brian claims the solution is that the Church should scrap those aspects of its teaching which conflict with the modern mores, and I claim the solution is better evangelisation and catechisation.
Into that mix comes this article by John Allen Jnr: “In America’s religious marketplace, the real Catholic problem is new sales”. The Catholica Forum has picked it up, but as yet there isn’t much discussion there.
It should be noted (as Sherry does on the Siena Institute blog, that
the topic here is the retention of religious identity, not how often people who still regard themselves as Catholic actually attend Mass. Around the Catholic blogosphere, we tend to conflate the two issues but the Pew study addresses both separately and John Allen is focusing on the first issue of religious identity in this interview.
So the article does not address all of the issues that are relevant to Brian’s “85%”. Also we need to remember that Allen’s article is about the US, and it the figures there do not necessarily translate into figures for Australia where the religious culture is a little different, but I do think that one aspect is probably true: a great proportion of members of Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Australia were baptised as Catholics, and hence make up at least a significant proportion of Brian’s “85%”.
That being said, it also needs to be said that, as the Pew Forum chaps in the interview point out, the figures for the States are rather confusing and do not lend themselves either to neatly “proving” the liberal or conservative Catholic point of view on the matter.
Still, the point that Allen focuses upon and which seems to fit here in Australia too, is that the Catholic Church is not as active as the Protestant Churches in the area of attracting new members from outside the Church. I don’t have the figures in front of me, but I reckon it is probably true to say that about 2-3% of Catholics here too are converts to the Church. RCIA has been relatively successful in this regard.
The real question is how to get more people into RCIA in the first place, and then how to make the catechetical impact of the RCIA program – and of our day to day catechisation in our families, schools and parishes – more effective in retaining those whom we evangelise. Allan’s interlocutors say:
But one of the points of the report is that to understand the dynamics of American religion, you have to see retention and recruitment together. It’s the churn, the ratio of leaving to joining, which matters. It’s the recruitment side that sets Catholics apart. Four people leave Catholicism for every one who joins, and there’s no other religious group where you see a similar ratio. Baptists, for example, also have more people leaving than joining, but their ratio of 2-1 is twice of what we see for Catholics.
The conclusion is simple. “Recruitment” = evangelisation. “Retention” = catechisation. Brian may well be right, there are probably a lot of non-practicing Catholics who do not participate in the life of the Church because of its doctrinal and moral demands. But the evidence of the Pew Forum study shows that quite aside from this issue – and the merits or otherwise of a program of “reform” that would soften those demands (note that the Pew Forum guys say that the high figure of ex-Catholics in the Evangelican and Pentecostal churches would indicate that these ex-Catholics are looking for a church which is MORE rather than less conservative) – improved efforts at evangelisation and catechisation are required if we are to improve our recruitment and retention statistics for the future of the Church.