Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The loss of men from the Church, and the official response

This is a sort of appendix to my posts about masculinity and the Church, which was inspired by Leon Podles' book The Church Impotent. As anyone who wants to can confirm for himself, and as Podles notes in his talk (available here), but not in his book, the Traditional Latin Mass is a setting in which you will find as many men as women attending, as a matter of course, by sharp contrast with many Ordinary Form parish Masses. You also find as many men as women attending the services of the the Orthodox churches, and the Synagogues of Orthodox Judaism. In Islam, you can even find more male than female participants.

You would think that bishops and priests would seize on this and ensure that the Traditional Mass was freely available, especially for the most vulnerable group: young adults leaving Catholic schools. On the contrary, there is often a great reluctance to allow precisely this group to come into contact with the ancient Mass. The reluctance comes from something which is familiar to those promoting the liturgical tradition, which we might call the Fear of Success. If the EF is successful, popular, inspiring, that is frightening. It can only be allowed if it is going to be relatively unsuccessful. This is in part because of the inevitable bureaucratic mind-set in which anything which rocks the boat (or 'makes a mess', as the Holy Father puts it) is annoying, but also because young men being attracted by anything which does not subvert their masculinity is something which some people find very alarming. The same people who become uncomfortable about the Traditional Mass are also, frequently, uncomfortable about things like rugby and the Armed Forces. To use the kind of new-age language they might understand, they don't want all that masculine energy around. Podles suggests that some clergy, consciously or not, are content with the feminine profile of their congregations because it makes them easier to manage.


This needs to be set into the context of a wider cultural phenomenon: a distrust of masculinity in general. This is particularly noticeable in some educational contexts, and in some children's entertainment, the purpose of which appears to be to make boys less masculine, to do less the things little boys like doing, like playing about fighting and making lots of noise. Little boys who resist this risk being classified as ADHD and subjected to medication. Similar pressures are brought to bear on young men, though with limited success. Indeed, the attempt to tie the ideas of social acceptability with the suppression of healthy masculine behaviour has the obvious and inevitable effect of promoting what we might call hyper-masculine behaviour, which really isn't socially acceptable.

Every now and then there are statements of official concern about the fate of boys in schools, by the Government or academics. There appears to be nothing equivalent from the Church. If you ask anyone, priests or bishops, they are all aware of the problem of male lapsation: it is undeniable. But have they commissioned surveys to probe the problem? Have they set up working groups to address it? Have they sponsored special events, programmes, apostolates, training for priests, have they tried doing anything at all to address it? It is difficult to think of anything. At the level of parish, diocese, Episcopal Conference, and in Rome, there are studies and initiatives on everything under the sun, but not this. Instead, you find panic-fueled initiatives to appease women, such as the concessions to permit female altar-servers and Extraordinary Ministers, making women 'pastoral administrators', and bizarre videos from the Vatican asking for 'women's experiences'. Women are important, of course, but should we be worried, specifically, about women's lack of participation in the Church when women dominate almost every kind of lay participation possible, whether it be running the parish administration, bustling about in the sanctuary during Mass, and actually sitting in the pews?

There is a partial explanation, in that the result of women being a majority of the congregations, and the vast majority of the parish activists, their concerns and interests are constantly on the minds of the clergy who have to deal with them. This self-selection effect, however, has not stopped bishops from taking seriously the needs of minority language groups, immigrants, homosexuals, and others who might be ignored.

As a matter of fact there was a priest not far from me who set up a 'men's group' in his parish a few years ago; I even gave a talk to it. The project didn't come to much and he has since retired. What was interesting was the criticism this poor man received. Would anyone be criticised for setting up a parish women's group?

What we have to face is that Catholic families, like all families, have a roughly equal chance of having boys and girls. If we end up with congregations which are predominantly female, it can only be because there is a higher lapsation rate among men. We are not attracting more women: numbers attending church are down decade by decade. But the problem of lapsation is worse with men.

Furthermore, the loss of men has particularly worrying implications for the future, since fathers have notably more influence over the religious practice of their children than mothers. Surprising, perhaps, but true: read the statistics here, from a survey in Switzerland. Here's a sample (the article's author, Robbie Low, was an Anglican and is now a Catholic priest):

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

From anecdotal evidence, Podles suggests that men who do go to church are often there because of their wives. They can be there with varying degrees of enthusiasm or pain. In the Traditional Mass, again I can only appeal to anecdotal evidence, but of the married couples I know, in the majority of cases it was the man who discovered the Traditional Mass and introduced it to the woman, not the other way round, sometimes before marriage, sometimes after. Generally speaking, however, it would be wrong to say that the wives were there on sufferance ever after: many of these are home-educating mothers very much at the coal-face of passing on the traditions of the Church to the children. Leaving aside the little clique of enthusiastic busybodies who sometimes form in the context of the Ordinary Form, for all the attempts to be more community-oriented and touchy-feely I don't believe that the New Mass has a great appeal to women; it is merely less unappealing to them than it is to men. The statistics bear this out: to repeat, we have a whopping high lapsation rate, which is even higher for men than it is for women.

There are things which could be done to make the Ordinary Form less rebarbative to young men. Most of these things, however (greater gravitas in the liturgy; the ending of female service of the Altar; positive preaching about fatherhood), would annoy the liberal activists. I suspect, in fact, that the same people would be annoyed by the very presence of the young men, and at some level want to get rid, if not of the individuals, then at least of their masculinity.

Much easier than the trench warfare of the OF Parish Mass is the green-field site of the Traditional Mass, from which the liberal activists voluntarily absent themselves. Not only does it already have the features which are necessary for an appeal to men, but it lends itself to the promotion of further apostolates. I'll say something about them tomorrow.

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27 comments:

  1. I think this reflects a wider drift in society. Speaking personally for a minute, the disconnection I sometimes feel at OF Masses seems to parallel the problems I've had for over 20 years now in trying to adapt to an office milieu at work. The world of work has certainly become more feminised. So have a lot of things. When you think of some of the great men of the last century - explorers, poets and warriors like Ernst Junger and Lauren's Van Der Post, it's hard to see how they could find an outlet these days. I agree with Joseph. The Tridentine Mass would serve as a terrific start (and of course much more than a 'start').

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  2. Surely one would need something more than anecdotal impressions and speculation to demonstrate that the TLM really does appeal more to men than the OF and why it does. In any case what sort of men does the TLM attract? Not, I would guess, your average ordinary Catholic man in the pew.
    I attended last night a gathering of people who practise the prayer of Christian meditation. Of the 9 people present 5 were men and 4 women. This is fairly regular for such meetings, and the men are average ordinary Catholics! When the focus is on simply knowing God, rather than demonstrating how Catholic we are and how much more orthodox than everyone else, anyone interested in God will be drawn in. One does not need to make an issue of being male-centred or feminine, it just happens.
    I would have thought, in any case, that a redressing of balance towards the feminine was long overdue in our heavily patriarchal cultures and religions.

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    1. How many "average ordinary Catholic [men]" "[think] that a redressing of balance towards the feminine [is] long overdue in our heavily patriarchal cultures and religions"?

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  3. If a redressing of the balance towards the feminine were needed ( and I do not think that this is the point being discussed), then it will not happen whilst women continue to occupy the domain of the 'father'. Women who bustle about on the sanctuary or who pop back and forth to the sacristy are seeking femininity in the wrong place. Furthermore, they are blurring the realms of masculine and feminine which is not helpful. True femininity is found in a different place to that of the father.

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  4. Your point regarding young school leavers is well taken. In an earlier edition of 'Mass of Ages' a young lapsed Catholic told how the EF Mass drew him back to the Church & not just as an attendee, he is fully committed. We have seen through using a choir of young girls recently left school how much more they get from the EF Mass.

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  5. Let us not be fooled into thinking that the Latin Mass is a panacea for the problems facing the Church today. As a teenager, I grew in my faith by comprehending the words of the New Rite Mass and I still take great spiritual comfort from doing so today - something that I could not do with the Latin Mass, where my energies would be focussed on translation and difficulties with pronunciation. Indeed I believe that had Mass been exclusively in the EF during my teenage years, then I would have lapsed. Mass in Latin may provide great spiritual solace for many, but let us please accept that many derive equal benefit from the New Rite Mass.

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    1. I converted to the Catholic faith over 20 years ago, convinced by the Real Presence and the Apostolic Succession. The Novus Ordo Mass was such a disappointment - "is that IT?" I asked myself.
      Then, after the (then) Holy Father published Summorum Pontificum I decided to find out what all the fuss was about (until then I'd thought that the "Latin Mass" was simply an NO Mass in Latin). I sought out an old rite Mass (about an hour’s drive away), attended, and was absolutely stunned by the holiness and reverence of this simple Low Mass. THIS, at last, was what I had converted for! My faith, which had been trundling along in second gear for 15 years, suddenly took off.

      I must say, however, that I have never had any problems with "my energies being focussed on translation and difficulties with pronunciation" - what exactly do you mean?

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    2. I have tried to master Latin pronunciation and failed miserably despite numerous attempts to do so at Benediction or with Latin hymns. I have tried reading Latin, asking a regular Latin Mass attendee to teach me and even phonetic guides online. All of this has been to no avail however and I still invariably trip over my words or mispronounce something within two lines or so. Additionally I struggle with trying to read the English translation whilst pronouncing the Latin (I do not want to say words without knowing what they mean). Thus my thoughts are focussed not on God, but on grappling a different language.

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    3. Dear Sylvester,

      Some people seem to think I stuggle with English, let alone Latin. Don't let it bother you. It's hardly important. And if it is a concern for you, you don't need to enunciate anything.

      Perhaps you are like me in a way: I can't sing (or, perhaps, I should say that my singing ability is limited). I wish I could sing better, and quite often I dont sing (in church, I mean), because of it. But I don't let that discourage me too much, and neither should you! And it's not because there's anything special about me - there's a lot of us in the same or similar boats.

      Incidentally, I serve low mass very often and, oddly, have recently started to stumble over "quoniam adhuc confitebor illi". I don't know why, and I wish it hadn't happened, but it doesn't really matter!

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    4. Thank you for your words of encouragement Simon. I very much appreciate them. God bless.

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  6. My Novus Ordo parish congregation has more women than men, say, 60/40. Currently perhaps 3% are male between 16 and 30. The average male age I would estimate at 70 and that include the 3% plus a sprinkling of married men with wives and children.
    I occasionally get to a Vetus Ordo Mass. Recently the young, say below 40 years, now outnumber the old. Young men have deserted the Novus Ordo Mass, if this is typical.

    Two reasons.

    The liturgy is now banal, awkward, rather like a forced part in a school play and boys simply can’t take it seriously.

    The second is that they are expected to go to communion routinely with all the others. If they are normal, thinking, but testosterone- filled, girl-chasing, young men they will opt initially to stay away and then probably get interested in other things. If they are not thinking young men, they will get bored with the banal undemanding liturgy, and get, interested in other things.

    Let’s face it, demand nothing of young men, and you will get nothing. Islam understands that.

    St Pius X called for more Communion at a time when good Catholic men such as Belloc and Chesterton rarely received. He must be truly turning in his grave today.

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  7. A very important topic, but I am not sure Dr Shaw has cause and effect properly sorted here.

    We could also observe that, at least in Oxford and Reading, there is an extraordinary number of extraordinary beards at extraordinary masses (Joseph's included), and that also tells us something about ideas of masculinity in a culture wear beards are worn mostly by geologists and people with nasty scars or boyish faces.

    I am also concerned about the repeated snipes at nuns and altar girls, as if their very presence destroys vocations (for which obviously read 'to the priesthood'). For those who think a nun's place is washing the priest's smalls, try Teresa of Avila, Hildegaard of Bingen or Catherine of Siena.

    There is a very real crisis around the paucity of heterosexual men in the Church today, but the analysis involves more than just the amount of lace in play. For example, if the novus ordo appeals more to women, why? Would a novus ordo mass with more gravitas fix it?

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    1. Do I detect a whiff of pogonophobia here?! I don’t mind being bracketed with men with “nasty scars” or “boyish faces” (if only!), but geologists...? I don’t think I’ve ever knowingly met a geologist, but I’ve never particularly associated them with beards. On the other hand, retired Naval officers such as myself quite often sport rather splendid beards (think George V in my case).
      On a serious note, however , I can’t recall any “repeated snipes at nuns” in Dr Shaw’s blog, unless you include well-deserved criticisms of the sort of semi-secular nuns we so often see dissenting from Church teaching. As for “altar girls”, their presence certainly does tend to destroy vocations to the priesthood; all-male altar service was a major promoter of priestly vocations in the past.
      As for a “Novus Ordo Mass with more gravitas”, that’s not a bad idea. A couple of years ago I attended an NO Mass in the old crypt at Glastonbury Abbey – in the vernacular, but celebrated ad orientem with the Roman Canon, and with the propers sung by a good choir. That’s about as good as the NO gets.

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  8. I’ve dabbled with the TLM in the past and am tempted to give it another go, but when I read this sort of unsubstantiated opinion I do wonder if should bother. “The views expressed here are personal; official LMS announcements are described as such”. Let’s hope so.

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  9. It might help if those who think this article worth sneering at were to venture an explanation why they think that way.

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  10. Indeed. It seems to be the people most convinced of the folly of what I have written who find it most difficult to point out any errors in it.

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  11. Association is not causation., and where causation is at work, it is not always obvious which is the cause and which the effect.

    There does seem, anecdotally, to be a shortage of Catholic men at mass. An even greater shortage of families where both in the couple are Catholic and practising. That is a very, very serious issue. There also seem to be more men at TLM. The thrust of Dr Shaw's argument seems to be that there should therefore be more TLMs.

    Reasons to be sceptical: (1) If there were fewer men at TLMs, I still think Dr Shaw would argue for more TLMs, and for men to take it more seriously; (2) there is no clear causal mechanism proposed; (3) there are no real numbers; (4) there are also more beards at TLMs, but I am not sure how or what that causally relates to (back to the point on inferring causation from a mass of data).

    I apologise for suggesting Dr Shaw is sniping at nuns. It was some other contributors. But I don't think he is taking the 'pastoral administrator' issue seriously - if it is true that a religious (male or female) can substitute for a priest in many of the functions of a PP, then perhaps this will help with our present priestly vocations issue.

    (There are enough priests resident in the centre of Oxford to staff a diocese, so perhaps we should give charitably).

    Naval types, polar explorers, archaeologists and environmentalists are of course also permitted to wear beards :-)

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  12. According to Bishop Schneider we are in the fourth great crisis of the Church. I tend to agree with him. The Western Catholic Church is certainly in a mess. Yes, that’s the word!

    Male, female, Novus Ordo, Vetus Ordo, it doesn’t really matter. The graphs overall are heading for the floor.

    And therein lies the solution, as per the recent statistics from France which show that in some 30 years, not long since this mess has now been going on for 50 years, the majority of priests left will be of the Vetus Ordo groupings, and these growing. I suspect much the same will happen in other Western countries.

    It may well be less than 30 years since many Novus Ordo priest are already seeing the trend and switching .

    And then you can all get back to being Catholic again - and dealing with the shambles.


    ps I'm clean shaven, but then I did my two years in the army.

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  13. Oxford Catholic: none of your 'reasons to to be sceptical' actually impinge on the validity of the argument you are so keen to be sceptical about. If you accept the general point about the loss of men, you don't need statistics, and the exact causal mechanism doesn't need to be established - it almost never is, anyway, in sociology. The correlation is enough.

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  15. I think Oxford Catholic is saying that if there has been a recent acceleration in the lapsation of men, we still have to show which of the multiple societal and religious factors at play since the 1960s are responsible.

    As regards attendance at the EF in E &Wales, this is inevitably an act of protest against the mainstream; maybe even a “political” act. This kind of trailblazing belongs more to the masculine genius so it’s easy to see why TLM congregations might have more men than OFs do.

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    1. I dispute the assertion that "attendance at the EF in E &Wales ... is inevitably an act of protest against the mainstream" - whatever is meant by "mainstream". In fact, I disprove it: my own attendance at the EF (almost exclusively, these days) is not only not a protest but is encouraged by my bishop, who is himself one of several English bishops who have pontificated recently.

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  16. As an aside, it is my impression that beards are in style these days -- definitely in the US of A. Price Harry grew a beard. And David Beckham. Then there's Russell Brand....

    I think the underlying criticism is: some attendees at TLMs look funny. Well, I should certainly hope so! The Church is not just for the fashionable. It must welcome all and sundry, especially the sundry who may be looked down upon by the world due to poverty, social standing, disability, class distinction, facial hair... the meek, the lowly, the downtrodden, the despised.

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    1. Well said - God bless you.

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    2. Thorfinn, I was considering emigrating to the USA to avoid Russell Brand. Now you've gone and dashed all my hopes.

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  17. I held back from replying to Joseph, lest I do so in haste. His comments still encourage a reply, however.

    On the point that if the general point is accepted, we do not need statistics. The BBC in 2010, using Church and census data, suggested 1 person in 12 is Catholic. In Oxford itself, excluding all the satellite villages and towns, there are 154,800 people. On average, 12,900 would be Catholic (lots of factors could push that up or down, but assume they equal out). That should be 6,500 males, about 4,000 of whom are adult. We get perhaps 500 of those across the City (Joseph and others, feel free to chip in), but there are no stats. The number of adult males at EF masses on a Sunday is perhaps 20-30. So (1) The EF is only a small part of adult male mass attendance (which is not surprising), but (2) (and more importantly) you would need a lot more EF attendance (or indeed any mass attendance) to find those 'missing' Catholic men.

    On the second point, that evidence for a causal theory is not needed because sociologists don't bother, let's revert to beards. I can suggest two causal theories which will not go down well. Beards are still not the norm in English society, or Catholic society specifically, but they are at EF masses, at least in this part of the world. So, theory 1: the EF appeals to men with beards; theory 2: going to the EF encourages men to grow beards; theory 3: LMS has become a cult, whose adherents grow substantial facial hair, eg their esteemed Chair.

    (Reminder: I am only mildly interested in the EF beard phenomenon - I use them here as an example of strange causal theories that cry out for scrutiny. The suggestion that LMS is a cult is a joke to make the point).

    So again, male mass (non) attendance (and practice generally) is an extremely important topic, TLMs do seem to have some relation to increased man attendance. But this is something that requires a lot more attention to understand what is going on, and what causes what.

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