A bishop writes of the Church’s failings

The Roman Catholic diocese of Albany, NY has been engaged in an evangelization initiative. Bishop Howard Hubbard has been “…writing about social forces and cultural factors in the contemporary milieu which have contributed to the decline of faith practice in the United States.”

In his latest message, Bishop Hubbard writes frankly of a number of ways in which the Roman Catholic church itself may be contributing to the alienation of some Catholics.  He names some of the most prominent reasons — sexual abuse by clergy and parish closures — but also names some culprits that often go unseen — anemic parish life, poor preaching, pastoral insensitivity, and a lack of technological savvy.

What do you think of the bishop’s list?  Where do we go from here?


H/T: Douglas Bosch, via Fr. James Martin, SJ


  1. Sounds about right.
    In my parish we had 3 priests, one of them was a widower. Before Mass he would walk out into nave in the aisle and welcome everyone. He would then ask if there were any visitors, and ask where they were from, thanked them for coming and usually ended by saying “praise God for all of us because we are the church”. He was also generous w/ hugs and took genuine interest in each parishoner. His homilies usually included tidbits and examples from when he was married with family and related them to our own experiences. The other two were career priests, dogmatic and seemed uncomfortable w/ laity.
    Guess who was asked to perform 95 % of weddings, baptisms and funerals? I would ask others why was that and the answer invariably was “he’s one of us”.
    So, I would echo “pastoral insensitivity” as being very important.

    btw Bp Hubbard’s remodeling of his cathedral in Albany is breathtaking.

      1. John, I did not mean to imply that I attend Bp Hubbards cathedral, I am not from Albany and do not know Dick Vosko.
        Rather, because we are talking about Bp Hubbards list, I wanted to mention that his cathedral is beautifully restored.

  2. The Catholic Church with parishes numbering in the thousands and maybe a half dozen or more Masses on weekends gets a bad rap because we don’t welcome strangers. How do you tell a stranger when there are 500 or more in the congregation, may of whom might be parishioners who normally don’t attend “your” Mass.

    Protestant churches with congregations of a couple hundred or less and one service on Sundays don’t have that problem. Don’t feel guilty, fellow Catholics.

    1. Maybe parishes that are so large that no one can answer the question
      “Who is my neighbor?” are simply too large.

    2. My church has about 400 at each Mass. Our beloved priest walks down the aisle and asks visitors to raise their hands (if they dare). There are creative ways of making parishoners feel that they are truly part of the Church and not just there to pay, pray and obey.
      Parishoners are very savvy. One previous priest looked and acted welcoming but as one parishoner told me we learned quickly that it wasn’t genuine because when he shook hands after Mass he was actually grabbing our hand and directing/guiding us quickly toward the door! That is a true story.

    3. Don’t worry about it Ray. I can think of no better answer to the parish with hundreds at Mass than the NEW Mass about to be implemented come Advent. There will soon be PLENTY of room and opportunity to say hello to everyone…..because the Communion line will be really short……and there be a lot of extra time.

      1. When the diocese announced that my home parish was to be combined with another, I had a real concern about what would happen at Christmas and Easter. I knew that at my home parish, it was standing room only.

        The process of combining parishes was marked by a distinct lack of Christian behavior, leaving many people hurt, puzzled and lost. Ultimately, a large Vatican II building was closed in favor of a smaller, century old building. Oddly enough, there was plenty of room for the people at Christmas Mass. A miracle!

      2. To Brigid….
        It was no miracle….welcome to the future of the church, where there is a distinct emphasis on quality over quantity.

        Well, let’s see how the boys do with a good dose of austerity. Sacrifice is good for the soul, but a difficult pill to swallow. we think the tone and message may well change when the robust mammary of mother’s milk goes dry, and the Peter’s Pence collection hits hard bottom.

  3. You wanna talk about the causes of problems in the Church? There are two bishops in the State of New York who I won’t name with a combined tenure in their current dioceses of 66 years. I would start there if you want to look for causes.

    1. It’s a sign of the dysfunction that these two good grounded, pastoral men were left in relatively minor dioceses, despite having been appointed young.

  4. It’s good that visitors are welcomed. Even if it is possible for the presider to do so personally and individually, it is not good that it be left at that. “Greeters” can be entrusted with this function, of course, but it can also be a function of the entire congregation.
    Every now and again I invite the congregation to observe the “Two Minute Rule”: As we go forth “to love and serve the Lord” (sorry: that should be “”glorifying the Lord by your life”), take two minutes to talk, not with people you already know, but with someone you have not yet come to know.
    Of course, it need not finish after two minutes!

  5. Father Eugene Walsh of happy memory rightfully taught that it is every parishioner’s responsibility to be “hospitable” which is one of the four pillars of Catholic Stewardship. It should not be a “Walmart” type ministry exclusive to the “manager” (priest) and his delegates, (ushers and greeters) in order to keep the consumer coming back. He taught that this hospitality begins at home when individuals or families are preparing to go to Mass, by getting up on time, being friendly and hospitable to one another and leaving on time without having to rush or be delayed for any reason. Then on arriving at church, they should greet people in the parking lot and be friendly. He also suggested that people fill the church by going to the front pews first, sitting toward the middle to allow for others to enter easily, to nod, smile and be friendly to everyone in the nave proper, and to make sure that the last pews are vacant for late comers to be hospitable to them and not embarrass them by making them sit up front where all the “empty” pews usually are in Catholic churches. He recomended lingering after Mass, not going into road rage in the parking lot by trying to beat people home.
    I would also recommend small faith groups that would keep tabs on their members in distress (especially in large impersonal parishes) let the priest know when someone is disengaged, sick or whatever. I had a parishioner tell me someone hadn’t been to Church in several weeks due to illness. I didn’t know it. I went immediately to see her at home. That kind of things helps the pastoral staff immensely.
    I think hospitality also includes respecting anonymity in the nave proper by not using the Mass and the sacred assembly as a means to create community. That should take place as I describe above and to include refreshments after Mass, Wednesday night suppers and the like.

  6. Today is the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop of Milan (at age 21). He used diocesan synods as an organ of reform. In today’s Office of Readings we read from his address at his last synod.

    Today the Association of Catholic Priests (Ireland) announced that it is calling an assembly of the Irish Church next summer. There has not been a diocesan or national synod in the RC church in Ireland in living memory.

    Yesterday the Irish Government announced that it was closing its embassy to the Vatican and ending the practice of accrediting a separate ambassador to the Holy See. In future the diplomatic functions will be carried out by an ambassador to another country.

    Sometimes good can come out of failure.

    Stirring times.

  7. I have an observation that I made years ago.

    I can tell if a church I am visiting treats their parishoners, the people of God, as Church.

    It is this: parishoners, after saying their prayers upon taking their place in a pew will remove their coats (winter of course). That is because they WANT to be there and not because they are there to quickly fullfill an obligation.

    Look around this weekend to see for yourself!

  8. Bishop Hubbard confirmed me. I grew up in his diocese in the 70s and 80s. He seems to be a man in touch with the Spirit of Christ, which is more than I can say for many bishops I read about or encounter here at home in Chicago. It was under his administration that the Church facilitated my experience of the risen Christ as a child. I am proud of Bishop Hubbard. He isn’t perfect, but he is the kind of bishop we need more of. Sadly, the Vatican has not agreed, and we now have a crisis of leadership across the Church.

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