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Debate: Are we experiencing a ‘Benedict bounce’?

And, if so, how long will it last?

By on Thursday, 23 September 2010

Pope Benedict's visit has sparked a huge surge of interest in the Church (Photo: PA)

Pope Benedict's visit has sparked a huge surge of interest in the Church (Photo: PA)

Somewhere around half a million people saw the Pope in his four-day visit, with millions more watching the heavy-duty TV coverage; the commentariat were in full flow, in favour and against every half-sentence the Pope uttered.

Images of the Pontiff in his specially commissioned tartan, kissing babies, and waving to huge crowds were in abundance, and voices of protest struggled to gain the massive public interest they had hoped for.

And on Sunday, Cardinal Keith O’Brien mentioned the idea of a “Benedict Bounce“, a resurgence in public interest in Catholicism and a renewed energy in the Church in Britain. The Telegraph reported a rise in interest, with the Catholic Enquiries Office inundated with phone calls asking for more information about the Church.

Some have likened this rise of interest to a similar surge following the visit of Pope John Paul II to Britain 28 years ago.

But will it last? Or will it, like previous spikes in interest, drop off as the mass media spotlight drifts away from the Church?

  • http://twitter.com/ispopeacatholic IsThePopeACatholic?

    Whether it lasts or not depends on the support offered by bishops, priests and parish communities: if initiatives are put in place to channel the enthusiasm into next steps it could be the start of something…

  • http://twitter.com/edwestonline Ed West

    It is certainly the most optimistic I have ever known Catholics to be in my lifetime. Ive often heard it said that it would just take one man, a new John Wesley, to change British religion and culture. Maybe Benedict XVI is that man

  • Pachomius451

    Will there be a permanent rise in interest in matters Catholic? Maybe, but I'm doubtful, myself.

    First, because I think that as soon as the 'media spotlight' is off the Church, people will forget it. As soon as their are limits or moral obligations required, people will refuse. As soon as the question of sin, damnation, and the salvation of souls comes up, people will object.

    It was Chesterton who wrote that the Christian message has not been tried and found wanting, but found difficult and not tried. The comment is as valid today as it was in the first half of the 20th Century.

    But for there to be a bounce, the bishops must capitalise on the Papal visit quickly, forthrightly, and with intellectual and pastoral vigour. While I don't wish to accuse the bishops of England and Wales, I'm not sure that the necessary media-savvy talent is there at the moment.

    My guess is that there will be a brief resurgence, followed by a rapid return to slow decline, I'm afraid.

  • MJCarroll

    There is one alternative suggestion I have to keeping the interest in Catholicism in Britain. Let us follow Benedict's apostolic journey up with an even more powerful witness to the Faith.

    It is time to bring World Youth Day to Britain. Britain is the only major European country never to have hosted the event. The sight of 2 million young people descending on London in 2012 or 2013 would be an eye opener to both non-Catholics & Non-believers alike. I have posted the YouTube link for 'The History of World Youth Day' below for a reminder just how powerful this event is and what a witness it is to the rest of the world, let alone Britain.

    If you do not know much about WYD watch this link. I think you will be extremely surprised.


    William Oddie, you are a man people listen too maybe you should start dropping this into the conversation.

  • Anna B

    I think that this has more to do with individual encounters than with ecclesial structures, although they can help. I was turned on to the faith after hearing Pope Benedict's profound homily at his inauguration five years ago. It was literally one homily that converted my heart! After that I was hungry for more and have followed his beautiful teaching very closely. I never knew the joy and peace that can be found in faith in Christ in His Church.
    I would suggest that parishes show the faithful how they can access the treasure trove of homilies and speeches of the Holy Father as we progress through the liturgical year, as well as the other great teachers of the church. (Priests and catechists should definitely study them too!) Study groups and prayer groups can easily be formed to increase understanding and fellowship. Where that isn't possible, diocesan discussion forums via the internet (like this) can be developed to encourage a deeper understanding of our faith in our time.
    We could become a grand, healthy tree if we each were a mustard seed!

  • chrysostom

    I sold two lovely bibles, the catechism, a book about ratzinger's theology and a book about going to church by timohty radcliffe at work in the bookshop today to a woman who has come back to the Church. Is it thanks to the benedict bounce? Who knows!

  • Jhammer

    A Benedict 'bounce' I think underplays the likely effects. There have been surges in people hitting papal visit websites and so on. But I think the real effects will be seen for a long time to come. People of all denominations and none have been affected in some way. While the child abuse scandal is likely to fester on I think the visit has put this sad episode into, at least, some proper perspective: the Catholic church is much, much bigger and has profoundly more important positive things to say as well as addressing itself to these very real problems. Everyone saw that the positive 'vibe' of the visit vastly over-shadowed the small protests. And I think Pope Benedict's voice came across as, perhaps, prophetic and timeless when compared to 'naggers' whose attention is firmly attached to trends (I don't wish to belittle real problems and pain, but the church's message is simpler bigger). I know several people who have been in church this week who have not been in a while. Hopefully, not a bounce but an eventual tidal wave!

  • Jhammer

    I agree that a follow up with intellectual and pastoral vigour – I like that! I'd like to see ecumenical groups discussing the Pope's speeches for example – his message is clearly addressed beyond the catholic church and it is an opportunity to show other Christian churches that there is much to be said for our recognition of the primacy of the Holy See.

  • Ratbag

    We, the Church, and our priests and pastors ought to up the ante in this respect. Our beloved, sweet Holy Father has hit the ball in the sweet spot and it has landed in our court. It is up to us to keep the 'Benedict Bounce' bouncing for years to come with strong bats, racquets – whatever! If anyone happens to show an interest in the Church, gently point them the right direction without feeling the need to push or pressure. 'Gently' is the watchword… like Christ, and our Holy Father, were gentle.

  • Formerlylapsed

    Last Sunday, I went to mass for the first time in a long time. Was this the Benedict bounce? Not exactly…it was more the anti-anti-Benedict bounce. In some sectors, the papal visit brought forth far more anti-Catholic sentiment than I had honestly realised exists in this country. So many negative, insulting and inflammatory comments, especially on line, appeared in such a short space of time. I seemed to spend rather a lot of time and effort defending the church in online communitues where I had never imagined religious intolerance to be such an issue. And I realised something: I am still a Catholic, afterall. Strange, isn't it.

  • Ratbag

    Keep bouncing, anonymous woman! We're bouncing with you! You, too, chrysostom!

  • http://twitter.com/RCYouthWorker Jack Regan

    The short answer is that the potential is there for a 'Benedict Bounce', but we will have to make it happen.

    When JPII died there was a lot of attention on the Church and a lot of positivity. A senior cleric told me a year or so later though, that we had utterly failed to capitalise on that in any meaningful way. Now, perhaps we might argue that it's not right to capitalise on the death of a Pope in this way, but then JPII existed to draw others to Christ and his Church and if his death was starting to do that, we should have taken the initiative and hammered it home.

    Perhaps what's different now is that we have learned that we have to take hold of a bounce and make it happen, rather than simply noting that we live in exciting times and wondering what will happen.

    On CatholicYouthWork.com we ran a debate on the Benedict bounce almost as soon as Card. O'Brien had uttered the phrase. It was clear from the discussion that in youth ministry the desire and potential to 'bounce' was definitely, definitely there. I just hope we don't do that Catholic thing and get all lethargic, make plans, drop them quickly and basically satisfy ourselves with dull and mediocre.

  • http://twitter.com/Harry_ca_Nab Harry

    I, like many Catholics, do not regularly go to church.

    I have however been edging towards greater involvement.


    From my outside perspective I find it quite difficult to engage.

    Our church is only open for set hours (for fear of theft/vandalism). This means that is it impossible to visit for quiet reflection, familiarisation or informally meeting others

    If one attends mass it isn't really possible to meet people and introduce yourself as they all seem self absorbed and in cliques, and even when I notified the parish I had moved into it (by delving very deeply into their website to find a “new parishioners” form) I received no acknowledgement or invitation to meet the priest and senior laity. No invitation to join and assist the social/fundraising activities. Not even, amazingly, a request for money!

    The church may think it open but, unthinkingly, makes it difficult to join in.

  • http://twitter.com/Harry_ca_Nab Harry


  • Dorothy Cummings

    Well, churches are full of people, and people are people. If you are in a culture where people take awhile to notice the new faces and then wait awhile to address them, that is how it is. I prefer the slow, natural progession of social relationships of Europe to the instant (and shallow) friendship-making of American, myself. Meanwhile, the natural bridge to the parish is the parish priest, so I would suggest introducing yourself to him after Mass, arranging to make an appointment for a conversation and asking how to become more involved.

  • pattif

    My memory of Pope John Paul's visit was that it was a moment of great grace. Almost everywhere I went on the day of his arrival, the television was on and I was prevailed upon to sit down and watch, even by non-Catholics. Almost everyone I knew either was a Catholic, had been brought up Catholic, had been to a Catholic school, lived next-door-but-one to a Catholic, had a Catholic granny or knew someone who had a Catholic cat: everyone wanted to be part of this event. It seemed to me that a huge opportunity of evengelisation had been allowed simply to run away into the sand.

    The death of Pope John Paul and the election of Pope Benedict provided a similar graced opportunity. There was a tremendous outpouring of interest in the doings of the Catholic Church and, again, it seemed to me that not much was done about it. If it had been up to me, I thought, I would have hired the Albert Hall for a series of “Come and See” sessions, to explain what Catholics believe, what happens in the Mass, and to answer people's questions. I wasn't very impressed that that great surge of interest seemed to be allowed to subside.

    However, I am increasingly aware that those events did have an impact, although it was not particularly apparent at the time. I know of vocations that were in response to those events, and I think it is not untrue to say that the seminaries, religious orders (particularly the newer ones) and the New Movements are to a great extent populated by Pope John Paul's children.

    Nevertheless, with hindsight, I think there was a tendency to sit back and let the bishops and others get on with reaping the harvest. If this visit is to yield even more lasting fruit, perhaps we need to recognise that we all have our role as labourers in the vineyard. Perhaps it is the particular role of the laity to get out there amongst ordinary people, and, when their interest has been kindled, to draw them in to where the clergy can exercise their proper function.

  • Jhammer

    Hello Harry – I understand what you mean! I would say that very often priests are incredibly busy. I met mine once in the early evening as it was his first 'window' of the day. I thought that would give us some space to talk, but an hour later he was off to another meeting, and then another after that! It is simply the case that the laity needs to be more involved welcoming, getting people into the community, inviting people to dinner, to the pub, whatever! I think church websites could be a lot better, with proper networking pages – why aren't parishes more on networking sites like facebook? Westiminster diocese is on facebook and added me as a friend! From there you can meet all sorts. Anyway Harry I would gladly take your money, or go for a pint! Good luck!

  • Gordon S

    The truth of the matter is that this pope and the present Catholic Church really dosen't have any bounce. The ball stopped bouncing for it many years ago.

    It is sad to see such a reactionary church when it was once through the late 60's, 70's and into the 80's dynamic and progressive.

    I don't see it returning to this until a new and liberal thinking pope emerges. It might happen next time the white smoke steams into sky-we can only hope… Gord

  • Anne

    Harry may I suggest that you look for 'Charismatic Prayer Groups in your area,on the web.They are a great way to get to know Jesus and to receive love and to find your way back to church. Also, if you have SKY TV you will find Catholic Television on Sky 589 (EWTN). The Journey Home at 8pm on Sunday nights is great! Also Father Corapi at 9pm on Monday nights. Look up EWTN also on Internet, also http://www.catholic.com. I know what you mean, catholics don't know each other in church so they don't know who the stranger is. However, we go to church to worship Jesus, so make his day, and go.Give him joy is his son's returning. God Bless You.

  • Anne

    I agree that initiatives need to be put in place by the Bishops. There are no basic training courses in our Faith at the grass roots level. The Laity are supposed to become more involved but how can we, when we are so ignorant of our faith? There is no love shown in our churches. The Laity are often so self important and smug! The priests never tell us to read the Bible, and the Catechism and look up catholic websites to learn our faith. After all they don't teach it to us off the altar. Are they afraid? For instance, why do we never hear warnings about involvement in Reiki, Weejie boards, Mediums, etc.?

  • Anne

    Catholics do not know their faith and therefore do not have the answers to draw people in eventhough the church does have the answers. Protestants, especially the pentecostals, read their bibles, and are drawing in many catholics who because they do not know their faith, believe what they hear from them.I suggest to catholics, go to protestant services – in the evenings only – we cannot take their 'bread' which they may have in their morning services, learn how they do things to evangelise. For catholics, I'm afraid, it is a case of “do it yourself”. The truth is, that the Bishops just don't know how to shift the laity! We have a long history of being a “priest-led” people and do not have the initiative. We must be encouraged by our Bishops to rise up and evangelise – but first, we MUST study our faith.

  • Ratbag

    The Benedict “boing-boing” ! Watch it bounce, folks!

  • Mike M

    It was when the liberals were in charge that the churches and seminaries emptied, sex abuse cases spread, belief in core Catholic doctrines like Transubstantiation faded.

    My early Catholic education was a result of that period, and it left me angry with a God who acted more like a nice human than God. It wasn't until I came across the “conservative” side of the Church that I realized how broken and sinful I was, but that none of it was beyond God's mercy because Jesus Christ so loved us that He died for us!

    Pope Benedict is re-teaching us to treat God like God. And what a beautiful relief it is let God be God and to fall on our knees and worship Him! You could see that in the faithful at Hyde Park. The seminaries are filling back up, the faithful are re-learning true Catholic Christianity! Pope Benedict is doing so much for us.

    Ad Multos Annos, Beatissime Pater!

  • Cate

    Who does? Who does has the answers? Should we not “believe to understand, rather than undersand to believe!” I personally feel it's takes a lifetime to “learn” our faith ~ but one thing I have learned is the Catholic Church does not stray from it's beliefs…and good on them. Let the Pentecostal and other Christian faith's read “their” bible, without Catholic's they'd have no Bible! I have 2 Catholic educated children, who, like me, have asked the difference between Catholic's and other Christian faith's, (I've yet to find that answer in Bibles) and I still seek the most fufilling answer ~ at the moment I say the Catholic Church is the Tree trunk (solid and straight) and the other Christian Faith's are the branches stemming from the tree trunk ~ they vary i.e Anglican, Baptists, Presbyterians.. etc, the list is endless, I cannot say the difference because those Faith's all have different doctrine's, unlike the Catholic Church who remain stoical. I also say I should live as a Protestant! I'm an umarried mother ~ does my faith tell me I'm dammed?, No it doesn't ~ “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” I love my Catholic faith and the older I become, the more I'm drawn to it. Reading the Bible does not make any faith better, there's too many variant's of the Bible now. Faith is feeling, not forced, preached, protested or sold! I “suggest” other faith's should enter a Catholic church and see where Evangelicasim began ~ take it back to the beginning, and learn to respect, love and forgive. British “anti Papal” propaganda should be the first through her doors! They soon took a back seat once they seen the “flock outsized the pen”. Catholic's RESPECT not protest. x

  • Cate

    I'm still laughing at the “Catholic Cat!” :~) lol x

    If only it was that easy as a “Come and See” ~ I'd love it! I'd be the first one there with the biggest grin thinking “this is my Faith, this is why I'm smiling, this IS faith, now take off your blindfold and unplug your ears and stop being a hypocrite!!”… failing that…. I think the Papal visit done the job just as good.

    Being a “minority” faith within the (UK), there's alway's going to be an interest in something that's so big elsewhere in the world, unfortunately the British Papal Visit propaganda was an “Anti” one! They tried their best in dissecting the Holy See in any derogatory way they could and I think until the moment The Holy Father touched down at Edinburgh Airport, most of us thought they were succeeding, that was until he drove through the Streets of Edinburgh and the crowds who came out to welcome him were outstanding.
    Therefore, why should the Bishops, Cardinals, Priests or any laity relay/explain the beliefs of the Catholic Church to some of society who's only interest is to protest! It be like “talking to a brick wall.”
    We've been round long enough and if anyone needs an answer the Church doors are always open. Our Faith needs no explanation, excuse or reason. We are one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
    The masses welcoming Pope Benedict XVI are “ordinary people” ~ just as is the laity, I believe they're very much “out there” and within my own Church laity they aid the clergy just dandy in his running of the vineyard :~)) x God Bless x

  • Teresa of Avila

    This makes me cross – not you, but the wasted opportunity to welcome Catholics back and to help them to practise their faith. Many parishes are hopeless in this way so the onus is on you!

    A couple of suggestions. Go to a weekday Mass sometimes. This helped me in a new parish because people are less rushed and chattier.

    Volunteer to help with reading, CAFOD, join a prayer group. This feels hardcore when you've been out of it for a while, but it definitely helps you to get to know people. You could ask the priest about this if the laity are being slack.

    Alternatively, try another parish. Which diocese are you in?

    Good luck!