Ads aim to bring lapsed Catholics back to the fold
The Seattle Archdiocese is launching a half-million-dollar TV ad campaign — with money raised entirely from parishioners — designed to encourage lapsed Catholics to come back to church.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Catholics Come Home campaign
For more information: www.catholicscomehome.org.
The images in the commercials range from a baptism to a priest celebrating Mass to nuns playing soccer with children outside an orphanage.
The ads show the scope of activities in the Roman Catholic Church and — perhaps more importantly to those who created and paid for them — are designed to tug at the heartstrings of lapsed Catholics.
Created to encourage inactive Catholics to go back to church, the $500,000 ad campaign — launched by the Seattle Archdiocese with money raised from parishioners — started airing on TV and a few radio stations in Western Washington this week. The ads will air more than 4,500 times over the next six weeks.
The Seattle Archdiocese is the latest among more than 15 dioceses nationwide that have aired the ads.
The brainchild of a Catholic former advertising executive in Atlanta, the commercials emphasize the church's history, spirituality and good works and the idea of personal forgiveness that can be found through Jesus. They do not mention the church's clergy sexual-abuse crisis or delve into other contentious issues.
The idea is to attract some of the many people who were born Catholic but later left the church — a number so large that some joke the largest denomination in the country is Catholic, with the second largest being former Catholics.
A recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life showed that among all American adults raised Catholic, 32 percent have left the church. And the Seattle Archdiocese estimates it has about 600,000 practicing Catholics and anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 lapsed Catholics.
The question is whether watching commercials will entice any of them to return.
Pat Presley, a 56-year-old medical-supply salesman from Vancouver, grew up Catholic but started moving away from the church in his 20s when he felt the priests didn't talk about the Bible in a way that was relevant to his life.
He now attends a nondenominational evangelical Protestant church.
"Once you have a theological difference with the Catholic Church, I don't think an ad campaign would make any difference whatsoever," he said.
Bev Coco, an 84-year-old retired office assistant in Seattle, still goes to Mass occasionally. But she says she feels alienated from the church, angered by its stance on homosexuality and against the ordination of women, among other things.
Church officials are "really stretching to try to get us back when they're the ones who caused us to leave in the first place," she said.
But Tom Peterson, the Atlanta parishioner and former owner of an ad agency who came up with the Catholics Come Home campaign, says the commercials have been highly effective.
In Phoenix and Corpus Christi, the first dioceses that aired them, parishes showed a 15 percent increase in attendance, he said.
Peterson says most inactive Catholics have drifted away not because they feel anger or hurt toward the church or disagree with its teachings, but because their lives got busy. The ads are designed to reach them, he said.
The Rev. Roger O'Brien, a retired priest in Lynnwood, wonders whether parishes are fully prepared to deal with those coming back.
"It's not enough to just invite people to go to Mass," he said. Many will be carrying baggage and "we need to listen to them and help them unpack that."
Local parishes have been preparing for an influx, sending hundreds of staff members and volunteers to training sessions late last year.
Pam Gunderson, a 52-year-old music teacher who helped raise money to air the commercials, said her parish — Holy Family Church in Kirkland — made its Web site more informative, created fliers with Mass times and contact information for all Eastside parishes, and created a booth with information on church teachings and parish events.
"I think that as an adult, my love for the church has grown and grown," Gunderson said. "I feel that the best thing I can do for anyone else is to welcome them into the church or welcome them back."
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or email@example.com
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