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February 28, 2008

Who America's Religiously Unaffiliated Adults Are - Pastoral Ministry Considerations: Marriage; Separated and Divorced Catholics - The Sacramentality of the Biblical Word -- Undocumented Immigrants: Taxes, Yes; Tax Rebates, No - Ordained Priests Are Deacons Too

In This Edition:
-- The fluid U.S. religious landscape.
-- Identifying America's religiously unaffiliated adults.
-- Pastoral ministry considerations: separated and divorced Catholics.
-- Pastoral ministry considerations: marriage.
-- Current quotes to ponder: What a good society is; undocumented immigrants and the U.S. tax rebate; joyful witnesses.
-- Of permanent deacons and priestly foot washers.
-- Liturgy of the word, sacramentality of the word.

The Fluid U.S. Religious Landscape

The results of a major survey of the U.S. religious "landscape" released Feb. 25 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life undoubtedly are of special interest to anyone involved in evangelization or youth and young-adult ministry. Particularly noteworthy is what the survey says about America's religiously unaffiliated adults - who they are and what they are like.

The "U.S. Religious Landscape Survey" involved interviews with more than 35,000 Americans 18 years of age and older. The survey report said that religious affiliation in the U.S. is very diverse and extremely fluid. Constant movement characterizes religious affiliation in America, with every major religious group gaining and losing adherents at the same time, according to the report.

Twenty-eight percent of American adults say they left the faith in which they were raised, becoming members of another religious group or of no religion at all, the survey found. At the same time, more than half of those who said they were religiously unaffiliated as children now say they are associated with a religious group.

Catholicism, the report says, has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who said they were raised Catholic do not today describe themselves as Catholic, it says; thus, roughly 10 percent of Americans are former Catholics.

But Catholicism's losses are partly offset by the numbers of people who have switched their religious affiliation to Catholicism -- 2.6 percent of the adult population, according to the report; a larger factor is the high number of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. The report says that among the foreign-born adult population, Catholics outnumber Protestants by nearly a two-to-one margin (46 percent vs. 24 percent).

As a result of such factors, the overall percentage of the U.S. population that identifies itself as Catholic has remained fairly stable, the report concludes.

Who Are America's Religiously Unaffiliated Adults?

One in four Americans ages 18 to 29 say that they currently are not affiliated with any particular religion, according to the Religious Landscape Survey released Feb. 25 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. But these unaffiliated people are not monolithic in their attitudes toward religion.

The survey report says that while one-fourth of religiously unaffiliated American adults describe themselves either as atheist or agnostic (1.6 percent and 2.4 percent of the overall adult population respectively), the majority of the religiously unaffiliated - 12.1 percent of the overall adult population) simply describe their religion as "nothing in particular."

Furthermore, adults in America who aren't affiliated with a religious community are fairly evenly divided between those the report calls the "secular unaffiliated," meaning those who say religion isn't important in their lives, and those who say that, indeed, religion either is "somewhat" or "very" important in their lives.

According to the survey report, young adults 18 to 29 years of age are much more likely than people 70 and older to say that they are not affiliated with any particular religion. And men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Nearly 20 percent of men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women.

One interesting survey finding is that while the religiously unaffiliated population is growing, it has "one of the lowest retention rates of all 'religious' groups." For, as noted earlier, more than half of those who said they were unaffiliated with any particular religion when they were children now say that they are associated with a religious group.

Pastoral Ministry Considerations: Separated and Divorced Catholics

Nearly 60 percent of separated and divorced Catholics say that "communications issues were at least 'somewhat' challenging in their relationship with their spouse," according to a major survey of U.S. Catholics 18 years of age and older that was released Feb. 11 by the U.S. Catholic bishops' Subcommittee on Marriage and Family Life. And 30 percent of separated and divorced Catholics said that sessions sponsored by the church on communicating well in marriage might have been "somewhat" or "very" helpful to them in dealing better with the challenges of marriage, according to the survey report.

Fifty-one percent of separated and divorced Catholics responding to the survey said that "trust and commitment issues" were at least somewhat challenging in their marriages.

What kinds of church-sponsored sessions for married couples -- in addition to sessions on interpersonal communication -- did separated and divorced Catholics think might have been helpful to them?

-- Twenty-seven percent said sessions on balancing family and career might have helped.
-- Twenty-four percent said sessions on spiritual life might have helped.
-- Nineteen percent thought sessions on parenting might have helped.
-- Nineteen percent thought sessions on intimacy might have helped.
-- Fifteen percent said sessions on managing finances might have helped.
-- Fourteen percent said sessions on natural family planning might have helped.

The survey found that "the proportions of divorced or separated Catholics who participated in various marriage-preparation programs and activities are similar to those of married Catholics." Nonetheless, the report said, divorced and separated Catholics were not as likely as others to have discussed the following topics with each other before marrying: "trust and commitment, openness to having children, intimacy or sexuality, and family backgrounds or history."

Pointing to another noteworthy finding of the survey, the report said that "only 15 percent of divorced Catholics have sought an annulment. Of those who have, 49 percent had the request granted."

"Marriage in the Catholic Church: A Survey of U.S. Catholics" is a "landmark national research project," said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., chairman of the bishops' marriage and family life subcommittee. The archbishop said the survey's findings reveal "how important it is to give more support to couples to help them sustain and, if necessary, reconcile and restore their marriages."

The survey, commissioned in April 2007 by the U.S. bishops' then-Committee on Marriage and Family Life, was completed in June 2007 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University via Knowledge Networks, an Internet polling firm.

The complete survey report and Archbishop Kurtz's comments on it are found online at cara.georgetown.edu /.

Pastoral Ministry Considerations: Marriage

Ways must be found to offer "a more integrated, continuous and varied ministry" that will help couples "grow in happiness and holiness through the entire life cycle of a marriage," Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said in his comments on "Marriage in the Catholic Church: A Survey of U.S. Catholics."

Archbishop Kurtz found it "sobering to note" that when they experience difficulties, "relatively few" married Catholics "seem willing to seek church-sponsored help" in dealing with them. Moreover, he said, "a similarly small percentage of people say they are interested in participating in church-sponsored educational sessions for married couples."

The survey asked Catholics if they would be interested in learning more about church teachings on marriage. Among those who were interested, younger Catholics preferred to do so online. It should be noted, however, that survey respondents in general expressed considerable interest in learning about church teachings on marriage via printed materials available in their parishes or mailed to their homes.

The wide-ranging survey found that:

-- Trust was the value married Catholics mentioned most frequently when asked this open-ended question: "What three or four values have helped most in sustaining your marriage?" The "second most frequently cited set of values" was related to faith, belief or spirituality, followed by communication and family, children or parenting.

-- At least 60 percent of Catholics who participated in any marriage-preparation program listed by the survey found the program at least somewhat helpful to their marriage. But among married couples, "those most likely to say they found the program to be 'very helpful' to their marriage were those in a weekend program (28 percent), those meeting with a Catholic mentor couple (26 percent) and those in classes occurring over several nights (24 percent)."

-- About sixty percent of Catholics "have heard that a non-Catholic spouse must promise to have their children raised Catholic. Of these respondents, eight in 10 believe this to be an accurate statement. Thus, overall, 47 percent of Catholics have heard this inaccurate statement of church teaching and believe it is true."

-- Married Catholics, presented with a list of issues that challenge couples, gave finances a first-place ranking. In second place for married couples was finding quality time together. Issues of interpersonal communication ranked in third place for those who currently are married. (Recall, however, that communication ranked first for those who are separated and divorced.)

Current Words to Ponder

What Makes a Society Good: "While globalization has opened the door to economic prosperity to many people, its downsides continue to disproportionately affect the weak members of our society. Therefore, governments' response to these challenges must be guided by the moral tenet that a good society is measured by the extent to which those with responsibility attend to the needs of the weaker members, especially those most in need. A good society is one in which all benefit from the common good and nobody is left outside the common concern. Economic policies that help low-income working people live dignified, decent lives should be a priority of any good society worthy of the name." (From a Feb. 14 address in New York by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, to a commission of the U.N. Economic and Social Council)

Undocumented Immigrants: Taxes, Yes; Tax Rebates, No: "The decision to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving tax rebates in the stimulus bill highlights the injustice in our immigration system. It proves that these workers pay into the tax system and help support our economy. It also reveals the hypocrisy of our laws. With one hand our government attempts to deport these workers, but with the other it holds tight the taxes they pay into the system. This perpetuates an underclass of workers without full rights. We should not accept the fruits of the labor of these workers at the same time we refuse to provide them the protection of our laws. As a democratic and free nation protective of human rights, we cannot have it both ways. Congress must mend a broken system and show the courage to enact comprehensive immigration reform." (From a Feb. 7 statement by Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, after the U.S. Senate and House approved an economic stimulus package that included language to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving tax rebates)

Joyful Witnesses: "People are not finding life in the Catholic Church. They are declaring themselves to be secular or are joining evangelical churches. We have to find ways to be more joyful and let the Gospel transform us to be witnesses." (Archbishop James Weisgerber of Winnipeg, Manitoba, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in an interview with Catholic News Service after the annual international meeting of the bishops of the church in America, held Feb. 11-13 in Huntington, N.Y.)

Of Permanent Deacons and Priestly Foot Washers

Ordained priests remain deacons; permanent deacons serve as a reminder of this reality. Deacons "clarify" the "diaconal dimension of our ministry in the church and in the world," Pope Benedict XVI said Feb. 7 in response to a question posed by a deacon during the pope's meeting with the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. The pope responded to 10 questions raised by members of the clergy, and the Vatican released a transcript of the pope's responses.

The permanent diaconate is able to serve as a link "between the secular world, the professional world and the world of priestly ministry, since many deacons continue to carry out their professions and keep their posts," the pope said. He said he has "strongly encouraged this ministry because it seems to me that it enhances the riches of the church's sacramental ministry." Deacons "witness in the contemporary world as well as in the world of work to the presence of the faith, the sacramental ministry and the diaconal dimension of the sacrament of orders," the pope said.

There is "no single profile" of a deacon, the pope observed. In fact, he said, "one characteristic of the diaconal ministry is precisely the multiplicity of its applications." What must be done by a deacon varies according to his "formation and situation." Still, the practice of charity historically was basic to the deacon's role in Rome, the pope said, adding: "I therefore hope that, despite the differing situations, charity will continue in every age and every diocese to be a fundamental as well as a key dimension for the commitment of deacons, although not the only one."

The pope emphasized that every priest "continues to be a deacon and must always be aware of this dimension." In this context, he pointed to the washing of the disciples' feet by Christ. The pope said:

"Recall the act of the washing of the feet, where it is explicitly shown that the teacher, the Lord, acts as a deacon and wants those who follow him to be deacons and carry out this ministry for humanity - to the point that they even help us to wash the dirty feet of the people entrusted to our care. This dimension seems to me to be of paramount importance."

Youth ministry was among other topics addressed during the pope's meeting with Rome's clergy. Responding to a question posed by a religious-order priest involved in youth ministry, the pope said:

"Young people must feel that we are not saying words we ourselves have not lived, but that we speak because we have found and seek to find anew every day the truth, as a truth for my own life. Only if we have set out in this direction, if we ourselves seek to interiorize this life and to make our lives resemble that of the Lord, can our words be credible and have a visible and convincing logic."

Liturgy of the Word, Sacramentality of the Word

"Once I was listening to the Gospel episode about Zaccheus and was struck by its 'relevance.' I was Zaccheus; the words were addressed to me: 'Today I must come to your house,'" Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa said Feb. 22 in the first of his 2008 Lenten meditations for Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican officials. Father Cantalamessa is the preacher of the papal household.

Recalling Jesus' words to Zaccheus, the preacher continued: "It was about me that it could be said, 'He went to stay with a sinner!' And it was about me, after having received him in communion, that Jesus said, 'Today salvation has entered into this house.'"

Father Cantalamessa said: "Among the many words of God that we hear every day at Mass or in the Divine Office, there is almost always one that is especially destined for us. By itself it can fill our whole day and illumine our prayer."

Accenting the sacramentality of the word of God, Father Cantalamessa said: "The Liturgy of the Word in the Mass is nothing other than the liturgical actualization of Jesus who preaches. A Second Vatican Council text says that Christ 'is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church."

In the Mass, Father Cantalamessa said, "the words and episodes of the Bible not only are narrated, they are relived; memory becomes reality and presence. That which happened 'in that time' happens 'in this time,' 'today' ('hodie') as the liturgy loves to express it. We are not only hearers of the word, but also interlocutors and doers of it. It is to us, there present, that the word is addressed; we are called to take the place of the characters who are evoked."

When the biblical readings are heard in the liturgy, they "acquire a new and more powerful sense than when they are read in other contexts," said Father Cantalamessa. The readings "do not have so much the purpose of bringing about better knowledge of the Bible, as when one reads at home or in a school for biblical studies, as they have the purpose of recognizing him who makes himself present in the breaking of the bread, of every time illuminating a particular aspect of the mystery that is about to be received."

This point was made clear "in the episode with the two disciples traveling to Emmaus," Father Cantalamessa explained. "It was in listening to an explanation of the Scriptures that the heart of the disciples began to open so that they were then able to recognize [Christ] in the breaking of the bread."

The papal preacher thinks that "there have been and there will be better books than some of the books of the Bible, more refined from a literary standpoint and religiously more edifying." However, he said, "none of them work as well as the most modest of the inspired books. There is, in the words of Scripture, something that acts beyond every human explanation; there is an evident disproportion between the sign and the reality that it produces that makes one think precisely of the action of the sacraments."

Father Cantalamessa said, "The word that we read in the Bible, in itself, is only a material sign (like wine and bread), an ensemble of dead syllables, or, at most, one word of human language among others." However, with the intervention of faith and with the Holy Spirit's illumination, "we mysteriously enter into contact with the living truth and will of God, and we hear the voice itself of Christ."