Cavins’ reaction to new Pew survey: Sound the alarm

| May 13, 2015 | 26 Comments
Attendees of Catholic Charities USA’s annual gathering in Charlotte, N.C., praying during an Oct. 5, 2014, Mass at St. Joseph Vietnamese Catholic Church.

Attendees of Catholic Charities USA’s annual gathering in Charlotte, N.C., praying during an Oct. 5, 2014, Mass at St. Joseph Vietnamese Catholic Church.

The share of the U.S. population that is Christians has sharply declined, fewer young people attend church than ever before, and more Americans are leaving organized religion behind altogether, the Pew Research Center found in a survey it published May 12.

“While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men,” Pew reported. “The drop in the Christian share of the population as been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics.”

The Catholic Spirit asked Jeff Cavins, director of evangelization and catechesis for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a nationally recognized Catholic speaker and author, to share his analysis of the report and what it means for the Catholic Church locally and in the U.S.

TCS: What’s your first reaction the report?

Cavins: My first reaction is that the religious landscape is reflecting popular culture and the news. People are becoming bored with mainline religion and looking for alternative ways of satisfying their spiritual needs. Americans are turning to social causes as a way of expressing their inner priorities and some are turning to radical movements, such as ISIS, to find meaning.

TCS: What surprised you?

Cavins: What surprises me is that the figures are as good as they are in favor of mainline Christianity. Christian movements do not appear on the evening news as having much influence and are not providing answers to the angst in the American soul.

TCS: What didn’t surprise you?

Cavins: What didn’t surprise me was the rise of Islam around the world. Islam seems to be the only world religion that is somewhat organized and is speaking into the current spiritual void.

TCS: Pew says a decline in people who are mainline Protestant and Catholic is the main driver of the drop of the Christian share of the population. What does this tell you?

Cavins: It tells me that mainline Protestant Churches, as well as Catholic parishes, are not participating by not articulating their worldview in the public square. In some sense they both have lost their story and are not providing anything that is attractive or compelling in juxtaposition to the social headlines.

TCS: What does this mean for the Church in the U.S.?

Cavins: It means that unless we begin to teach our children the unique message of Jesus Christ, other messages will eclipse ours and we will be put in the position of defending the Gospel to our own children. The fact that many Catholic adults do not understand their faith means that the battle will be lost at home, even before the battle is brought to the public square.

TCS: Should this data concern Catholics? Why or why not?

Cavins: Our reaction as Catholics should go beyond concern and move to the category of alarm. Think about it, the true story of the world, that is the saving action of Christ and the hope of eternal life, is fading. This amazing story of salvation history is giving way to a mindset that largely discounts historical Christianity and welcomes a “gospel” that calls evil good and good evil. We as Catholics are responsible for proclaiming the good news, but if the good news is not understood or proclaimed, the void will be filled.

TCS: You have a finger on the pulse of nationwide Catholic evangelization initiatives. What gives you hope for the future of the Church?

Cavins: My hope is in the grassroots efforts of many holy men and women who will not stop being witnesses of Jesus Christ. My hope is in the fine young priests and bishops that God is raising up to lead us into difficult waters. When times become difficult, which we know well in our own archdiocese, we are forced to do things differently. When we are forced to do things differently, we often do them better. I’m very hopeful about our future as a church because I’m confident that Christ will not abandon us, and I’m confident that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead us.

TCS: What’s the most important question Catholics should be asking ourselves as they reflect on this data?

Cavins: I think Catholics need to seriously consider the world they are creating for their children and grandchildren. If Catholics depart from the true story of the world, that being Christ and his worldview, they will be passing on to their future generations a worldview that could be described as a boat lost at sea. Catholics need to ask themselves, “Is the message of Christ worth dying for? If so, is it worth living for?”

TCS: What is your overall takeaway?

Cavins: It’s time to sound a clear alarm! What we are doing to spread the good news of Jesus Christ is not working in America. We need to seriously reevaluate parish life, formation and begin to teach and expect that every Catholic would know and proclaim the truth of Christ. Truth is not a concept or abstract idea to discuss. Truth is a person, Jesus Christ.

Survey shows increase in Americans who aren’t part of any religion

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  • Ellen Palmer

    I just finished my fifth year in working in a Catechsis of the Good Shepherd program. It is lots of training and work. But if it is helping young children to learn to love Jesus, the good Shepherd and the liturgy, IT IS WORTH IT!

    • Heather

      Thank you for your work! My daughter participates in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and it is an amazing program.

  • Jacob

    Respectfully, I really question how many people actually know what is going on at Mass. When Mass is a self-enclosed circle of people talking at and to each other, is there any surprise why people leave. If Mass is not an experience with the divine, then eh, who cares? If Mass is just about me and we, I can find that anywhere.

  • Darnel

    No reverence of the Sacred among a great deal of Catholics. Many either don’t believe in the Eucharist or live as though it means nothing by sinning, not going to confession and then receiving anyway.

    Failed catechesis led to half-assed Catholic fathers and mothers and here we are with so many kids who don’t know what to believe. They’ve never been given (shown) the love of their faith that they deserve. So they convert to protestantism or lose faith, or they dive right into this relativistic culture headlong.

    Our American Church is trying so hard in many ways to play it safe that we are failing everyone. When half of us use a hammer and the other half are too busy smelling the roses, nothing gets done. I fully expect that those who are the ones marching and petitioning against abortion and gay marriage (and in my opinion are the more solidly founded Catholics) will have to all learn how to evangelize correctly for this age.. I know many who just have no clue how to reach people. They don’t have a soft tone.

    Honesty, bold and raw. Our culture has no attention span, they talk in tweets! This is the extent to which they listen, 140 characters! Matt Fradd, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Chris Stefanick. All three guys who know how to use social media, know how to engage, are honest, kind, and bold.

  • Peter Shafton

    Instead of being paranoid about getting it politically correct, we must
    start teaching our children what we learnt ourselves. Teach them about the
    uniqueness of our Catholic faith, the Sacraments, and in particularly the Holy
    Eucharist and the importance of the priesthood.
    Catholics must stop appeasing Satan’s minions, by slighting the Church and the clergy. Without the clergy, we have no Eucharist. We will then be easy picking for Satan and his minions.

  • John

    I am perplexed by this statement: “Islam seems to be the only world religion that is somewhat organized.” In what way is Islam organized? Sunni, Shiites, and Sufis generally do not get along. There is no central Islamic authority–nothing akin to the Vatican. Even at the local level radical and mainstream practitioners are at odds. Whatever the flaws of the Catholic Church we are organized.

  • Sue

    The vast majority of Catholics have never been taught our Faith. This problem continues, but our archdiocese refuses to recognize it much less take the necessary steps to correct it. Requiring basic knowledge of the Faith before admission to the sacraments is the very least that should be required in our parishes! Stop the “Minnesota Nice,” & start preparing our people for the persecution that’s already begun!

  • Paula Ruddy

    Hi, Everyone. I keep thinking we could have a new Pentecost here in this Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis if we started pulling together instead of discounting each other. Drawing lines around the people who are right and the people who are wrong is killing us. Catechesis and questioning have to live together. Many different ways of being Catholic have to live together. The sacred is in all kinds of liturgy. We need leadership who loves every last one of us. Jeff, are you up to that?

    • liz

      Yes we need to pull together! That means learning our Catholic Faith–not trying to change Teachings and Doctrine that Jesus himself gave us. If only we realized the beautiful complementary roles of women and men in our Church and stopped trying to futilely Chang Natural Law. What a stubborn people humanity is and we are truly blessed that Jesus in His Divine Mercy is unfathomable Love and Patience itself!
      If only all who claim to be Catholic would understand the True Presence in Holy Communion… Alas the lukewarm reception we give Him who gave us everything!

      • Paula Ruddy

        Hi, Liz. I beg you to have some of that mercy and patience with me and others whose minds just have to ask questions. For example, I have to ask which teachings and doctrines Jesus himself gave us. See what I mean? In order to work together, we will have to stop scolding and trust that we are all committed to God and the Church. I trust that you are a faith-filled woman, and I thank you for replying to my comment.

      • Paula Ruddy

        Pentecost reminds me that the Holy Spirit came to a vast variety of folks according to the report in Acts. Can’t it still be that we have unity among many different ways to express the Spirit?

    • anonymous-guest

      Here’s a snippet of what the first Pentecost looked like as told in Acts 2:36-41:

      “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
      When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
      Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
      With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
      Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

      In a similar vein, we read this passage in Luke 4 at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry:

      “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to proclaim good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to set the oppressed free,
      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

      The radical equality of oneness in Christ and the radical liberty of freedom in Christ are of a different nature than the spirit of the age, where radical egalitarianism leads to bitterness about true distinctions and radical individual liberty leads to enshrining the pursuit of pleasure at any cost.

      When the Spirit of the Lord is present, it is, at least in part, about radically freeing people from darkness: from the darkness of captivity to the devil, from the darkness of the world, and from the darkness inside our hearts.

  • Carol Larsen

    Catholics who leave the church do so for various reasons, mostly concerned with the lack of the hierarchy to understand the difficulties that we face in raising families when many still feel that they are breaking the moral law by deciding for themselves how many children they want to and can afford to raise. Add to this the fact that women are still excluded from the priesthood and the current disclosure of so many cases of child abuse by the clergy, and you have a perfect storm of unhappy and disaffected Catholics, who nevertheless, will probably not go to another denomination as they still believe that there is no “second best” Christian church. Therefore, they give up going to church altogether. It is sad to think that so many of our children and grandchildren are growing up with so little knowledge of what Jesus Christ and the church that he founded have to offer, because that message has been corrupted and overlaid with an excess of legalism and exclusionary practices

  • Neil Tift

    Is there a correlation between the decline in religious participation by the young and the increase in the religious right and their stance on issues that appeal to young Americans?

  • Tom Cooley

    I cannot speak for Protestant or churches outside of our area but the leadership in the metro area of St. Paul and Minneapolis continues to divide our church rather than to unite it. Our Archbishop continues to discriminate against members of our community who may have been born with different sexual orientations. This not only discourages these members from participating but it also makes those who support them disgruntled that anyone who leads this Church could act so Un-Christ like. His actions have caused more of his flock to leave than to attract new members. Combine that with the disingenuous response by the same group to the clergy abuse issues and one can hardly wonder why pew numbers are declining.

    • Dave

      So we should do away with the idea of sin and that will solve the problem….got it.

      • Paula Ruddy

        Hi, Dave. I don’t hear Tom saying we should do away with the idea of sin. We could open the question of what “sin” means. Is it an offense against God? Does God get offended? Who is to say what God thinks? Is it harming other people? Are there some norms or principles of sexual behavior that determine what acts are sinful? I don’t think we have a shared understanding on the subject, do you?

        • Dave

          Is sin an offense against God? Yes, just like disobeying our parents is an offense against them. We harm ourselves when we sin (that’s why God tells us not to do it in the first place). Who is to say what God thinks? That’s one of the main reasons that Christ came! To tell us and show us what God thinks. That’s also why He gave us a Church, to be a repository and safeguard of that truth. He didn’t leave us in the dark to have to figure everything out for ourselves. What would be the point of dying for our sins if He didn’t even give us the scoop on what is and is not a sin? In fact, He left the Church with the truth and that truth does not change just because some particular sins become popular 2000 years later.

          • Paula Ruddy

            Hi, Dave. Thank you for this. I can see your point of view. I see it a little differently. I believe the Holy Spirit is with the whole church and being responsive to the Spirit and using our reason we are figuring things out together as we go along over the centuries. I treasure the tradition for that reason, and I think future generations deserve our best efforts to think things through.
            The question isn’t which of us is right. In my view, the question is whether you and I can both call ourselves Catholic and show some unity to the world. What do you think?

          • Dave

            It is certainly true that we do discover more truth over the centuries, and that we use our reason in that process. However, it is a process of *development* of the original kernel of truth, not a matter of an outright reversal or repudiation of the original kernel.

            Honestly, I’m not sure we can both call ourselves Catholic. Being Catholic entails being faithful to the Magisterium. See, for example, CCC 2036, “The authority of the Magisterium extends also to the specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation.”

            How exactly could we show unity to the world, when in fact, there is profound disagreeement on elementary moral principles, and profound disagreement on whether or not following the Magisterium is required? It seems that we aren’t any more united than Protestants in that case.

          • Paula Ruddy

            Dave, good question, but I don’t know that our disagreements are so profound. Do you think that just the beliefs I stated here count me out of the Church? “I believe the Holy Spirit is with the whole church and being responsive to the Spirit and using our reason we are figuring things out together as we go along over the centuries. I treasure the tradition for that reason, and I think future generations deserve our best efforts to think things through.”
            Maybe I should have said that I understand the Magisterium to be part of the “whole church” that is responding in faith and reasoning.
            Is there something about the way I am saying it that makes you think I don’t observe the specific precepts of the natural law spelled out by the Magisterium and will not be saved?
            Thanks for talking about it with me.

          • Dave

            Well, my assumption is that you were agreeing with Tom Cooley above that “Our Archbishop continues to discriminate against members…with different sexual orientations.” I don’t really think anything you have actually said so far would count you out of the Church and I am certainly not qualified to judge your soul, so please don’t expect any pronouncements from me on that subject.

            The language of “figuring things out together” makes me a bit queasy because many/most basic things about theology and moral behavior have already been figured out for us by Christ explicitly (or even earlier) or by the Church in the early centuries.

            Certainly the Magisterium is part of the “whole Church” but it is the part that has a teaching role and as such the Holy Spirit prevents it from error so that it cannot lead the entire Church astray.

            Specifically, it would strain my Faith to believe that the Church has gotten it wrong all these centuries about human sexuality, which is something that every generation of Christians needs to know the Truth about. This would mean that Christ and the Holy Spirit allowed the Church to condemn the actions of untold numbers of people needlessly and wrongly, and essentially would mean that the Magisterium is useless and the Protestant conception of the Church is the correct model.

            Let me clarify that it is theoretically possible that the Archbishop could be discriminating unfairly, but in the great majority of cases, this language of “unfair discrimination” is code for “continues to uphold the 5000 year old teaching of Judeo-Christianity that same-sex sexual activity is gravely sinful.”

          • Paula Ruddy

            Sorry, Dave. I lost track of Tom’s point and went to unity in diversity of thinking, which is what I am most interested in. Are you pretty sure that Jeff Cavins and the Archbishop agree with how you are stating the doctrine of the Catholic Church? Language and thinking are so imprecise at times that I would hate to lose unity on that basis. Just so we keep our good will toward one another. Peace.

          • Dave

            You are right that we have to be careful about making interpretations of people and casting them as a heretic, as people aren’t always precise in what they are trying to say. I am sure that Jeff Cavins and the Archbishop would agree with what I have said, in substance, though as you said, there could be some minor quibbling with the exact words I have chosen.

          • Paula Ruddy

            Thanks, Dave. Onward.

  • A giese

    I get it, as Catholics we need to understand and practice our faith, however, when we speak of the abandonment of faith, the action becomes two part. Not only do we need to enhance our own faith but we need to be able to REACH OUT to others without chastising them and invite them into this amazing “community”. A simple way of encouraging this is to simply invite someone to join you in going to mass (keep asking, dont be dissuaded by “no”) try dedicating the Holy Days to reaching out to others. ( ps … Make it FUN!)