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Australia: Why do Catholics Leave? Why Do They Come Back? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 08 July 2007 11:55
An alternately interesting, illuminating, and depressing article in the Sydney Morning Herald Sunday about the Australian Catholic Church's attempts to bring home the vast number of lapsed Catholics in the run-up year to World Youth Day.

The paradoxes:

A) World Youth Day in 2008 will be the largest religious gathering in Australian history.

B) In 2007, 4.2 million of Australia's 5 million Catholics don't practice the faith (and in Australia, "practicing" means that you show up at Mass once a month!)

And this illuminating story:

"Jan Heath was once an inactive Catholic but 24 years ago found her way back. The truth, she says, is the Catholic Church has never been good at keeping its own. "I was brought up in a very strict Catholic family. When I got to 18, I drifted away; work, travel and boyfriends were more exciting than going to church.

"I found once you stopped going it was easy not to go the next week, the next and the next.

"One day a man came to paint my house and as I paid him for the job he looked at the view from our home and he said, 'Did you know, Mrs Heath, you could find God here without telling anyone?' He didn't hit me over the head with a Bible but he told me the story of his own discovery of God. I thought he was a bit weird but long after he had gone, he set me thinking.

"Two weeks later an interior decorator came to measure curtains and she asked: 'How do you and God get on?' We spent five minutes talking about curtains and five hours talking of God.

"Then a week later we got new neighbours and they invited me for a coffee. Before my backside was on the chair, the wife asked me if I'd been saved. I can tell you those three witnesses in six weeks stirred me up."

As she settled back into her faith, Heath wondered how it was that God sent an Anglican, a Lutheran and a Pentecostal to get her back to the Catholic Church. "Was there no Catholic who cared enough to lead me back? That led me to my passion."

Heath's passion is Catholics Returning, a parish program of four, two-hour sessions which invites spiritually adrift Catholics to return to the fold. It is a program that has been used in 100 parishes and has been successful, mainly because it is non-judgmental. It asks Catholics, in small groups, to tell their stories of the wilderness - and patches them back into parish life.

Heath finds people leave the church mainly out of boredom, indifference and anger - at God or the church. They drift away when struggling with life choices and usually stay away until some crisis or event, such as marriage or children, makes them rethink their spiritual direction."

Sherry's Note: All three of the "witnesses" who spoke to Heath, asked her about her relationship with God. (and how delightful that they were all lay people who witnessed in the context of their secular occupations!)

But Heath and the other Catholics interviewed talk mostly about other things: church scandals, ecclesiology, structure, politics, inclusive language, social ministries, etc.

None of them mentioned Christ.

Sometimes what is not said and what doesn't occur to anyone to say is as important as what is said.

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