Meet Karl Keating: the Man Behind the Myth Behind Catholic Answers
At the time, Keating was working behind a desk as a general civil lawyer. After Mass one Sunday morning he discovered an anti-Catholic flyer had been placed on the windshields of all the automobiles by a local Fundamentalist church. Upset by the misinformation in the flyer, Keating took matters into his own hands and wrote a response. In order to have the tract taken seriously he rented a post office box, created the name Catholic Answers, and distributed them at the nearby church on a subsequent Sunday morning.
“Somehow,” explains Keating, “the tract got beyond the church where I had distributed it. People positive about its contents wrote letters asking for more tracts.” In the end, Keating wrote two dozen.
Keating then proposed a three-part series for The Wanderer about Fundamentalists and Catholics. The series resulted in a total of thirty weekly installments and became the first draft of his successful book Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on Romanism by Bible Christians, published in 1988.
For several years, “Catholic Answers” was simply a part-time endeavor, something Keating worked on in his spare time. From 1986 to 1989, he sent out a monthly newsletter called Catholic Answers. In 1990, it turned into This Rock Magazine. In 1988, after twelve years practicing law — a vocation he did not enjoy — Keating made the transition to Catholic apologetics. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Catholic Answers promotes and defends the Catholic faith through myriad books and tracts; two magazines, called Be and This Rock; a variety of audio and video materials; seminars by staff apologists; and Catholic Answers Live, a Catholic radio program carried on more than fifty AM and FM stations nationally. “Our goal,” says Keating, “is to explain the Faith, make good Catholics better, and bring the Faith to those who are lukewarm or who aren’t Catholic at all.”
The magazine called Be, says Keating, “ is aimed at lukewarm Catholics. They might go to Mass regularly, but they do not receive any other Catholic publications. It’s designed to help them see the importance of faith in their life and understand the basic tenets of their faith better.” Unlike most Catholic magazines, Be is free, and it currently goes out to 70,000 subscribers.
This Rock is for the advanced reader and focuses on Catholic apologetics and evangelization. “Our hope is to graduate readers from Be to This Rock,” says Keating.
Keating admits that he doesn’t do nearly as much public speaking as he once did. Rather, he’s devoted his energies to writing. To date, he’s published four books. His first, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, was among the first to take the Fundamentalist threat seriously.
“Many Catholics ignored the threat,” explains Keating. “That was a mistake. At the time nearly 100,000 Catholics a year had been leaving the Church for Fundamentalism. The book dealt with the concerns of Fundamentalists in their own terms.”
In addition, Keating has published a collection of his essays titled Nothing but the Truth; a follow-up to Catholicism and Fundamentalism titled The Usual Suspects; and a book that answers the common misconceptions held by most Catholics titled What Catholics Really Believe.
One of Catholic Answers’ most popular publications is only thirty pages. The booklet Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth has out-sold all other Catholic Answers’ publications combined and serves as the apostolate’s “calling card.” A simple explanation of the Catholic faith, the little book has sold more than three million copies. “A parish in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, bought one for every house in town,” Keating notes with pleasure.
The apostolate’s next planned project involves publishing a college newspaper insert that explains the Catholic faith for the average college student. Their hope is to distribute the supplement at the nation’s hundred largest colleges. “It will examine the issues and problems facing college students today,” explains Keating. “Whatever problem you’re facing, the answer is where you may least expect it — in the Catholic Church.”
The Apologetics Service
Keating estimates that they receive approximately six hundred phone calls each month and respond to more than 1,500 people with individual questions monthly via email, phone, and letters. The apologists also travel, conducting an average of twelve seminars per month at the invitation of parishes and other organizations.
Keating admits that much
time is spent on the phone. “Recently, one of our apologists spent a great deal of time conversing with a couple facing marriage difficulties. The apologist spoke with the Baptist husband whose wife had just returned to the Catholic faith. As a result of the conversation it looks as if the marriage may have been saved,” explained Keating.
Although providing answers is their business, Keating admits that occasionally they’re asked questions that stump them. “If we are unable to answer a question, we look it up and get back to people.” That can be a time-intensive process, but in the end, it helps the apologists as well as the inquirers to grow in their understanding of the Faith.
Overcoming Misconceptions of Non-Catholics
Keating says that the misconceptions about the Church held by many non-Catholics is a hereditary-like thing. “Non-Catholics are told that the Church is either evil or foolish, and therefore they are prejudiced against it. Such misconceptions,” he says, “can be overcome by engaging them on their own terms, answering their questions, and sharing what we really believe.” He’s seen many cases in which individuals who are taught the truth, while not becoming Catholic, at least cease to be anti-Catholic. “That is a kind of conversion in and of itself,” says Keating.
Many times people come demanding a simple answer to what they insist is a simple question. But Keating insists that the faith sometimes requires complex answers even to simple questions. He observes that faith is both simple and complex because that’s the way life itself is.
Catholicism, he explains, is suited both to those who want a simple faith and to those who want the maximum depth of understanding. “Fundamentalism, on the other hand, has no deep theology. It has no theory of spirituality.”
Keating recalls how Fr. Ray Ryland once commented that when he was a Protestant seminarian, all his seminary’s spirituality texts were by Catholics. When Ryland asked a professor why that was the case, the professor responded, “Because only Catholics write about spirituality.” “Protestants have no parallel,” Keating insists. “They focus on how to get saved and drop out all the rest.”
Overcoming Misconceptions of Catholics
Yet non-Catholics aren’t the only ones with misconceptions about the Faith. Keating notes that many Catholics as well are uninformed, and he blames the problem on poor teaching. Catholic Answers, he explains, provides answers that people aren’t receiving from the pulpit.
“If people were getting all the answers they needed from the pulpit, there would be no need for a lay organization such as Catholic Answers. However,” adds Keating, “we no longer live in a Bing Crosby kind of Church,” the kind of idealized parish portrayed in old movies such as The Bells of Saint Mary’s.
“Even with those fine priests who represent the Faith as they should, it is no longer enough. It used to be that in places like Chicago you could find four Catholic Churches at one intersection — German, Polish, Irish, and another. We no longer live in that kind of a Catholic ghetto.
“Most Catholics do not receive a Catholic education, and even Catholic schools are insufficiently teaching the Faith. By default there is a need.”
The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, called for lay men and women to “exercise a genuine apostolate by their activity on behalf of bringing the gospel and holiness to men” (par. 2). As Keating sees it, that’s why it’s so important for a lay organization such as Catholic Answers to do the work of evangelism and apologetics.
“Ninety-nine percent of the Church is made up of lay people,” he points out. “We, as lay people, need to be active. This is what Vatican II was talking about.”
This article appeared in Envoy Magazine (vol. 5.2) in 2001. Written by Tim Drake, copyright Envoy Magazine, all rights reserved. www.envoymagazine.com