Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Catholic Men
Though the New Evangelization has been a major effort in the Catholic Church for over forty years, it has failed to stem the disastrous losses of the faithful in the U.S. The New Evangelization is faltering: since 2000, 14 million Catholics have left the faith, parish religious education participation of children has dropped by 24%, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, baptisms of infants has dropped by 28%, baptism of adults has dropped by 31% and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41%. Something is desperately wrong with the Church’s approach to the New Evangelization.
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.
The survey suggests with a robust commitment to evangelize men by bishops and priests, real progress can be made to address the Catholic “man-crisis”. Priests who make it a priority to evangelize men have a significant impact on men’s faith lives: highly effective “emangelizing” priests lead their men to pray more, attend Mass and Confession more frequently and have more and deeper friendships with other faithful Catholic men. Men are ready and willing to follow the majority of today’s priests. Men want to be challenged to aspire to Catholic manhood, to learn and practice the basics of the faith and to be drawn into Catholic fraternity with other men. Unfortunately, only about 1 in 5 priests (i.e. 20%) have made it a priority to evangelize men and the majority of practicing Catholic men feel neglected by their bishops and priests. Given the real impact that priests can have on Catholic men and the willingness of Catholic men to follow the majority of priests, the survey results suggest that with a new commitment by bishops and priests to evangelize and catechize Catholic men, great progress can be made in addressing the Catholic “man-crisis.
Seven themes stand out from the survey:
1) Few priests actively evangelize men and men are very dissatisfied – The survey results show that only about 2 out of 10 priests are seen by men as committed to actively evangelize men. The large majority of priests does not personally evangelize and catechize men in a systematic way, rarely (or never) gather men together, fail to call, teach and lead men to evangelize other men or even speak to men in homilies. Men feel neglected by their priests and bishops with almost 9 out of 10 of the respondents voicing dissatisfaction with the men’s evangelization efforts of their bishops/dioceses.
2) Men must be challenged to aspire to Catholic Manhood – In the post-modern culture, men are being emasculated, confused about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a Catholic; this is at the core of the Catholic “man-crisis.” Men want to know what a Catholic man is called to do and how to be better sons, husbands, fathers and friends. Men are hungry for priests to challenge them with the fullness of Catholic truth and to call them to the nobility and blessing of being committed Catholic men. Unfortunately, the survey suggests that many priests are more comfortable with softish urgings for mercy while neglecting to call and challenge men to the hard truths of the faith. Men are motivated by truth; when truth is not preached, men wander into sin and away from the Church.
3) Men need to be taught the basics of the Catholic faith – The New Emangelization Project research demonstrates that large numbers of men do not understand the basics of the Catholic faith. Men who do not understand the Catholic faith are not motivated to practice the faith and are unable to pass the faith along to their children. Unfortunately, the survey suggests that the majority of priests are failing to catechize men; priests are not specifically helping men to draw closer to Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph, to better understand the meaning and power of the Mass, to be challenged about Sin and the need for Reconciliation, to learn to pray and to provide basic apologetics so men can understand how to defend the Catholic faith. The survey also suggests that priests who are personally willing to engage men, teaching them the basics of the faith, can have strong impact.
4) The lack of Catholic fraternity hurts men’s faith lives – There is a serious lack of fraternity among practicing Catholic men, with only 1 in 6 practicing Catholic men saying they have strong bonds of brotherhood in their parishes. The survey shows that the lack of fraternity contributes to a less vibrant faith life in men; Catholic men with a lack of fraternity pray less, attend Mass less frequently, go to Confession less frequently and are less engaged in the life of the parish. The lack of Catholic fraternity is perhaps one of the most significant drivers of the exodus of men from the Church.
5) Men hunger for a more reverent Mass – The majority of respondents think their priests are not offering the Mass in a way that is sufficiently reverent and that draws men into a deeper awe of and communion with Jesus Christ. Many of the practicing Catholic men who participated in the survey believe that the Mass has become de-sacralized and feminized, distracted by seeking to build community instead of a reverent worship of Christ, over-emphasizing “mercy” while avoiding clear “truth”, and desecrated with sub-par irreverent music. Men hunger for priests to lead them who have an obvious sense of awe for the Real Presence of Christ and who offer the Mass with the holy dignity that Christ’s Sacrifice demands. Given that 8 out of 10 men rarely or never participate in any parish activities other than attend Mass, the survey suggests the de-sacralization of the Mass is a major contributing factor to the exodus of Catholic men from the Church since Vatican II.
6) Priests who focus on men have great impact – Priests who are rated highly effective in evangelizing men have a strong impact on their men; men attend Mass more frequently, read scripture more, go to Confession more, participate in men’s events, volunteer more and have more and deeper friendships and bonds of brotherhood with men in their parishes. Highly effectively “emangelizing” priests get personally involved, showing up for men’s events, personally teaching and encouraging fraternity among Catholic men. These are not “super priests”, but priests who simply make the commitment to “show up” for men. Priests who are committed to personally evangelize men make committed Catholic men.
7) Men will follow priests who lead – Survey respondents repeatedly voiced the desire for their current priest to begin actively leading the men of the parish; sadly, the majority of priests have not yet made the commitment to lead men. Some men lamented that their priest was effeminate and needed to be more manly, but the large majority of men had respect for their priests and believed their current priest had the inherent personal characteristics to successfully lead men. Catholic men are ready to follow priests who will lead; what’s needed now is for priests to make the commitment to lead men.
The survey suggests that real progress can be made in addressing the Catholic “man-crisis” by bishops and priests who make a personal commitment to make men’s evangelization a priority. Rather than significant investments in staff and programs, bishops and priests can have great impact by returning to the early Church’s approach in which the apostles personally gathered men together for prayer, sacraments, catechesis and fellowship:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
The New Emangelization Project has cataloged a number of grass roots parish-based approaches that draw on the model of Acts 2:42 and are working to draw men together on a regular basis (e.g. CatholicManNight, That Man Is You, The Holy League, Fathers of St. Joseph, Men of St. Joseph, Fraternus, Crossing the Goal, etc.); other approaches that gather men together using the Acts 2:42 model can also work. The survey makes it clear that Catholic men long for, and will follow, bishops and priests who are committed to lead men to Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.
Passionate Catholic men have always been central to periods of renewal and growth in the Church; without engaged Catholic men, husbands and fathers, the Church declines. The Church, for too long, has failed to take up the hard work of systematically and consistently evangelizing and catechizing men and this is a perhaps the central reason why the New Evangelization is faltering. Simply put: there can be no New Evangelization without a New Emangelization, creating generations of Catholic men who are on fire for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. What’s needed now is for bishops, priests and deacons to make a fervent commitment to make the evangelization and catechesis of men a top priority.
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
 Center for Applied Research into the Apostolate, http://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/requestedchurchstats.html.
 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/.