Catholics Cite Scandals for Mass Decline

West Australian [Australia]
December 2, 2006

Disillusionment with the Catholic Church in the wake of sexual abuse scandals has contributed to a steady decline in Mass attendance, a report to the Church's 43 bishops says.

It also cites the restricted roles of women in the Church and a feeling that its leaders are "not intelligent, not vibrant and not relevant" as reasons for the decline.

Those who have stopped going to Mass who were interviewed for the Church project Disconnected Catholics, published yesterday, complained of the silencing of prominent theologians and other Catholic thinkers, decisions being made without consultation and a Church focused on rules, not compassion.

Some said their parish priest promoted an anti-intellectual environment where "his word was law and critical thinking discouraged".

Others pointed to their priest's problem with alcohol, sexual indiscretions or abuse as a key reason for not attending Mass.

For some Catholics, faith no longer provided meaning or made sense.

But this was not driven by better education or scientific discoveries, a questioning of Church teachings, the role of religion in world conflicts and a sense of uncertainty about the meaning of life and the existence of God, the study said. Catholic bishops promised to learn from the study and use it to form pastoral strategies to reach out to those Catholics who had stopped practising their faith and "chart a way forward".

The bishops noted that many of the study's participants were still open to returning to Mass. Half said they still attended Mass occasionally, and almost one-third said they might return to weekly Mass attendance.

Attendance has been falling in all age groups under 75 but, worryingly for the Church, it has identified up to 60,000 young Catholics between the 1991 and 2001 censuses who no longer identified themselves as such.

The research was conducted by the Pastoral Projects Office of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and involved interviewing 41 Catholics aged between 29 and 74.

Other excuses for non-attendance included time clashes with sport, work or family, not feeling welcomed, laziness and unkind gossip.

The report warned that criticising non-attenders for their laziness, lack of faith or respect for legitimate authority would not attract them back to Mass, and if no action was taken now there would be regular Mass attenders who would soon disappear from Church life.


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