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Christina Josephs wrote:

Hi, guys —

A lapsed Catholic recently said to me that he was required to grovel every Sunday in Church (in Germany) and that in Catholic schools he was indoctrinated, not educated and that the clergy (including nuns) were only there to squeeze whatever money or wealth the people could not afford to give. He also talked about a church tax. He's 69 years old, quite intelligent, and was living in post World War II Germany.

This is so contrary to my own North American experience that I could think of no way to reply, but I have to admit that I have come across priests who arrogantly dismissed questions I had as a young woman, so I'm sure there may be some validity to his attitude. (I'm 71 myself.)

  • How do you answer such a claim?
  • Why would he continue to feel the anger that drove him from the Church so many years later?


  { How do I respond to my friend when he shares with me his bad memories of being a Catholic? }

Bob replied:

Dear Christina,

I would first validate his experience—he owns that and to tell him he didn't experience it is to lose him right from the outset.

Secondly, I would acknowledge that in many European countries the Church has suffered from:

  • bad leadership
  • complacency in the congregations, and
  • a loss of relevance for many.

People can't connect with the Church because it fails to meet them where there are or can't find ways to reach out.

It is frankly, too often, stuffy. I was just in Paris, and while I had a good experience in Notre Dame, and did find a community of faith at Sacré-Cœur (a beautiful landmark church), I was really turned off by one aspect of liturgy—namely the horrendous instrumental organ piece played at Communion, from which I have never been made more uncomfortable at Communion. It was contrary to anything that would promote a good meditation of the reception of the Eucharist and frankly the Phantom of the Opera would have been more suitable.

I say this as a music director that has to make choices about music every week. To me it is evident that the song was chosen not for any kind of pastoral appropriateness but from a self-indulgent organist who probably has great skills but may even be just a hired gun.

  • Does he have faith and realize what his music is supposed to be enhancing?

This kind of problem is emblematic of a lack of vision or connection to the truest meaning of who we are and what we are really about. I've seen it too often.

Essentially, this episode reveals the lack of good pastoral judgment on behalf of the leadership, the Pastor. If I had played that here in the USA I probably would have been fired, or at least received a stern correction. If the Pastor allows this to patronize an organist who he is afraid of losing, he needs to get his priorities straight. If he doesn't see the problem, he is blind.

This is the crisis, in my view: there is a spiritual blindness that plagues the leadership—they don't see what is going on and why people are fleeing the Church. We need to pray for the clergy in Europe, who need to learn how to lead from the ground up, and serve more than just the die-hard devotees or tourists. They need to understand evangelization and preaching like never before. They need the Holy Spirit.

Lastly, I would tell your friend that there is another experience of church that is unlike what he knows, if he is open to it. You could remark that Jesus never wanted His Church to be anything like the kind of church he grew up in, and that He would like to make it better for him.

Invite him to read a good Catholic book (the Bible may be too loaded for him at this stage), and eventually, when you have shared some of your experience and earned his trust, without judgment, you can invite him to something at church.

It takes time to heal wounds, but patience, understanding, and love are needed. Love your friend and that will tell him more about what you believe in than anything else.


Bob Kirby

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