First, it must be said that "Small Faith Communities" (SFC's) are an ambiguous phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with gatherings of Catholics who meet in small groups regularly, ostensibly to study the truths of the Catholic Faith, to deepen their spiritual life, or to engage in the Church's mission for social justice. An SFC should mean a Christ-centered group of lay believers intent upon strengthening the bonds of real community in the Church, encouraging fidelity to the Magisterium, and entering the field of politics, economics, education, media and general culture by infusing into such realities the spirit of the Gospel. Third Orders, the Legion of Mary, Altar and Rosary societies, Holy Name Societies, chapters of Catholics United for the Faith, and many other groups engaged in aspects of the lay apostolate well fit such a definition of SFC's. Pope John Paul II has many times expressed the support the Church gives for SFC's faithful to the Church's teaching and spirit:

"It is also necessary for us to create around us an environment that fosters and strengthens the faith of the individual. Authentic Christian life needs the support of a living community of faith and love. A Christian community at the service of the faith has to grow from being a simple Bible Study or Prayer group, or a social action group to a group in which the members share their faith with one another through the proclamation of God's Word, bear common witness to the Word they proclaim, carry the Word beyond the group to the society in which they live.
Pastors and Catechists should exert more effort in the formation of suitable community leaders and animators, so that our small Christian communities may develop into truly self-evangelizing communities in which the faithful are progressively formed in the faith in an on-going manner, and trained to be evangelizers and witnesses to Christ reaching out to those who do not yet know Him or do not know Him sufficiently."
(Address 3/13/96)

Unfortunately, the SFC's that have appeared in various countries seem to have developed a different agenda. In the USA they have assumed the need to take over from "defunct parishes" and to establish a democratic, "lay-centered Church" that is focused on Leftist-liberal struggle for "social justice". There are overtones of liberating Catholics from the "restraints of Catholic dogma", being freed from the "oppressive shackles of priests and Bishops", and to control their own liturgies. The most extreme SFC's may be said to be in Latin America where 100,000 "Base Communities" have been active as heralds of "Liberation theology", being influenced by Marxist class warfare ideas and becoming involved in Leftist socialist revolutions.

In the USA, advocates of SFC's declare the Catholic Church is being "reborn with small grassroots communities" to restructure the Church. There are 3 groups involved in their organization:

  1. The North American Forum for Small Christian communities in Joliet, Illinois (Claiming 15,000 SFC's);
  2. The National Alliance of parishes Restructuring Into Communities based in Troy, Michigan;
  3. and, Buena Vista in Arvada, Colorado.

SFC's are said to come about because "too many of us feel unseen, unheard, or anonymous within the parish to experience any sense of belonging to community." The leading guru of SFC's who has held countless workshops is Detroit's Fr. Arthur Baranowski who registers his pleasure that: "SFC's change the way people view the Church; they start to see themselves as the Church." Many SFC's have resulted from members' participation in other groups: Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, Christian Family Movement, various Peace and Justice groups, the parish' Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and, of course, the over-estimated RENEW groups.

What is disturbing about the kind of SFC's one usually encounters is the sense of satisfaction they register at the shortage of priests in parishes and the increase of "priestless parishes". Then too, there is the dominance of "facilitators" wedded to ultra-liberal ideas about the "Social Gospel". They express, along the lines of a democratic-congregationalism, the desire to shift power from the clergy to the laity with an accompanying disdain for the pronouncements of the Successor of Peter on the moral issues of the day.

There is disregard for the teaching of the Magisterium on contraception, abortion and homosexuality as allegedly violating the freedom of individual conscience. Thus, the life-experiences of "grassroots Church communities" allowing dissent from Magisterial teachings becomes their "faith-sharing". Where Dissent and Disobedience to Papal authority becomes part of the mind-set of SFC's rebellion against Catholic doctrine on contraception, abortion and homosexuality, clearly their "community faith-sharing" is NOT a sharing in the Catholic Faith. It is not surprising, then, that such SFC's have little concern to evangelize, that is, to actually convert non-Catholics to the "Institutional Church" which, in fact, they condemn as irrelevant to "modern Catholics".

It is not surprising, also, that the "faith-sharing" and "community life-experiences" of the SFC's degenerate into the sharing of personal feelings about life (and the Church) where people are manipulated in a kind of therapy session to "let it all hang out".

Fr. Baranowski explains a major theme of the SFC approach:

"Where are you going to find God if not in your life? Not in some Bible or on some altar. If people don't begin to hear God in the day-to-day events of their lives, they don't find God elsewhere."

The key question, of course, to ask the Detroit priest (who is a favorite of the Chicago CALL TO ACTION' crowd that has compiled a "Directory" of their favorite SFC's) is:

"Is it really God one is experiencing in the humanist busy-ness and radical activities provided by SFC's or is it someone else?"

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage

Dissent from the Magisterium.... is not compatible with being a "good Catholic"
- Pope John Paul II -