Sunday, December 24, 2006

From the Paulist Center

From the Boston Globe.

Sensing a wave of disaffection among Roman Catholics in Greater Boston, a tiny community of priests on Beacon Hill is waging an all-out campaign to win them back.

This week, the Paulist Center launched a three-year, $800,000 advertising and outreach campaign to attract Catholics who feel disenchanted with church teachings on gay marriage and other social issues, stressing that "everyone is truly welcome" at the center and that "questioning is encouraged."

The center's priests say the pain of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and the closing of parishes in the region has also alienated many Catholics, and they say they want to seize on Christmastime as a moment to bring them back.

The priests have urged their 1,500 members to invite friends, relatives, and co-workers to join them at Mass this week. The center has printed glossy cards with the slogan, "You'll feel right at home."

The campaign represents a bold effort by the center to raise its profile in the region. Founded 61 years ago as an unassuming outpost for downtown office workers to attend Mass, the center has evolved into one of the church's most liberal worship places. In addition to running a food pantry, weekly sit-down supper for the homeless, and religious education classes for children, the center runs special ministries for gays and lesbians and for divorced and separated Catholics.
In crafting the message for their campaign, which began Sunday, the Paulists relied on market research techniques more commonly associated with a political campaign or a retail outlet. This summer, the director of the center, the Rev. John B. Ardis, hired a veteran political strategist, Douglas J. Hattaway, to figure out why members like the center and how to market it to a wider audience.


Critics of this kind of outreach suggest that the Paulists are sending the wrong message. Gays who enter the church have to act in accordance with Catholic teachings, said C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

"It's important to bring people into the church, but to simply conform to the culture or surrender to the prevailing fashion is doing nothing to save these people's souls," Doyle said.
Ardis said that by targeting gays, the center wants to send a message "that the church is not denying them or sending them away." About 10 to 15 percent of the worshippers who attend the center are gay, he said.

Read the rest here.

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