28 September 2014

The Acts of Tolton's Life to be Sealed Tomorrow and Sent to the Holy See

The historical and theological inquiries into the life and writings of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton having been completed and the testimony of witnesses having now been heard, His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, will preside over "the sealing and binding of the dossier to be dispatched to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints" tomorrow.

Tomorrow's ceremony is part of the Final Acts of the Diocesan Inquiry in the Causes of Saints before the acts of the Diocesan Inquiry are presented to the Holy See. These Final Acts are described in Sanctorum Mater, the Instruction of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, as follows:
Art. 146 - § 1. The packages containing the Transcript and the Public Copy are to be closed and stamped with the seal of the Bishop of the diocese or eparchy. In this way, the effective closing of the packages is guaranteed and the impossibility of tampering with the acts is assured.

§ 2. On each package the Bishop or his Delegate is to place the external inscription, or sheet of paper, that contains a declaration describing the contents of the package and attesting to its secure and definitive closing. 

§ 3. The Bishop or his Delegate and the Notary of the Inquiry, who is to affix his seal, must sign the declaration.
Chapter II

Art. 147 - § 1. The one who has presided over the Inquiry (the Bishop or his Delegate) is to hand over to the Carrier, together with the packages, a closed and sealed envelope containing the letter addressed to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

§ 2. In the letter he must express his opinion about the trustworthiness of the witnesses and the legitimacy of the acts of the Inquiry (189).

§ 3. He is to formulate any observations and insights that he considers useful for the study of the cause in the Roman phase.

Art. 148 - It would be useful for the study of the cause in the Roman phase if the Promotor of Justice were also to send to the Prefect a letter in which he formulates his own observations. This letter should be attached to that of the Bishop or his Delegate (190).

Art. 149 - In the case of an Inquiry on an allegedly miraculous healing, it is suggested that the Medical Expert prepare his own report on the course of the questioning of the medical witnesses of the Inquiry that is to be attached to the other letters (191).

Chapter III

Art. 150 - The Instrument of Closing, which is a declaration on letterhead stationery of the Bishop with which he certifies the contents of the packages and declares that they have been sealed, is also to be put into the envelope with the letters.

In what may be one of the more foolish things I have done, I have returned to Chicago to witness tomorrow's ceremony, though there will not likely be much to see. I have this week free of obligations and a tug at my heart kept telling me that I should attend.

 In addition, I was present for the Opening Session of the Inquiry more than three years ago and it seems fitting I should be present for this important step toward the possible beatification of Quincy's first citizen.

I know myself well enough to know that if I chose not attend it would be a decision I would regret thirty years from now (presuming I'm still alive then).

I'm very much looking forward to tomorrow's and ask your continued prayers for a favorable outcome in Father Tolton's Cause.

A News Round Up - 28 September 2014

  • As part of his Illinois Jobs Now! campaign, Governor Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) announced a gift of $1.5 million to Quincy University, my alma mater. I'm sure the university will put this money to good use, but the Governor will still not receive my vote in the November election.
  • Rush Limbaugh tipped a waitress $1,000 on two separate occasions. You'd think the waitress would be extremely grateful for such a generous tip, but she saw the money as "blood money." Knowing she couldn't keep blood money, she donated a 'sizable chunk' of it to an abortion clinic. Apparently she doesn't know what an abortion actually is.
  • From the "You Can't Make This Up" file comes this bizarre story of an atheist giving the invocation at a city council meeting in Huntsville, Alabama. This simply shows the utter anti-logic of many atheists. The word "invocation" means to call upon a deity and the atheist concluding what he claims was not a prayer with "let it be so," which is the meaning of the word "Amen." For what wasn't a prayer, it certainly resembles one.
  • A new study published by Harvard University suggests that, "from a climatological point of view, in many ways the climate then [the first millennium] may have been more closely comparable to the twentieth century than the intervening period." The study suggests that the warmest temperatures in the western hemisphere over the past 2,000 years occurred between the years 800 and 900 (with the sole exception of the last few recent decades, which are now cooling).

26 September 2014

Muslim man beheads woman in Oklahoma

A few moments ago a friend shared on Facebook the terrible news of the beheading of Colleen Hufford by Alton Alexander Nolen in Moore, Oklahoma.

Before I read the text of the article, given that the only beheadings of which I am aware are committed by Muslims, I wondered if Nolen is a Muslim. It turns out he is:
Nolen recently had been trying to convert co-workers to Islam, Lewis added during a Friday press conference. "After conducting interviews with co-workers of Nolen's, information was obtained that he recently started trying to convert some of his coworkers to the Muslim religion."
At this time, police "said there were [sic] no indication the attack was linked to terrorism."

It may well be that no ties to terrorism will be found - I certainly hope not - but, still, the question must be asked: What is it about certain currents of Islam that produce beheadings?

UPDATE: Reports not yet confirmed by police indicate that Nolen used a photo of jihadists as his cover photo on his Facebook page and wrote that "Sharia law is coming!", among other such militant Islamic things.

UPDATE: The mosque at which Nolen worshiped was led by an imam connected to the Boston mosque at which the Boston Bombers worshiped, the same mosque which is connected to the Islamic State

Is the Islamic State right about Islam?

Writing recently in Crisis Magazine, Father James V. Schall, S.J. has written, in my opinion, the best, clearest, and most direct assessment of the Islamic State and of the other Islamic militant groups presenting growing in both numbers and strength throughout the world.

"It is easy," he says, "to write this movement off as fanatical and ruthless, which it is. To the outside world, it sounds horrific, but I suspect not to those who believe its truth and see the current revival of Islam with relief." This is why he takes a look at the Islamic State - and other such groups - looking, as it were, through their own lenses (with my emphases):
This comment is an apologia, as it were, for the Islamic State at least in the sense that it accepts its sincerity and religious purpose. It understands how, in its own terms, the philosophic background that enhances its view does, in its own terms, justify its actions, including the violent ones.
The Islamic State and the broader jihadist movements throughout the world that agree with it are, I think, correct in their basic understanding of Islam. Plenty of evidence is found, both in the long history of early Muslim military expansion and in its theoretical interpretation of the Qur’an itself, to conclude that the Islamic State and its sympathizers have it basically right. The purpose of Islam, with the often violent means it can and does use to accomplish it, is to extend its rule, in the name of Allah, to all the world. The world cannot be at “peace” until it is all Muslim. The “terror” we see does not primarily arise from modern totalitarian theories, nationalism, or from anywhere else but what is considered, on objective evidence, to be a faithful reading of a mission assigned by Allah to the Islamic world, which has been itself largely procrastinating about fulfilling its assigned mission.
To look elsewhere for an explanation is simply not to see what the Islamic State and its friends are telling us about why they act as they do. The tendency among pragmatic Western thinkers, locked into their own narrow views, is to exclude any such motivation as an excuse of raw power. This view shows the intellectual shortcomings of Western leaders and the narrowness of much Western thought.
Jihadism, as it were, is a religious movement before it is anything else. Allah does grant violence a significant place. It is over the truth of this position, or better the inability to disprove it, that the real controversy lies.

Be sure to read the rest.

21 September 2014

77th Anniversary of The Hobbit

The popular imagination changed dramatically seventy-seven years ago today when Stanley Unwin published a curious little book the likes of which nobody had seen before. Of this book that would make Unwin famous, it's its author wrote:
All I remember of the start of The Hobbit is sitting correcting School Certificate papers in the everlasting weariness of that annual task forced on impecunious academics with children. On a blank leaf I scrawled: 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.' I did not and do not know why. I did nothing about it, for a long time, and for some years I got no further than the production of Thror's Map. But it became The Hobbit in the early 1930s, and was eventually published not because of my own children's enthusiasm (though they liked it well enough), but because I lent it to the then Rev. Mother of Cherwell Edge when she had flu, and it was seen by a former student who was at that time in the office of Allen and Unwin. It was I believe tried on Rayner Unwin [Stanley Unwin's son]; but for whom when grown up I think I should never have got the Trilogy published (Letter to W. H. Auden, 7 June 1955).

At the age of ten, little Rayner Unwin provided his father with this review of The Hobbit:
Bilbo Baggins was a Hobbit who lived in his Hobbit hole and never went for adventures, at last Gandalf the wizard and his Dwarves persuaded him to go. He had a very exiting (sic) time fighting goblins and wargs. At last they get to the lonely mountain; Smaug, the dragon who guards it is killed and after a terrific battle with the goblins he returned home — rich!

This book, with the help of maps, does not need any illustrations it is good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9.
A simple review, to be sure, but sufficient enough for his father to decide to publish the book. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Black Friday has taken on a new meaning in Benghazi where the Islamist army Ansar al-Sharia staged an unprecedented killing of ten civil rights workers, including two teenagers. Meanwhile, in other parts of Libya, the Islamist militant the Dawn of Libya, continues to gain power.
  • A zuchetto worn by His Holiness Pope Francis is being auctioned on EBay to help raise funds for to combat infant mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When last I heard, the bidding exceeding $130,000.
  • A Catholic family in Florida may soon have to remove statues of Jesus and Mary from its front lawn because, according to the Oaks Homeowners Association, Inc., the statues are not "harmonious with the surrounding properties." Lawyers for the association wrote to the family demanding the family “ provide the Association in writing the stated religion, the religious significance of the statues, and why these statues cannot be relocated to a different location on the Lot or enclosed behind a fence out of street view." If you think there isn't a growing move to force religion from the public square, think again.

Is the cause of ADHD simply spending too much time not moving?

Almost a year ago I posted some thoughts on the increasing diagnosis of children and young adults in which I asked, "Is ADHD real?" Naturally enough, the post was liked by many and disliked by many.

Within the post, I shared an experience I had with one of my former students:
When I was teaching, I had one student who really lacked the discipline to sit still for more than five minutes at a time (anywhere); he was a very active young man and many of the teachers had a difficult time with him.  I understood him, and told him he could pace back and forth at the back of the classroom, so long as he paid attention and participated in class.  He found it helpful and didn't disturb my class, as he did in those where he [was] forced to remain in the chair at a desk (I don't like staying at a desk for more than 30 minutes at a time, either, and often take brief wander breaks to refocus, but I can stay in a comfortable chair with a good book for hours on end).
In the end, I suggested, "It's really a matter of preference."

It turns out I might have been correct all along. Writing in the Washington Post, Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, suggests a principle reason so many children are now being diagnosed with ADHD is simply because schools require to spend too much time sitting at their desks:
Over the past decade, more and more children are being coded as having attention issues and possibly ADHD. A local elementary teacher tells me that at least eight of her twenty-two students have trouble paying attention on a good day. At the same time, children are expected to sit for longer periods of time. In fact, even kindergarteners are being asked to sit for thirty minutes during circle time at some schools.

The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun. Merry-go-rounds and teeter-totters are a thing of the past. Recess times have shortened due to increasing educational demands, and children rarely play outdoors due to parental fears, liability issues, and the hectic schedules of modern-day society. Lets face it: Children are not nearly moving enough, and it is really starting to become a problem.
What is more, spending so much time sitting is actually bad for the children's physical health because "many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement."

The fix, she suggests, is really quite simple:
Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom.
As a fidgeter, and one who has always been a fidgeter, I know she's correct; I don't fidget as much after I've gone for a long walk or a good hike in Hawaii.

Maybe it's time to re-think our current educational model.

Did the Pope snub the Greg?

As I understand it, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome is supposed to have the flagship of canonical faculties throughout the world. For this reason, as I read - with some surprise - that the Holy Father Pope Francis established yesterday a Special Commission, as Vatican Radio reports, "to prepare a proposal of reform of the matrimonial process, with the objective of simplifying its procedure, making it more streamlined, and safeguarding the principle of the indissolubility of matrimony"

It was not the establishment of the Special Commission that surprised so much as the make-up of its members. For example, His Holiness appointed the Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law of the Pontifical University Antoniamum (which, as I understand it, is not especially known for its canonical faculty) and a former professor of Canon Law at the University of Pisa, but no one from the canonical faculty of the Pontifical Gregorian University. When I noticed this, I couldn't help but wonder, did the Pope snub the Greg? Whether he did or not, I do not know; I simply ask the question.

The task now entrusted to the Special Commission, according to media reports, was to be the principle work of the upcoming Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held from October 5-19. It could be, I suppose, that the Special Commission will present a few recommendations to the Extraordinary General Assembly, but how this could be done in such a short time I do not know. What will come of either the Special Commission or the Extraordinary General Assembly, no one really knows.


Cardinal Coccopalmerio holds a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer studied [dogmatic?] theology at has taught at the
Pontifical Gregorian University.

Bishop Dimitri Salachas has taught at the
Pontifical Gregorian University. 

20 September 2014

Pope Francis names Bishop Cupich Archbishop of Chicago

As first reported yesterday by the Associated Press, His Holiness Pope Francis named His Excellency the Most Reverend Blaise J. Cupich, until now Bishop of Spokane, as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The Archbishop-elect will succeed His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I. who resignation was accepted upon his having reached the age limit.

From his installation as Bishop of Spokane
September 3, 2010

His Excellency will be installed as the fourteenth Archbishop of the Windy City on Tuesday, November 18th.

Please remember Cardinal George in your prayers, especially as his battle with cancer continues. Please also remember the Archbishop-elect as he prepares to assume the daunting responsibility of teaching, governing, and sanctifying the Church in Chicago.

US Bishops mark September 28th as Day of Prayer for Extraordinary Synod on the Family

The Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled to begin its discussions on The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization on October 5th and will conclude on October 19th. Many are speculating about what the Synod will decide to do, but no one really knows.

As we approach this important moment in the life of the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has set aside Sunday, September 28th, as a Day of Prayer for those who will take part in this ecclesial gathering.

In particular, the U.S. Bishops have invited the faithful to join together in praying a prayer for the Synod composed by His Holiness Pope Francis:
Detail, St. Anthony of Padua Church
Effingham, Illinois
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God's plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.
The USCCB has also provided a draft version of the Universal Prayer which may be adapted to local circumstances.These petitions may also be included during Lauds and Vespers.

Additionally, the USSCB recommends the recitation of the rosary each day of the Extraordinary General Assembly.

An irritated abbot and a call to authentic community in parish life

What may well be my favorite scene in Mel Brooks’ (???) Robin Hood: Men in Tights comes almost at the end of the movie. As the Abbot greets certain persons as processes up the aisle in full ceremonial vesture for the wedding of Robin Hood to the Maid Marian, one man cries out to him, “Hey, Aabboott!” The displeasure of the Abbot – his disgust, even – clearly shows on his face (which is, thankfully, in front of and away from the man crying out to greet him) and in his four, muttered words: “I hate that guy.”

Notice, particularly, that the man who shouts, "Hey, Abbot!," remains completely oblivious to the Abbot's displeasure.

Each of us may not have such a person in our lives whom we hate, but, likely enough, each of us has such a person in our lives who simply drives us crazy and whom we would rather avoid. In fact, if we are honest, we do avoid such people. I am guilty of this, both in the past and in the present and, because I, too, am a sinner, will likely be guilty of this in the future.

We cannot always say with any precision what it is about the person that makes us roll our eyes when we hear their voice and duck through a doorway or make a beeline out of the store, but two possibilities come immediately to mind.

There are some people try so hard to be friends with other people – often with no sense of social cues - that they feel clingy and we do not like feeling smothered. I think the phrase today for such people is “co-dependent.”

Others only ever complain about the unhappy circumstances of their lives. After a time we grow weary of hearing the same complaints day after day after day, especially when there is nothing we can reasonably do to relieve them.

As I think about it, the second sort of person – who is often quite unaware of his or lack of social skills or of the constancy of his or her complaints (often about a lack of friends) - is very often the first sort of person as well.

In his Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Saint Bonaventure distinguishes between three kinds of company or society, what we would today call community:

One is disturbing and holds one back, such as the company of evildoers. Another kind is the company of those needing support or solace, as in the company of wives and the sick. Yet another group is a kind helping and causing one to advance, as in the company of the perfect. One must flee from the first, tolerate the second, and desire the third (IV.13.3).

We hear a lot about tolerance in the present day. The general – and incorrect – understanding of tolerance is that we simply accept another person as he or she is, with no judgment and with requirements or requests for a change of sinful behavior (because, for the truly tolerant, there is no truly sinful behavior – except, of course, those of us who dare judge a person’s actions and call him or her to conform his or her life to the life of Christ).

What was it Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. said of tolerance? Oh, yes: “The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”

In our daily living we only really tolerate those things which drive us crazy. For example: the place where a family member insists on keeping his toothbrush or leaving her shoes, the way our children load the dishwasher, the organizational “system” of our spouse. These are the little things that – if left unrealized – often lead to an eruption of anger while a real difficulty makes us anxious or frustrated (we rarely “blow up” over the big things of life, but instead over the little things). We tolerate these annoyances because we love; otherwise we would remove them from our lives.

What are we to do with those people who irritate and annoy us? We should tolerate them. We should tolerate them because Jesus first loved us even though we have surely caused him much annoyance and frustration (cf. I John4:10; Matthew 8:26 and Matthew 16:9, among others).

As I read the words of the Seraphic Doctor, my thoughts returned to recently released results contained in the report, Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveysof Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois, where these two answers to open-ended questions have remained with me since I first read the report last week:
  •  “I’m still seeking a church with a sense of community, friendliness. I joke with my friends that I’ve gone to a church for 7 years and no one has spoken to me”; and,
  • “My parish was a cold place. You could walk in on Sunday, go to mass [sic] and walk out without speaking to another soul, I longed for fellowship.”
First, let me point what should be glaringly obvious: If these two individuals – and there are surely others with similar experiences – could leave Sunday Mass without another person speaking to them, it also means that these two people did not themselves speak to another person. The responsibility for a lack of conversation through which Christians should be manifest and share and a sincere charity cannot rest solely with the community; a dialogue of charity is, as it were, a two-way street.

While it is difficult to imagine a situation where, in seven years’ time, not a single parishioner would have spoken to one of these people (unless they routinely came late to Mass and left after receiving Holy Communion), but it is possible. Still, we cannot simply excuse the entire community for never – or rarely - speaking to these people.

Perhaps these two individuals fall into one of the aforementioned categories. And maybe they do not. Even if they do, we cannot allow this to be either a reason or an excuse. Jesus loves them as much as he loves us, and we are all one in the Body of Christ, different members though we may be (cf. ICorinthians 12:12-13). One part of the body may not always seem necessary or important to the Body, but it is still a part of the Body. We cannot say to one another, “I do not need you,” but, rather, we should to learn how that part contributes to the good of the Body (cf. I Corinthians 12:15-19).

The Church has long been aware of this difficulty, a difficulty in lived discipleship that has perhaps become more acute today as our personal relationships are weakening. Back in November of 2007, in an audience with the Bishops of Portugal Pope Benedict XVI observed:
In this long pilgrimage, the most frequent observation on the lips of Christians has been the lack of participation in the life of the community, and the proposal to find new forms of integration in the community. The password has been, and is, to build roads of communion.
He went on to note that participation in the community of the Church "depends absolutely on the existence or lack thereof of the encounter with Jesus Christ." Christianity is, after all, "not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person [Jesus Christ], which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus caritas est, 1).

How, then, are we to do more than tolerate those who irritate us? How are we to reach out with genuine charity and welcome them into the community of the one Body of Christ? We must follow the example of Jesus.

When Jesus "withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself" after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, "the crowds followed him on foot from their towns" (Matthew 14:13). Looking upon the crowds, in his time of grief, "his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick" (Matthew 14:14). We are given no sense of any frustration felt by Jesus at this moment. He does yell out the crowds, asking, "Won't you even let me grieve? Can I not have a moment's peace?" These are the questions we ask, and even demand, but not the Lord.

When people come to us - even those who, as it were, cry out, "Hey, Abbot!!!" - we would do well to heed the words of His Holiness Pope Francis:
Jesus does not react with irritation; he does not say: “These people are bothering me”. No, no. He reacts with a feeling of compassion, because he knows they are not seeking him out of curiosity but out of need. But attention: compassion — which Jesus feels — is not simply feeling pity; it’s more! It means to suffer with, in other words to empathize with the suffering of another, to the point of taking it upon oneself. Jesus is like this: he suffers together with us, he suffers with us, he suffers for us. And the sign of this compassion is the healing of countless people he performed. Jesus teaches us to place the needs of the poor before our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, are not as urgent as those of the poor, who lack the basic necessities of life.
Naturally, we cannot do this on our own. We are sinful. We are weak. We are selfish. And we are not as loving as we ought to be. We need someone to help us do this and so we should turn to the example of Saint of Francis.

Fully aware of his own sinfulness and how much people praised him in spite of his sins, the Poverello commanded one of his friars, saying, "In obedience I order you to insult me harshly and to tell the truth against their falsehoods" (Tomaso di Celano, First Life, 1.53). Saint Francis, we are told, "would smile and reply approvingly, 'God bless you, because you say very true things that the son of Pietro Bernadone should rightfully hear.'" When someone rightly points out our sins to us, what is our response? Anger, or a smile?

We would do well to ask - even to command - a trust friend, one who will help us and cause us to advance, to tell us when we sin, especially when we do not welcome another with the love of Christ but instead roll our eyes and mutter under our breath. We ought not resemble the abbot, but Jesus.

What does your flight really cost?

Have you ever looked carefully at the cost of an airline ticket to see exactly what you're paying for? Doing so can be a startling.

I'm making plans for a quick return to Chicago to attend the Ceremony of Sealing and Binding the Dossier of the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton on Monday, September 29th.

The cost of the flight I am looking at - for which I intend to use airline miles - breaks down as follows:
Cost of Flight: $353.00
Taxes & Fees: $442.80

That's right: the cost of the flight is less than the combined taxes and fees.

Earlier this summer the Wall Street Journal reported that "there are as many as 11 different taxes and government fees on airline tickets, depending on the itinerary." Precisely what these different taxes and fees are, I do not know.

It seems to me that this needs to change.

18 September 2014

ONGOING UPDATES: A Boko Haram Ongoing News Round Up

25 September 2014
24 September 2014
20 September 2014
18 September 2014
17 September 2014
16 September 2014
12 September 2014
11 September 2014
10 September 2014
9 September 2014
8 September 2014
4 September 2014
3 September 2014
2 September 2014
29 August 2014
28 August 2014
24 August 2014
15 August 2014
14 August 2014
27 July 2014
11 July 2011
10 June 2014
June 2014
2 May 2014
28 May 2014
30 March 2014
26 February 2014

17 September 2014

New survey gives reasons Catholics have left - and remain in - the Church

According to a new survey conducted by researchers at Benedictine University, the very reasons why some people have willingly chosen to separate themselves from the Catholic Church are the same reasons why others willingly remain within the Catholic Church. For example:

  • 30% of those who have left the Church cited a lack of community as one of the reasons they left, while 85% of active Catholics said the sense of community they experience in their parish is one of the reasons they remain; 
  • 34% of those who have left the Church cited the Church’s opposition to abortion as one of the reasons the left, while 90% of active Catholics said the Church’s opposition to abortion is one of the reasons they remain;

Cognizant that Mass attendance at some parishes in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois decreased by as much as 30% between 1996 and 2011, His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki and his Presbyteral Council approached Dr. William Carroll, President of Benedictine University, to seek ways to learn why so many Catholics have left the Church and what might be done to call them back.

Conscious, too, that many of these fallen away Catholics would ask for an impossible change in some doctrines of the Church and that some requested changes, though perhaps possible, might also alienate those who have remained in the Church, the Bishop and the Presbyteral Council asked Dr. Carroll to help find ways to ask Catholics why they have remained in the Church.

(It should also be noted that during the same time period, other parishes in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois experienced no change in attendance and some experienced an increase of as much as 82%).

Dr. Phillip R. Hardy, PH.D, Assistant Professor of the Department of Political Science, and Drs. Kelly L. Kandra, PH.D and Brian G. Patterson, PH.D, Associate Professors of the Department of Psychology, prepared and conducted online surveys completed by volunteers solicited through advertisements in the Catholic Times, secular newspapers published throughout the Diocese, parish bulletins and announcements, postcards, the Diocesan web site and Facebook page, and by word of mouth. 575 individuals who self-identified as “inactive, lapsed, or drifting Catholics” responded to the first of the two surveys between November 2012 and March 2013. Between February and March 2014, 827 individuals who self-identified as active Catholics responded to the second of the two surveys.

The researchers presented the answers to these questions to the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois on September 10, 2014 in a 60-page document titled Joy and Grievance in an American Diocese: Results from Online Surveysof Active and Inactive Catholics in Central Illinois, and made available to the public yesterday.

In their final analysis, the researchers concluded that “Church doctrine plays a key role in individuals separating from the Catholic Church and it may be difficult to prevent current parishioners from leaving or to bring lapsed or drifting parishioners back to this faith community” (56). In this analysis, they are entirely right.

People make all sorts of excuses about why they have left the Church, including unwelcoming priests, an unfriendly word from a secretary, or a glare from a parishioner but in the end, they are only that: excuses, and not real reasons. As J.R.R. Tolkien once observed:

I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would meaning leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in orders [that is, a deacon, priest, or bishop] who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face (J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Michael Tolkien, 1 November 1963).

These are the words of a man of deep faith and profound insight!

The only real reason, it seems to me, why someone would leave the Catholic Church is to because they never had – or somehow no longer have – a belief of the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

A bad priest does not make someone leave the Church; they choose to leave. Tomaso di Celano tells us that Saint Francis of Assisi “often used to say: ‘If I should happen at the same time to come upon a saint coming from heaven and some little poor priest, I would first show honor to the priest, and hurry more quickly to kiss his hands.  For I would say to the saint: “Lo, Saint Lawrence, wait!  His hands may handle the Word of Life, and possess something more than human’” (The Second Life, 201)! This does not mean, of course, that a bad priest - or a rude layman - cannot lead to a weakening of someone's fragile faith by causing scandal, which should always be avoided. The decision to leave to the Church, though, remains that: a decision.

When reviewing the results of this survey, we should keep in mind the words of G.K. Chesteron, who famously quipped, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

The results of this survey indicate that there are some things we can do to try to draw those who have lapsed in the practice of the faith back to the Church. It shows that some who have left will not return until the Church is no longer the Church.

At the same, the survey shows, with no real surprise, that a great number of practicing Catholics have difficulties with the Church’s teachings on certain topics continually misrepresented in the media. The Church needs to redouble her efforts to explain these teachings well, and why she teaches them, but finding ways to get those who do not embrace these teachings to listen carefully and openly is not easy. The survey also shows the principle reason many Catholics have remained in the Church is the community they experience. While this is not bad - indeed, community is necessary! - it should be at least a little troubling that the Eucharist – Christ Jesus himself - is not immediately the principle reason they remain.

I encourage you to read the results of the two surveys carefully and prayerfully. I have read it once now and want to read it again to be able to thoughtfully address some of the issues raised in the survey here on the blog in the coming weeks, one at a time.