The following comes from a May 7 Catholic World Report article by Joseph M. Hanneman:
Matthew James Christoff is wants the world to know the Catholic Church has a man problem. Actually, not just a problem, but a crisis. The Catholic convert from Minnesota’s Twin Cities founded an apostolate called the New Emangelization Project to help men learn and fully live their faith. Nothing less than the future of the Catholic Church is at stake, he says.
Catholic World Report spoke with Christoff about his research and his plans to combat the crisis.
CWR: Just what is the Catholic man crisis?
Christoff: Some 11-15 million adult men in the United States were raised Catholic but left the faith. Men are under-represented in the Church versus the general population and men are only about one-third of weekly Mass attenders. Up to 90 percent of catechesis activities are led by women, so the face of the Church in the average parish has become more feminine. Some 60 percent of Catholic men are “casual Catholics”; they don’t know the faith and don’t practice the faith. The trouble is that men are becoming less passionate about being Catholic.
Twenty-five years ago, about 50 percent of men said they would never leave the Church. Today, only 40 percent say they would never leave the Church. Four of 10 men don’t believe Catholicism has any more truth than any other religion. Catholic men are dramatically less passionate about their faith than our Evangelical Christian brothers. So it’s not that Christianity is not appealing to men—there is something missing from how the Catholic Church is evangelizing men. If we wish to have a New Evangelization, there must be a New Emangelization, creating generations of Catholic men who are on fire for Jesus Christ and Holy Mother Church.
CWR: Did the depth of the man crisis surprise you?
Christoff: If you look at the 70-plus interviews I’ve done on our website, every single person has confirmed that there is a Catholic “man crisis.” At the Twin Cities Catholic men’s conference this past weekend, I asked 1,300 men to raise their hands if they think there is a Catholic man crisis. Ninety-five percent of the men raised their hands. The Church, from the Pope to the parish, needs to come to grips with the Catholic man crisis and begin more aggressively to evangelize men. Ultimately the crisis has a huge negative impact on the Church, on women, on children, and on greater society. You’ve got to make the case that the man crisis exists, you’ve got to make the case for why it’s important, and you’ve got to make the case that there are some clear and simple things we can do about it.
CWR: What worries you most about the man crisis?
Christoff: Catholic men are failing to pass along the faith to their children. The single biggest influence on if the children remain in the faith is the faith of the father. A father who practices his faith and lovingly professes his faith to his children influences the children to remain in the faith. So if your father is not active in the faith, chances are you won’t be active. The faith lives of women are very important and women have been doing a heroic job, but it is not enough, as the results show. Men are essential for the successful passing on the Catholic faith and, sadly, many Catholic men are failing.
If you look at 18- to 29-year-old Catholics, 25 years ago if you would have asked them, “Are you certain you’re going to stay Catholic?” about 40 percent said yes. That’s bad news, because 60 percent said they wouldn’t stay Catholic. Twenty-five years later, the number is only 18 percent. This is a massive disaster. It’s one that’s going to play out in the coming decades. This die is cast in some sense, without a really dramatic outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
CWR: You have written that the Synod on the Family that met in Rome last October had some shocking omissions. Why?
Christoff: There is only one sentence (in the synod report) that discusses the role of fathers/men specifically and it chastises men for not being good fathers. There’s no feedback on what men should be doing, to encourage them. The synod by and large focused on dysfunctional families, families that have been divorced or have left the faith, and those with same-sex attraction. There’s almost nothing on the family in the pew that is trying to be faithful, that remain married and were married in the Catholic Church, and nothing about the importance and role of Catholic men. These intact and faithful families make up 40 percent of families and there’s literally nothing of encouragement or help to them. If we don’t get our core and get them strong, there’s not going to be a core. And research is showing if you don’t get the men, you don’t get the children.
CWR: Were there any particular surprises in your research?
Christoff: One of the key findings that really shocked me was the large numbers of practicing Catholic men who lack fraternity. Only about one in six practicing Catholic men feels like they have strong bonds of brotherhood in their parishes. That is shocking to me. The fact is that we haven’t cultivated a spirit of brotherhood and fraternity. Fraternity is critical, for when you have high levels of fraternity and brotherhood in parishes, men pray more, they go to confession more, they go to Mass more, and they’re more active in their parishes. There are large numbers of Catholic men who are hungry and will respond if their priest specifically and systematically evangelizes them. Many priests haven’t yet made the active evangelization and catechesis of men a personal priority.