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Why Catholics Have Failed Our Culture: The Bottom Line

By Deal W. Hudson
June 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

I've had this discussion with Catholic lay leaders and clergy many times in different parts of the country.  Never have I encountered more than a mild protest -- most of the time there is general agreement with the need for parish life to undergo a change in kind, not in degree. In other words, a fundamental conversion that will involve the bishop, chancery staff, clergy, religious, and most of all, the laity. 

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - I don't mean to say that Catholics have failed the culture without exception. I'm asserting that Catholics can be judged as having failed the culture by two standards: First, their numbers as the nation's largest Christian denomination, and second, by a comparison of their influence to Evangelical Protestants. 

I've been a Catholic thirty years, since 1983. During that time I've tried to serve the Church in a variety of ways, from teaching and writing, to magazine publishing, radio, television, and political participation. 

In my conversion memoir, An American Conversion: One Man's Search for Truth and Beauty in a Time of Crisis (Crossroad 2003), I described the freedom I had discovered in becoming a Catholic, that is, the encouragement I felt to use my gifts to engage the totality of the culture. The experience of doing this work has been both laborious and disappointing. 

A small but recent example -- most recently my weekly radio show on the Guadalupe Radio Network (1160 AM WMET) was canceled for including - inappropriate content - that I had read verbatim from my conversion memoir. The objectionable passage was about the great French Catholic writer Julian Green who I identified as a homosexual. I was then accused of  promoting my own homosexual desire on Catholic radio! My wife and a large number of friends and acquaintances got quite a belly laugh over that one!

Now, back to my assertion about Catholics failing the culture. I'm going to skip over how I came to this conclusion over the past several decades and give you the bottom line: It's the lack of vitality in our parish life and worship.  If you went back and forth between Evangelical Protestant and Catholic communities, as I often do as a part of my work, one thing stands out in stark contrast -- the individual Evangelical Protestant church is more dynamic, more unified, more committed to sharing its faith, more hopeful about impacting the culture by its witness. 

You don't see Evangelicals backing into parking spaces to make a quick getaway after Mass; you don't see them quick-stepping, head down into the church or ignoring everyone around them; you don't see them leaving as quickly as possible after their - obligation -  has been fulfilled.  You see a community; you see friends who have gotten to know each other through the church, many of whom are making plans to spend time together outside  church services. 

Some years ago I went through a very difficult time in my life, one that was well-publicized in the mainstream media and also treated to a full-color spread on page 2 in my own diocesan newspaper (thank you very much).  During that period of my life there was not a single inquiry from anyone in my parish. The next, and only, time I heard from the pastor he wanted a major donation. Thankfully my friends, many of whom are devout Catholics, including our own Deacon Keith Fournier, stood by my side until the worst was over, but the experience underscored how little parish life really matters pastorally and personally. 

My wife, Theresa, who is also a convert has commented to me many times, - Catholics make it so difficult to be Catholic.  She was referring to the deadness of the liturgies, the lack of welcome, expressions of gratitude, the underlying attitude of - Ok, you've got to come to Mass or you're in mortal sin and consigned to hell.-  (Let me emphasize, once again, there are exceptions!)

I've had this discussion with Catholic lay leaders and clergy many times in different parts of the country.  Never have I encountered more than a mild protest -- most of the time there is general agreement with the need for parish life to undergo a change in kind, not in degree. In other words, a fundamental conversion that will involve the bishop, chancery staff, clergy, religious, and most of all, the laity. 

Since John Paul II there has been much discussion of - evangelizing the culture - and for Catholics to become more - evangelical - in their witness to the world.  The self-proclaimed - Evangelical Catholics- often look and sound, to my ears anyway, like Protestant Evangelicals with a different vocabulary.  There has been no genuine integration of evangelical zeal with Catholic piety, rather Southern Evangelicalism has been laid over the Catholic faith like peanut butter over stale bread.  That's not enough!

An example of someone who has integrated his Catholic faith with Evangelicalism is the prolific Matthew Kelly whose books and appearances have deservedly gained a national following. An Australian, and an excellent golfer by the way, Kelly is the kind of model of Catholic evangelization that is both distinctive and effective. But it needs to find its way into the parishes and take root there. 

I realize this is a brief commentary, requiring a much more detailed explanation as well as more suggestions for the way forward. They are in the works, but before publishing them I would appreciate any feedback the readers of Catholic Online will kindly provide.

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Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D, is president of the Pennsylvania Catholics Network and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

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