Why they leave: former Catholics explain — UPDATED

This story first broke in the New Jersey press last week, but is now getting more attention.  The report below is in this morning’s USA TODAY:

As part of a survey to understand why they have stopped attending Mass, a few hundred Catholics were asked what issues they would raise if they could speak to the bishop for five minutes.

The bishop would have gotten an earful.

Their reasons ranged from the personal (“the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”) to the political (“eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”) to the doctrinal (“don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”).

In addition, they said, they didn’t like the church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.

The findings, based on responses to a survey in the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., are included in a report presented March 22 at the “Lapsed Catholics” conference at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Conducted by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, the survey, called “Empty Pews,” asked Catholics in the Trenton Diocese a series of questions about church doctrine and parish life to better understand why they are staying home.

While the study was restricted to one diocese, chances are the responses could come from just about anywhere in the U.S., where a 2007 report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found one-third of Americans were raised Catholic but one-third of those had left the church.

Or, as Villanova’s Charles Zech put it, “These are issues that affect the whole church.”

The responses can be divided into two categories, said Zech, who co-authored the study and is director of the Villanova center. In one category are “the things that can’t change but that we can do a better job explaining.” The other category, he said “are some things that aren’t difficult to fix.”

Zech and the Rev. William Byron, professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, conducted the survey of 298 parishioners who have stopped attending Mass.

Almost two-thirds of the respondents were female, and the median age was 53, two facts that Zech finds troubling. “That’s a critical demographic. If we’re losing the 53-year-old women, we risk losing their children and their grandchildren,” he said.

About a quarter of the respondents said they still consider themselves Catholic despite not attending Mass. About half offered negative comments about their parish priests, whom they described as “arrogant,” “distant” and “insensitive.”

“One respondent said, ‘Ask a question and you get a rule, you don’t get a “let’s sit down and talk about it” response,’” Zech said. “They feel no one is willing to explain things to them.”

Read more.

And for another take, check out what Joanne McPortland, a revert, is thinking.

UPDATE: America magazine has just posted — weeks in advance — an online edition of a more detailed analysis:

We also asked: “Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?” Respondents clearly welcomed the opportunity to express their opinions. We found no easily discernible trend in their replies, but their generally positive tone suggests the wisdom of finding ways for all Catholics to post their views somehow “on the record,” with an assurance that  they will be heard. Here are just a few of the many replies this question drew:

“Be accepting of divorced and remarried congregants.”

“I’m looking for more spiritual guidance and a longer sermon.”

“Return to a more consultative and transparent approach.”

“Change the liberal-progressive political slant to a more conservative, work-ethic atmosphere.”

“Make the homilies more relevant; eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing.”

“Provide childcare and a children’s ministry.”

“Give us an outwardly loving, kind, Christian Catholic  priest/pastor.”

Our question about whether or not their pastor was “approachable or welcoming” drew a number of warm and positive answers. About half of the respondents, however, were not enthusiastically supportive of their pastors. Where pastors and parishes were named, we gave that information to the bishop and recommended that he deal with the issues privately and avoid unnecessary public embarrassment when he goes public with our report. Words like “arrogant,” “distant,” “aloof,” and “insensitive” appeared often enough to suggest that attention must be paid to evidence of “clericalism” in the diocese.

Most respondents were positive or neutral in response to our question about the approachability of parish staff. There were sufficient reports of bad experiences over the parish telephone, however, to suggest that attention should be paid to courtesy and improved “customer relations.”

By a margin of about two-to-one, respondents reported that they did at one time consider themselves to be part of a parish community. On the negative side, here are two interesting replies elicited by this question:

“As much as I wanted to get involved and expand my faith, there were no clear avenues to do that. So it was just a place to attend Mass. And because attending Mass was a guilt-ridden obligation, I was always alone in a crowd where I knew no one and no one knew me.”

“I did not experience community in the sense that I knew people just from going to church. The ones I knew, I knew them outside of church. No one misses the fact that we stopped going. No one has called from the parish even though we were regular attendees and envelope users!”

There’s much more.  Do read it.



  1. Deacon Norb says:

    From BOTH the USA-TODAY article and the original Villanova report:

    “Almost two-thirds of the respondents were female, and the median age was 53, two facts that Zech finds troubling. ‘That’s a critical demographic. If we’re losing the 53-year-old women, we risk losing their children and their grandchildren,’ he said.”

    I could not agree more — but there is a different twist to this.

    Some time back — say 2004 or so — I mentioned in my Sunday homily (Gospel was the Wedding Feast at Cana) that a large number of the newly ordained priests I had met/worked with in those years had parents — particularly mothers — who were incredibly inspirational and supportive of their son’s vocations. My point was that the key to whatever priestly vocations crisis we might have been experiencing at that time was the “Roman Catholic Mother.” Thus the sooner the institutional church made peace with those women, the sooner the vocations crisis would settle down.

    Now in 2012, the sharpness of the vocations crisis has softened somewhat but I’m not sure this critical root cause that I identified some eight years ago has even been addressed at all.

    This Villanova report was not a scientific study, but a voluntary one where you could participate if you wanted. The women respondents outnumbered the men two-to-one. Whether they are “active” Roman Catholics or not, these women (and the men who also responded) are genuinely interested in seeing the church of their heritage live up to the greatness promised by the Risen Lord.

  2. I think this says more about the lack of good catechism than anything else. If these people were properly taught and understood that it is only in the Catholic Church that they can be in complete Communion with Jesus through His Body and Blood, would they really walk away? Would you walk away from the True Prescence of Jesus Christ because the pastor is not as sensitive as you like, the homily is boring, the music is dry, or any other reason? It’s not that the Church should ignore these realities, but I think it needs to re-emphasize, reevangelize it’s members as to what they are really walking away from. I volunteer teaching 7th grade CCD in my parish and I would say that. Most of them of very surprised even astonished when I explain what happens at Mass when the priest changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

  3. I think a lot of Catholics grow up and classify tea substantiation with fairy tales. Anti-Catholicism is particularly virulent when so much of it comes from Catholics.

  4. Fiergenholt says:

    Mike R.

    I agree with your theology but not in the way you might expect.

    I have no idea how extensive your experience is working with “evangelized-ex-Catholics” but I have have been involved in this ministry for over thirty years.

    The reason why folks convert-out of Roman Catholicism has nothing to do with narrower Catholic Dogma (such as the Real Presence) or wider Christian Doctrine (Jesus as the God-Man) or even theology ( “which is faith seeking understanding” — as one saint put it).

    The first step of conversion — in any direction — is at the level of the “Heart” — – not the “Hands” — nor even the “Head.” Folks are NEVER brought into the church because someone jams a Bible or even the CCC into their faces. They are brought into our church by the actions of a warm and spiritually caring soul who is often their RCIA Sponsor. AND they are attracted OUT of the Church because of the same motivator — a warm and caring non-Catholic Christian colleague who sharply contrasts with a cold and uncaring and belligerent and arrogant Catholic one. A saintly priest I once knew stated it this way: “Folks go where they find the warm healing of Jesus — it is as simple as that. Sometimes they find him here with us; sometimes not.”

    The work you do teaching at the parish level is valuable and, like I said, your theology is right on. BUT, that is the third and final stage of the process — not the first. What you teach makes no sense what so ever if a person’s heart is not ready to receive it. Dealing with the heart and its pain and emptiness is the first step.

  5. Fiergenholt says:

    “Anti-Catholicism is particularly virulent when so much of it comes from Catholics.”

    I could not agree more BUT you have not answered WHY ?

    At least my ministry in that “Evangelized-ex-Catholic” environment gives me an explanation I can understand.

  6. “the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”

    Frankly that is ridiculous. I have never in my fifty years come across a priest who looked down on the lay people. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but it can’t be very many.

    Sorry, I am skeptical of news media such as this. Sure, there are people leaving but there are people entering our faith. The media is looking to accentuate the negative, especially when it comes to religion, and especially when it comes to Catholicism. The people they interviewed don’t sound like they want to be Catholics in the first place and are looking for an excuse.

  7. It’s easy to read this and scream out “Horrible Catechesis, THAT’S the problem.” Without question, the responses do scream of poor catechesis, starting with the fact that many don’t recognize that that “king with the crown” is Jesus Christ Persona Christi (on that note, I once had someone tell me they were offended by the Latin Mass because the priest “turns his back on the people”).

    But, having been one of the dropouts myself for over 20 years, I’ll can tell you, at least for me, why not even catechesis mattered: I simply never fell in love with Jesus Christ, nor did I especially want to, as I was living the ‘good life’ in my sins.

    There was absolutely no way I was willing to give up “my freedom” for a bunch of “antiquated rules.” And to give up birth contol? Not a chance!

    But as I got into my early 40′s, all the fun stuff wasn’t all so fun anymore, all the boyfriends, travel and material “things” no longer had the appeal they once did. Despite having pretty much everything that the world told me I needed to be “happy”, I increasingly felt a bigger and bigger void. To an outsider, I had an almost too good to be true life, despite in my heart, I knew was dying, of something.

    In short, God’s grace fianally hit a receptive heart, and I finally started going back to mass on a regular basis, remaining “cafeteria” for about 5 years or so.

    Subsequently, (sorry for any who have to re read this, as I’ve written it several times on this blog), I did my “give up sins for lent” thing and gave obediene a try with weekly confession and daily Eucharist, but “just for Lent.” I had remembered a priest once saying “Just do it, and in the obedience, God will show you the why.” In addition, while praying the 2nd mystery of light on the rosary (on my treadmill of course, as I never gave 100%), I had a profound sense of the Blessed Mother gently telling me, “Do whatever he tells you.” In 3 days, Jesus had me; the Scriptures “opened” and the for the first time in my life, I felt the power of the Eucharist. Finally I knew what the “big deal” was.

    It was only then, and through daily mass, that I fell in love with Jesus through the gospels. It was like I was being “transfused with knowledge”, from everywhere, and within a year at most, I had not only an understanding of church teachings, but the whys behind them (the Holy Spirit of course).

    FWIW, like everyone else, I loathe the priest scandals, but I also love from the bottom of my heart, all the holy religious. I would die before I left the Eucharist, so as long as there is one holy priest to whom I have access, I’m in!

    I’ve often looked back and asked, “What went wrong?” I had devout parents, some Catholic schooling, yet, I came up empty for so many years. I’ve concluded that I was taught too many rules and “no Jesus.” Thankfully, the Baltimore Catechism, which I suspect most of the drop outs could still recite, while “accurate”, doesn’t allow us to know Jesus in the way that Scripture does. That’s where I honestly think that some of the Protestats have it right. But of course, they don’t have the Eucharist, and that isn’t good either.

    So, I conclude that early catechesis MUST include more Scripture and not just “rules.” Once a soul is in love with Jesus, all is possible, especially because in real love, we wouldn’t even want to “break those rules”, however, they do serve as nice guidelines for our humanness. As awesome as the Eucharist is, I think when we receive it as a stranger to Christ, we have been failed, greatly.

    The point of this long post (sorry Dcn. Greg), is this: be it children or adults, first “fill them with Jesus, so much that they can’t help but to fall in love, THEN, teach “the rules.”

  8. MD Catholic says:

    Klaire, thank you for your post. It was moving and almost brought me to tears. I think you really captured a lot in there and there is a lot we can work with as we tackle the New Evangelization and try to understand each of our’s personal role. Thank you so much for your post. I was feeling a bit down as I had just read a bunch of anti-Catholic comments on a story covered by MSNBC (I shoulda known better than to read it) and then I read your post. You and the Holy Spirit have made my day! Best wishes!

  9. The pastor of my parish is certainly of that bent. The man is incapable of consultation (being quoted as saying “there are too many people here with opinions they are not entitled to), apology or avoiding being the star of the parade; he also has big problems dealing with laywomen. He’s ruining the parish community, the regional auxiliary bishop is aware of it (saying the complaint file on him is the thickest in the region) but admits nothing can be done because to do something would cause a loss of face. That’s not an insinuation but a frank admission.

    The dread of the brutta figura among prelates and clergy is one of the biggest cultural divides between American Catholic laity and their clerics and bishops. The institution will continue to pay a heavy price for it; but for all the pains of the past decade, it remains mired in denial and refuses to care.

  10. Thanks for your thoughtful words and personal story. I guess my concept of catechism is not so much being about “rules” but much more about the very concept you eloquently describe in your post-developing a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. At least this is how we try to teach it in our parish. And again, I still feel quite passionate that the soul and sumit of this teaching is the Eucharist. Yes, we absolutely should be more welcoming and pay attention to the various temporal needs of our people, but once they truly understand what the Eucharist is then they will also recognize they are in love with Jesus and more importantly He is in love with them.

  11. This dichotomy between Jesus and the rules has been expressed so many times that it’s almost an urban legend. I really don’t think that it is that stark. Plenty of people who grew up on the Baltimore Catechism truly loved Jesus AND understood the rules/reasons for their faith and why the Church asked what it did. We seem to be in an age where the subjective comes first and absolutely nothing follows, except for one’s own conclusions and that’s not what was ever intended. There has to be an objective reality, which is what the Catechism furnished.

  12. deacon john says:

    I think you are spot on with this comment.
    After thirty plus years in ministry that has been my experience as well.
    People are attracted to, and remain engaged because of the relationships they have with the other members of the parish and with the parish priest and other ministers.

  13. There is a great disconnect that I have found in talking with hundreds of people over the years who have left the Church. Many have gone to Evangelical and Pentecostal churches with the laundry list of complaints listed above. These same people become extremely active church members, tithe 10% of their GROSS salary, plus give gifts and offerings on top of the tithe, while they might have put in the $1 or $5 bill as Catholics.

    These same people who rebelled against “dogma” end up buying in to ten times more dogmatic pronouncements that their pastors preach. Along the way, I’ve identified a few issues that are common threads in these folks:

    1. Contraception. While the Evangelicals and Pentecostals share our thoughts on abortion, they embrace artificial contraception and do not see the connection with abortion and cannot be persuaded regarding the abortifacient properties of several contraceptives.

    2. Community. Though I love the Catholic Church with all my might, the simple truth is that these other Churches look, feel, and act as families. There is much more of a personal connection, much more personal outreach in Protestant churches. Perhaps that’s because they are much smaller than the average Catholic parish. Perhaps that’s because in most of these churches the membership tends to come from a much narrower bandwith of socioeconomic status than the typical Catholic parish. For whatever reason, there is an aliveness that’s palpable.

    3. Scripture. These churches preach and teach it with authority. Pastors don’t read homilies, but preach with zeal and fervor. They make connections to everyday living that transforms the Bible into an authoritative guide for living that just doesn’t come across the same way in most Catholic parishes. The downside to that is every pastor is his own magisterium, and many miss the contextual critical understanding of the scriptures and can go off the rails easily, and many do. However, the sense of community and family are the glue that binds and also blinds people to theological error.

  14. This is an important survey, but it really must be taken with a grain of salt, for there is a big difference between why people SAY they left the Church, and why they ACTUALLY left the Church. If we are to be successful in reaching out to them, we must be able to distinguish perception from reality.

    For example, one of the reasons listed was “don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”. Can anyone who has attended a Catholic parish in the past 40 years really take this at face value? If there are two topics which are avoided like the plague in Catholic parishes in the past few decades, it is these two.

    More likely, what is really being conveyed is that former Catholics have shaped their perception of the Church from their actions AFTER they left and what they read and hear in the mainstream media, and THAT is focused almost exclusively on “pelvic issues” – and always negatively. The reality is that many simply “drift” away, not for any specific reason, but more by inertia, and then they have to find reasons they did it later, and these fit the cultural narrative.

    What we need to do is not stop (or, more accurately, continue to avoid) talking about these issues, but instead continue to work towards getting our message out in creative and positive ways. For example, the Church’s teaching of Theology of the Body is so beautiful and so powerful and can be life-changing, yet most Catholics simply think “the Church hates sex”. Fortunately, many people have been working hard to make this happen in recent years, which is encouraging.

  15. It is my humble opinion that the reasons people leave are not necessarily as simple as the report makes them out to me. I belive, that it is usually a combination of factors.

    I believe that a large part of it is a very poor understanding of our faith. For many, going to Church on Sunday, dropping a couple of bucks in the plate and heading out for the coffee and donuts is enough.

    Yes, I would agree that our pastors/priests need to do a better job of explaining the why’s and hows, and not simply offer us a sermon that says God Loves Us. And the issue of too much homosexuality and abortion…i bet if they really really did a count of how many times it was talked about from the pulpit, they would be suprised.

    We also have to remember that our culture has changed. We are still feeling the effects of the ME GENERATION and it is reinforced each and every day in our schools, in the media, and now many of our churches/pulpits.

    Just my $.02

  16. I think the community issue you raise is a huge factor, yes. There is a chilliness to parish life (at least in the U.S.) that has grown colder over the last 20 years in my experience. I don’t know why this (the reasons you mention are probably accurate) is but it’s real. It’s definitely a low tide period in terms of community feeling.

  17. We should remember that we are not always able to articulate own own dissatisfaction. The answers given from the responders were easily-grabbed memes from the zeitgeist. When one is not able to articulate one’s own satisfaction, one can easily borrow a stand-by reason.
    Which is to say, if we were to track down and interview the missing men from this survey, we should not expect them to give us the reasons that are really keeping away from church.

  18. Well perhaps for some Alicia, but as a product of the Baltimore Catechism, I never once learned a why or anything about Jesus, however, into my adulthhood, I could sure rattle off the answers to the questions.

    The whole essence of being Catholic, even more than our own salvation, is to “be the light of Christ” to others. How could we have any hope of being that great light if we ourselves don’t know and or love Jesus Christ?

    I’m certainly not saying that the catechism isn’t important, but thank Godness the Church fianlly woke up and gave us a new one, with SCRIPTURE!

  19. I know of a priest who became enraged when a parishioner tried to clean up emesis during his homily because, according to him, it was distracting people from his homily. His attitude was all about him! Or, how about a pastor (different priest) who refused to hear a confession, without an explanation (yes, there are legitimate reasons for not doing so)? Or, the priest (different priest) who heard the confession of a visiting priest not once, but twice, and both times was an unmerciful tyrant yelling and screaming, reading him the riot act (the guy went back to him after the first time because he figured anyone could have a bad day)? If he did that to a brother priest, what was he doing others? Or, a priest (different priest) who said to a confessee, “You are the lowest of the low.” Or, a priest (different priest) who assigned the same penance to all penitents. Or, a bishop who said to someone, “You’re a little, little person.” (That one is on a public video).

    Yes, these kinds of folks are out there. We are all human and we can all have bad days. But, when clerics, religious, consecrated and lay ministers cop an attitude, it does a world of harm because the world, and God, holds them to a higher standard. For those of us who are committed to Christ and His Church and believe in His Truth, we know we have to weather such things (very few of us are “living saints”). But, for those who are on the edge, it’s either the straw that breaks the camel’s back or the excuse that someone is looking for to leave. Unfortunately, one bad apple can taint or spoil many, or give the impression of such, because of the bad smell!

    That said, there are, in the majority, many wonderful, caring and humble priests, deacons, religious, consecrated and lay ministers out there living the Christian life, carrying out their mission and carrying their crosses admirably, and setting a terrific example of the love Christ calls each of us to have for God and for neighbor. We should do everything to support them, first of all by prayer and, also, in what they need to the job entrusted to them and, additionally, by giving, or helping them take, a salutary break. When we pray for vocations, we ought to be pray for HOLY vocations to all states of life. Our primary call in life is to holiness and our first exposure to holiness is in our families (the Domestic Church)…and, from there, often, spring the vocations to orders/religious/consecrated life/lay ministry.

  20. I absolutely agree. There are too many convenient excuses. I particularly like the “too many rules” excuse. Adam and Eve only had one rule and we know how that turned out.
    It boils down to belief in the “Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity” of our Lord in the Eucharist. Those who leave for any reason do so because they truly disbelieve. They go to Mass (if they go at all) expecting to be entertained. I think people leave the church because deep down they know what is right and wrong but choose the latter. They will only meet God on their terms not His.
    I know I sound harsh and judgemental. But maybe, just maybe the responsibility rests with the individual. I don’t remember Jesus ever conducting focus groups or watering down truth for the sake of acceptance. I am only speaking from my own experience and journey.

    ps… And yes I do agree we need to reach out, catechize, love and encourage others. “They will know we are christians by our love”.

  21. Did you ever consider that SCRIPTURE is given is more ways than simply the Bible? You receive it in the Mass, in prayer, and even in the Catechism, if you think about it.

  22. I have to agree with this, based on admitedly limited discussions with a few who have left for other churches.

  23. Ernest Hemingway Response: The reason they leave the church is because they have adopted secular values.

    “The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes and then they will shut their ears to the truth and will turn to myths.”

  24. Our current pastor is like that. Many people have left our parish, for other Catholic Churches and other churches since our current pastor arrived. We have heard bad stories from others who were in previous parishes he was at.

  25. Actually, our bishops spend an inordinate amount of time on the issues of homosexuality and contraception, even if it is not being done at the parish level.

  26. deacon john m. bresnahan says:

    Didn’t some Catholic figure once say something along the line that most Catholics who are upset at the Church are upset at what they THINK the Church is. .
    And that is where the growing anti-Catholic attitudes in our culture come into play. Once a Catholic stops going to Mass regularly or reading Catholic books or publications, they are easy prey for anti-Catholics and the anti-Catholic attitudes and morality operating in our culture . And, sadly some of the worst attackers are former Catholics trying to justify their loss of faith and who have been given well paid “bully pulpits” in the anti-Catholic mass media.
    In our state the most influential media outlet by far and away is the Boston Globe (owned by the NY Times). And the only Catholic columnists they employ are ones who can be counted on to regularly attack the Catholic Church.

  27. Allicia you sort of make my point. I’m in my 50′s, was taught with the Baltimore Catechism, which had NO Scripture, consequently, I could recite the whole Catechism to you, but until less than 10 years ago, couldn’t tell you a thing about Christ or His life.

    As a result of that “must memorize the rules” experience, I tuned out, was always bored at mass, in addition to never having been taught what the mass actually was.

    I do agree that the mass is the ideal place for Scripture, as it WAS where I finally learned the Gospels and about Jesus. It only takes a year of daily mass to know all that the CC teaches about salvation. There is also a good reason why the new catechisim contains so much beautiful Scripture.

    Back to the main point: if 53 year olds are leading the drop outs, chances are greater than not that they had a similar experience.

    That’s not to say that some faired well with that kind of teaching, but the odds are certainly against it, consequently, I had to get there by the school of life.

  28. Maybe this pastor should listen to Pope Benedict’s address to the Mexican bishops on Sunday, where he told them:
    “It is not right for the laity to feel treated like second-class citizens in the Church”

    Still…I don’t think that even the worst pastor could ever cause me to leave the Body of Christ…change parishes, yes. But leave the Church…I would only be cheating myself?

  29. Diakonos09 says:

    I think a huge mistake/presupposition/assumption is that we Catholics have the TRUTH therefore we do not need to do much in the area of “attracting” by our hospitality, devout liturgy, good preaching…people will come to us sinply because of (intellectual) TRUTH. While it is true that we Cathoolics are the inheritors of the fullness of grace and truth we cannot ignore what really attracts people on the everyday level of availability and welcome. Person-to-person onversations lead to conversions.

  30. Catherine says:

    I have a close relative who received exactly the same religious education I did, and was a very devout Catholic, who stunned me recently by writing to say that she has left the Church, and joined a megachurch. One reason was that she learned that people in her husband’s family had been sexually abused by a priest, and that other family members had sided with the priest. Another was the issue of community — her family had experienced a tragic accident, and the people who helped them were evangelicals in their community. At a difficult time in her life, the megachurch has given her a home and a refuge. I told her I could not leave the sacraments, but other than that, I found it impossible to argue with her. I could cite similar stories (e.g., a neighbor who was raised Catholic, and who, when her husband died tragically, made her first call to her husband’s evangelical pastor, who came right over with his wife). I’ve also lived in more than one parish where the pastor treated the lay people in the parish like dirt. We got a few things we need to fix in our Church.

  31. Not disagreeing that parish life has changed greatly and in general is not as communal or firendly. But, I wonder if again that is related to the Church as much as it is societal. Growing up, we lived in neighborhoods and had a much deeper sense of community. Now many of us don”t even know our next door neighbor. As a kid, you went out and played in the neighborhood. Now most even if they come home and dont go to an after school program play on a computer or TV screen. I do note that parishes that still have a school connected to them, have a much deeper sense of community- I think these tied folks together. Perhaps we need to try and copy as much of that as we can into CCD programs and Youth programs. With all the work pastors and priests need to do now, they will need to be supported and in fact, much of this rebuilding of a sense of community will have to come from the laity.

  32. Ernest Hemingway Response. I agree, Tyler. Though I might also spin your comments in a liturgical direction. Given all of the V-II silliness, with its oft-noted banality, emasculation, and iconoclasm, I frankly don’t know why men go to church at all. It’s simply a miracle that there are any men at these churches. We can only thank the Holy Spirit.

    We should not expect the men not attending, however, to be able to articulate why they don’t find the emasculated V-II church distasteful. As Rumsfeld rightly put it, there are things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know. I don’t trust this survey for the latter reason.

    Good Lord. I can’t believe I just quoted Rumsfeld.

  33. I think it goes beyond person to person and am happy to see even some slick ads hitting the airwaves to bring Catholics back home. I am a businessman and it is very clear to me that you can have the best product in the world, but you cant sell it, unless you market it. And I think this is part of what this discussion has been about.

  34. I agree community, and lack of it in many places, is huge, but we also should look at what the article says:

    “Their reasons ranged from the personal (“the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”) to the political (“eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”) to the doctrinal (“don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”).”

    Many of these are very fixable issues that deal with how the human face of the Church is dealing with modern people, especially women.

    The hierarchical structure of the Church, in which pastors and bishops have nearly absolute authority and are beyond reproach, (and all of them older, unmarried men), can lead to a very unhealthy dynamic, in which laypeople, particularly women, are easily dismissed and ignored. I’ve met many deeply committed lay women who feel they do all of the work and are constantly being patted on the head in a condescending manner while the men make all of the decisions. Many women I’ve spoken to feel this attitude has gotten worse in recent years and that women’s roles are being reduced.

    The conservative political bent (“haraunging”) of the Bishops, in which they’ve aligned themselves with the Republican Party and seem to find issues like homosexual marriage and contraception to be of supreme importance, while most Catholic aren’t really affected or just don’t care. Social Justice issues are ignored or given minimal attention. Of course, the celibate men who are making the decision are totally unaffected by these issues so closely aligned to “sex”>

    Some people love this…the structure, the authority, the black and white world…but many modern people, with access to the internet and with far greater education than in years past, no longer just fall into line because “the Church says so.” So they leave.

  35. I am 53 years old with a similar story to Klaire’s. I was fortunate that my mom and other relatives passed on the richness of traditional Marian devotions. Even at my most sinful I continued to pray the rosary. I am sure it is what helped bring me back. Unfortunately those of us who left school in the 70s never read Theology of the Body. It came along when I was already separated from the church. Having discovered it as an adult I am grateful that I can share it with my own children. I hope they will not need to wander away as I did.

  36. “Some people love this…the structure, the authority, the black and white world…but many modern people, with access to the internet and with far greater education than in years past, no longer just fall into line because “the Church says so.” So they leave.

    Those faithful to the teaching of the Church are far more likely to be educated, well-read, and informed. And often with advanced degrees.
    Eighteen year old freshman, swimming naively with the stream of popular culture, not knowing a thing otherwise, are quite likely to disagree with the Church.

    The empirical data simply does not support the liberal assumption that it is only through lobotomizing that the Church keeps its members in tow. Quite the opposite. Liberals are going to have to find a new explanation.

  37. Thanks for all your replies. Perhaps I’ve just gotten lucky. I still think most priests are not that way.

  38. Absolutely beautiful Klaire! I hope you save that note for yourself.

  39. Klaire–

    Sorry, you are incorrect about the Baltimore Catechism not having any Scripture in it. I happen to have one, “A Catechism of Christian Doctrine Prepared and Enjoined by Order of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore…questions numbered to agree with ‘explanations of the Baltimore Catechism’ with Prayers and Hymns No. 2″ (copyright 1885, word meanings copyright 1898 and 1933) [which also contains ads for "The Most Important Book of All 1941 Edition The Holy Bible," "Gilmour's Bible History" and "Explanation of the Gospels--Catholic Worship" on the reverse of the covers] right next to me right now. Besides, the inferred references to Scripture throughout, there are actual quotations. Please turn to number 189 where it quotes Christ “when He said: ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Number 185 gives the Beatitudes. Number 241 is the question of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, which quotes Jesus’ words in instituting the Eucharist. Number 313 lists the Ten Commandments. Number 325 quotes Christ saying, “Whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Number 421 quotes Jesus, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul, or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then will He render to every man according to his works.” What it doesn’t have are the actual citations for the quotes, as to where to find it in Scripture. In any case, it absolutely did have Scripture in it through and through.

    I think your real beef is with the rote method of study, where you had to memorize things without explanation. That the school system and/or your family didn’t explain Scripture to you is a failure of how some, but not all, did things then. As adults, we are to put off childish ways. My sister was also a recipient of this method. She dug into Scripture as a young adult. I did not. But, as an adult, I finally did come to know and understand the saving word of God. Both of us had the same instruction. So, there is no accounting for how these things turned out. In hindsight, I think she was more receptive to the graces God bestowed on her than I was. That is not a reflection on you, by the way, just an observation about me! Thank God he calls laborers to work (and pays them well) even in the weaning hours of the day!

    God bless you! And, I hope you are strengthened in your faith journey more and more each day.

  40. I don’t believe that, to be a faithful Catholic, one must be enamored of the structure and authority of the Church. In my experience, educated people do not readily sign over their ability to think when they join the Church. Vatican II, which Pope John XXII called to open up the windows of the Church to let in fresh air, which invited so many to embrace their faith and looked to trust the People of God, seems to be fading into the past.

    I don’t know where in my post it’s suggested liberals want to lobotomize the Church. On the contrary.

    I believe well-educated Catholics are indeed faithful to the Eucharist, the Sacraments, the Liturgy. They don’t necessarily have to feel that their Church, as it’s being identified in the public square as a result of the choices of our Bishops, with opposition to gay marriage and birth control as central to our identity, is perfect. For instance, I would think a well-educated Catholic woman would wonder why she, by virture of her sex, is not allowed to be part of the decision making process of the Church; why one must be a celibate male.

  41. Sorry to hear these things, Catherine.

    When my mother lay dying, I called our pastor. He came as soon as he got the message, despite the fact that he had come many times before. It was past many folks’ bedtime. He would have come if it were in the middle of the night. And, I know he does this for all. Not all priests are like those you’ve encountered. Yes, there are a number of them who make the rest look bad. But, there are many who are dedicated, and if not the holiest men on earth, are working hard to become so and are working hard for the Church and for its people. There are many who take their vocation very, very seriously. And, they should. They are the vehicle through which Jesus comes to us through the Eucharist and through which He is with us always. I hope you soon meet some of these guys! They are a blessing to all.

  42. Manny,

    You are right. Most priests are not that way. Those that are make things worse for the majority.

  43. Mark Greta says:

    The Church. When this is stated, it means the Catholic Church to almost everyone. It is also the Church which over time has stood up to the world on many social ills in various parts of the world, often led by those in the pews, by religious, and by priests, not necessarily Bishops or Cardinals. When I go into pregnancy centers or food pantry programs for the poor, you see the folks in the pews and many of these same people often do about 90% of the parish tasts as well. There have been some outstanding comments here which show an amazing desire for many to see those who have left come back to The Church. However, I think that some people simple need some space and time on their journey. This is where some hate to hear about non negotiable issues, but frankly they are there and never going to change in The Church. If people are upset about them, then leaving might actually be God’s way for them to find Him and ultimately return many years later when they have a new perspective. Kind of like God’s plan to have His Chosen people wander for 40 years before they entered the promised land. There could be something that enlightens them on the journey that the teching that drove them out was in fact correct. I met a woman after mass the other day who came back after her mother died of breast cancer that she believes came from taking birth control pills for years. She is speaking at a forum on birth control at our parish this weekend with a Dominican Sister physician, an OB GYN physician who has turned his entire practice over from birth control pills to NFP, and a 26 year nurse who has studied the issue for decades detailing the clear issues between birth control and severe womens health issues. Nothing is impossible with God and sometimes we need to get out of the way and let God take care of issues. His rules most times are in place for our good and our protection out of love, but sometimes we want to do our own thing and have to pay a price not from God, but from what he was trying to protect us from.

    The major thing I think we all need to do a better job is what Gerard Nadal listed above in being more welcoming and developing that feeling of family. Many in a parish have been there for decades if not second or third generation. They look for long time friends, and walk right past someone who might be at the church for the first time. My wife Greta use to make it a mission to find someone she did not know at mass every sunday and to go up and see if they were new and if so took them by the hand and led them over to people she knew to make them feel welcome. She often followed that up with a simple call to them during the week or via email to invite them back. She flat out loved people and viewed all of them as God’s creation and that it was her role to help all find a path to Christ, even if that meant a dose of tough love. A few years back, she orgainzed people she saw as gifted at this type of open reltionship development and it is now our parish outreach group seperate from RCIA and other organizations. Last time I looked the parish had about 120 people in this organization and make sure that several are at every mass and they man the coffee and donuts welcom after mass as well. They also attend most of the parish functions. Everywhere they go they are welcoming and they also have added the task of fielding concerns or questions and making sure they receive answers, even if it is not what the person wants to hear.

    For those with concerns about our Church, I think it might be a call for you to get more involved with a desire to bring yourself closer to Christ through doing something for Christ within the parish. Greta use to have a policy in the company she founded that when someone had a question, they were often given the task of researching both sides of the issue and presenting them back to her for action. After a short time, it led to questions presented the first time much more well thought out and detailed up front and often the question went away. Sometimes it is simply laziness on our part expecting everything to be hand delivered.

  44. Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for the response.
    It is difficult to assess your first statement, since the verb ‘enamoured’ suggests an emotionally based loyalty. One does, as a faithful Catholic, have to accept that the Church is hierarchically arranged, duly noting the importance of subsidiarty. But one does not have to be infatuated with this arrangement, as you suggest. One should be able to see the hard truth in it, at the very least.

    My argument is not that liberals want to lobotomize the Church, but instead, that while liberals are often of the opinion that one could only accept the teachings of the church on, e.g., contraception, gay marriage, and the male-only priesthood, if one were lobotomized, the data does not support this. The teaching on natural family planning, for example, is most often accepted and implemented by couples with baccalaureates at the least. The same is not true for artificially contracepting women.

    I certainly disagree with your assumptions concerning what an ideally rational agent would accept as true regarding, e.g., women’s ‘roles’ and rights. As would my (very powerful), Ivy-League educated wife. As to this last mention, one could accuse me of giving merely anecdotal evidence, if it weren’t for the fact that it fits an empirical trend. If there is indeed a link between education level and critical reasoning ability (and perhaps there isn’t), the liberal is in trouble. I would suggest that the liberal would be wise to drop this line of argument, and instead say that there is no link between critical reasoning ability and education. Or…psychoanalyze. Say that those who accept the church’s teaching are ‘afraid’ or have daddy issues or some such thing. Certainly, such an avenue is not falsifiable. But all this means is that the liberal cannot be so fastly dismissed with pesky data. :)

    Lest these comments deviate too far from the initial post, I want to again mention that the point of this all is to argue that those who have left the church can most easily rationalize their actions by appealing to default cultural norms, especially since 1) it is difficult to articulate reasons one does not know, and 2) the default, cultural norms in place have ironically been justified on the idea that an ideal rational agent would accept them as true.


  45. “The sharpness of the vocation crisis has softened somewhat…” ?????
    This is only if massive numbers of parish closures, elimination of catholic schools, transferring Catholic colleges and universities to non-Catholic boards, selling Catholic hospitals is acceptable.

    Also, what about women’s vocations ? The “vocation crisis” would disappear overnight if we had a clergy that included married cradle Catholic men AND women. We already have married episcopalians who are now serving as Catholic priests. This is definitely a rule that can be changed, and needs much discussion. Vatican dictats to the contrary, there is no reason why these actions are not occurring.

  46. If you are going to bring in the “business ” model, then let’s go all the way ! The shareholders (laity) have no voice in the Catholic Church. The Board of Directors (all the bishops and cardinals) would have all been tossed for their continuing lack of real action and true leadership on the sex scandals, and losses of church contributions of $ 2Billion. Are you following the sad situation of the trials in Philadelphia, where the prosecution has indicated that Cardinal Bevilacqua also would have faced indictment except for his advanced age and his dementia by the time the indictments were occurring? Also, when Cardinal Law left Boston in total disgrace, the Vatican rubbed salt in the wounds of our American Church by giving him such plum positions all over Rome, not just Santa Maria Maggiore, but also influential work on the dicasteries. (Has he dared to set foot on American soil at all since he fled, to escape testimony?) Catholics in the US have never been more numerous nor wealthier than today, but look how people have voted with their pocketbooks, as so many of the “good works of the Church” are actually funded by public funds through government contracting, since the people in the pews will not contribute to such a leadership. These by no means are the sole issues, but they are substantial, and certainly factors.

  47. MarkGreta:

    I would like to say THANK YOU for your postings. They are very insightful, especially when you talk about your Greta. I can tell that you miss her much and that she must have been a wonderful spouse. Thank you for sharing your memories of her with all of us.

  48. If you have never encountered one, then why do so many people have so many stories? At my sister’s parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the pastor has refused to allow coffee hours after mass because “the people will only use these as opportunities to gossip.”

  49. Amen to the “too many convenient excuses” ECB. While I still stand by the fact that until or if we know Jesus, not much is going to happen, having not known Him, I was the queen of covenient excuses. The reason of course, I didn’t want to or had any intention to change anything in my lifestyle.

    For people like that, and I almost hesitate to write this, but it’s true: the priest scandal was like winning lotto. Until that broke, the best they had were “mean nuns.” SNAP is a perfect example, “never enough”, always bitter, always more to blame, in addition to being funded by trail lawyers. I once called the bluff of one of those types regarding a child molestation outside of the church, of which there was no interest, or caring, what so ever.

  50. George Mason says:

    @Drake, if you believe Episcopalians have real clergy, the problem is with your understanding of the Faith. It’s not definitely a rule that can be changed. It is arrogant for you to say that when the Pope and Magisterium and 2000 years of witness (including from the Eastern Orthodox Churches) say it cannot. Your view is implicitly judgmental presuming that it is ill-will on the part of the “Vatican” and not fidelity to Sacred Apostolic Tradition that forbids the ordination of women.

    @ Dcn Norb, what do you mean by “Thus the sooner the institutional church made peace with those women, the sooner the vocations crisis would settle down?”
    Frankly, vague statements like this are useless. They may make you feel compassionate to those who want all sorts of changes, but what false hopes are you giving?
    You are a deacon, so I presume you hold to the teaching of the Magisterium as you once promised. So, concretely speaking, please explain how the Church must make peace with women?

  51. Deacon Norb says:


    ““The sharpness of the vocation crisis has softened somewhat…” ?????
    This is only if massive numbers of parish closures, elimination of catholic schools, transferring Catholic colleges and universities to non-Catholic boards, selling Catholic hospitals is acceptable”

    My statement was based upon solid input not only from Bishops but also senior seminary administrators. In fact, I personally interviewed — by e-mail three priests — who serve in those capacities at three different seminaries in different areas of the country. In two of their seminaries, capacity enrollment was met in Fall 2011 and in the third, capacity enrollment will be met in Fall 2012 — and that is after all three also renovated buildings to add more residential rooms. In my conversations with these three priests, I also found out the names of several other major seminaries in a similar situation.

    I stand by what I said. The sharpness of the vocations crisis HAS softened somewhat. I was, however, referring to priestly vocations. Diaconal vocations have always been strong — in my diocese I can go back easily overthe past ten years and the number of deacons ordained is consistently three times the number of priests ordained. I have no real information — one way or the other– about vocations of women religious.

  52. George Mason says:

    Quotations out of context are not helpful.
    Maybe they think the pastor thinks he is king because he forbade laity from giving sermons. Or maybe he just has the personality of a jerk.

    It really depends on what people want from their pastor. If they want a sacramental slave who has to get their imput for every decision while being on call 24 hours, warping doctrine and rubrics so as not to upset anyone, then the problem is with the lay persons.
    But, if they want a pastor who preaches the Catholic Faith fearlessly, but is understanding and compassionate one-on-one, and even consults on some difficult parish decisions, then it is reasonable.

  53. Spot on Klaire. Perfectly expressed and completely understood.

  54. George Mason says:

    If that’s the only reason, then I am with you.
    But,is it?
    Anyone can be quick to believe hearsay when he feels self-righteous.

    (PS Gossip doesn’t happen only at coffe hour, but also on blogs, it seems!)

  55. George Mason says:

    I think the model then and now is that the Faith is treated as information more than a lifestyle. This is one reason why we have so many liturgical problems.
    The information is needed, but we need to enter into the mystery of Catholicism.

    There are jokes about confirming bats to get them out of the bell tower, because when kids get confirmed they(or their parents) think they’ve earned their Catholic “degree” and don’t need to learn or practice anymore.
    We can’t abandon the catechism just as we can’t abandon memorization in other areas. But, a revolution must occur in people’s mentality about what it means to be Catholic.

  56. George Mason says:

    Bishops do so only in response to homosexual agenda groups and now the Obama anti-Catholic mandates. But, I guess for the bishops to respond is even too much for those who know they are right in their dissent.

  57. George Mason says:

    @Patrick, if you are a “thinking Catholic” as you claim to be then you should go to the Vatican website and find the answers to your questions by searching the appropriate documents. Or, look at your Catechism and do some research on the footnotes. The Church has explained why over and over. Faithful bishops have given commentary on commentary.
    Explanations are given. But, some are so perversely fixated on their own opinions, no explanation is enough.

  58. Mark Greta I’ve been curious to know where your parish is, between your newly mentioned outreach program and big pro life events, I suspect I’m not the only one curious. Can you share at least the city and state if you don’t want to mention your specific parish? Thanks. My apologies if I’m “too curious”, but when you mention these type of things so often, I think it would be nice to connect it to at least a place.

  59. I don’t know. I think it’s much more complex than a laundry list of complaints about either doctrine or clerical personalities. I’m in my 60s and have many friends who I grew up with, went to school with, etc. Most of them have left the church in one way or another. Only the tiniest of handfuls have stayed.

    “Leaving the church” can take a lot of forms. Some no longer have anything other than a vague belief in some higher power, some are dedicated feminists and followers of Planned Parenthood, some have left for Protestant churches, some are still “Catholic” and go to Mass now and then. I hear a lot of criticism of the church when I meet them, but what seems to me to be the common thread is that they have refused to listen and refused to give themselves to the Body of Christ. In most of the cases their “disagreement” with the church is over things that can’t change (abortion, contraception, women priests) and I really don’t think there is much that the church can do about that. Better explanations and more catechesis really won’t help them because they will not accept the basic premise behind the teaching. In another case, a friend left for a Presbyterian church because she had heard the pastor’s sermon on the radio, liked it and found an aggressive welcome when she attended the church to hear him live. She became highly involved in that church, but freely admits that she could have done more as a Catholic, only she never wanted to get involved. Bottom line is, I think, that everyone is different and that, in most cases, the person who leaves does so not so much because of what the church does or doesn’t do or teach, but because their own hearts and souls have turned away.

    I think that I have been very lucky. I had a terrible time in a Catholic grammar school in the 1950s from both some of the nuns and the bullies among my classmates. But I had very loving, devout (in the ordinary sense, not super devout) parents whose support and guidance enabled me to see the beauty and the truth of the faith. I sometimes wonder if, in the long run, that’s the final deciding factor in what happens later. If that’s true, then the exodus has causes that date back as far as the 1920s.

  60. pagansister says:

    Excellent post, Gerard. You have helped support what the survey above mentioned with your own inquiries over the years—and the answers given to you.

  61. I have read a lot of good, thoughtful comments in this thread. Would just like to add one thought. Many people mention our belief in the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Jesus, saying how could someone leave that for something else. It occurs to me that many aren’t leaving because of disbelief; but rather because the pain of separation from full participation in the Eucharist (because of a factor such as a marriage that the Church doesn’t recognize as valid or sacramental). I have had people actually tell me that. As someone put it, it is like being seated at a banquet, and having to watch as others eat, but not having anything to satisfy their own hunger. We can say that it is their own fault, that they chose their problems. But that may not be true, and besides, such an attitude solves nothing and only encourages them to leave. I think the Church could do more to facilitate and streamline the process of getting marriages convalidated.

  62. For all the detailed dissection of the possible reasons for departure, one glaring omission stands out. Many of us who leave do so simply (and profoundly) because we don’t share the core of the Church’s beliefs about God, man, or pretty much anything else. It wasn’t because we had a mean pastor, or got cheesed off about contraception doctrine, or felt our bishop didn’t strike the right balance on homosexual issues, or failure of catechesis. We just simply don’t believe the stuff we once had to recite in the Apostle’s Creed (ie the minimum bid for being a real Catholic).
    Many of us had the spiritual and intellectual honesty to admit that, and, I think, our society has changed in ways that make that honesty easier to express. People today are less inclined to “fake it” to please family or out of fear or cultural inertia or whatever used to power some non-believing Catholics who flew on autopilot. To the extent outreach programs recover those who are missing for petty reasons or misunderstandings, so much the better. But don’t get too twisted up about where you “went wrong” with the rest of us. It’s not you. It’s me!

  63. Washington Theological Union is in the process is closing its doors. Almost all the students are women.

  64. Maggie,

    I believe that you are right that the exodus has very deep roots. If you watch the obituaries for a while, you will be amazed, though perhaps not shocked, at how many people have no religious services for their funerals. That tells you something about their beliefs. Even, if their children are not-believing, many would go through the motions of having the services their parents asked for. If there wasn’t a strong belief system and the parents never voiced any preferences, more often than not, there is no service. I’m talking about people who die in their 70s, 80s, 90s, etc, not to mention those of younger ages. So, yes, I believe you are right that there are very deep roots to this apathy, to the Catholic flight. “Modernism” has a long history, not just limited to our present time. On the brighter side, more people are coming to know Christ than ever before. On a worldwide scale, more people are becoming Christians, more becoming Catholic. So, there is great hope for the world…in fact, we know that Christ has already won the victory against darkness, sin and death.

    By the way, I checked out your blog and heartily recommend it to all. What a beautiful site…and so necessary. You are a wonderful guide to religious art. Best wishes for the completion of your studies.

  65. Ditto.
    Maggie, your website is a gem and one that I have bookmarked, since I have taught Humanities and Church History. I always incorporated our rich tradition of art in the Church History course.

  66. “I fell in love with Jesus”. That says it all. Thank you Klaire. I’m 45 and I don’t buy the “bad catechesis” argument or the post Vatican 2 one. We leave because we don’t care, we come back because we need His care. It’s that simple.

  67. My comments will touch on some of the issues already raised, but for what it’s worth:

    As a cradle-Catholic female in her mid-20s (educated in public schools), my perspective is that the hierarchy (bishops and priests alike) haven’t been teaching us the WHY of what we believe, especially on touchy issues. Someone above mentioned that abortion and homosexuality are avoided like the plague, and I think the reason for this is that WHEN those subjects are raised from the pulpit, there is very little catechesis on these subjects. So when people hear teaching about such subjects, all they hear are lists of prohibitions rather than the (beautiful) theology that explains the doctrine. It would be a lot easier to respond to modern issues such as the HHS mandate if Catholics were well-grounded in the reasoning. Instead, people persist in thinking the Church and/or its hierarchy is a pretty big bigot. This also goes for doctrines of faith, especially the Eucharist and Mary. The first person who explained Aquinas’ view transubstantiation to me was my evangelical Protestant English professor in college teaching a course on the Bible. If these teachings were regularly expounded, I suspect fewer people would walk away, and those who did leave would be making an arguably more informed choice.

    Obviously, not every priest is arrogant/aloof/etc, but I do agree that if a large number of people used these words, then there is something behind it. I left the parish I grew up in because of people (both clergy and lay) and joined a different parish with a wonderful pastor and a wide variety of adult faith formation programs (something my childhood parish didn’t have). This study shows that when people find themselves in situations similar to mine, they leave the Church, period. As a Church, we have a lot of work to do–the Message is still relevant and desperatley needed. But it’s not always coming through.

  68. You misconstrued my comment. Obviously the Church is not a business and your comment is simply a recast of the same played out arguments about the sexual abuse crisis and the hierarchy.

  69. Yep. Fewer men willing to be priests led to it closing.

    Declining enrollment — particularly by seminarians — and fewer religious orders willing to continue as financial sponsors had led Washington Theological Union to rely on the endowment fund to survive in the past few years, explained Carmelite Father Fred Tillotson, the union’s president since December 2009.”

  70. “the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”

    I see one every Sunday. I know people (older) who have given up on our parish and travel 20 miles to next closest parish.

    When I was a teen we also had a pastor who was a tyrant. As example he would deny baptisms to Catholic couples who got pregnant out of wedlock. I was an altar boy for him for 8 years. The stories I could tell.. Not to mention the one Father none of boys was allowed to be alone with in the rectory.

  71. Finally, Kenneth, YOU state the MOST obvious reason. Thanx.
    Frankl, I don’t understand what all the handwringing is about. Let those who leave for whatever reason, go and be done with it. It’s NOT because people don’t understand or haven’t been taught well enough, it is as you said, they just don’t believe it. Part of the problem is “cradle” Catholics leaving. IF all you’ve ever known is Catholicism and NEVER were allowed to choose and never really thopught about what and why you believe , then you are likely to leave. I know plenty of people MY age 59 going on 60, who grew up that way and the first thing they when had a real chance, was to leave because they didn’t and in many case ahd never belived what Mom and Dad did. In fact, one of my closest female friend told me that she had NEVER believed in the Real Presence even though she had married in the Church, had six children, was active in her parish and had even been part of a marriage prep team. When she and her husband split up after 20 years of marriage, she dropped the facade and now attends a non-denominational church. She admitted to me that she did a lot of the stuff because his family was very active in the parish and it was expected of her.
    I don’t doubt that some highly educated people like the Church., Theology and philosophy are attractive to them, they understand it and it has great meaning for them, but MOST people aren’t interested in these things and barely have time to think about the things they must to survive,much less all the facet and naunces of the Catholic faith. It doesn’t work for them and so they leave.
    A couple of my formerly Catholic friends wondered aloud if the reason the Church was worried about all the people l;eavingf was money.

  72. Ten Page,
    Don’t assume that if people know WHY Catholics believe something that they will accept and stay. A lot of the kids I grew up with went to Catholic high school and colleges and they know WHY the Church teaches what it does. They just don’t believe it any more.

  73. I sense that the Church is very much of two minds these days about people leaving. On the one hand, they seem to want to hang onto every soul they got, for money, for influence, for real concern, whatever. They have all these programs to “re-evangelize” the US and Europe. They even flatly refuse to acknowledge people leaving. They actually had a procedure whereby you could “quit” the Church (at least on this plane). Just as it started to get popular in Ireland and elsewhere ,they did away with it. So there’s this mentality that once baptized, you’re irrevocably Catholic.
    On the other hand, the Church is on a real orthodoxy kick these days. They’ve said in word and deed they only want Catholics who are in it 110% and that a smaller church is a better one if it’s doctrinally pure.

  74. ‘…we come back because we need His care. It’s that simple.”
    And that is the reason why many of us have stayed Catholic despite the scandals.

  75. If you want proof of this principle, there is none bigger than the Reformation! Martin Luther had his reasons good or ill for leaving the Church. Inadequate exposure to Catholicism or Catechesis certainly wasn’t among them!

  76. For myself, I believe alot of people leave because of the divorce and remarriage issue..While I agree with church teaching on this, I also think that the whole idea of the annulment process is torturous..I think that the church needs to realize that everyone makes a mistake.. People should be given a second chance… The Church has the authority from Jesus Himself to change the laws that govern the Church… My husband and I have been going through the annulement process for about 15 months now and yes, it’s been toturous.. Now that I am almost at the end I get a letter telling me they expect me to pay almost 900 dollars for this annulment.. Are you kidding me? I can’t afford that and it would actually be 1800 sollars because they will request the same from my husband. I’m sorry but when I read this letter it made me think this whole thing was just about money.. I almost fell flat on the floor when I saw how much they were asking for.. Now of course they tell you if you can’t pay etc etc but I am afraid if I tell them I can’t pay that kind of money, then I won’t receive my annulment.. Atleast thats the way it seems.. No final decision until the bill is paid?.. It’s leaving a very bad taste in my mouth..

    Also, a big problem is community.. In the church I go to there is none, well there is if, you’re in the “in crowd” you know, the ones who are always there, working every function, cleaning the church, working for the pastor etc.. If you’re ‘just a parishoner”.. not so much.. My husband and I have been going to this parish for almost 2 years now. Our first event was the parish picnic.. not ONE person came over to us to say hello. NO ONE.. we sat at a table surrounded by tons of people, ALONE.. I tried to talk to some people and they were kind in their response but that was it.. So we ate and finally left.. When we got a new pastor, we really got to know him by being at mass, etc. He’s helping with the annulment process now, we helped him furnish the new house the diocese bought etc.. Well, my husband and I are both disabled and the last 6 months has been VERY difficult health wise for both of us.. The last time we were at Mass was Ash Weds and we couldn’t stay because my husband almost passed out in the pew.. One of EM who I met a while back came over and administered ashes to us so I could take my husband home..
    Back in February, I thought I made a friend in a woman who is the Church office manager.. We were going to get together for lunch but I had to cancel because I got sick.. Well, I hadn’t seen her online or in Mass for a few weeks so I called to check on her.. She was very stand offish, very cold and very brief.. NEVER heard from her again..

    We haven’t been to Mass since Ash Weds.. Our Priest knows our health situation as do some others not ONE person has even made an attempt to see how we are.. We have heard from NO ONE.. A few months ago I asked for some help in building a SMALL wheelchair ramp on the back of my home for my husband…Weeks went by and finally 2 people stepped up and said they would help.. They came to the house, measured and I never heard from or saw anyone again..but, just last weekend, these same people all got together on Saturday and went to an elderly persons home, cleaned it, put on a new roof and did all the landscaping, which I think is a wonderful thing but the message I got, is because my husband and I are disabled and we may not look ‘as good’ as people who are healthy, I guess we don’t measure up…Going to Mass for me is all about Jesus but it’s also just sitting there with a bunch of strangers.. We have tried to reach out but no one reaches back.. That there is a HUGE reason people leave…

    I have a friend who lives in NJ. He has 3 small children. He and his wife were out of work and in the process of losing their home. They couldn’t afford to buy food one week.. They went to their parish and asked for help. The answer they got was, they wanted his Social Security number and it would take about 2 weeks to get them help…That same night he went over to the Episcopal church, they called him in, sent him home with 4 bags of food so his children could eat for the week. No questions asked… You can probably guess where they attend ‘services’ now and where his children are now going for ‘Sunday School” and other events.. Do you blame them?

  77. “one of the reasons listed was “don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”. Can anyone who has attended a Catholic parish in the past 40 years really take this at face value? If there are two topics which are avoided like the plague in Catholic parishes in the past few decades, it is these two. ”

    Can’t agree more. I’ve been Catholic since 1993 and have belonged to 6 parishes in 3 states. I have never, and I do mean literally NEVER, heard preaching or teaching of any kind on these topics.

    I also think it’s important to note the primary demographic of responsdents. Women of a certain age … who make an effort to talk about their gripes … sigh …. I know so many women of this demographic who have nasty chips on their shoulders … sigh … I’m shutting up now.

  78. Or maybe he’s a kiss-up, kick-down kinda guy with a passion for purple piping….

  79. K. Cooper says:

    “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”
    ― Fulton J. Sheen

  80. Katie Angel says:

    I guess I go to a rare parish because our pastor regularly preaches about the sins of contraception and same-sex marriage – sometimes even when it has no connection to the scripture of the day. On the other hand, he is a passionate and eloquent speaker as well as a very caring and pastoral man. He performed the funeral mass for my husband and his homily was one of the most incredible reflections I have ever heard. So, I listen to his homily each week and reflect on what he says – even when I don’t completely agree with his take on an issue.

  81. Deacon Steve says:

    Robyn but the Church doesn’t have the authority to change the permanency of marriage. Jesus only allowed divorce in the case of adultery. Marriage is intended to be permanent so we don’t want to have the attitude that everyone gets a freebie. It cheapens the committment to marriage. By giving people an easy out, you are making it more likely that marriages will fail, because they will see divorce as a viable option.
    Annulements are not intended to be easy. The ones that are easy are the lack of form cases, because it is easier to determine whether the marriage was valid sacramentally at the time of the exchange of vows. The process is not easy because the Church takes seriously the vows that are exchanged by the couple. The Church examines the exchange of vows carefully to see what the mindset of each of the couple was at the time of the exchange. If the case requires a formal trial it takes time. It can be difficult on those going through the process, but it can also be tremendously healing for them. The answer to people leaving isn’t to weaken marriage and our committement to it. That would be like ordaining anyone that walked in the door to deal with the shortage of priests.

  82. The process is quite easy for those with enough money and influence. People do, in fact, get “freebies” through annulment. It is divorce by technicality. I know that’s not how Canon Law view, it, but it’s still a lawyer’s game, one way or another. It pretends to preserve the permanency of marriage by “finding” that inconvenient marriages never “really” happened, sometimes by clear-cut gotcha provisions, sometimes by the thinnest legalisms and contortions of logic.

  83. Mark Greta says:

    But it wasn’t long before many left Luther.

    I think we also need to take some personal responsibility to learn. There is only so much you can do in a 10 minute homily and many issues are fairly complex. I like to ask those who believe that they want or need more info if they have read the Cathecism of the Church or other documents or the endless supply of reading material around various parts of the Catholic Church. Do we expect to be spoon fed like a baby or as with our human body growth, at some point we need to start feeding ourselves and then help to feed others starting on a journey. Our family has set up a reading program where each person selects a book around topics that impact faith. All read the book and then once a month there is a 2-3 hour discussion on the topic. I have noticed that many not only read the book, but research the topic and come prepared. This was started by my children and now has my grandchildren involved. They say a family that prays together stays together and I think that families that study the faith together grown stronger in the faith.

  84. This seems to be focusing mainly on those who have not so much left the Roman Church as dropped out. Most of the discussion I have read evolvres around people who just stopped attending Mass, whether by conscious choice or a gradual process as opposed to those who, like me, formally left and joined another church. In my experience those who actually leave usually do so for much more weighty reasons than what is generally discussed in the articles or most of the preceding comments.

    In my case the process took a quarter century. What finally moved me was the realization that I was not Roman Catholic in faith and had not been for many years. Further my faith was very closely aligned with the Orthodox Church. Honesty therefor impelled me to cease communing in the Catholic Church and enter the Orthodox Church. I harbored no bitterness or feelings of hostility or pique. And I cannot recall any Catholic priests I interacted with whose conduct helped push me out the door. Though I believed, and still do, that the Roman Church has some really serious problems vis a vis liturgy, doctrine and church discipline especially post Vatican II. But that is a different topic.

  85. It is interesting that the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which has the same belief as the Western church regarding the sacredness of the marriage vow, has a different pastoral approach to remarriage after divorce.

  86. Robyn, are you saying the annulment process should be free? Who pays the secretaries etc who “do the paperwork” etc. Whatever the fee is I am sure it is a fraction of whatever a lawyer charges for a divorce process.
    I am also certain payment plans can be worked out or a reduced rate in case of hardship but no annulment would be withheld because you didn’t pay. I find that hard to believe.

  87. Note to Kenneth. The reformation was five hundred years ago. To cite that as proof is ridiculous. LOL.

  88. Robyn, I think the reason why Catholics leave the church is neatly proven in the overly legalistic responses to your post and the focus on the annulment process.

    What have we become? Crusader bureaucrats who aspire to be amateur canon lawyers. Where’s the compassion, the love, the room for the Holy Spirit?

    How unfortunate that you and your husband are ill. How pathetic that no one in the parish, pastor included, has reached out to see if you are in need of anything, including the sacraments.

    The experience of your friend in New Jersey is heart-breaking. The parish wanted a social security number, followed only by promises of aid?

    Perhaps the Catholic Church, as happened with the Episcopalians, needs to lose its power and its prestige to regain its soul.

  89. Why ridiculous? The only point I make with it is that some people leave the Church (or make other faith decisions) based on ignorance and others do so out of deep and informed conviction. Human nature hasn’t changed in any deep way in 500 years.

  90. My husband’s annulment process was initiated and handled by yours truly starting last year in order that I can take communion with the Catholic Church. It is more likely than not that the Second Decision will not be completed in time for my participating in the Easter Vigil with this year’s RCIA class either. In spite of this, the faith has given me the gift of grace and the Blessed Mother and I’m handling this situation in an unbelievable manner. I know that God can make it happen if He wants to. If it doesn’t, then He doesn’t want to. And it’s for a greater purpose, which I have no clue about. And I know it’ll be fine. This is from the Catholic faith I have. I exercise my faith outside of the Church, so I don’t care if it’s not social enough for me. The Church is the greatest gift from God.

  91. Steve Cavanaugh says:

    The experience of Robyn’s friend in New Jersey is, indeed, heart-breaking. But please do not make that one parish’s poor response stand in for the way the whole Church, even the Church here in the USA, acts. Today a man with health problems and limited income called the parish and left a message saying he needed help with getting an oil delivery. The woman who takes messages for our St. Vincent de Paul conference called me with the info, I got in touch with the fellow, and then called the oil company to make a delivery which is now scheduled. This is typical for us, and for most of the parishes I know of that have St. Vincent de Paul conferences, which are designed for just this sort of rapid response. If we had been out of funds for oil, we still could have recommended other venues for help, and we certainly would have helped with food.

    But we do have to have people call! I know there are many hundreds of poor people living in our parish, but we ask them to call us. We do what we can to make our services known, but we are only so many, and have our hands full. Our pastor has two part-time priests to assist him, and is pastor of 3 parishes. If someone needs the sacraments, they need to call and ask. The one pastor can’t do it all, and needs to schedule deacons, extraordinary ministers of communion, etc to get this work done. Yes, the Episcopal parish that has maybe 80 people on a Sunday may be different, but most Catholic parishes are really mega-churches with many hundreds, even thousands worshipping each weekend.

    Here in the Boston Archdiocese there is a program being started in the parishes to start-up small groups for prayer and faith sharing, the idea being to chip away at the anonymity that is all too common in parishes. For those who are looking for community, this may well be a good entree. I started up a similar group in my home three years ago. But I usually don’t wait for others to take the lead. But I was in the parish for 12 years before that got started; many other attempts didn’t pan out.

  92. Also, in my view, the Mass is where the Priest confects the Eucharist, which I can’t wait to take. You take communion and go out into the world, as Christ said in the Transfiguration. I’m fine with the way it works.

  93. Deacon Steve says:

    Kenneth the annulment process is available to all regardless of ability to pay. The tribunals ask for a donation to help cover part of the cost, but if someone cannot afford to pay, they will still be allowed to go through the process.

  94. Katie Angel says:

    I recently had a reminder about how large our congregation is.

    I had sent in a request to the parish office asking to have a mass said once a month for the next year on the monthly anniversary of my husband’s death – in memory of him and for the repose of his soul. Our church secretary called after she recieved my check to tell me that our pastor limits the number of masses that any one family can request to five per year – and that some families do not even get a single mass – because of the size of our community. I was able to schedule the five masses on consecutive months ending with the acual third anniversary of his death andthey were wonderful about the whole thing. I wasn’t even disappointed not to be able to have all twelve masses said by my parish – I just contacted our local Cistercian Monastery asked them to say masses for the other seven months.

  95. Katie are you aware of Gregorain Masses? It’s hard to find a place that will do them (because of the 30 consecutive days), but this is where I had them said for my mother.


    I also have my parents enrolled in FOSS, Friends of the Suffering Souls. It’s only requires one mass a year and they get the benefit of the daily masses (up to 81 a day right now; goal is 100 a day).


  96. Wishing you the best Joan!

  97. Catherine says:

    Notgiven, I wasn’t talking about priests I had encountered — I was describing the experiences of a friend and of a neighbor. Our parish priest rushed out to give my mother the Last Rites, just ten minutes before she died. He is a wonderful pastor. But I have to admit that I’ve met some doozies, including one who refused to hear confessions as scheduled at his parish because “I need to eat my dinner.”

  98. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    For over fifteen years I have given talks all over the country (via our “Hesburgh Lecture Series”) on the topic “Who Leaves the Catholic Church and Why.” I will spare you the talk but, having read volumes on this issue, offer a couple of points worthy of consideration:
    Item: one study in chicago asked why young people continue to go to Mass; the most common reason: the quality of homilies.
    Item: A CARA sudy indicated that the single most important reason why some return to the church is that someone invites them back.
    Item: One very successful pastor attracting returning Catholics does two critical things: a short six week programof basic catechesis, followed by finding something for the returnee to do in the parish as simple as helping with Sunday coffee or helping with child care, etc. When he begins his annual appeal for returning Catholics (favorite time: Midnight Mass at Christmas) he asks one of the returnees to tell their life story before he preaches his homily.

  99. They leave because of the great disconnect between the hierarchy and the person no longer sitting in the pew. The disconnect is about numerous topics, is wide, and is getting wider all the time.

    I don’t see any credible solution on the horizon — a fair amount of talk and blame to be sure, but no solution.

  100. Well, yeah…on paper. But let’s be real. Money, and more importantly, an important name, have wondrous ways of smoothing the lumps in any proceeding. Not saying they gou out of their way to stiff the average Joe in annullment proceedings, but he’s not going to get the same handling as, say, one of the Kennedy clan.

  101. Kenenth,
    Annulements weren’t supposed to be “divorces by technicality”, but that’s been the practical result. Money and influence are not really neccessary. HOWEVER, having someone to advise you how to procees i.e what to say and not say, witnesses etc, in my view IS very helpful. I’ve gone throught the process, not once, but twice successfully and I was helped by a priest friend who I attend the minor semianry with. The first one took 14 months. The second 20.

  102. mjl,
    You are righter than you know. I must say that I was astounded at Mark Greta’s talking about all the reading etc his family does and telling people to read the Catechism. That’s not faith to most people. It DOES strike them as a bunch of rules. It seems that the Church has forgotten the KISS principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID! And lose all the flowery,florid language.

  103. Deacon Steve says:

    Kenneth in my experience you are wrong. No one is treated differently in the process becuase they lack money. Each case is given the same due dilligence, and “wealthy” people have had their annulements denied as have “poor” people. So let’s be real, access is there for anyone that needs it. It is misconceptions and snide, cynical comments about the process that prevent those without money from going through the process, by perpetuating the false idea that annulements are only for those with money.

  104. I often click on someone’s name when they link to their own blog. It helps me get to know a little bit about them and their personality, sometimes it’s a blog I return to over and over again. May the Lord provide you and your husband with all the healing you need.

  105. Klaire, Your story is touching and sincere. But I’m sure that you realize that you can fall in love and be in love with Jesus outside of the Catholic Church. Many non-Catholic Christians have experiences similar to yours. I left the Catholic Church because it was no longer reflective of Jesus or Gospel living – basically I left to rediscover that unique love that was no longer present in the Catholic Church.

  106. “I left the Catholic Church because it was no longer reflective of Jesus or Gospel living – basically I left to rediscover that unique love that was no longer present in the Catholic Church.”

    For someone who rediscovered that unique love this is a rather unloving statement. In fact, it is rather insulting to those of us who are and who remain Catholic.

  107. I do not think that Vatican II caused more men to leave than who were attracted to return.
    Psycologists and Sociologists have long done studies on men and Christianity, and the general finding is that many men are turned off on the notion of “turning the other cheek” and not seeing standing up to whatever as a manly virtue. i am not agreeing with these notions, but the studies finding this started way before Vatican II. By the way, to those who disparage Vatican II so much, is there not a doctrine that a Council of the Church is supreme in authority to even the Pope?

  108. Klaire, my husband got his annulment yesterday thanks to the efforts of my deacon!! I will be taking communion at the Easter Vigil!

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