Page 4, 17th February 1984

17th February 1984
Page 4
Page 4, 17th February 1984 — Lapsing 'statistics' and religious belief

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Locations: York, Paris, Oxford


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Lapsing 'statistics' and religious belief

IN HIS report on the Cambridge University Chaplaincy, Fr Jenkins stated that certain undergraduates were "already lapsed" before they arrived at Cambridge and that they were "totally impervious to the Gospel".

These are strong words when used by a priest, in public, about any persons who happen to be under his pastoral care, particularly when they are given wide circulation by the Catholic press and when the persons thus stigmatised can be very easily identified.

It is questionable whether it is ever wise to use "pastoral statistics" in a way that is likely to cause deep offence to individual persons, to their families and to others closely associated with them.

There are certain matters which are of their nature private, and the Catholic priesthood is rightly associated with attitudes of singular respect for such privacy.

Fr Jenkins has now chosen to rehearse once again, in letters to all the Catholic periodicals, his claim to "know with complete accuracy who was at Mass at the chaplaincy" on census Sunday, and his corresponding right to judge the spiritual state of the absentees.

Given his evident confidence in the statistics of lapsation, it is a little surprising that he should go on to state that "it does not matter how one defines lapsation, or what we decide are its causes".

With all due respect, it surely matters a great deal. Wholesale allegations have been made about the lapsing of certain categories of undergraduate. If the actual meaning of the term "lapsation" does not matter, why has such an emotive term been used at all?

It is a source of dismay that a pastoral topic of such difficulty and delicacy as the growth and loss of faith among the young (a topic which is pot of recent discovery) should have been treated so stridently and with such little regard for the good name to which all undergraduates, like all parishioners, have an inalienable right.

Rev. Dominic Milroy, OSB Ampleforth College York

D 0 M CHRISTOPHER Jenkins' first mistake in publishing what is essentially private evidence is now compounded by his defiant double defence of what he published (in the Catholic Herald, 3rd feb, Tablet 4 Feb).

He tragically misses the point: it is that he has published what has caused unnecessary pain to those involved and astonishment to those who look on.

Were he a psephologist or sociologist, he might be commended for his perseverance and his accuracy, for positively hunting down his data and parading it for all to see. But he is not, he is a priest and a chaplain to the young in his care (cura).

On a later page, P .1 Kavanagh writes: "The role of the poet is to praise, and this is at a time when it is almost inimical to do so . . . i look upon it as a grace, as a gift."

He might well have written: "The role of the priest is to trust and hope, even at times inimical to doing so . . . I look upon it as a trust, as a gift-for-others."

It is not for a chaplain to add up the score publicly, and then to accuse headmasters when, their priestly instincts being right, they go to the defence of their own young proteges.

The monk-headmaster of Belmont School (the apostolic work of Dom Christopher's Community) has this to say about some of his boys: "We do not like to split up families, so we have never refused the brother of a current pupil because he was academically weak. Such boys and many others thrive in our "C" stream where they benefit enormously from the stability and confidence provided by the school."

Dom Christopher is splitting up those in his care, he is providing no confidence for the young, and the enormous benefit they might have expected from Fisher House may now swiftly turn into an enormous burden.

May I lastly add this point, confirming what has been said trenchantly enough in the last weeks: faith is of the grace of God, given by God in God's good name — man waters, but it is God that giveth growth.

The example I might offer is of this same P J Kavanagh (who served in Korea under my uncle's command): he was schooled by the monks of Douai, lost his faith in Paris, and found it again — properly — at the bedside of his young dying wife (Rosamund Lehmann's daughter). God has his uncountable time.

Alberic Stacpoole, OSB St Benet's Hall, Oxford.

DURING five years at Ampleforth and four years at Trinity College, Cambridge I learned it was bad manners to check up on who had attended Mass on any Sunday.

Mgr Gilbey a predecessor of Dom Christopher Jenkins would never have stooped to such methods. If Dom Christopher really needs to do research to discover why his flock are absent from the fold he should refine his questionnaire and learn to deal with non-response..

On Dec 24, The Catholic Herald printed my letter on the subject of student lapsing. Since then the relations between different Christian traditions have continued to improve.

So there is even more to be said for students with a Catholic background spending time with their protestant brethren.

It is quite eye-opening for a traditional Catholic to attend evangelical meetings. After a good Catholic school and a good Catholic home an 18 year old

will have been to Mass about 1000 times. So there is more he Or she can learn from attending Christian Union meetings.

Or course such groups are not really satisfactory from the Catholic point of view. But we don't yet have the new religious institutions that will make the religious life effective in the industrial and commercial world for which our universities are preparing our young people.

Meanwhile the successful chaplains that can swim against the tide are to be admired and Dom Christopher deserves our sympathy.

Patrick Carroll London Ni.

"WHERE should we put the blame", asks Dom Alberic Stacpoole in his very thoughtful article about lapsing Catholics. Other contributions, some unfortunately less thoughtful, posed the same question and came up with many different answers, generally based on a very narrow, albeit personal experience.

Is it, therefore, not time that we get a broader view and try to find out what the facts really are? With such excellent Catholic sociologists like Dr Michael Hornsby-Smith and others, our Church should have long ago carried out a national survey of the causes of lapsation. Or are we afraid of the answers?

For many years now, the Catholic Renewal Movement has argued that any worthwhile pastoral strategy must be research-based. The next issue of our bulletin Renew will in fact carry a short article by Dr Hornsby-Smith arguing exactly that point.

But another point of equal importance is often overlooked: where do those fellow-Christians turn once they feel they are in danger of "lapsing"? Hardly ever to their priests or bishops. And for good reason — because there they often find lack of comprehension, lack of sympathy or simply: lack of time.

Our own efforts of dialogue with those in authority in the Church more often than not end in one-line replies from them: sorry, too busy. We still need to bring about the listening church we were promised in the Easter People. But we also need the enquiring church which is not afraid of finding out the real facts, and face them.

Will Fenten London SW6.

CATHERINE FULLER'S article and the correspondence about students' lapsing and the naive feature by Sr David of St Mary's School, Ascot, encapsulate the distressing confusion in our Church.

Would it not be wiser for those in authority, who know all the facts and statistics, to 'come clean', acknowledge the extent of our plight and do something concrete to repair damage.

Our Church, once the bulwark against the evil of any age, now seems to be simply bowing to it. Hell has disappeared — to where? Sin is a word we shouldn't mention. Young Catholics are no longer any different from their pagan peers when it comes to the 'accepted' loose living of modern times.

Miss C State, who is so indignant at mention of absence at Sunday Mass suffers from that widespread affliction of youth — knowing it all. Two thousands years of hard won wisdom, experience and constant study of the teachings of Christ are as nothing compared with a few years' education in the welfare state, which teaches that youth is omnipotent and the old and tried expendable.

I wonder what results would be achieved if all teachers adopted Sr David's approach. If they wait until their pupils are thirsting to rehearse French verbs, memorise the words of Shakespeare, Milton, or Eliot and mathematical or scientific formulas (all learned by rote), they will be waiting for ever for some pupils to drink up.

I read that there are two million Muslims in the fastest growing religion in Britain — a religion learned by rote and one from which no converts come. While such progress is being made by the Muslims our numbers are falling away.

With so many young people leaving the Church and almost all nominal or practising Catholics so severely restricting their family numbers, what will be the situation 20 years hence when the 'old dears' (as a priest in this parish calls them) have gone to their reward?

All that will remain will be post Vatican II material, ecumenical, humanist and trendy who are quite ignorant of all that has been lost.

We 'Catechism Catholics' (already almost strangers and hardly welcome in what used to be our Church) will be in the next world. I feel deeply grieved and hopelessly bereft.

E Rodgers Storrington, West Sussex.

THE ONE sure answer to all human problems (including that of lapsed Catholics) . is the love of God.

He desperately needs priests who are channels for that love, pouring through them . . . to "set us alight" on a person to person level.

We desperately need to be able to relate to each other. to communicate our feelings. to confess the joys and experiences of prayer. to be taught how to love God in mystical contemplation.

If young people are lapsing, it is the parents, priests. and teachers who are at fault.

It is not good enough to expect people (of any age) to turn up regularly at Mass, if they are being denied the joys of Christian fellowship.

We need to personally feel that we belong to God's church. Nick Tomlinson Fleetwood Lanes

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