Catholics calling former members to ‘come home’

Published 7:52 am Friday, February 4, 2011

Austin’s Catholic churches have a simple message for former members: Come home.

Catholics Come Home, a program to bring ex-Catholics back to their churches, will kick off during lent.

All of the parishes within the Diocese of Winona will take part in the program. That encompasses 19 counties in southern Minnesota with roughly 120 parishes.

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Father Joseph Fogal of Austin, said the program will try to accomplish several things. Not only will the parishes try to bring people back to the churches, the parishes will address their own faults and make apologies to those who feel they have been wronged.

“The church has hurt a lot of people — some intentionally, some unintentionally,” Fogal said. “We’d like to make peace and welcome these people home.”

Fogal said many people left their parishes throughout the years because of ongoing problems in the churches, such as pedophilia and bad priests.

So for now, the parishes are spreading the word about the campaign until it starts in March. According to Fogal, not much has been said publicly about Catholics Come Home at this point. It may be relatively unknown to many ex-members the church is trying to reach.

But when lent starts, a series of television commercials and print ads will reach out to the public in an effort to bring them to meetings with priests and current church members. A collection has been started among the entire Diocese of Winona.

At those meetings, Catholic officials will discuss many of the churches’ faults, as well as many misconceptions about excommunication.

Fogal said a major misconception people have is how the Catholic church deals with divorce.

“They think they can’t go to communion anymore,” he said. “That’s not true.”

Fogal explained how remarried Catholics are asked not to come to communion; but if they get an annulment from their previous marriage, they will be welcomed to communion again. He added that many people simply believe they can’t come back now that they have left. He also said that’s not true.

Fogal doesn’t know specifically what is going to happen when the program officially begins. However, he suspects there may be thousands of ex-Catholics in the Austin area — people who have left many years ago but still reside in the area.

So far, no former members have come back to the Parishes of Austin. Fogal hopes that will change after March.