estimated 17 million Catholics in the United States are
baptized but inactive. Most of these people consider themselves
Catholic, checking that as their religion on a hospital
admission form, for example.
Catholic parishes and dioceses now sponsor “Come Home” or
similar programs, inviting men and women who feel estranged
from the Church of their Baptism to resume practicing their
faith. Buses, billboards, parish signs, radio and TV spots
announce such programs.
entire Church has recently begun to see this outreach as
a priority. These men and women are not some distant “they”
but are family members, co-workers or friends.
Listening Is Crucial
outreach programs all begin with listening to people. For
15 years Carrie Kemp has been working with inactive Catholics.
For the past six years she has run a Come Home program at
the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her
book Catholics Can Come Home Again: A Guide for the Journey
of Reconciliation With Inactive Catholics (Paulist Press,
2001) recounts what she has learned.
writes: “We call them alienated, former, lapsed, fallen
away, but only rarely do we call them to talk with us, to
tell us their stories, to know their goodness and their
pain. Unrecognized, the millions who are alienated from
our Catholic family become a gaping wound in the Body of
Christ—a hemorrhage of anger, frustration, pain, and rejection.
Without opportunity for reconciliation and healing, ongoing
struggles with the Church eventually erode into spiritual
deadness, isolation and hopelessness.”
she explains, “The Church needs to be a place where we can
not only bring our burdens, but where we can sort them out,
finding acceptance during our reflection and the encouragement
to continue on the journey.”
Need to Ask Forgiveness
we, the Church’s members, are human, we sometimes fail to
live as Jesus’ followers. You and I may have caused some
of the bitterness inactive Catholics feel.
II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World
says that believers can unintentionally promote atheism.
The bishops wrote, “To the extent that [Christians] neglect
their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine,
or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life,
they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic
face of God and religion” (#19).
scandal from believers can foster atheism, the sins of individual
Catholics can certainly prompt others to become inactive.
Pope John Paul II says conversion is a first step toward
reconciliation. In On the Coming Third Millennium
(1994), he wrote:
it is appropriate that, as the Second Millennium of Christianity
draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious
of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times
in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ
and his Gospel and, instead of offering the world the witness
of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways
of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness
and scandal” (#33).
his 1975 apostolic letter Evangelization in the Modern
World, Pope Paul VI wrote, “People today are more impressed
by witness than by teachers, and if they listen to these
it is because they also bear witness” (#41).
on research done by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization,
in January 2000 Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington,
Delaware, stated that most Catholics drifted away from the
Church because they:
Things Each of Us Can Do
Allow inactive Catholics to report their feelings
and experiences honestly. Listening does not mean approval
of everything you hear.
Learn about local outreach efforts to inactive Catholics.
Ask yourself, “Does my daily life foster faith in
Jesus Christ and membership in the Catholic Church?”
Invite computer-using inactive Catholics to visit
a Web site designed for them.
is part of St. Anthony Messenger’s online communication
efforts. The site has an interactive component (based on
the above reasons), a question-and-answer resource area,
a means of locating local programs for inactive Catholics,
links to www.MassTimes.org
and specialized services such as the National Office for
Post-Abortion Reconciliation and Healing—and much more.
sharing our faith, God “causes the growth” (1 Corinthians
3:7). God counts on us, however, to model lives open to
grace and to the conversion we all need.—P.M.