home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
April 28, 2009

What is a secular Catholic? - People unaffiliated with a religious tradition often found to harbor interest in faith and religion - Migrants as pawns in complex economic system - Protecting the environment means protecting the poor - and more

In this edition:
1. St. Francis pledge to protect creation and the poor.
2. What exactly is a secular Catholic?
3. Why people leave the religious tradition of their childhood.
4. Current quotes to ponder: a) What will they say when the history of this economic crisis is written? b) The 2009 U.S. ordination class.
5. The pope gives greed its due.
6. Vatican voice at explosive anti-racism conference.
7. Migrants: Pawns in economic system that expropriates their work ethic.

1. St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor

A Catholic Climate Covenant was launched April 21, Earth Day, by the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. During a press conference in the U.S. capital, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., emphasized the "two fundamental principles and religious obligations" underlying the covenant:

a) "To care for God's creation."

b) "To do so in ways that protect and care for the poor and vulnerable."

A key element of the covenant invites Catholics to take the St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor. It is possible to take the pledge online at the coalition's Web site (www.catholicsandclimatechange.org). Individuals, families and groups all may sign it, pledging to:

-- "Pray and reflect on the duty to care for God's creation and protect the poor and vulnerable.

-- "Learn about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change.

-- "Assess how we - as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations - contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.

-- "Act to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change.

-- "Advocate for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable."

Bishop Skylstad, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the covenant and pledge are "not just one more environmental message or one more plea to serve those in need." Instead, he said, this is "an urgent call and a different message: How do we as a Catholic community and as a nation tread more lightly and act more boldly in the face of unfolding climate change?"

John Zogby, the noted pollster, participated in the Washington press conference by telephone from Europe. Citing results of a just-completed poll of Catholics, Zogby said that by overwhelming margins they see care for creation and care for the poor as religious obligations and moral responsibilities. He added that more than two-thirds of Catholics see the impact of climate change on the poor and the vulnerable as a serious moral issue.

Writing in the April 20-27, 2009, edition of America magazine, Bishop Skylstad said that "the moral and human dimensions are often neglected or missing in the dialogue over how to respond to climate change." As a result, "the Catholic community and its interfaith partners have a duty to speak for the voiceless and to bring together issues of social justice and environmental stewardship."

The partners and sponsors of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, Catholic Relief Services and the National Catholic Educational Association. Other national Catholic organizations are active participants in the coalition's undertakings.

2. What Is a Secular Catholic?

Secular Catholics are people who were raised Catholic but who "cannot find Catholicism as their central life project," according to Tom Beaudoin, associate professor of theology at the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York. Secular Catholics, he said, are "occasional Mass attenders, rare Mass attenders or never Mass attenders."

Beaudoin examined what a secular Catholic is and is not during a March 26 symposium in New York City marking the 25th anniversary of the National Pastoral Life Center. The text of his remarks appears in the April 30 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. The symposium's theme was, "St. Paul Speaks to Pastoral Leaders Today."

According to Beaudoin, a pastoral understanding of secular Catholics "could use the example of Paul" in terms of his own personal "cultural complexity." He pointed to a "striking" feature of Paul's theology that expresses concern with "trying to hold disparity together."

Secular Catholics "perhaps constitute the majority of U.S. Catholics today," Beaudoin said. "They are the ones who may have left the church intentionally, scandalized or disappointed, but more often have just drifted away."

It seemed clear that secular Catholics, in Beaudoin's estimation, are not all alike. They are, however, people who grew up "amid the ascendance of secular culture, in the wake of the implosion of the Catholic subculture and counterculture."

Secular Catholics "may show up late for Mass, sit in the back row and leave after Communion. They may say that they graduated from Catholicism after their confirmation," Beaudoin said. He added: "A great many went to Catholic schools. They may read stories about God or faith on the Web but rarely participate in any explicitly religious forum."

Secular Catholics continue to regard themselves as Catholics, the speaker indicated. They are "baptized Catholics who find themselves having to deal with their Catholicism and to do so as an irremediable aspect of their identity, but whom 'we' in ministry and theology might be tempted to call 'nonpracticing,' 'religiously illiterate,' 'relativistic,' 'inactive' or 'fallen away.'" Beaudoin explained:

"Secular Catholics find their Catholicism returning at some level that cannot be dispensed with, but do not or cannot make of it a regular and central set of explicit and conscious practices."

According to Beaudoin, "secular Catholics disagree with what many in this room might take to be essential tenets of the faith or at least corollary teachings." The Fordham professor said, "The deepest sense they make of life does not match up with what many of us might take to be the Catholic objective hierarchy of truths. Many here would say that secular Catholics are putting something in place of church like sports, work, leisure."

Secular Catholics often "may not be who we think they are," the speaker commented. He said, "According to recent research on American Catholicism by Robert Putnam of Harvard and David Campbell of Notre Dame, the fastest growing group within Hispanics/Latinos are 'seculars,' many of whom were raised Catholic."

Beaudoin told his listeners there are secular Catholics in his family, and "there are probably some in yours." These people "constitute the oceanic and silent penumbra of the Catholic Church," he said. They "may include the many who call themselves 'recovering Catholics' and who do so because the apocalypses of their lives -- physical, psychological, intellectual, spiritual -- were not able to be located on the map of the faith they had been taught."

Beaudoin appeared to caution against oversimplistic descriptions of secular Catholics. He said that contrary to what many Catholic apologists - including his own "earlier self" - have said, it is not necessarily true that these people had "a deficient religious education." He called this "too convenient a story for 'us' to tell about 'them.'"

Beaudoin suggested that "many 'recovering Catholics' know as much of what Catholicism at its best is about as those who still choose the Catholic Church as central to their lives."

Secular Catholics may well "scrutinize their motives" and undertake their own forms of "self-examination," said Beaudoin. "They are in no way simplistically relativistic," he stated.

St. Paul "was a living crossroad," Beaudoin told participants in the symposium. Returning to Paul, he added, "can be a way of making sense of our present." Beaudoin said, "Paul, who attempted to hold so many disparate things together, can still open to us our own newly discovered mystery, and with our attention can open Catholicism to its present."

3. Why People Leave the Religious Tradition of Their Childhood

Many people in the U.S. who leave the religious tradition of their childhood simply "drift away" from it. Some who leave enter a new religious tradition, while some go on to become unaffiliated with any religious tradition. The unaffiliated, however, are not necessarily nonbelievers, according to a report titled "Faith in Flux" released April 27 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"The category of people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion has grown more rapidly than any other religious group in recent decades," according to "Faith in Flux." The report is a follow-up to the "Landscape Survey" issued by the Pew Forum in 2008 analyzing patterns of religious affiliation in America.

The new report recalls a finding of the "Landscape Survey" showing that "the unaffiliated population is a very diverse group. Not all of those who are unaffiliated lack spiritual beliefs or religious behaviors." The new report shows "that a significant number of those who left their childhood faith and have become unaffiliated leave open the possibility that they may one day join a religion."

"Faith in Flux" reports that "Americans change religious affiliation early and often." Roughly 44 percent of American adults "now profess a religious affiliation different from that in which they were raised."

Here are a few findings of the new report:

-- "Most of those who decided to leave their childhood faith say they did so before reaching age 24, and a large majority say they joined their current religion before reaching age 36. Very few report changing religions after reaching age 50."

-- "Former Catholics who are now unaffiliated are much less likely than lifelong Catholics to have attended Mass regularly or to have had very strong faith as teenagers."

-- "Among both former Protestants and former Catholics who are now unaffiliated, more than seven in 10 say they just gradually drifted away from their childhood religion."

-- "Nearly two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated say they left the Catholic Church because they stopped believing in its teachings."

-- "One in 10 American adults is a former Catholic. Former Catholics are about evenly divided between those who have become unaffiliated and those who have become Protestant, with a smaller number leaving Catholicism for other faiths."

"Faith in Flux" analyzes the differing reasons given by those who leave Catholicism to become evangelical Protestants and those who leave to join mainline Protestantism. (The rationale of Protestants who leave their childhood religious homes also is analyzed.)

"Most former Catholics who are now evangelical Protestants, for example, say they left Catholicism in part because they were unhappy with Catholic teachings about the Bible," says the report. But former Catholics who entered mainline Protestantism were "much more likely to say they left Catholicism because they married a non-Catholic (44 percent) or because they were dissatisfied with the priest at their parish (39 percent)."

The report says, "The most common reason for leaving Catholicism cited by former Catholics who have become Protestant is that their spiritual needs were not being met (71 percent)."

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, a noted leader in religious education and catechesis, commented on the report, saying for example that it "highlights the importance of Mass attendance among children and teenagers." He said, "Adolescence is a critical time in religious development and, as the poll shows, what happens in the teen years has a long-lasting effect."

Among Christian churches in the U.S., the Catholic Church has one of the highest retention rates when it comes to carrying the Catholic faith into adulthood, 68 percent, Archbishop Wuerl emphasized.

Noting that "Faith in Flux" did not find that the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was a top reason Catholics gave for leaving the church, Archbishop Wuerl said this shows the resilience of the Catholic faith. "Catholics can separate the sins and human failings of individuals from the substance of the faith," he said. "Sexual abuse of a child is a terrible sin and crime, but most Catholic people -- because of good personal experience with their priests in their parishes -- recognize sex abuse by clergy as the aberration it is."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

When the History of This Crisis Is Written: "This [housing, financial and national] crisis presents us with the opportunity to change a nation, to not look around for signs of hope, but to determine to be signs of hope. When history is written about our time, our goal is to have this chapter read as follows: 'Challenged by unprecedented human needs and continued escalation of those suffering from inadequate food, housing, health care, education and training, a social movement swept the country that demanded that Congress and the administration lay aside their political differences, face the reality that poverty is a moral issue, and create programs and provide services that move people to independence. And they responded.'" (Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, speaking to an April 20 anti-poverty summit in St. Paul, Minn., sponsored by Catholic Charities, about the national agency's campaign to cut the U.S. poverty rate in half by 2020; quoted by Julie Carroll in the April 22 edition of the Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis)

Those Ordained This Year: "The [U.S.] ordination class of 2009 claims 11 percent Asian-born men, though the percentage of Asian Catholics in the United States is only 3 percent. Six percent of the class is from Vietnam and 2 percent from the Philippines. The percentage of Hispanics in the class is also 12 percent, though the percentage of Hispanic Catholics is estimated at 34 percent. Three percent are African American, the same percentage as African-American Catholics in the United States. The majority of the class, 72 percent, is Caucasian, although Caucasians make up only 58 percent of U.S. Catholics. The average age for the class of 2009 is 36. More than half (57 percent) are between the ages of 25 and 34. One quarter of ordinands were born outside the United States, with the largest numbers coming from Mexico, Vietnam, Poland and the Philippines. The percentage of ordinands who are foreign-born increased from 22 percent in 1999 to 38 percent in 2003, but has declined since that point and is now at 24 percent in 2009." (Excerpts from an April 20 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops news release about men being ordained to the priesthood in the U.S. in 2009; the analysis was conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The number of ordinations this year in the U.S. will be about 465.)

5. Pope Gives Greed Its Due

The current global economic crisis was born of greed, Pope Benedict XVI said in his general audience remarks April 22 in St. Peter's Square. Greed "insinuates to us that having is the highest good in life," though in fact greed distorts the purpose of material goods and destroys the world, he said.

The pope's strong remarks on greed came in the context of a brief talk about an eighth-century Benedictine abbot named Ambrose Autpert. "The turbulence of the times in which he lived affected life within the monasteries, and many of Autpert's writings summon his brethren to rekindle the fervor of their monastic vocation," said the pope.

Autpert wrote a work on the conflict between vices and virtues in which he "taught that greed is the root of all the vices," Pope Benedict noted. The pope underlined this "because in light of the current worldwide economic crisis it reveals itself as being a timely message. We see that this crisis arose precisely from this root of greed."

The pope said, "There are many different ways to live, but people, including the rich, must fight against greed, against the desire for appearances, and be against the false sense of freedom" that leads to thinking that whatever we desire is at our "disposal."

The pope's comments did not mark the first time he has spoken of greed recently. In his homily for the Jan. 1, 2009, World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict said that insatiable greed "sparks conflicts and divisions" in the world. In that homily, which focused on poverty, he said that to combat poverty it is necessary to reduce the gap "between those who waste the superfluous and those who lack what they need."

Then, explaining in February the delay of his upcoming social encyclical, Pope Benedict spoke again of the economic crisis. "The error at the basis of it is human greed," he said.

Will greed be among concerns addressed by the encyclical, which is expected soon? In his February comments, the pope said that if the encyclical "does not deal competently with the economic reality, it cannot be credible." However, he suggested that moralizing about the economic crisis will not be a sufficient way of addressing it. "Moralizing will not help if it is not supported by an understanding of reality, which also will help us understand what can be done concretely to change the situation," he said.

6. Vatican Voice at Explosive Anti-Racism Conference in Geneva

"Racism makes the false claim that some human beings have less dignity and value than others. It thus infringes upon their fundamental equality as God's children, and it leads to the violation of the human rights of individuals and of entire groups of persons, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative to U.N. agencies based in Geneva, said April 22 in an address to the Durban Review Conference, held in Geneva.

The conference was a follow-up meeting to examine a statement adopted in 2001 at the U.N.'s conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. Archbishop Tomasi noted that the Durban Declaration adopted by the 2001 conference represented a "global commitment to combat racism." However, he said, the work it envisioned is incomplete, "and so the journey must continue."

The archbishop said that while "globalization brings people together," the proximity it establishes "does not of itself create the conditions for constructive interaction and peaceful communion. In fact, racism persists: The stranger and those who are different too often are rejected to the point that barbarous acts are committed against them, including genocide and ethnic cleansing."

The church holds that openness to others and generous self-giving to them is a way of coming to maturity, said the archbishop.

Many people probably will remember this year's meeting in Geneva principally for the remarks about Israel made there April 20 by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He said Israel had "resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering" and had established a "totally racist government in the occupied Palestine." His comments prompted a temporary walkout by dozens of diplomats in attendance.

Afterward, Archbishop Tomasi said the conference had been intended as an "occasion to set aside mutual difference and mistrust, reject once more any theory of racial or ethnic superiority and renew the international community's commitment to the elimination of all expressions of racism." However, he said, the conference unfortunately was "used to utter extreme and offensive political positions" that do not contribute to dialogue, that "provoke unacceptable conflicts and in no way can be approved or shared."

In his formal presentation to the conference, Archbishop Tomasi said the world faces challenges that "demand more effective strategies in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." These, he said, "are evils that corrode the social fabric of society and produce innumerable victims."

Pointing to the global economic crisis, the archbishop accented its effects on "the vulnerable groups of society," thus demonstrating "how too often racism and poverty are interrelated in a destructive combination."

The archbishop called international covenants and national laws "indispensable" if a culture is to combat racism. However, he added, laws are ineffective if they are not met by "a change of heart." He said, "It is the heart that must continually be purified so that it will no longer be governed by fear or the spirit of domination, but by openness to others, fraternity and solidarity."

7. Migrants: Pawns in a System That Expropriates Their Work Ethic

"If the world is a marketplace, then migrants and their labor help deliver the produce and stock the shelves," Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City said April 9. In an opinion piece in the Salt Lake Tribune, the bishop, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Migration, said that today, "while economically powerful nations hold the capital, migrants help fill the jobs needed to turn capital into profit."

However, said Bishop Wester, far from holding an honored place in the world economic order, "in North America, Europe and most places in the industrialized world migrant workers are left without legal protection, criminalized and blamed for myriad social ills."

Bishop Wester's article appeared a week before U.S. President Obama met with Mexico's President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City. An opportunity exists for the two leaders "to reframe the immigration debate in a way that recognizes the effects of globalization on the movement of labor, yet injects basic human rights principles into the system," the bishop wrote.

He described migrant workers as losers in a "globalization game." Migrants, he said, "have no political power and are unable to defend themselves from inevitable abuse and exploitation. They are pawns in a system which preys upon their desperation and expropriates their work ethic."

It is time for the U.S. and Mexico to reform their immigration laws "and enforce current labor and due-process protections," the bishop added. That way, he said, migrants will be able to "come out of the shadows and travel and work in a safe and controlled manner."

Furthermore, Bishop Wester wrote, joint efforts should be pursued over the long term to promote development in the migrants' home countries "so that migrants can remain at home to work and support their families in dignity."