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The Catholic Man Crisis and Why It Matters

September 24, AD2014 53 Comments

With its roots in Vatican II, the New Evangelization is a recognition that a crisis exists in the Church because large numbers of baptized Catholics have not been evangelized. But perhaps the most critical driver or the crisis has been largely ignored: the Catholic “man crisis.” Without coming to grips with why large numbers of Catholic men continue to leave the faith, and why many of those who remain lack passion, the New Evangelization will flounder; for men are essential to the health of parishes and the passing along of the faith to children.

Simply put: there will be no New Evangelization without a New Emangelization, in which generations of Catholic men are evangelized and lit on fire for Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church. The New Emangelization will be challenging, but it starts with confronting the Catholic man crisis.

The Crisis of Casual Catholic Men

Reviewing statistics of American Catholic men’s attitudes reveals a troubling lack of passion about the faith: there is an epidemic of Casual Catholic men. (Note: the sources for these statistics can be found at NewEmangelization.com.) Eight out of ten men believe that “how one lives is more important than being a Catholic.” Four in ten men believe that Catholicism does not have a “greater share of truths than other religions.” Only about one man in four believes that being a Catholic is “is among the most important things in life.” Clearly, large numbers of Catholic men lack passion for the faith.

But is the problem that men are simply not religious? The argument that men are just “less religious” does not hold up. The Orthodox Church attracts men and women in about equal numbers; only about one-third of weekly Catholic Mass attendees are men. Comparing Catholic men to Evangelical Christian men also reveals the lack of passion of Catholic men: significantly more Evangelical men think religion is very important in their lives, are certain about a personal God and pray on a regular basis.

Even more troubling is that Catholic men’s passion for the faith is decreasing. Comparing data over time, Catholic men’s certainty about remaining Catholic has dropped: twenty-five years ago, about 50% of Catholic men said they’d never leave the Church; today, only about 40% say they’d never leave. This means a startling 60% of Catholic men would consider leaving the Church.

Many men have already left the Church. Some 11 to 15 million Catholic men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church. Others, while still “Catholic”, have stopped practicing the faith: a third of Catholic men are not a member of a parish. Given the weakening levels of commitment to the faith, the man-exodus from the Catholic Church is likely to continue for some time.

The Crisis in Catholic Men’s Catechesis

At the very center of the “man crisis” is the fact that many Catholic men don’t believe in some of the central teachings of the Church. Many don’t believe in the importance of the Sacraments: only about 50% of Catholic men believe that the Sacraments are essential to their relationship with God. Worse, only about three in ten Catholic men believe that weekly Mass attendance or the Sacrament of Confession are “very important”.

Catholic men also lack belief in the importance of Catholic devotions and practices. Only 30% of Catholic men believe it is very important to have a devotion to Mary and even less (23%) believe in the importance having a devotion to the Saints. Catholic men also lack a commitment to prayer: Only 37% of Catholic men strongly agree that, “daily prayer is important.”

Given these dismal statistics on men’s understanding of the importance of the sacraments and devotion in Catholic life, it’s no surprise that less than half of Catholic men are confident that they “can explain their faith to others.”

The Crisis of Catholic Men’s Practice of the Faith

With such a lack of belief in the importance of the sacraments and devotions, it is no surprise that Catholic men do not practice the faith. Sadly, only 26% of Catholic men consider themselves to be “practicing Catholics.”

The large majority of Catholic men do not attend Mass. Only about one-third of Catholic men say they attend Mass on a weekly basis and men represent only about one-third of weekly Mass attendees. Four in ten Catholic men attend Mass “a few times per year” or “seldom or never.” The low levels of Mass attendance can be partially explained by men’s lack of understanding of the divine miracle occurring in the Mass: 50% of men agree that “Mass is boring” and 55% agree that they “don’t get anything out of the Mass.”

Men also are not going to Confession. An astounding three out of four Catholics never go to Confession, or go less than once per year. While breakout data is not available for men’s participation, it is likely that the lack of participation in Confession is even worse among men, for men are much less likely than women to believe that Confession is important

The large majority of Catholic men do not have a prayer practice. Less than one in three Catholic men pray on a daily basis. Almost half of Catholic men do not engage in a routine of prayer; praying only “occasionally or sometimes”, or “seldom or never.”

Why the Catholic Man Crisis Matters

The Catholic man crisis is an existential struggle for the souls of Catholic men. If the Church teachings are true, many Catholic men are at grave risk for their souls, for they are renouncing their faith, ignoring the their faith and many have fallen into grave sin, for example by watching pornography (some 60% of men view pornography on a monthly basis) while not turning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Large numbers of Men’s souls are at risk.

But the crisis in faith of the fathers is passed along to their children. Catholic parents are doing a poor job of passing on the faith, especially fathers. Given so many men are casual in their faith, it is not surprising that less than 50% of men strongly agree that it is important for their children to be Catholic. This lack of commitment by fathers to the faith is passed along to the their kids: an astounding eight out of ten 18-29 year olds would consider leaving the Catholic Church. And according new research by Dr. Christian Smith of Notre Dame, most of those young people are not returning to the faith.

This is particularly true for young men. The lack of men in the pews sends a signal that it is not manly to be Catholic. A Notre Dame study concludes that the paltry level of men’s involvement in teaching the faith in parishes, leads young men to turn away from the faith. Certainly, with less and less men being raised in the faith, there can only be a reduction in religious male vocations.

The lack of men involvement also weakens the local parish. Less than 2 in 10 men participate in any parish activity outside of Mass. Studies show that congregations with greater involvement of men are more likely to be growing. Catholic parishes cannot thrive and grow without men.

The New Evangelization is recognition that there is a crisis of faith in the Church. But until the Church acknowledges the man crisis, its key drivers and begins to take action to address it, there is little hope in stemming the losses of the faithful. To be clear, there can be no New Evangelization, without a New Emangelization, creating generations of Catholic men who are on fire for Jesus Christ and His Holy Catholic Church.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Matthew James Christoff is a Catholic convert. He is the founder of The New Emangelization Project (NewEmangelization.com) which is committed to confront the Catholic "man-crisis" and to develop new ardor, methods and expressions for the re-evangelization of Catholic men. Matthew is also a co-founder of CatholicManNight (CatholicManNight.com), a parish-based men's evangelization effort that has drawn thousands of Catholic men into Eucharistic Adoration, Confession, fellowship and lively discussion. Matthew lives in Minnesota with his beautiful bride (and childhood sweetheart); they have 4 adult children, 3 "in-law" children and two grandchildren.

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