Karl Keating is feeding a hunger for truth
It’s not something Karl Keating envisioned as an undergraduate student studying mathematics. Nor was it something he planned while earning a degree at USD’s School of Law, graduating in 1975. As he established his solo law practice in San Diego and settled down with his wife, Keating could never have foreseen the sharp turn his career and life would take. A mild-mannered gentleman, Keating’s upbringing in Long Beach, Calif. was Catholic, but not devout. His own awakening dawned over a period of time during his 20s.
“There was no Damascus Road experience,” he says with a chuckle. “I think part of it was that missionaries would come to our door. I knew their commentaries about the Catholic faith were incorrect, but I couldn’t explain why.” Keating started looking for answers. “And the more homework I did, the more interested I got.”
His research was put to the test one Sunday in 1979, when a Protestant fundamentalist church papered the cars outside of Keating’s Catholic church with leaflets. No one seemed to be countering the literature, so Keating took up the challenge himself.
“I wrote my own flyers and got some copies printed up at the copy shop,” he remembers. “The next Sunday I went to that church and put my flyer on the cars in its parking lot.” He called his one-man organization Catholic Answers.
Over the next few years, Keating produced dozens of tracts while working at his law practice full-time. In 1988, he closed the practice and in 1991 he earned a master’s in Practical Theology at USD. Today, what humbly began as his “homework” is now the largest lay-run apostolate of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States. Catholic Answers has an annual budget of more than $7 million and 45 employees. It produces a daily, national two-hour radio program and a bi-monthly magazine. Its website, Catholic.com, is reportedly the most visited Catholic website in the world behind that of the Vatican. Few people seem more surprised than Keating himself.
“It’s become quite a larger thing than I ever expected,” he says. “When I began, it was almost as a lark. It was a one-time thing.”
What’s kept it going and fueled its growth appears to be a hunger for truth among Catholics, non-Catholics and would-be Catholics. “Apologetics is an art or a science that uses reason to handle questions,” he says. “Its purpose is to clear away the underbrush of misunderstanding, so a person can be open to evangelization.”
As a Catholic university, he feels USD has done a good job of imparting the ideal that faith involves both intellect and will, teaching students values and then putting them into practice. “I hope in the future Catholic Answers and USD will be able to work even closer together because I think we’re emphasizing two facets of the same hope,” he says. “USD has been very successful in getting its students to see that if you want to be a Christian authentically you need to go out into the world and actually live the faith.”
Now, Keating is handing over the reins to devote more time to writing, but he’ll be staying on as a senior fellow at Catholic Answers. Author of six books, he plans to do a lot more writing in the next few years. And he’s unshakably optimistic about the future of the church. “Over the years I’ve heard every possible reason to leave the church and every possible reason to come back,” he says. “Even those who may be disaffected at the moment, I’ve seen so many of them come back or come to the church for the first time.” — Karen Gross