What's a Catholic Supposed to Be?

Talk about a sleeping giant. Roughly 60 million of the 62 million Catholics in the United Statesdo not subscribe to a single Catholic periodical, according to apologist and author Karl Keating. If he's right, the groundswell of new Catholic publications of recent years has no impact at all on the vast majority of even regular churchgoers — let alone the large numbers of inactive Catholics who have stopped going to Mass altogether.

For many, “being a Catholic means going to Mass 45 minutes every weekend, and that's it,” said Keating, founder and president of Catholic Answers Inc., an apologetics and evangelizing organization near San Diego.

Enter Be, a new magazine aimed at Catholics who don't know much about their faith. The monthly 16-page full-color glossy debuts this month.

Keating said he was looking for a punchy name when he came up with Be, which he said sums up the point of the magazine: helping Catholics be Catholic.

“These people are interested in the faith, but they don't know they're interested yet,” Keating said. “Their interest has to be turned on.”

With short articles — 1,100 words over two pages or less — and simple language, Be is geared to the reader looking to breeze through in a single sitting. The inaugural issue's (October 1999) color photos and graphics compare with secular publications like Parade.

“We wanted a title and a look to the magazine which is not going to seem ‘religious-y’ to the people we want to reach,” Keating said.

But the magazine's creators emphasize that every article will offer plenty of depth and substance. “We're not watering down the faith,” editor Trask Tapperson said. “It's going to be authentic.”

Tapperson, a veteran newspaperman, joined Catholic Answers this past June, after a long career as reporter, editor, and freelance correspondent. He has worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the Gannett company, and he has contributed to Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and USA Today.

Having converted to Roman Catholicism in 1989 after a long religious journey through “indifferentism, agnosticism and Episcopalianism,” he taps his own personal experience to present content that will engage the attention of those disaffected in the faith.

Tapperson said polls show “a great deal of spiritual hunger in this country.” He hopes Be will appeal to people with upbeat, easy-to-read articles about faith and conversion. Each issue will include articles by or about famous Catholics, such as Hollywood entertainer Lola Falana, whose conversion story runs in the first issue. Tommy Lasorda, former Los Angeles Dodgers manager, will appear on the cover of the second issue.

CCD for Adults?

“The fact of the matter is, most Catholics are uncatechized as adults, effectively,” said Keating. “They [end] their religious education as children in some CCD class.”

Writers slated to contribute to Be include Father Benedict Groeschel, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal; James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University; Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College; and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, archbishop of Philadelphia.

Keating, 49, author of Catholicism and Fundamentalism and Nothing But the Truth, will also write a one-page question-and-answer column.

Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report, a monthly magazine, and Catholic World News, a daily Internet news service, had not yet seen Be last week, but recognized its goals. “That sounds like a variation on the challenge that we all face: to get the attention of people who don't read much Catholic literature,” Lawler said.

To succeed, Lawler said, the new magazine will have to overcome a very basic problem: Catholics, by and large, don't read about their religion. But that, he adds, may be because “most Catholic publications aren't worth reading.”

The challenge for editors, he said, is to produce publications that people read not just out of loyalty but because they are compelling. But the opportunity is there, he said, because people are looking to get information from sources they identify with.

Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis, a Catholic monthly magazine of opinion and analysis headquartered in Washington D.C., called the appearance of new Catholic periodicals “a sign of Catholic renewal around the country.”

“My view is, the more the merrier,” Hudson said. “It makes us all do better work.”

But Lawler noted that, although readership may be expanding for Catholic publications, there are limits. “I suppose there'll be some winnowing, because the market isn't that big and it looks like there's a certain amount of overlap,” he said.

A Witness to Hope?

Circulation goals for Be are ambitious: 60,000 for the first issue, 100,000 by Jan. 1, 500,000 in three years. One reason: Catholic Answers plans to offer subscriptions free of charge to individuals, with bulk subscriptions offered to parishes at cost. The magazine will accept no outside advertising, Keating said. Instead, it will rely on donor support and revenues raised by marketing other Catholic Answers products in its pages.

Keating got the idea for Be from Focus on the Family, an evangelical Protestant organization that publishes a magazine that reaches about 1 million people.

Catholic Answers, Inc., the largest Catholic apologetics and evangelizing organization in the country, already publishes a monthly magazine, This Rock, founded in 1990, which Keating said has a circulation of 20,000, including 14,000 paid subscribers.

But Keating said This Rock has not been reaching Catholics who have little interest in Catholic doctrine.

The magazine can be ordered by writing to Be, P.O. Box 199000, San Diego, Calif. 92158; by telephone at 1-888 291-8000; by email at [email protected]; or on the World Wide Web at www.catholic.com.

Matt McDonald writes from Mashpee, Massachusetts.