It was 1979, and a young Catholic lawyer named Karl Keating came out of Mass to get into his car when he saw a leaflet under the windshield wipers. It turned out to be an anti-Catholic gospel tract distributed by members of a fundamentalist Protestant church. Keating was annoyed by the ignorance and negativity of the leaflet and decided something needed to be done.
He wrote a response. It was a little leaflet called “Catholic Answers.” He published his tract, got the name of the Protestant church that had been distributing the anti Catholic propaganda, went to their parking lot and put his tracts under their windshield wipers. He went on to write and distribute another couple dozen similar leaflets. Before long he was being invited to take part in public debates about the faith with aggressive anti-Catholic fundamentalists. He started a magazine and a website. His part-time apologetics apostolate grew, and 10 years later he quit practicing law and turned Catholic Answers into a full-time ministry.
Based in El Cajon, California, Catholic Answers is now the largest lay-run apostolate of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States. It publishes Catholic Answers magazine, a bimonthly focusing on Catholic evangelization and apologetics, as well as the website Catholic.com. It also produces Catholic Answers Live, a radio show answering callers’ questions on a variety of topics related to the Catholic Church.
Personalities affiliated with Catholic Answers are talk-show host Patrick Coffin, apologists Jimmy Akin and Tim Staples, as well as staff apologists and writers Trent Horn, Michelle Arnold, Peggy Frye and Fr. Vincent Serpa O.P.
Why is the work of Catholic Answers important? The religious scene worldwide has become a smorgasbord of choice, and with that choice comes confusion and with that confusion many questions. With increased mobility and globalization, Western society is multi-faith and multi-form. Individuals are faced with new philosophies and religious options as never before.
When these factors are combined with poor formation and weak catechesis among Catholics in the pew, the need for clear teaching and concrete answers is vital. Consequently, Catholic Answers’ ministry is not only to fundamentalist Protestants who do not understand Catholicism, but also to Catholics themselves who are confused about the church’s teaching on vital matters of belief and behavior.
Through their radio shows, magazines and websites, the Catholic Answers team focuses on precisely what their apostolate’s name describes: Catholic answers. On their call-in show, in the magazine and on the website and online forums they inevitably respond to real questions. The questions are not all about the details of Catholic doctrine or the fine points of canon law or the theology of Thomas Aquinas.
Instead, they range from practical pastoral problems like “Can a Catholic be married at the beach?” or “Can I be cremated when I die?” to liturgical questions: “Why do some priests use incense at Mass and others don’t?,” “What is the Infant of Prague?” or “Should girls be altar servers?” They cover contemporary events: “Why does Pope Francis believe in global warming?” or “What is the church’s view on gender?,” and historical questions: “Was Hitler a Catholic?” or “Did Noah’s flood really happen?”
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council envisioned a church of laypeople active and alive as disciples of Jesus Christ. A lay-Catholic in England once explained to me how the laity should be engaged in Christ’s work in the world. I had been received into the Catholic Church as a convert Anglican priest but had not yet been ordained as a Catholic priest. I was not sure what my role should be. My friend Francis smiled and said, “In the Catholic Church don’t wait to be asked and don’t wait to be thanked.” In other words, let the Holy Spirit lead you to a ministry that matches your gifts, and then get on and do it.
Lay-Catholics don’t need to wait for a priest to ask them to do something for God and the church. Karl Keating’s life and ministry is the perfect example of what I call “entrepreneurial Catholicism.” Karl saw a need, stepped up to the plate and got on with the job. Over the years there have been bumps in the road and difficulties to overcome. There have been misunderstandings and mistakes, but Catholic Answers has answered critics, overcome the problems and continues the good work of proclaiming the Catholic faith in the contemporary world with clarity and charity.