May 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Metro Catholic survey will prompt change, archbishop says

Archbishop Allen Vigneron, left, and Lory McGlinnen, Director of Parish Life & Services, answer media questions during a press conference at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Youth ministry and ashortage of priests are the biggest concerns for the future Metro Detroit Catholics had in an Archdiocese of Detroit survey released Wednesday.

Those findings and others about topics such as satisfaction with parishes, evangelization and social networking show the church has to find new ways to fulfill its mission of spreading God’s word for the 21st century, Archbishop Allen Vigneron said.

“To me, that’s the biggest take away from the survey,” he said Wednesday during a media conference at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit to discuss the results.

“I think of myself like (Ford president and CEO) Alan Mulally. As he helped change the culture of his operation, I have to help change the culture of the archdiocese and make it more evangelizing.”

More than 41,000 area Catholics were polled over two weeks in November for the survey, titled “Perceptions of the Faithful.”

Joe Kohn, the archdiocese’s spokesman, said area parishes will get copies of the findings specific to their parishes by this summer. “Once that data is out, you’ll probably see it acted upon fairly quickly,” he said.

Vigneron added parishioners could start to see changes at their churches within the next quarter.

Catholics were asked to evaluate how well their parish was doing in areas such as support of Catholic schools, outreach and evangelization. The survey also asked how often respondents attend Mass, how important certain characteristics in a pastor are and general information about themselves. They rated topics ranging from excellent to poor.

The survey didn’t ask participants about the church’s leadership in Rome or the archdiocese’s position on such controversial topics as same-sex marriage or priest celibacy. However, one question asked how respondents would rate the hot-button issue of priest sexual abuse as a challenge for the church in southeast Michigan. More than half said it was a serious challenge and 24 percent said it was a moderate challenge.

It was distributed to all parishes, emailed to registered Catholics and made available on the archdiocese’s website. Most of the respondents were registered parishioners and all of the archdiocese’s 235 parishes were represented.

Results and analysis of the 33-page report are posted on the archdiocese’s website at The information is meant to help the archdiocese and parishes set goals and plan for the future. Most of the work will be done at the vicariate and parish levels, the report said.

The survey stems from initiatives started by Vigneron to stabilize the archdiocese’s finances, reshape parishes and address issues such as a shrinking pool of priests while reinforcing core missions. Those key missions include pastoral planning, Catholic schools, Christian service and outreach, lay leadership, vocations and youth ministries.

The Rev. Bill Tindall, pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Livonia, said the findings will help him guide his parish.

“We’ve already been moving in the direction of the archdiocese’s seven priorities with a specific focus of reaching out to our young people and those who’ve fallen away,” Tindall said. “The survey is going to help convey to our parish leadership ... this is what’s been identified as where we need to begin investing our resources — our spiritual, material, financial and people resources ... to continue to grow.”

Of the archdiocese’s seven mission priorities, vocations and ministries for youth and young adults received the lowest overall ratings.

According to the survey, 82 percent of respondents felt “decline in priests/vocations” was the most serious challenge and 64 percent said “engaging youth and young adults in parish life” was the next biggest concern.

Pat Schuesler, who is a member of St. Sebastian Church in Dearborn Heights, said vocations and the shortage of priests should concern every Catholic.

“A central part of the Catholic faith is the Mass,” he said. “And if you don’t have a priest, you can’t have a Mass.”

The survey asked why Catholics miss Mass. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said the most common reason they miss is demands of work, school or sports. Family concerns or needs followed with 51 percent.

Vigneron said he thought a decline in taking sacraments at Detroit area parishes was also significant. Sacrament activity overall and the baptisms of infants fell more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2013, according to the survey.

The report said the archdiocese next will collect more information to supplement the survey’s findings, refine mission priority goals and evaluate the use of technology, communications and marketing at all levels.

The Archdiocese of Detroit is the nation’s sixth-largest archdiocese and serves an estimated 1.3 million Catholics.
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