Catholic Priests’ Forgotten Flock: Catholic Men
The New Emangelization Project has documented that a key driver of the collapse of Catholicism in the U. S. is a serious and growing Catholic “man-crisis”. One third of baptized Catholic men have left the faith and the majority of those who remain “Catholic” neither know nor practice the faith and are not committed to pass the faith along to their children. Recent research shows that large numbers of young Catholic men are leaving the faith to become “Nones”, men who have no religious affiliation. The growing losses of young Catholic men will have a devastating impact on the U.S. Catholic Church in the coming decades, as older Catholic men pass away and young men fail to remain and marry in the Church, accelerating the devastating losses that have already occurred.
While there are massive cultural forces outside of the Church (e.g. secularism, pluralism, anti-Christian bias, radical feminism, pornography, media saturation, etc.) and missteps within the Church (e.g. failure to make men a priority, sex abuse scandals, homosexuality in the priesthood, etc.) that have contributed to the Catholic “man-crisis”, the New Emangelization Project has conducted dozens of interviews with top Catholic men’s evangelists that suggest that a core reason for the “man-crisis” is that bishops and priests have not yet made the evangelization and catechesis of men a clear priority. Men are being ignored by the Church.
To gain deeper insight into the critical role that priests play in the evangelization and catechesis of men, the New Emangelization Project fielded the Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey in the Fall of 2014. Over 1400 practicing Catholic men from the United States from over 1000 parishes participated in the survey, including solid responses from age groups and zip codes.
Here is the first major finding from the research.
Topline: Catholic Men Feel Neglected by Priests and Bishops
Only about 1 in 5 priests were rated by respondents as being highly effective in the evangelization and catechesis of men in their parishes. Most priests do not have a “man-plan”, do not gather men together for evangelization and catechesis and are not engaging men on the most basic of levels (e.g. such as showing up for scheduled men’s events, KOC meetings, etc.). Very few priests speak to men in homilies, despite the fact that the only parish activity that the majority of men ever participate in is the Mass. Further limiting the success of evangelizing men, very few priests encourage men to evangelize other men. Men see priests as preoccupied with women’s issues and believe that many priests may be afraid to specifically evangelize men. The lack of priest commitment to evangelize men is perhaps because bishops have not yet made the evangelization of men a priority; only 1 in 4 men think that their current bishop/diocese makes the evangelization of men a priority and 9 of 10 think that their bishop/diocese needs to do much more to evangelize and catechize men. It is clear that large numbers of the most faithful and practicing Catholic men are very dissatisfied with the commitment to evangelize men by their bishops and priests.
Here is a more detailed discussion, including statistics and comments by men who filled out the survey.
Few priests actively evangelize and catechize men
Starting with a general initial reaction to their pastor’s evangelization efforts, only 16% of respondents “strongly agreed” that their current priest makes the evangelization and catechesis of men a high priority and only 19% “strongly agreed” that their current priest was highly effective in the evangelization of men. Men were also asked their level of agreement as to their current pastor’s specific activities to evangelize and catechize men across 22 different categories (in the appendix, see categories listed in the section Men’s Evangelization and Catechesis Practices of Priests). Looking at respondents who “strongly agree” with how priests reach out to men across the 22 categories, the results suggest that some 80-90% of priests are not actively engaged in evangelizing men in critical areas.
Few priests have a “man-plan”
Only 7% of respondents “strongly agreed” that their priest had “a clear plan and program for the evangelization of men” and only 10% felt that their priest provided “sufficient parish resources for the evangelization of men.” Men commented on their priest’s lack of a “man-plan”:
He has been reluctant on doing anything just for men in the parish. He does not believe there would be enough participation.
Have a more male-centric agenda…the game plan is generic.
Speaks with a deep voice…and that’s about it.
In reviewing the over 1600 written comments, the most frequent response as to what men thought their priest was doing to effectively evangelize men was “Nothing.” Similarly, when asked what their current priest might do to more effectively evangelize men, the most frequent answer was “Anything.” The statistics and comments about the lack of a clear “man-plan” reinforce the strong belief among practicing Catholic men that the large majority of Catholic priests have not yet made the commitment to evangelize and catechize men. This suggests there is a strong case for optimism, for Catholic men simply want their bishops and priests to make an effort to evangelize and catechize men.
Few priests personally engage with men in their parishes
The survey indicates that only a few priests were clearly viewed by men (i.e. “strongly agree”) as making the personal effort to engage the men of their parishes on a regular basis:
11% are personally involved with teaching men’s groups.
14% take an active role in mentoring/providing spiritual direction to the men in the parish.
16% regularly show up for men’s events in the parish.
18% are active in supporting the Knights of Columbus.
Men were vocal in their disappointment about the lack of personal engagement by their priests:
He “allows” men’s programs in the parish but he is not one to help them flourish.
He could at least attend and support the Men’s Group.
Does not come to men’s groups, even upon invitation.
He needs to speak up and evangelize and catechize men himself without putting others in charge.
Spend more time with us.
Start reaching out to men. Our parish events are attended by 95% women.
Personally invite men to come to certain meetings.
Show an example of leadership through participating in parish events. Namely be involved in the catechesis of the men.
Quit hiding from us! We are not the enemy, and would love to support him as a priest.
Be more present in the parish — there’s a men’s group but he’s not there for the meetings. It’s probably not 100% his fault, though, as he has at least one other parish to cover.
Be more present instead of delegating.
He could work on relating to men on a one-on-one basis, getting to know the individuals and their needs and befriend parishioners. He could be present to those of the parish.
The Church has many great examples of men, such as Peter and Paul, who’s personal and active evangelization of men (and women) built the Church. It is insufficient for priests to only offer the Sacraments and participate in the many activities of the parish; at the core, the Church is sustained by the making of new disciples and building them up so as to make more disciples. From the massive losses and disengagement of Catholic men in the past decades, it is clear that the current efforts by bishops and priests to evangelize men are devastatingly insufficient. Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Priests need to smell like the sheep”, is a call to priests to personally and actively evangelize and catechize men, starting with the men in their current parishes; it starts by simply showing up on a frequent and regular basis.
Men think that many priests are too focused on women
As documented in the dozens of New Emangelization Project interviews with top Catholic men’s evangelists, men have a strong sense that the Catholic Church has become feminized; the feminization of the Church is confirmed by a recent online poll by a major Catholic website that found that 75% of those responding believe the Church “has become feminized.” These reactions are also confirmed by research that shows that 70-90% of roles in the parish are held by women and that two thirds of weekly Mass attenders are women; the “face” of the average parish is mostly feminine. A review of the documents of the New Evangelization from the Vatican and the USCCB show either a gender-neutral approach to evangelization or a growing emphasis on outreach to women (e.g. Mulieris Dignitatum, Letter to Women, the repeated emphasis by recent popes on the “feminine genius”, the recent “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference”, etc.); there have been no serious efforts to reach men.
The growing emphasis on women and the imbalance of women/men in parish roles and in the pews has become entrenched at the parish level and supported by priests. Men are being neglected by their bishops and priests and men are dissatisfied with the lack of outreach to men and the imbalanced emphasis on women:
He offers roles and offices, such as lector, server, Eucharistic minister, CCD teacher, etc. predominantly to women. I am the only male lector.
We had a men’s group that our current pastor passively resisted until it died; the men continue to serve the parish in a number of roles, but that’s it for focus on men as such. The women’s group continues to flourish.
Move away from the PC mentality that women might be offended by the existence of male groups.
First thing is take special effort to reach out to men without being afraid that the women will be offended.
Drop the pro-feminism support and support and strengthen the importance of men in this world as well as our parish.
He could make it a priority that laymen have a voice in our parish and actively recruit men for positions like faith formation leader.
By starting to care about men first. Priests surround themselves with women and call on women to lead most things in parishes.
Quit treating men as second-class persons.
The comments above and the New Emangelization Project interviews note the sensitivity that many women (and some priests) have about the role of women in the Church, which may lead some priests to want to avoid the evangelization and catechesis of men. Many in the Church, including recent popes, have called for a greater recognition of the dignity of women (by men, presumably). However, the Church and the world will not make meaningful progress in lifting up the dignity of women without a new and robust evangelization and catechesis of men. Misogynist men (and it is unclear just how prevalent these types of men are in the U.S. Catholic Church) or men who take women for granted will not be coerced or scolded into changing macho behaviors. Changing behaviors of men will require a conversion in Christ; until the Church makes a strong and sustained effort to evangelize and catechize Catholic men, there can be no serious progress in upholding the dignity of women.
It is clear that men (and many women) recognize that the U.S. Church has a dramatic female/male imbalance (e.g. it is feminized) because it is missing solid lay male involvement and participation in parish life. What is needed is not to lower women, but to elevate Catholic men through a newfound commitment to the evangelization and catechesis of men.
Few priests challenge men in their homilies
The vast majority of Catholic men (83%) “rarely or never” participate in the parish life outside of attending Mass; this means priests must actively reach the vast majority of men in homilies, if men are to be reached at all. Sadly, only 7% of men “strongly agree” their current priest “often speaks to the needs of men in homilies.”
Men realize they are being mostly ignored by priests and want their priests to talk directly to men in homilies about the issues that men face and to challenge men to become better Catholic men:
There are no challenges given in homilies to men to grow in their faith, and no emphasis on what authentic masculinity looks like. This leads to men who fall asleep at Mass and fall into sin outside of the Church.
He preaches well to a general audience, but he does not speak about things that concern men.
He gives weak and vague homilies, avoiding topics that pertain to men (especially controversial topics).
He should specifically refer to men occasionally in his homilies.
Ideally, he would speak more directly to the crisis of Catholic men and lead or encourage us to start more men’s groups at the parish.
Make it specifically about men. Actually preach about tough issues. Quit being so soft.
Teach specifics in his homily and lay out “expectations” for men. Lay out positive and negative impacts for behaviors (good and bad).
Speak more frequently in “bold colors, not pale pastels.” Need to hear more about Hell, the need for Confession, continue to condemn abortion and the evils of gay marriage for the sake of our children.
Light some fires. Homilies that are less entertaining but relevant to the battles men face daily. Step on some toes and proclaim the teachings of Christ’s Church. Take on the issues and defend with pure Catholicism.
Personally I would like him to defend the Church and its teaching more from the pulpit. He is a amazing homilist, but doesn’t ever preach on what the Church itself is trying to defend. He connects well with everyone, but men need to hear why our Church believes and teaches from the pulpit because not every man attends men’s groups.
He needs to challenge men, talk to them beyond saying “hello.” Preach on issues more personal to the crosses men carry. He tends to give generic homilies that try and walk the fence on everything.
Give more hard-hitting, frank and honest homilies that don’t avoid or gloss over difficult social and moral issues.
Most homilies are geared toward women, not men.
These comments demonstrate the frustration many men have with the lack of attention and failure by many priests to specifically challenge men in homilies. It is clear men are longing for priests to speak the truth about hard issues they face, rather than politically correct and bland homilies that fail to move the hearts and minds of men. Again, what is being voiced is men’s perceptions of the feminization of the Church through feminized/not-masculine homilies.
These findings again underscore the case for optimism in addressing the Catholic “man-crisis”. Men’s need for direction and the perceptions of the feminization of the Church can begin to be addressed through a priests’ commitment to regularly speak to men in homilies. Speaking to men in homilies on a regular basis is “low-hanging fruit” in the evangelization of men; it requires no additional time commitment by priests or new spending.
Few priests gather men together for men-specific events
Echoing the lack of attention to men in homilies by most priests, men also reported that very few priests gather men together for evangelization and catechesis outside the Mass. Few men “strongly agree” that their priests actively gather men together:
4% of priests “routinely bring fathers and sons together for prayer, teaching and fellowship.”
7% “lead groups of men to serve the poor and needy.”
8% “regularly gather men together for teaching, prayer and fellowship.”
9% “lead men on retreats and pilgrimages.”
11% “gather men together for Adoration of the Eucharist.”
The verbatim comments reveal that men want their priests to get personally involved and to begin to gather men together for a variety of different types of men-focused events, particularly events that draw young men and help men be better dads:
I think pastors should consider a monthly gathering and personally invite (one-on-one) men to attend; have refreshments and keep the meeting short–it cannot run over its scheduled time.
Schedule regular men’s teaching events.
Be more present to the young men in our parish, allow for more opportunities for father/son events, lead times of fellowship and prayer for young men in our parish.
Promote men programs that enable men to be better men, fathers, brothers, uncles, & parishioners.
My age group specifically feels left out. We are coming out of the college ministry and feel disconnected from the older men in the parish. We are almost left to fend for ourselves during a highly transitional point in our lives.
Specialized events or gatherings only for men and being open to talking about men’s issues with them. Taking more time to listen to the men of the parish. Organized efforts where men can feel like men and take on a more masculine role in the parish.
He could lead a bible study maybe! He has incredible knowledge of Scripture. He needs to teach more! He’s my inspiration!
Foster men’s retreats that truly evangelize men. There is more to life than only family ministry.
Monthly Man’s Mass or Father and Son Mass, followed with a short class or witness.
Support a men’s group, attend a men’s group, have a men’s retreat (we have a women’s retreat coming up, a women’s bible study, a moms group, etc.) and then be present at those things. We have a men’s conference in our archdiocese but no mention from the pulpit, just a blurb in the bulletin.
Host bible studies for men. Help foster men’s accountability groups. Discuss openly the struggles men go through in the secular world and give examples of Saints who have gone through those same struggles and prevailed.
Bridge the gap between cultural masculinity and the masculinity of the Saints.
Most priests have not yet made the commitment to specifically and systematically gather men together for prayer, the Sacraments and fellowship. Rather than complex and expensive new programs, men are longing for simple fraternity, with their priest and other men, to learn and practice the basics of the faith. Rather than “programitis”, priests need to build a parish culture in which men expect to be gathered by their priests and are expected to show up for men’s events for evangelization, catechesis, the Sacraments and prayer in Christ.
Few priests build groups of men to lead
Men routinely commented on the heavy burden that priests carry, observing the many priest have large (and multiple parishes) and schools to lead. Despite the fact that many priests are overloaded, few priests seek to harness the power of laymen to carry the burden; only 12% of respondents “strongly agreed” that their priest makes it a priority to call men to evangelize other men. Recognizing that priests are stretched thin, men commented on the need for priests to reach out and draw men into leadership positions to evangelize men:
Reach out to more men to get them involved.
Identify pockets of men who would participate in leading others into the faith. Involve them into creating groups of outreach to form friendships around the faith.
Appoint parishioners who will lead a men’s ministry and provide resources.
Encourage men to take up leadership in this evangelization process.
It is unrealistic to think that a priest can personally evangelize every man in his parish through one-on-one contact, though each priest should be able to point to large numbers of individual men that he has personally evangelized. If the New Evangelization is to gain momentum among men, priests will need to learn how to be more effective in mobilizing leaders within their parishes to evangelize other men. A note of encouragement: the survey echoes the New Emangelization Project interviews which suggest that there are large numbers of men who are willing and waiting to be called to a mission by their priests. The Church has a large and untapped source of latent energy to drive the New Evangelization; practicing Catholic men in the pews who are hungry and waiting to be called and led by their priestsf.
Bishops have not made men’s evangelization a priority
The lack of engagement by priests in the evangelization of men is perhaps not surprising, for the respondents felt that their diocese/archdiocese (i.e. their bishops) had not yet made men’s evangelization a priority; if bishops are not signaling the importance of evangelizing men through the bishops active personal engagement, priests are less likely to make men’s evangelization a priority.
Only 7% of men “strongly agreed” and only 20% “agreed” (total of 27%) that the “evangelization and catechesis of men is a priority” in their diocese/archdiocese.
An astounding 88% of respondents thought that their diocese/archdiocese “needs to do more to evangelize and catechize Catholic men.”
* * * * *
The New Emangelization Project has documented the catastrophic exodus of men from the Church and that the majority of men who remain “Catholic” are lukewarm, neither knowing nor practicing the faith. The survey indicates that large numbers of loyal practicing Catholic men feel neglected by their bishops and priests; neglect and dissatisfaction is likely a major contributing factor in the ongoing exodus of men from the Church. Without a dramatic new emphasis on the evangelization of men by bishops and the calling of priests to a new urgency to evangelize men by their bishops, the continued hemorrhaging of men from the Church is unlikely to be staunched.
Download the Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey here: New Emangelization Project – Helping Priests Become More Effective In Evangelizing Men – August 2015
 The New Emangelization Project, http://www.newemangelization.com/interviews-3/.
 David C. Leege and Thomas A. Trozzolo, “Participation in Catholic Parish Life: Religious Rites and Parish Activities in the 1980s,” Notre Dame Study of Catholic Parish Life, Issue 3 (1985): 14.
 “Gallup Poll of Catholics, 2005”, Question 75, http://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/GALLUP05_CB.asp.
 “Gallup Survey of Chicago Catholics, 2007”, Question 157, http://www.thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/CHICATH_CB.asp.
 Catholic “Man-Crisis” Factsheet; http://www.newemangelization.com/man-crisis/the-catholic-man-crisis-factsheet/.
 Alan Cooperman, et al, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (May 2015), http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/05/RLS-05-08-full-report.pdf.
 The New Emangelization Project, http://www.newemangelization.com/interviews-3/.