How Priests Can More Effectively Evangelize 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 percent, Catholic school attendance has dropped by 19%, baptisms of infants has dropped by 28 percent, baptism of adults has dropped by 31% and sacramental Catholic marriages have dropped by 41 percent.1 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”.2 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.3 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 evangelists4 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 1,400 practicing Catholic men from the United States from over 1,000 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 percent) 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.”

There are seven themes stand out from the survey:

Few priests actively evangelize men and men are very dissatisfied
Only about one in five 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., showing up for scheduled men’s events, Knights of Columbus 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 one in four men think that their current bishop/diocese makes the evangelization of males a priority, and nine of ten think that their bishop/diocese needs to do much more to evangelize and catechize male Catholics. It is clear that large numbers of the most faithful and practicing Catholic men are very dissatisfied with the commitment to evangelize them by their bishops and priests.

Few priests actively evangelize and catechize men—Starting with a general initial reaction to their pastor’s evangelization efforts, only 16 percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that their current priest makes the evangelization and catechesis of men a high priority, and only 19 percent “strongly agreed” that their current priest was highly effective in the evangelization of men. Men were also asked about their level of agreement as to their current pastor’s specific activities to evangelize and catechize men—questions ranged 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 percent of priests are not actively engaged in evangelizing men in critical areas.

Few priests have a “man-plan”—Only seven percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that their priest had “a clear plan and program for the evangelization of men,” and only ten percent felt that their priest provided “sufficient parish resources for the evangelization of men.”

In reviewing the over 1,600 written comments, the most frequent response as to what men thought their pastor was doing to effectively evangelize men was “nothing.” Similarly, when asked what their current pastor might do to more effectively to 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 their male parishioners. 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 them.

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 percent are personally involved with teaching men’s groups.
  • 14 percent take an active role in mentoring/providing spiritual direction to the men in the parish.
  • 16 percent regularly show up for men’s events in the parish.
  • 18 percent are active in supporting the Knights of Columbus.

The Church has many great examples of men, such as Peter and Paul, whose 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 interviews5 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 percent of those responding believe the Church “has become feminized.”6 These reactions are also confirmed by research that shows that 70 to 90 percent of the roles in the parish are held by women,7 and that two-thirds of weekly Mass attendees are women.8 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, a 1988 apostolic letter by John Paul II on the dignity of women, the repeated emphasis by recent popes on the “feminine genius,” the February 2015 Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture which explored “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference,” etc.). There have been, on the other hand, no serious efforts to exclusively reach men.

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 in 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 has become feminized) because it is missing solid, lay male involvement and participation in parish life. What is needed is not to lower the profile and involvement of women in the Church, but at the same time, also elevate Catholic men through a newfound commitment to the evangelization and catechesis of males in the Church as well.

Few priests challenge men in their homilies—The vast majority of Catholic men (83 percent)9 “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 percent of men “strongly agree” that their current priest “often speaks to the needs of men in homilies.”

Many men are frustrated with the lack of attention and failure by many priests to specifically challenge men in homilies. It is clear that men are longing for priests to speak the truth about hard issues they face, rather than “politically correct” or 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/non-masculine homilies.

These findings again underscore the case for optimism in addressing the Catholic “man-crisis.” The emphasis for giving direction to men, along with the perceptions of the feminization of the Church, can begin to be addressed through a commitment by pastors to regularly speak to men in homilies. Having a regular male-directed homiletic emphasis is both simple and effective in the evangelization of men as it requires no additional time commitment by priests, nor 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 pastors actively gather men together:

  • 4 percent of priests “routinely bring fathers and sons together for prayer, teaching and fellowship.”
  • 7 percent “lead groups of men to serve the poor and needy.”
  • 8 percent “regularly gather men together for teaching, prayer and fellowship.”
  • 9 percent “lead men on retreats and pilgrimages.”
  • 11 percent “gather men together for Adoration of the Eucharist.”

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 pastor and other men, to learn and practice the basics of the faith. Rather than “program-itis,” priests need to build a parish culture in which men can expect to be gathered by their pastors, and be 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 that many priests have large (and sometimes 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 percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that their priest makes it a priority to call men to evangelize other men.

It is unrealistic to think that a pastor 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 resource of latent energy that could help drive the New Evangelization: practicing Catholic men in the pews who are hungry and waiting to be called and led by their priests.

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 their own active personal involvement in the idea, then priests are less likely to make men’s evangelization a priority.

  • Only seven percent of men “strongly agreed” and only 20 percent “agreed” (total of 27 percent) that the “evangelization and catechesis of men is a priority” in their diocese/archdiocese.
  • An astounding 88 percent 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 their faith. The survey indicates that large numbers of loyal practicing Catholic men feel neglected by their bishops and priests. No doubt, this neglect and this 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.

Men must be challenged to aspire to Catholic Manhood
In a world that is increasingly confused about what manhood means, and what it means to be Catholic, it is not surprising that many Catholic men see the need to be challenged with the truth of Catholic manhood. Unfortunately, men see few priests as decisively teaching men about Catholic manhood.

Priests are not challenging men to virtuous Catholic Manhood—The survey reveals that few men think their pastors are challenging and teaching them how to be Catholic men, fathers, and Saints:

  • Only 14 percent of the men surveyed “strongly agreed” that their current pastor helped “men understand how to be better Catholic men, husbands, and fathers.”
  • Only 18 percent “strongly agreed” that their priests challenged men to aspire to sainthood.

With the rise of radical feminism, homosexuality, and gender fluidity theories, the growing confusion about sex, and the breakdown of families, have left many men without the guidance of fathers, causing males to seek a better understanding of what Catholic manhood means. In the increasingly confused and perverted post-modern culture, men need to be challenged and called to be men. The Church has always been the source of heavenly leaven in the broken cultures across time, and only Catholic men, inspired by the challenging call of Catholic manhood, can lead the post-modern culture to new life in Jesus Christ and his Catholic Church.

Men are not challenged with the Truth—Essential to teaching the faith is being clear about Truth as fully revealed by Christ in his Catholic Church, particularly in the face of a post-modern, pluralistic, and relativistic culture that rejects the idea of “truth.” Few respondents “strongly agreed” that their priest actively promoted truth concerning difficult and controversial issues:

  • 13 percent said that priests helped men to understand the Church’s teachings on tough issues like sexuality, marriage, and contraception.
  • 15 percent said priests teach men to defend the Catholic faith with full loyalty to the Magisterium.

Men are hungry for the Truth, and only the Catholic Church has the full and complete understanding of the Truth of God. Men need to hear it! When men sense “fuzzy” thinking or distortion of something that they know to be true and important, they tune it out. Research shows that the single biggest reason people leave the Catholic Church is that they “simply drift away.”10 Men are hungry to be challenged with the Truth, especially in regards to sexuality, and the temporal and eternal consequences of sin.

Men need to be taught the basics of the Catholic faith
One of the recurring themes of the New Emangelization Project is that men have not learned the most basic elements of the faith and, as a result, don’t practice their faith. While the Church has a great reservoir of spiritual insight, the survey findings indicate that large numbers of men are not looking for sophisticated theology. Rather, men desire that their priests lead them more vigorously in knowing Jesus Christ, Mary, and Joseph, to better understand and engage in the Sacraments, to learn how to pray, and to learn apologetics. An education in the basics of the Catholic faith is critical, especially in a post-modern culture that increasingly rejects faith. Catholic men who don’t know their faith aren’t in a position to pass on this knowledge to their children.

Men are not being led to draw closer to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph—As I mentioned before, few priests are systematically teaching men to draw closer to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Only 21 percent of men “strongly agree” that their pastor teaches “men to draw closer to Jesus Christ” and only 17 percent of men “strongly agree” that their pastor helps men “grow in their devotion to Our Mother, the Virgin Mary.” Men want to have their priests teach them about the perfect manhood of Jesus Christ, and promote an understanding and love for Mary and Joseph.

Men need to be challenged and taught to engage in the Sacraments and in prayer—The Sacraments and prayer are essential for the spiritual lives of Catholic men. The New Emangelization Project research shows that large numbers of Catholic men do not understand or engage in the Mass, Reconciliation, and prayer.11 Despite the urgent importance of drawing many more men into a passionate engagement in the Sacraments and prayer, few men “strongly agreed” that their pastor was actively helping men to better understand and participate in the Sacraments and prayer:

  • 16 percent teach men to understand and get more out of the Mass.
  • 17 percent challenge men to get to Confession regularly.

Respondents thought that their priests needed to more effectively teach about the Mass, Adoration, Reconciliation, and prayer, and to lead men to more fully engage in the Sacraments.

Despite the fact that the men who responded in the survey are practicing Catholic men, they sense the need to grow in their understanding of the Mass, Confession, and prayer. The majority of Catholic men who are not practicing the faith have an even greater need. It is imperative for priests to evangelize and catechize men on the fundamentals of the faith (e.g., Sacraments and prayer).

Help men learn and defend the faith—The New Emangelization Project research shows that half of Catholic men cannot adequately explain the Catholic faith to others.12 Only 15 percent of survey respondents “strongly agreed” their current pastor taught “men to defend the Catholic faith with full loyalty to the Magisterium.” The lack of solid evangelization and catechesis has contributed to the exodus of Catholic men from the Church. Men who don’t know the faith won’t stay in the faith.

The lack of Catholic fraternity hurts men’s faith lives
A key surprise was that significant numbers of the highly committed Catholic men who participated in the survey lacked acquaintances, close friends, and bonds of brotherhood in their parishes:

  • Only 16 percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that they have strong bonds of brotherhood with other men in their parish.
  • 55 percent of respondents do not feel they have strong bonds of brotherhood in their parish.
  • 31 percent of respondents do not have a close friendship with any other man in their parish. Another 30 percent only have a close friendship with only 1-2 other men in their parish.
  • 55 percent of respondents knew less than 10 men on a first name basis in their parish.

Despite the current lack of fraternity among Catholic men, the Church has historically emphasized the importance of building fraternity among men as a key to evangelization:

Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).

Indeed, greater fraternity leads men to have more robust faith lives. Men who did have strong bonds of brotherhood in their parish were much more likely to more fully engage in the faith than those men who did not have strong bonds of brotherhood. Men with strong bonds of brotherhood were:

  • 15 percent more likely to pray on a daily basis.
  • 29 percent more likely to look forward to going to Mass.
  • 30 percent more likely to go to Confession monthly.
  • 35 percent more likely to pray the Rosary at least monthly.
  • 56 percent more likely to read Scripture weekly.
  • 83 percent more likely to be daily Mass attenders.
  • 160 percent more likely to regularly volunteer at the parish.
  • 226 percent more likely to have Catholic male friends to encourage them in faith life.
  • 335 percent more likely to participate in men’s events at least monthly.

The impact of fraternity on the faith lives of men is even more impressive considering that the level of engagement in the faith of the respondents was exceptionally high to begin with. The findings suggest that committed Catholic men become even more committed when they have strong fraternity in their parishes.

Few priests are actively seeking to address the lack of fraternity. Despite the fact that the New Evangelization has been a growing priority for the Church for a number of decades, the survey reveals that:

  • Only 12 percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that their priests make it a priority to call men to evangelize other men, which is at the core of building fraternity.

The survey underscores the power and impact of fraternity in building the faith lives of Catholic men, and that few priests are actively building fraternity among men in their parishes. While the lack of fraternity is troubling, the survey offers cause for hope; given the power of fraternity, and the current lack of the majority of priests to build fraternity, a newfound commitment by many priests to simply gather men together on a regular basis will have a dramatic impact. Again, massive and expensive programs are not needed. What’s needed is a new zeal by pastors to begin to routinely call men in their parishes into Catholic fraternity.

Men hunger for a more reverential Mass
Since Vatican II, there have been drastic changes as to how the Mass has been celebrated in the majority of parishes, with the Novus Ordo replacing the traditional Latin Mass. There has been significant liturgical experimentation including the priest’s actions (e.g., the move from ad orientum to ad populum), changes in architecture (e.g., removal of the high altars, Tabernacle, Communion rails, etc.), a move away from chant to folk/modern music, the introduction of Eucharist ministers, and the introduction of girl altar servers. As noted above, during the same time-frame, large numbers of Catholic men have left the faith. Since 83 percent of Catholic men rarely, or never, participate in a parish activity outside of the Mass,13 and if their only exposure to parish faith life is in the Mass, it is reasonable to assume that the significant changes in the Mass have in some way contributed to the exodus of Catholic men.

The survey underscores the fact that many men sense that a de-sacralization of the Mass has occurred and that many priests are failing to offer the Mass in a way that inspires men and draws them deeper into the faith:

  • Only 32 percent of respondents “strongly agreed” that their priests are offering the Mass in a way that is reverent and that draws men into a deeper communion with Christ.

Many men voiced concerns about the de-sacralization and feminization of the Mass, and passionately argued for the Mass to be offered in more reverent way that can resonate more strongly with men.

Compounding the non-masculine/de-sacralized offering of the Mass in so many parishes (e.g., female altar servers, modernistic architecture that focuses on the communal, feminized and/or sappy music, etc.), the New Emangelization Project interviews consistently raise the issue that the vast majority of Catholic men have a lack of understanding for the majesty and masculinity of the Mass, and how to fully participate within the Mass. Given the centrality of the Mass as the “source and summit” of the faith, it seems clear that bishops and priests should make it a priority to ensure that every man knows the Mass.

Priests who focus on men have great impact
Priests who make it priority to evangelize and catechize men dramatically increase men’s understanding and practice of the Catholic faith. Priests who are committed to men make committed Catholic men.

Priests can build men’s faith lives—Men who rated their priests as highly effective in evangelizing men versus those men who rated their priests as highly ineffective in evangelizing men were:

  • 20 percent more likely to be daily Mass attenders.
  • 25 percent more likely to regularly volunteer at the parish.
  • 26 percent more likely to read Scripture weekly.
  • Know 20 percent more men on a first-name basis in their parish.
  • 40 percent more likely to participate in men’s events.
  • 70 percent more likely to have close friendships with other men in their parishes.
  • 74 percent more likely to have other Catholic men to encourage them in their faith lives.
  • 111 percent more likely to feel they have a bond of brotherhood with other men in their parish.

In addition to the above impact, priests rated highly effective in the evangelization of men also showed modest increases in men’s weekly Mass attendance (+7 percent), monthly Confession (+3 percent), and the frequency of praying on a daily basis (+6 percent). While these increases may appear small, they are remarkable, for all the respondents were already highly committed Catholic men. If priests can have positive impact on highly faithful Catholic men, it is reasonable to conclude that highly effective priest evangelizers can have a very high impact on the faith lives of men who are casual in their faith.

Digging in deeper, priests who were rated as highly effective in specific evangelization topics had a strong impact on the faith lives of their men. When priests emphasize the evangelization and catechesis of men on the topics of Sin and the Sacraments, it leads men to engage the Sacraments more frequently:

  • 13 percent of priests were rated highly in helping men understand the Church’s teachings on tough issues like sexuality, marriage, and contraception, and had men who were 31 percent more likely to go to Confession monthly.
  • 16 percent of priests were rated highly in teaching men how to understand and get more out of the Mass, and had men who were 40 percent more likely to attend daily Mass.

Priests who personally engage men lead to more engaged men—Priests who seek to engage men personally, draw men into a more robust faith life.

  • When a priest personally teaches a bible study, men are 30 percent more likely to participate.
  • When a priest regularly shows up for men’s events, men are 70 percent more likely to show up for weekly men’s group events.
  • When priests actively support the Knights of Columbus, men are more likely to be Knights (+25 percent).

The priests who actively challenge their men to evangelize other men also yields fruit; their men are much more likely to have Catholic male friends who encourage them in their faith life (+57 percent) and feel bonds of brotherhood in their parishes (+ 131 percent) versus those priests who do not encourage men to evangelize other men.

This survey makes it clear that priests who make a commitment to personally engage their men in evangelization and catechesis have a dramatic impact on the faith lives of their men; men pray more, engage the Sacraments more frequently, have deeper bonds of brotherhood and are more active in their parishes.

Men will follow priests who lead
Given that the respondents are passionate about the faith, and most respondents feel neglected by the majority of bishops and priests, it is to be expected that many men voiced strong frustration with their priests. Sadly, the most common response to what priests were doing well in the evangelization of men was “nothing” and the most common response for what priests could start doing to improve was “anything.”

Men want priests to lead—Men lament the lack of leadership by their priests. The large numbers of Catholic men leaving the faith, and the strong negative survey feedback confirms, that current priest efforts to evangelize men are disastrously insufficient. Men strongly desire to have a relationship with their priests, especially those men who are on fire to evangelize other men. Too often, men get discouraged because they can’t get help and engagement from their priests. Men perceive some priests to be weak and soft, afraid to actively engage tough issues with a forceful and uncompromising presentation of Catholic doctrine.

Priests need to avoid effeminacy and be more manly—While there wasn’t a specific question on the effeminacy or homosexuality of priests on the survey, some men exhorted their priests to behave in a more manly way.

Men are ready to follow the majority of priests—Despite the criticism that some men leveled against some priests, men believe that the large majority of priests have the ability to lead men effectively. To gauge the level of respect for priests, men were asked to state their level of agreement with four statements about their current priest’s personal characteristics:

  • Is a leader who men look up to and will follow.
  • Inspires men with his wisdom, fortitude and personal witness.
  • Is able to connect/relate well to men.
  • Has a personal holiness that inspires men.

By analyzing the results from the men’s ratings, priests fall into three broad respect categories:

  • Priests with high respect—50-60 percent of the respondents “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with the 4 statements of respect for their current priest.
  • Priests with moderate respect—20-30 percent of men had moderate respect (neither outstanding nor negative) about their current priest on the 4 statements of respect.
  • Priests with low respect—15-20 percent of men “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with the four statements of respect for their current priest.

These results suggest the personal characteristics of most priests are not a barrier to the evangelization of men; 70-80 percent of priests already have men’s respect, and only 15-20 percent of priests have made a negative impression on men. While men rated a minority of priests with low respect, it is possible that men’s frustration with low-involvement priests led them to rate their priests lower on the respect scale. It is clear that men strongly desire their priests to lead, and that priests who lead can be assured that many men will follow.

____________________

The Helping Priests Become More Effective in Evangelizing Men Survey is one of largest surveys in recent years specifically targeting U.S. Catholic men, reaching large numbers of practicing Catholic men across age groups and zip codes. The survey suggests that large numbers of faithful Catholic men are frustrated with the lack of engagement by priests, and the majority of men feel neglected by their bishops.

Despite the well-documented mass exodus of Catholic men from the Church, the large numbers of lukewarm Catholic men who do not know and practice the faith, and the extremely low engagement of priests in the evangelization of men, the survey offers real hope that solid progress can be made. The survey demonstrates that priests who make it a personal priority to evangelize Catholic men have a significant impact on the faith lives of their men. Also hopeful, the large majority of current priests have the personal leadership characteristics that men respect, and men are prepared to follow priests who take the initiative to lead. The survey reinforces the New Emangelization Project findings that what is needed is not dramatic new spending or programs, but the commitment of bishops and priests to personally engage men on a regular basis, drawing them into faith-building fraternity, challenging them to Catholic manhood, and reinforcing the essentials of Catholicism including meeting Jesus, devotion to Mary and Joseph, engaging in the Sacraments and prayer, and teaching basic apologetics.

Looking to the future, a great movement of the Holy Spirit, and strong leadership from bishops, priests, and deacons, supported by large numbers of Catholic laymen, will be needed to staunch the hemorrhaging of Catholic men from the Church. A commitment to a New Emangelization by bishops and priests will grow large numbers of evangelized and well-catechized men for the future rebuilding of the Church in the decades to come. This New Emangelization will lead to a dramatic renewal in the Church, a renewal that, at its heart, is in passionate obedience to Christ’s final Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age (Matt 28:19-20).

The full results of the Helping Priests More Effectively Evangelize Men Survey can be found here.

  1. Center for Applied Research into the Apostolate, cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/requestedchurchstats.html
  2. Catholic “Man-Crisis” Factsheet; newemangelization.com/man-crisis/the-catholic-man-crisis-factsheet
  3. Alan Cooperman, et al, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (May 2015), pewforum.org/files/2015/05/RLS-05-08-full-report.pdf
  4. The New Emangelization Project, newemangelization.com/interviews-3
  5. The New Emangelization Project, newemangelization.com/interviews-3
  6. newemangelization.com/uncategorized/cardinal-burke-is-right-the-church-has-become-feminized
  7. 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.
  8. Gallup Poll of Catholics, 2005, Question 75, thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/GALLUP05_CB.asp
  9. Gallup Survey of Chicago Catholics, 2007, Question 157, thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/CHICATH_CB.asp
  10. Luis Lugo et al., “Faith in Flux,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (April 2009): 24.
  11. Catholic “Man-Crisis” Factsheet; newemangelization.com/man-crisis/the-catholic-man-crisis-factsheet
  12. Gallup Poll of Catholics, 2005, Question 23, thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/GALLUP05_CB.asp
  13. Gallup Survey of Chicago Catholics, 2007, Question 157, thearda.com/Archive/Files/Codebooks/CHICATH_CB.asp
Matthew James Christoff About Matthew James Christoff

Matthew James Christoff is a Catholic convert. He is the founder of "The New Emangelization Project," 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," 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 four grandchildren.

Comments

  1. Fr. Basil Cole, OP says:

    The Holy Name Society was for men only with specific goals. Now it is on the wane and women can become members. Altar boys only was transformed by including altar girls. Parish missions had exclusive weeks, one for women only, the other men only. Perhaps, much of diocesan marriage preparation concerns NFP, and spirituality in general, but often little about masculine spirituality and identity. Very few bishops of USA have rarely written letters to their dioceses on the problem brilliantly exposed by the author of this article. Papal exhortation by St. John Paul II expressed thoughts about the ‘feminine genius” but there was no follow up on the “masculine genius.” Could these shifts of the past, in part. help explain the demise of men in church?
    Let us hope the year of mercy does not become a year of sentimentality but, in part, a new insightful and inspiring evangelization on what it means to be a father and a husband.

  2. Dave Hutson says:

    This response is based on my experience over 74 years of my journey. I am a cradle Catholic.
    The last thirty years I have been active in men’s ministries leadership.
    First of all the priests are not to blame, however some are more supportive then others.
    The reason men are not involved in church is related in the way they priortize. Men are looking for activities which they perceive helps them achieve their goals, (Individual success, their marriage and family). If they can find anything which helps in these areas they’re in. Most men spend the majority of their lives chasing things, at some point they realize these things did not provide what they thought. I have noticed that non-Catholic men ministries are more successful then Catholic, the reason is they tell the men what they want to hear. If men’s ministries concentrate on the three issues mentioned above they will succeed.

  3. Darrin Daigneault says:

    Wow, what an article. Thank you so much for clearly defining this. We have a men’s group up in Waterville, Maine at Corpus Christi parish. In this group we’ve been trying to figure out how to get men more involved. We’ve really struggled with community culture over the past few years because of closings and people just not feeling like they belong. This speaks volumes to the problem. Our area church has been led away to protestant churches mostly by the fathers of the families looking for more. This will be forwarded to our local priests. Thank you and God bless.

  4. bill bannon says:

    . The Church has failed since the Council and during it to make the man the head of the woman and this recent catechism is silent also. Here is Casti Connubii by Pius XI saying the opposite of the post Council Church and he’s honoring the New Testament which refers to male jurisdictional headship six separate times:
    “74. The same false teachers who try to dim the luster of conjugal faith and purity do not scruple to do away with the honorable and trusting obedience which the woman owes to the man. Many of them even go further and assert that such a subjection of one party to the other is unworthy of human dignity,”
    Read St. John Paul II in TOB and Dignity of Women and he seems to be the very person Pius XI warned of. He used part of Ephesians ” be subject to one another” to in effect make five other NT verses on husband headship vanish. He did a similar Bible against Bible technique on the death penalty issue….suggesting that God’s protection of Cain from vigilantes made Gen.9:5-6 and Romans 13:4 vanish ( he actually quotes the former in sect.39 of EV only after removing the death penalty part of the couplet…he never quotes Rom.13:4). After He wrote his equality version of husband headship twice, the catechism group of Cardinals at the CDF didn’t know what to write so they were silent on the topic despite the Holy Spirit referencing it six times in the NT.
    So…the Church in the Council talked repeatedly about clergy authority and said zilch about husband authority ( e.g. Lumen Gentium 25) and we’re surprised that men left. The sex abuse was first and foremost though not because 4% were criminals but because lay father/ husband right to know was completely ignored by probably 90% of Bishops shunting dangerous men to new parishes near father’s children which then costed laity a billion in donations on top of the clericalism.
    Third there is no talk of hell from the pulpit for decades in some parishes so fear of the Lord is not nurtured and that’s a manly side of the gospel that Christ repeatedly announced and we honor feminized male theologians who hope for an empty hell…von Balthasar and Rahner with Popes John Paul and Benedict both suggesting we can’t be sure Judas is in hell whereas both Augustine and Chrysostom said he is….as did Christ in very dire phrases. The Church has become all feminine in outlook to some men and they suspect partly gay.