About the Catholic Enquiry Centre
The Catholic Enquiry Centre (CEC), like The Catholic Institute (TCI), is an agency of the Bishops Conference. Each exists to sow the Gospel but in different ways. TCI is an educational institute offering tertiary-study courses in the Catholic Faith whereas CEC responds to immediate pastoral needs of people who have made contact.
CEC in New Zealand was established to promote the Catholic Faith to New Zealanders. CEC has been based in Wellington since 1961 as an agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference NZ. It is supported spiritually and financially by Catholics throughout the country.
CEC in New Zealand was inspired by the original Catholic Enquiry Centre started in London in 1954 by priests of the Catholic Missionary Society. In 1957, Society priests
Frs Dwyer and Holland preached a series of retreats and parish missions in New Zealand. They also spoke to our Bishops about the work of their Centre in England. The Bishops announced their decision to establish a Catholic Enquiry Centre in New Zealand on the feast of the Holy Cross, 1960, at Holy Cross College. Frs Maurice Ryan and Brian Ashby were appointed to lead the new venture and CEC NZ began its work here in February 1961.
Current Director Fr Allan Jones SM was appointed by the Bishops Conference in 2006. With the assistance of three office and financial staff members and a group of volunteers, Fr Allan responds to enquirers who contact CEC by phone, email, or the internet ‘Ask a question’. ‘I also decide – with the Bishops’ approval – on Catholic material content and design we send by post and email to enquirers. And along with my team I manage the website and our television and internet advertising. We are governed by a Board appointed by Bishops Conference.’
The focus of CEC information is to non-Catholics, lapsed Catholics and New Zealanders without religious affiliation. However, research shows almost half of enquirers identify as ‘Catholic’. Some of their questions are: What is the difference between divorce and annulment?; Why can’t Catholics receive Communion in non-Catholic services?; and Why is same-sex marriage against Catholic teaching?
Research shows other enquirers as 31 per cent ‘other Christian’, and 25 per cent ‘other religion’ or no religion. Ethnically, 64 per cent identify as Pakeha, 13 per cent Te Iwi Māori, 15 per cent Pacifican, 14 per cent Asian and 18 per cent ‘other’. By age-group, 80 per cent are between 15 and 39 years. ‘The implications of this information is ongoing for the Board and our planning,’
The Centre provides a ‘first response’ to enquirers. Those requesting the 10 free booklets What Catholics Believe – an introduction to the Catholic Faith, are potential RCIA catechumens and candidates. The booklets (and e-books) are sent out in three postings, with comments and evaluation pages. ‘Enquirers like the ‘drip-feed’ approach and we encourage feedback for follow-up,’ says Fr Allan. ‘The evaluation page offers the enquirer help with contacting the local parish if he or she wants to, and if invited to, I will contact the enquirer direct.’ CEC is familiar to and supported by middle-aged and older Catholics and clergy. ‘When I visit the parishes and deaneries, people are very positive about our work; and we work hard to engage the next generation of Catholics and clergy – the future supporters of CEC.’
Advertisements attract between 20–40 enquiries a week, mostly for CEC’s booklets or to talk to a priest. ‘Every day I have emails, questions from the internet and phone calls to respond to,’ says Fr Allan. ‘Most people request the free booklets on the Catholic Faith and the Catholic understanding of marriage. Parishes also order and purchase CEC’s booklet on Baptism.
‘People seek information and advice about marriage situations, moral issues, Catholic teachings, Bible questions, going to Confession, how to pray etc. I support people by being available to talk to them, by connecting them to people who have the skills to help them and by putting them in touch with the diocesan and parish agencies that will address their pastoral needs. Some also come to CEC for spiritual direction, Mass and the Sacrament of Penance.
‘We reach out to Catholics in terms of supporting adult-faith growth or to people interested in Catholicism by making parish visits, attending Catholic events, advertising CEC’s website among parishes, working with CEC’s diocesan liaison people, encouraging parish clergy to promote CEC, doing interviews and writing columns for Catholic publications and other ways to keep our Centre profiled and engaged with the Catholic community.’
Father Allan appreciates the effort that it takes to get in touch and will answer enquirers’ questions as quickly as possible. Rest assured that Father Allan will respect privacy. Call freephone 0800 FATHER (0800 328 437). Visit www.catholicenquiry.org.nz to order the Catholic Enquiry Centre’s set of 10 instruction booklets What Catholics Believe – An Introduction to the Catholic Faith.