REACHING OUT TO
BY Father William McKee CSSR
twenty-one years I have often lifted up my head to
the heavens and cried out
"How Great Thou art". God never gives up on His
people. It is awesome..." Fr McKee
Statistics show that there are
approximately 45 million active Catholics in the
United States today and another 17 million who are
not practicing their Catholic faith. For a variety
of reasons many have fallen away from the Church.
Some have left because of loss of faith, moral
decline in society, church laws, laziness,
indifference, neglect by priests and nuns, or
changes in within the Church. This group of inactive
Catholics represents over one third of the
Responding to this vital issue and
giving "hands on" knowledge regarding a growing
problem, Father William McKee, C.S.S.R. brings 21
years of "working" experience with over 10,000
inactive Catholics in 22 States and in Canada and
England and therefore well qualified to give answers
to this concern. Father McKee is a Redemptorist
Missionary, a Roman Catholic Congregation of Priests
and Brothers founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus with a
purpose to follow the example of Jesus Christ the
Redeemer by preaching the word of God to the poor.
They fulfill their preaching vocation principally by
means of missions, spiritual exercises and religious
instruction and follow the example of Jesus Christ
the Redeemer by preaching the word of God to the
poor and abandoned. Father McKee is a man with a
keen sense of humor that is delightful and it shows
through even in the written word. He was ordained in
1948. His missionary life includes 10 years spent in
the Amazon region of Northern Brazil. He has been a
dedicated priest for over 53 years in the service of
the Lord and now resides in Liguori, Missouri where
he continues his precious work of helping people who
have strayed from the Church find their way back
CATHOLICVIEW: Father McKee, you
have worked extensively for 21 years with inactive
Catholics, welcoming and bringing them back to the
fold. This must be a very spiritually satisfying
experience for you. How did you decide to make this
single issue a major priority?
FATHER McKee: It is the finest
ministry I have engaged in 53 years of priesthood. I
got into the work because as a priest giving
missions, I learned fast that many people were in
pain after separating themselves from their God. The
compassionate Jesus could not bear to see people in
pain. As His disciple I wanted to imitate Him.
CATHOLICVIEW: Fr McKee, what do you
feel is one of the main reasons Catholics become
FATHER McKee: There are about as
many reasons for Catholics to drop out of the Church
as there are dropouts in any situation. Each one has
his/her own story. But in spite of all that I heard
I think the main reason they dropped out is because
life had not turned out the way they wanted it to.
They were disappointed with God. They thought that
He should have done a better job with them and for
them. They felt they deserved better.
CATHOLICVIEW: Often a Catholic may
leave the Church when he or she feels they are
breaking a stringent rule of the Church and
therefore cannot be a member in good standing. How
can we reach those individuals to reverse the
feelings of guilt and abandonment, offering hope and
FATHER McKee: We can help these
individuals by reaching out to them, gathering them
together, listening to their stories, not
criticizing nor even correcting them, but
listening. By extending a loving hand and a warm
smile. Self-deprecating humor on the part of the
leaders of the sessions can be very effective. In
all the work for the inactives it is good to
remember an old principle: "You would never buy a
car from a salesman you don't like".
CATHOLICVIEW: Do you think parents
are directly to blame for their children's
disinterest in the Church?
FATHER McKee: Parents might be
somewhat responsible but ultimately it is a personal
responsibility. Young folks who leave the Church
during their early years tend to come back fast when
they get married and have that first baby. Babies
are the best apostles I know of.
CATHOLICVIEW: Father, some say the
Church is cold and uncaring and does not bring a
feeling of cohesiveness and family so they lose
interest in attending. What do you think about this?
FATHER McKee: I think that many of
our priests are cold and distant. Our training in
the seminary is totally in objectivity - philosophy,
theology, canon law and Scripture. The subjective is
hardly touched upon. I have given workshops for all
the priests in 28 dioceses and mentioned that we
should have courses in the seminary on "How to Win
Friends and Influence People", that feelings and
emotions are most important, that most decisions are
made in the heart, not in the head. I won no friends
with this kind of "heresy".
CATHOLICVIEW: Is there a specific
way to locate those individuals who have left the
Father McKee: You can start an
outreach by beginning in a parish. Advertising in
all forms should be used such as titling an
advertisement with "Would you like to come and take
another look at the Church?".
CATHOLICVIEW: Do you think fear of
judgement or condemnation for actions or lifestyles
make inactives reluctant to return?
FATHER McKee: Yes. That is why
warmth and loving is so important.
CATHOLICVIEW: How can we as active
Catholics encourage others to come back and take
another look at their faith?
FATHER McKee: You have to be very
careful in issuing invitations to come back. The
best invitation we can use is the joy and the love
we find in Jesus, especially the Jesus of the
Eucharistic. Anyone who has received Holy
Communion more than once will always have a hunger
for the Eucharist. This hunger brings more
people back to the Church than anything else.
CATHOLICVIEW: It has been said that
many people feel they are "invisible" at Mass and
that attending Church is a solitary thing with no
personal feedback from other parishioners. Is this
FATHER McKee: This complaint is
valid in many parishes. The liturgies are cold and
unrelating to human warmth. Many ex-Catholics stay
in the Protestant Churches because of the
friendliness and acceptance they find there.
CATHOLICVIEW: Some inactive
Catholics feel they were hurt in some way by either
other Catholics or the clergy and nothing was ever
resolved. What can we do about this?
FATHER McKee: We start by reaching
out to them, showing them a loving hand, and total
acceptance. Most of their hostility melts in the
face of warmth and acceptance.
CATHOLICVIEW: What do we do about
those who are in conflict with the Church's
teachings, the major changes wrought by Vatican II,
and other doctrine? How do you handle this issue?
FATHER McKee: I take them to the
Gospels. I let them see Jesus at work with saints
and sinners. I base my action on the principle that
the more they know Jesus, the more they will love
Him and do things His way. Love does that, as you
CATHOLICVIEW: Father McKee, what is
the responsibility parents must assume when grown
children fall away from the faith and do not want to
FATHER McKee: Love them, love them,
love them and let them go. DO NOT argue, fight,
threaten, dispute or try to convince.
CATHOLICVIEW: There are those who
leave the Church permanently and go to another
denomination because they feel they are not getting
enough out of the Church. What do you say to those
people if you encountered them?
FATHER McKee: That they have the
obligation under God to follow their informed
conscience. Some ex-Catholics are better off as
practicing Protestants than as inactive Catholics.
But remember what I said about Holy Communion.
CATHOLICVIEW: We have heard,
Father, that sometimes the best way to approach
someone who has left the Church is to listen and
adopt a sympathetic attitude. Is this an effective
and viable way to do this?
FATHER McKee: Yes, Yes, and yes.
It's the only way.
CATHOLICVIEW: In summary, how can
we, as laity, encourage a return to the Church?
FATHER McKee: We can encourage a
return by being good practicing Catholics and trying
to love everyone who comes into close contact. It is
a tough life out there and people have a lot of
problems because human beings are very complex and
we are getting more complex by the day. So people
need the Lord more than they ever did before. I
talked a lot about love in this interview. As you
well know, love is hard work. Jesus on the cross is
convincing proof of this. Love often involves
sacrifice. We must be willing to sacrifice for
Jesus' beloved strays. It is a good and holy thing
to seek out the lost sheep so precious to Jesus and
it has been my experience that anyone who gets
involved in this work will never be the same.
CATHOLICVIEW: Thank you for giving
CatholicView generously of your valuable time. It is
good and holy priests like you who inspire us to
discipleship. I am sure those who visit CatholicView
will be inspired, finding many of their questions on
how to reach inactive Catholics answered clearly and
precisely, benefiting greatly from the knowledge you
have so graciously shared with us. May God continue
to bless you in your wonderful work for the Lord.
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