I just read Pierre Hagy’s Wake Up Lazarus! On Catholic Renewal. In the first part of the book he documents the decline of the Catholic Church in the United States and the comparative success of evangelical Protestant churches. The Catholic Church, like the Episcopal Church, has lost a third of its members in the past generation; the loss in concealed in the Catholic Church by Hispanic immigration.


Hegy examines the culture of two local churches, an evangelical church started in 1955 which has grown to 2700 members and an astonishing missionary outreach, and a Catholic parish which seems to be doing everything right – shared governance lively liturgies- small communities – but whose attendance and support is shrinking.


In the Protestant church 80% of the members tithe, although tithing is not required. In the Catholic parish, parishioners give only 1% of their income, on line with national Catholic giving.  The Protestant church has a large number of converts and an international missionary effort; the Catholic parish has about 10 adult converts per year and no missionary effort.


Hegy’s main point is that church involvement does not produce a growth in spirituality, but a growth in spirituality produces church involvement. Successful evangelical churches are constantly leading their members into a deeper life of prayer and a relationship with Christ, and the core 5% of their membership lead a life of spiritual discipline comparable to a Catholic secular institute. 


Hegy also says that the Tridentine church’s emphasis on rules does not work, but a cultivation of moral habits does work in forming Christians. In the U. S. a larger percentage of Protestants than Catholics attend church. Other statistics I have seen indicate that evangelical Protestants are stricter in sexual morality than Catholics are.


Hegy sees the renewed emphasis on rules in the Catholic Church as doomed to failure. Instead the Church should encourage all its members to cultivate spiritual growth and discipline, encouraging its members to move up from minimal involvement to the beginning of spiritual disciple to serious discipline to complete commitment to Christ. It is not necessary to enforce attendance in mass under pain of mortal sin if Catholics wanted to come to mass to thank God for Jesus.The Catholic Church focuses on the church; the evangelical churches focus on Christ.


I have been asked whether what I have learned about sexual abuse among Catholic clergy has not destroyed my faith in the Catholic Church. The answer is no, but it has made me realize that simple reception of the sacraments does not produce virtue. With a lively faith and habits of payer the sacraments are fruitful. Without faith and prayer the sacraments have little or no effect. Priests said daily mass and raped children on the same altar.


Hegy mentions the transformation of the U.S. Catholic church into an Hispanic Church, but does not explore what this might mean. He also mentions that in the evangelical church women were far more involved than men, and what this might mean. I am returning to that subject in a book I am working on,  Meek or Macho? Men and Religion.

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