Boston church aims to bring back lapsed Catholics

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 9, 2011; 7:42 PM

BRAINTREE, Mass. -- Cardinal Sean O'Malley kicked off a massive ad campaign Wednesday to draw Boston's vast population of lapsed Catholics back to the church by inviting them to "come home."

The Boston Archdiocese officially launched "Catholics Come Home" on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the start of the holy season that ends with Easter Sunday. The message in the coming flurry of 2,500 radio and TV ads is simple, O'Malley said: "We miss you and our worshipping communities are diminished because of your absence."

It might be a tough sell in Boston, the center of a nationwide clergy sex abuse scandal that saw abusive priests shuffled between parishes while their crimes were kept secret.

Nicole Frampton, a 39-year-old mother of five from Topsfield, calls herself "very proud" to be Catholic but hasn't been inside a Catholic church in years. Frampton said she believes the church has regressive views on women and resents the burdens of "Catholic guilt." She left feeling like there was nothing for her at her local parish.

She admits, though, that the call to "come home" tugs at her.

"I could see how that could really draw somebody in, especially with all the stuff that's going on right now in the world, in people's finances and just the instability," she said. "I still don't know if it's going to have any effect on me whatsoever. I highly doubt it."

The archdiocese's ad campaign in partnership with the Georgia-based Catholics Come Home organization started Monday and runs seven weeks until Easter, on April 24.

The Boston Archdiocese counts more than 1.8 million Catholics, but only about 16 percent of them - roughly 287,000 - attend Mass weekly. The national weekly attendance rate for Catholics is about 33 percent.

O'Malley said he worries the archdiocese's past could affect people's willingness to come back, but that can't stop the church from sharing its redemptive message.

"Although the sexual abuse crisis has been such a painful episode for all of us, still we believe in the Catholic Church and we believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ," O'Malley said.

Catholics Come Home founder Tom Peterson said their research indicates people more often drift from church than leave it in disgust or anger. Life gets busy and church falls off the list of priorities, he said.

But Peterson said his group's work has shown that many people are open to a return, they just need to be asked back.

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