Why Aren’t US Bishops Prioritizing the Re-Evangelization of Former Catholics?

Pope St. John Paul II’s “New Evangelization” was directed towards lapsed Catholics

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. • ChurchMilitant • July 5, 2017

At their convocation in Orlando, Florida, U.S. bishops largely ignored Pope St. John Paul II’s long-standing call to re-evangelize fallen-away Catholics.

Atheists and “nones,” those without any religious affiliation, were the focus of Bp. Robert Barron’s talk on evangelization given July 4. This was the last day of the four-day Catholic Convocation in Orlando, where 3,500 Catholic leaders gathered to learn how to evangelize. The bishop said nones are mired in scientism, apathy and self-determination. To reach them, evangelists must, therefore, marshall arguments for the existence of God, discuss the lives of the saints and show them pictures of beautiful Church architecture.

Studies show more than half of all baptized Catholics in the United States have left the Church and only one in 10 ever return. Pope St. John Paul II, aware of this major problem, called for a “new evangelization” to address this group.

In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, the sainted pontiff wrote, “[E]ntire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the Faith or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church and live a life far removed from Christ and His Gospel. In this case, what is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization.'”

In his talk, Bp. Barron discussed how the receptivity of the audience dictates the topics open for discussion. According to him, an atheist may accept a well-reasoned proof for God’s existence. A Jewish person, however, is familiar with the Old Testament, while a Protestant may be won over by testimony from the Old and New Testament.

Fallen-away Catholics can be re-evangelized on why the Church is not only relevant but also necessary for their salvation. A document from Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, speaks of this necessity. Paragraph 14 reads:

Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. … If they fail, moreover, to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved, but they will be the more severely judged.

The bishops’ official website for the Orlando conference does mention “evangelization” many times, but the word “new” barely makes an appearance. Whenever John Paul’s full term is used by them, it seldom retains its original meaning of reaching out specifically to former Catholics. Perhaps one reason for ignoring this group is it would necessitate bringing up why these Catholics left the Church, and Catholic leaders generally don’t like to be confronted with the need to correct banal homilies, poor catechesis, scandal and liturgical abuses, which cause so many Catholics to abandon the Church.

Watch the panel discuss problems with the U.S. bishops’ convocation at Orlando in The Download—Event Catholicism.

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