Forget the TV babble. Never mind what you read in the papers. Here's the real skinny:
The average Catholic is young, old, middle-aged and every color of the human rainbow. She prays the rosary or chants a mantra or doesn't use words at all. He reads the diocesan newspaper or a religious magazine or, most likely, nothing "Catholic" at all. She goes to a Bible study group at the parish or to a yoga class at the civic center or watches CNN and considers from her sofa what life is all about. He reflects on the teachings of Jesus or meditates on a spiritual book or simply remembers the chosen part of things learned long ago. She is interested in what she is here for and what it all means and what to snack on when American Idol comes on. The average Catholic does not fit easily into a square or a circle but belongs to a big triangle that holds all shapes and sizes.
The average Catholic is outraged at the crimes of many in the hierarchy but refuses to throw the baby out with the bathwater. She knows the baby is precious, real, never grows old, can still give her joy, peace and assurance, and it's not dependent on people.
Napoleon once told a Cardinal that he could destroy the Catholic Church with his fists, in an instant, if he wanted to. The Cardinal laughed and said, "We bishops have been trying to destroy the church for 1,800 years with our sins and stupidity but haven't come close. What makes you think you can do better?"
The average Catholic could not care less about the issue of papal infallibility but is grateful that her church is a moral standard bearer. He is proud of the Pope's affirmation of life wherever he goes. She wishes more leaders, in the church and in the world, would witness to the truth that all of life is sacred: from womb to tomb; in the unborn and the dying; the murderer on death row and the mother in a coma; the soldier in Afghanistan and the homeless family in Iraq; the child abused by a pedophile and the pensioner who can't afford a doctor; in the oil-poisoned Gulf and the coal mines of Pennsylvania; in the Arab and in the Israeli. The average Catholic has a high moral standard but is reluctant to chastise anyone, other than himself, who doesn't live up to it.
The average Catholic knows from experience that birth control is a blessing and that abortion is a tragedy. She values the virtues of fidelity and chastity but would never call sex outside of marriage or divorce and remarriage sins. To him that would mean calling a person he doesn't even know a sinner. The average Catholic is deathly afraid of throwing stones. The only sinner she's greatly familiar with is herself. When told that "God hates the sin but loves the sinner," the average Catholic voices confusion. How can anyone separate the two? And if God is Love, how can God hate? The average Catholic prefers to cultivate an attitude of unconditional love and forgiveness -- until somebody steps on his toes. Then it gets personal. And all good ideas go out the window. The average Catholic is imperfect and knows it. When she prays the Our Father and says, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," she has to go fast or she'll tremble in her boots. Sometimes he wonders if he'll ever get it right.
The average Catholic is rarely interested in anyone's sexual orientation. He finds public or private talk about the sexual activities of homosexuals or heterosexuals tasteless and can't understand why anyone would want to flog or flaunt, persecute or parade sexuality of any kind. In her rare moments when she is in the vicinity of "being close to God," the average Catholic knows that sex is at best a glorious distraction and at worst nothing but trouble. He can't stop the world from emphasizing it, but he thinks it wouldn't hurt for the church to declare a moratorium on speaking about sex for the next several years. The worst result: a better sense of balance.
The average Catholic likes priests and nuns, and is not alarmed by talk of new forms of priesthood. She has lived long enough to know that things change. He knows that appearances always change but the chosen part of priesthood -- the spiritual part, service to others for the sake of the kingdom -- will never change. Nor Jesus' promise: "I will be with you always, even to the end of the world."
The next time you look at the statistics, please remember: the average Catholic is very much like you.