Baseball’s spring training is not far off, and our Catholic “spring training” — the discipline of Lent — is fast approaching too. Not a bad time to think about baseball and virtue, which was brought to mind by the recent death of Stan Musial, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time.

Musial dominated the 1940s and 1950s, winning seven batting titles, three National League MVPs and winning the World Series three times. Even today, 50 years after his retirement in 1963, he remains second all-time for total bases, behind only the incomparable Hank Aaron, and fourth in all-time hits, behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Aaron. He died at age 92, predeceased last year by his wife of 72 faithful and faith-filled years. His funeral was in St. Louis, at which a young boy who wanted to be like Stan Musial when he was growing up in that proud baseball city, Timothy Dolan, now cardinal archbishop of New York, was present to honour a Catholic disciple who tried to go to Mass every day.

In a eulogy given by another proud St. Louis baseball man, a moving story was told about Musial’s quiet holiness. Bob Costas, perhaps the most gifted broadcaster in sports, recalled an occasion in which Mickey Mantle, the great Yankee of the 1950s and 1960s, was visiting in his retirement. Costas invited Stan Musial to dinner and told Mantle who was coming. Mantle, a long-time alcoholic, told Costas: “I don’t know how I am going to do it, but I am not going to have a drink all day tomorrow or all evening. I don’t want to do anything foolish in front of Stan Musial.”

Tens of thousands wanted to be like Stan Musial the ballplayer. Mantle, who was almost as good as Musial on the diamond, knew that he ought to be like Musial the man.

“Stan was a better player than me, because he was a better man,” Mantle told Costas.

There are few decisions men, especially young men, make that are as important as choosing their friends. Perhaps the greatest compliment a man can receive is that which Mantle gave Musial — I don’t want to do anything foolish, anything unworthy, anything sinful in front of him.

Mantle spent most of his life choosing his friends unwisely. Perhaps because of all the scandals, movies were made of his life. Musial’s life was too simple, too honourable, too pious for Hollywood. One of the best of the Mantle films, perhaps the greatest of all baseball films, is 61*, a Billy Crystal film about the 1961 home run chase between Mantle and Roger Maris.

“Maris, the North Dakota homebody who has just won the 1960 Most Valuable Player award, sees that Mantle, the Oklahoma hellion who might have been the greatest player ever had he not blown out his knee in the 1951 Series, is risking both his own and the team’s success by his compulsive boozing and wenching,” wrote George Weigel, papal biographer and accomplished baseball fan, about a key scene in 61*.

“So Maris and his apartment-mate, outfielder Bob Cerv, invite Mantle to move in with them, cut out the nocturnal craziness, and get himself back together,” Weigel continues. “That act of solidarity, matched by the way manager Houk and Maris’s teammates rally around him when both fans and sportswriters choose Mickey over Roger in the Great Bambino Record Chase, exemplifies the distinctive way men can be friends. Mickey Mantle, a tortured spirit, died in 1995 after telling a press conference, ‘Don’t be like me. God gave me the ability to play baseball and that’s what I wanted to do. God gave me everything and I just wasted it.’ ”

Weigel concludes with the contrast: “Maris died in 1985 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and is buried in his hometown, Fargo. This unassuming family man, who never took advantage of the lifestyle libertinism that Gotham (and the journalistic conventions of the era) made possible, was a good husband and father who endured hate mail and death threats, fan idiocies and press barbs. Roger Maris, a Catholic whom some would argue is the real single-season home run king, is one of the quiet heroes of the American Catholic experience.”

Little boys like Tim Dolan in St. Louis look for heroes at the ballpark. Grown-ups realize that the men on field are often not heroes at all. But sometimes they are, and sometimes even a grown-up cardinal of the Holy Roman Church finds a hero there. Stan Musial was a quiet Catholic hero. As Mickey Mantle might have said: “Be like him.”

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium, a Canadian magazine of faith in our common life: www.cardus.ca/convivium.)

 

I can still remember where I was when I received the call that the Supreme Court of Canada had struck down our abortion law. That call stopped the baking, stopped the family chatter, stopped me in my tracks. I could not believe the court would abandon Canada’s little ones.

The abandonment began in 1969 with the expansion of our abortion provisions, finally completing the severing of all protection for these children with the Supreme Court decision in the Morgentaler case on Jan. 28, 1988. It has been stated that even with our valiant attempts we have not been able to engage the whole of this country in a debate. That, I suppose is true. However, we have neither won nor have we lost.

What we have done is constantly and consistently raised our voices against the slaughter, continued to prick the conscience of this great nation, be a thorn in the side of her politicians and a challenge to the medical profession and pro-abortion advocates.

Canada’s doctors appear content to confirm the belief in the public eye that children before birth are a part of their mothers, like a toe or a fingernail. Rather than doing no harm their moral and ethical cowardice places women and their offspring into abortion harm’s way.

Our voice has been there from the start expressed by the wonderful people from Hamilton, Burlington, London, Ottawa and Toronto who presented to the House and Welfare Committee during 1967 and 1968. Displayed in the petition and letter-writing campaigns that have been non-stop over the years. Our concern has been voiced within the hundreds of briefs written and presented at all government levels over the years. We are active in the many pregnancy support services and homes that have developed. We are heard in the media campaigns carried out all across Canada and are noticeable in the annual marches which occur at the provincial and national level. Our voice is nowhere more present than in the hearts of those who volunteer and work for pro-life groups from one end of this country to another, day in and day out. The presidents and boards, their staff and volunteers, all committed to changing our culture to one where children before birth will be protected and women unexpectedly pregnant will know that they are supported and they do not have to kill their children.

This country has travelled so far — the wrong way. Fragile lives at every stage are forfeited because they are unwanted, face challenges or are sick and dying. Canada’s answer to these situations is to kill — but the words we use protect the public from the truth. We terminate pregnancy, not kill the baby. We conduct pre-natal genetic testing and terminate the pregnancy, not lethally discriminate against those who are different. We induce labour of children with genetic anomalies cutting short the duration of their little lives and some we just neglect until they die. We create, quality control, discard, freeze and lethally research on the tiniest of human beings and call it reproductive technology.

Those with disabilities do not always receive the care that those with able-bodies do. Those facing terminal illness or suffering may soon be sanctioned to have themselves killed or provided assistance in killing themselves. The public will hear “aid in dying” and other such euphemisms, but euthanasia and assisted suicide it will be. When did killing the vulnerable become a Canadian ethic?

Talk to many people who have received negative prenatal diagnosis and it appears the medical profession believes death is better than disability. When did we become so hard-hearted and have no room for those who are different and just need our compassionate help — not the right to be killed? This is the legacy of 1969, compounded by the Supreme Court travesty of justice in 1988.

Our voice will continue to shout out a challenge. Our efforts will provide support and options. Our activities will remind Canadians that we really are all created equal before and under the law until they get it and stop the killing.

(Jeffs is executive director of Alliance for Life Ontario.)

 

Late last year the National Post commissioned a survey on religious attitudes of Canadians. It will surprise no one that church attendance, both Protestant and Catholic, is dropping. What was surprising was how Canadians self-reported their attitude to religion.

Of those answering the survey, 65 per cent consider themselves “spiritual,” 50 per cent consider themselves “religious” yet 66 per cent said they believe in God. What to make of this?

First, contemporary mis-education has prevented many people from thinking clearly. If you believe in God, you are by definition “religious.” The Oxford English Reference Dictionary defines religion as belief in a personal God “…entitled to obedience and worship.” So to say that someone believes in God but is not religious is to utter an oxymoron.

As for the 15 per cent who consider themselves spiritual (“concerned with sacred or religious things”) but not religious, well, they truly are remarkable human beings. They are like a self-described gourmand who never eats, or someone who professes to love travel but does not leave home, or a lover of theatre who has never seen a play that he enjoyed.
Of course, one might be spiritual and not go to church; that is possible. I suppose one might even be a Protestant Christian and never go to church. But one cannot be a Roman Catholic and refrain from attending church.

That’s because the catechism teaches that there is no salvation outside the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (published in 1994) expresses the point this way: “All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His body.” Again, none can be saved “who knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse to enter it or to remain in it.”

Catholics have an obligation to attend Mass. One may attend Mass outside the physical structure of a church, but only a priest may consecrate the elements of bread and wine. For a Catholic to say that he is spiritual but not religious is what Dr. Johnson once called “nonsense on stilts.”

The priest who brought me into the Catholic Church never referred to the “obligation” to attend Mass. It was always, he insisted a privilege. And with him presiding, it always was. He prepared carefully for each service. His homilies were strengthening and he threw himself into every activity in the church with gusto. To my chagrin, I have discovered that this is not always the case.

Of course, I understand that one does not attend Mass because of the priest but rather for the opportunity to receive the sacraments. Still, it is difficult to be in a suitably receptive frame of mind to receive the sacraments when one is fuming inwardly at all that has gone on up to that point. Perhaps I am only now discovering the reality of what Flannery O’Connor meant when she wrote that one may suffer more from the Church than for the Church.

If the new statistics accurately portray Canadians’ religious attitude, what hope is there for the Church? Well, Pope Benedict XVI recognizes the problem; indeed he wrote extensively about this even before the year 2005 when he became Pope. He has called repeatedly for a “New Evangelization” with three components: (1) deepened personal faith; (2) renewed Bible study; (3) proclamation of the Gospel.

The Pope has said that it is the duty of every Catholic to proclaim the good news “with the same enthusiasm as the early Church” and he has taught that “the Gospel is not the exclusive property of those who received it, but it is a gift to share, good news to report to all.”

In this respect, buried in the statistics, is one nugget which allows for hope: 15 per cent of Canadian youth report that they are more committed to the faith than were their parents. Here is the potential spearhead of a new evangelization that can rescue the Church from the doldrums.

The new evangelization will not happen in parishes where the message is distorted, or where the priest is only going through the motions, or where the congregation trudge off content at having satisfied their obligation. But the message of hope from Pope Benedict XVI is that it can — and will — happen nevertheless.

 

The Criminal Code, Parliament and the Supreme Court have been consistent and clear on the matter of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Both offences are serious crimes as prescribed in law and as upheld in various votes by the nation’s top legislative and judicial bodies. Yet the Province of Quebec is bulling ahead with a chilling attempt to circumvent the law by decriminalizing euthanasia through a legislative sleight-of-hand.

In mid-January, the PQ government of Pauline Marois trumpeted a report suggesting doctors should sometimes be allowed to kill patients. Naturally, that is not how the report is worded. It speaks of “medically aided death” and suggests that euthanasia is just another “part of the continuum of care” provided by doctors. So on some days doctors will deliver a baby, or remove tonsils, or treat cancer, and on other days they will deliver care by killing the patient.

This is an offensive notion, of course, and it must be opposed forcefully by society in general and by the federal government in particular.

By June, Quebec is expected to propose legislation to declare euthanasia is a medical procedure and therefore strictly a provincial matter beyond the reach of the Criminal Code or Parliament interference. Assumedly, the Quebec government has lawyers who feel confident in making that argument even though it strikes most reasonable people as far-fetched to claim killing someone can be equated with providing them with medical care.

This legislative end-around follows a resounding rejection two years ago of a private member’s euthanasia bill introduced by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde. She lost that vote 250-57. The Supreme Court had rejected euthanasia in a 1993 decision. Two years after that, a senate committee concluded euthanasia should remain a criminal offence. Although euthanasia is legal in some countries, Canada, to its credit, has consistently rejected it.

Even Quebecers are unconvinced. The “Dying With Dignity” committee crossed the province for two years hearing submissions. Sixty per cent of people or groups opposed euthanasia. Many doctors are appalled that their oath to “do no harm” could be perverted to countenance killing.

“This act is abhorrent to us as doctors and should appall Quebecers who care about social justice and building communities that care about the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, spokesperson for a group called The Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.

Instead of writing laws to kill sick and suffering people, politicians in Quebec and across Canada should be increasing the number and improving the quality of palliative care centres. Euthanasia is a deplorable solution for old age, illness and infirmity. The focus should be on providing comfort and care, and building a society that treats all life with dignity and respect.

 

Canada, U.S. have world’s most extreme abortion licence

About a decade ago, I was in Scotland and one person after another whom I met kept referring to me as an American, presumably because of my accent.

Sculpting a legacy is a central subplot in the second term of any American president. To that end, Barack Obama has started writing a key chapter to his story by squaring himself as the president who stood up to America’s powerful gun lobby.

Catholic social teaching holds anniversaries in high regard. Witness the many conferences and papers written in 2012 to comment on the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) used to release annual Labour Day statements on social themes, while the Quebec bishops chose May 1 for their annual releases. When I worked in a diocesan social action office, we would anxiously await these letters and organize church basement gatherings and discussion circles among Catholics hungry for sustenance in social ministries.

These tracts, however, were often received without much fuss in our parishes and garnered only polite commentary in minor media. But that wasn’t the case 30 years ago this month, when the bishops released a bombshell reflection that resonated with the Canadian public like never before.

“No other Church document in Canadian history ever created an equivalent reaction,” opined Bishop Remi De Roo in the CCCB’s 1999 unofficial history of the bishops’ social thought.

The document, called “Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis,” was released early in 1983 and became a front-page story. Within the first week, 18 editorials debated its contents (11 in favour, six opposed), 16 public affairs programs on radio dissected it, and 23 columnists wrote commentaries. The statement received international coverage in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time and Newsweek. In the days before fax and electronic mail, over 200,000 copies were sold and the text was eventually translated into seven languages. (You cannot find the CCCB history or the statements themselves on the CCCB’s web site, but Ethical Reflections is available on the Internet.)

The document, published at a time of high unemployment and inflation, urged people to place the needs of the poor and oppressed ahead of the financial ambitions of the rich.

It called for government policies that would place worker rights ahead of profit and would invite marginalized groups to participate in political and economic systems that were excluding them.

Ethical Reflections was not a radical departure from the previous teaching of the bishops, but it was released at a specific moment in understandable moral language that echoed the social and economic angst of that time. The final lines of the statement inspire me to this day: “As Christians, we are called to become involved in struggles for economic justice and to participate in building a new society based on Gospel values.”

With 1.5 million Canadians out of work at the time, and government policy more focused on defeating inflation than unemployment, Ethical Reflections explicitly highlighted two fundamental Catholic social principles: “the preferential option for the poor” and “the value and dignity of labour.” Tony Clarke, a CCCB staffer at the time (and one of the authors of Ethical Reflections) recounted a poignant anecdote: A west coast friend called Clarke to say that he was greeted that morning on the dock by a group of unemployed workers who yelled out: “Have you heard the news? The bishops are on our side!”

Another major explanation for the incredible media buzz the statement generated was that many prominent Canadians publicly disagreed with the message, among them Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter, businessman Conrad Black and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

That brings us to 2013. Last month, Radio Ville-Marie reported that in September 2011, a draft of a pastoral letter focusing on the global financial crisis which began in October 2008 was rejected for publication by the CCCB. Montreal’s Catholic station suggested that the letter, prepared by the bishops of the Commission for Justice and Peace, was shelved (according to the CCCB Executive) because it would have “little impact,” given that it was “obscure” and “old news.”

Papal encyclicals often begin with recognition of the writing that has been inherited from predecessor statements. After 1891’s Rerum Novarum, important documents like Quadragesimo Anno, Octogesima Adveniens and Centesimus Annus recognize and deepen the social thought that preceded them.

One hopes that Catholic colleges and universities will commemorate, debate and deepen the message of Ethical Reflections on the 30th anniversary of its publication.

More importantly, will the Catholic hierarchy and laypeople take up the challenge to make Catholic social thought — and action — come alive today?

 

For someone who is neither doctor nor priest, there is something spectacularly meditative about encountering death face-to-face four times in one year.

A year ago this month, my wife’s mother died after a long affliction.

In August, my colleague Michael Van Pelt’s 15-year-old son, Kenton, drowned at the family cottage in one of those tragedies that makes life feel as if all Earth has dropped into a hell of particularly inexplicable, random cruelty.

Halfway through November, my father-in-law died quickly after a diagnosis of cancer, still grieving his beloved wife’s death.

On Dec. 29, our good family friend and fellow anti-euthanasia campaigner, Dr. André Bourque, was killed by an aneurism as he shovelled Christmas snow.

With all four deaths, I was among those God favoured to stand before the deceased in prayer, and look into faces that had, mere countable hours before, smiled, laughed, talked, worried, wondered, scowled, sung and otherwise engaged in all the amazing expressions of human life.

In Kenton Van Pelt, I saw the fine strong face of a handsome young man senselessly suspended at mid-point in the arc from adolescence to adulthood. I’d enjoyed a family meal with him a week previously, and marvelled at the signs of maturing Christian character emerging from him. His death so young made a mockery of our culture’s arbitrary categories of age. It reminded me that, in the essentials, we all share one age: the marvel of the single moment we are living right now.

In Dr. André Bourque, I looked into a face miraculously imbued and embedded with kindness. It was the face of a devoutly Catholic doctor who gave his all for the care of his patients and who, when he felt those patients threatened by the encroaching evil of legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide, worked tirelessly to rally grassroots Quebecers and his medical colleagues alike to stop the scourge. Not lost in the passage from life to death was his ever-present air of calm and wisdom and determination to do what is right. Sometimes, the grand gesture, yes. More often, the small touch, the encouraging word, the gracious answer, the good laugh that were all signs of Christ’s presence in everything Dr. Bourque did.

For my mother-in-law, a devotional light returned to her features after almost a decade of ravaging, darkening dementia. I will go to my own death convinced that light was the same as the one that shone when my wife asked, moments before death, if her mother wanted her long-deceased friend, Soeur Alice, to come and take her home. At the sound of the nun’s name, my mother-in-law sat up, drew her last few breaths, looked toward a corner of the ceiling and lay down with a small smile on her lips. Her light gave the lie to the pernicious belief that we ever need a euthanizing needle in the arm to die with dignity.

Perhaps because I was present at the very fragment of an instant separating his life from his death, it is my father-in-law’s passing that I encounter most often and concretely these days. It is his face I see most vividly when I ponder the cluster of deaths that marked 2012.

My wife and I were at his bedside, in the little house where he lived for 50 years, when his ragged breathing warned us he was slipping away. When he breathed, stopped, then snatched a final few gasps of air, we were holding his hand, saying silent prayers, listening with our whole being to the sound of life arising and departing.

Looking deeply into the face I had known and loved for 30 years, I felt a dizzying sense of him receding toward the beginning of his life. My father-in-law was not a tall man, though he was powerful in chest, shoulders and arms. Lying lifeless, he became first a younger man, then a little boy, then the infant who lay at his mother’s breast 80-plus years ago.

The feeling was, I’m inclined to think, God reminding me of the folly of putting all my faith in the fruits of humanly created time. It was His call to meditate on the necessity of turning my face, again and again, toward Christ as He bends from eternity into the history that is my life.

Moments are where we live. His grace in each and every one of those moments has conquered death for once and for all.

(Stockland is the Director of the Cardus Centre for Cultural Renewal in Montreal.)

 

Victor Chan is the Dalai Lama’s man in Vancouver, arranging the Buddhist monk’s visits to that city. In a new book, The Wisdom of Compassion, Chan documents those visits, especially an encounter between the Dalai Lama and South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Vancouver in 2004.

I haven’t read the book, but the reporting of that meeting gives us an illuminating example of how the mainstream media covers religion. The headlines on stories about the book contained this eye-catcher: “God is not a Christian, says Tutu.” An excerpt appeared online at The Huffington Post and created quite a buzz.

Desmond Tutu, a man of admirable courage, was indispensable to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa and the subsequent truth and reconciliation commission. Yet as a theological thinker, Archbishop Tutu is rather unimaginative and predictable. On any controverted question, he reliably takes the position adopted by the fashionable view of the secular liberal consensus. So when he declared in 2004 to the Dalai Lama that “God is not a Christian” it was perhaps newsworthy given that he is a Christian clergyman, but it was not new. In fact, it is not even that remarkable, for God is not a disciple of Jesus Christ, which is what a Christian is. If Archbishop Tutu was to say that Jesus Christ is not God, or that He did not reveal who God is to us, that would be something different, for it would mean that Archbishop Tutu is not a Christian.

The archbishop did say something remarkable in that encounter, but it was not what was highlighted in media reports.

“The glory about God is that God is a mystery,” Tutu said. “God is actually quite incredible in many ways. But God allows us to misunderstand her but also to understand her.”

This too was given wide play, noting that the reference to God as “she” produced wild applause in the audience.

“I’ve frequently said I’m glad I’m not God,” Tutu continued. “But I’m also glad God is God. He can watch us speak, spread hatred, in His name. Apartheid was for a long time justified by the church. We do the same when we say all those awful things we say about gays and lesbians. We speak on behalf of a God of love. The God that I worship is an omnipotent God. He is also incredibly, totally impotent. The God that I worship is almighty, and also incredibly weak.

“He can sit there and watch me make a wrong choice,” Tutu continued. “But the glory of God is actually mind-blowing. He can sit and not intervene because He has such an incredible, incredible reverence for my autonomy. He is prepared to let me go to hell. Freely. Rather than compel me to go to heaven. He weeps when He sees us do the things that we do to one another. But He does not send lightning bolts to destroy the ungodly. And that is fantastic. God says, ‘I can’t force you. I beg you, please for your own sake, make the right choice. I beg you.’ ”

When Tutu speaks about God not being Christian, or God being “she” or about how Christians are beastly to gays and lesbians, it is trumpeted as extraordinary and courageous, even though it is neither, as witness the laudations in the hall.

What is remarkable though is that Tutu speaks about God’s respect for our freedom to the point of making Himself weak. Some may think it bold to say that God is “impotent.” From St. Paul onwards the Church has preached Christ crucified. That God makes Himself “impotent” before our freedom was commonplace in the preaching of the Fathers of the Church.

The news in the excerpt is that the impeccably liberal Desmond Tutu believes in hell. Hell means that God respects our freedom to the extent of honouring the consequences of our choices; a cosmos without hell is also without freedom. It is likely that Tutu’s comments about hell were not met with rapturous applause, which is a good sign, because the preacher who always gets rapturous applause is not a preacher at all, but a panderer.

The mainstream media prides itself on being bold in challenging orthodoxies, both sacred and profane.

The Huffington Post thought it was doing just that in highlighting the apparent Christian heterodoxy of a great liberal hero, Archbishop Tutu. But he was just echoing the secular liberal orthodoxy. The actual news was that, whatever his views on gender and sexual orientation, Tutu was perfectly orthodox on the reality, and necessity, of hell in his conversation with the Dalai Lama.

The headline should have been: “Tutu reminds the Dalai Lama about hell.”

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium, a Canadian magazine of faith in our common life: www.cardus.ca/convivium.)

 

Among the most ambitious media outreach programs in recent years involving religion is Catholics Come Home (CCH), an independent, U.S.-based, non-profit Catholic apostolate. Founded in the late 1990s, it creates media messages to invite lapsed Catholics back to church and to inspire and educate others, including non-Catholics, in religious knowledge in keeping with the magisterium.

After 33 American campaigns, CCH has begun its first Canadian outreach, in the dioceses of Vancouver and Victoria. While the campaign is bigger than TV advertising — parish welcoming committees, special events and other outreach initiatives are also important — the media component tends to attract the most attention.

Such was the case in The Globe and Mail on Jan. 3. In a column titled “Does Catholics Come Home campaign have a prayer?”, Gary Mason gave his assessment of the “controversial” program, complete with lots of detail about his own lapse from Catholicism and his view of what the Catholics Come Home program is likely, or unlikely, to achieve.

Citing Archbishop Michael Miller’s estimate that a quarter million Catholics in the archdiocese are no longer practising their faith, Mason rather cynically estimated that if the campaign enticed even 10 per cent of them back, “that’s nearly 25,000 new(ish) parishioners and a far heavier collection plate. And you’d certainly have to think that declining revenue is playing some sort of role in this membership drive.”

In fairness, the article also included some thoughtful insights on why church attendance is down, and not only (or even principally) in the Catholic Church, including lack of interest, lack of time, a perception that the Church needs to get with the times, teachings on sexuality that many do not accept or find difficult, and the sex abuse scandal. Of course many people raised in the mainstream Protestant churches have also stopped attending. The only difference I’ve ever noticed is that most of them continue to identify themselves loosely with the tradition in which they were raised.

I’ve visited the Catholics Come Home web site and viewed the TV spots, which discuss charitable and educational works, sacramental life and community life. I think the only people who would regard the package as controversial are those who regard the Church itself as controversial. Evangelization is part of what Christianity is about. While there will always be legitimate questions about one outreach program or another, there’s no getting around the fact that attempting to share the Good News is a good and necessary thing, provided it’s done with respect and courtesy.

The CCH cites American evidence to demonstrate the need for outreach, but the data is comparable to Canada. No more than a quarter of adult Catholics attend Mass weekly. The number of Americans identifying themselves as “unaffiliated” with a religious tradition continues to increase dramatically, and now makes up more than 15 per cent of the population.

Despite the growth of the Internet and social media, television continues to consume a huge proportion of our entertainment time, with the average Canadian household tuning in for 24 to 26 hours a week. Even though youth spend more time glued to their iPads or computer screens, they are often using them to watch television shows.

CCH founder Tom Peterson is kinder than many people about media coverage of the program, and religion in general. According to the B.C. Catholic, he says that despite some negative reporting, most of the media realize the good work of the Church in the world.

“We can’t take the credit, but we can thank the Holy Spirit, for starting hospitals and universities, and for being the largest charitable organization on the planet.”

He added that he enjoyed talking with the Canadian media about the Vancouver initiative when he was visiting in October, stating that Canadian journalists showed respect and kindness even when asking tough questions. Local coverage of the CCH program included criticisms, but has been generally well-balanced.

Advertising on television or elsewhere is only a tool. The content of any ad is unlikely to sway people who have already been well and truly “turned off” by an institution or product. For the sizeable group who have drifted away from Church for no particular reason, however, this type of program may be effective in re-igniting interest.

The CCH claims their program results in attendance bumps of 10 to 18 per cent. Whether these gains are sustainable is more difficult to document. But the initial surge of interest sparked by the CCH program is important and shouldn’t be discounted.

(McGarry is Executive Director of the Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada.)