The Faithful Departed

Inside Catholic asked prominent Catholics to respond to the recent report that the largest religious group in the USA are lapsed Catholics. Here are our thoughts.

In my own response I mentioned the desperate need to be ‘relevant’ felt by some Catholics. However, I think there is also another, more simple answer to why people left the Church.

Once we have all picked over the reasons and analyzed ourselves to death, maybe we should come back to some simple verities.

One of the main reasons so many people left the church is because they simply found the Catholic religion too demanding. They found Catholic moral teaching too much to take. They found the demands of sanctity too much to take. They fell into some sort of mortal sin and instead of repenting, blamed the church.

In other words, it wasn’t the fault of the institution or bad priests, or hatched-faced nuns or corrupt bishops or anything else. These were excuses for individuals who wanted to go their own way (usually in the area of sexual morality) and so they left, and instead of feeling guilty for their weakness, their disloyalty, their cowardice and their sin, they blamed the institution.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Anonymous

    I am one of those catholics who has left the church. Not only I, but many within my family and my wife’s family, we all share the same thinking of having left the church. I am not trying to put down the Roman Church, I take this seriously! I have had numerous family members in the past who have served in the church as priest’s and nun’s. Now, my grandmother who is 92 yrs. old, which all of her sisters became nuns, laments that none of her grandnephews has become a priest or nuns, besides having lost our faith in the church. The problem that I see within the church is that they have abandoned true Christian doctrine. In other words, the scriptures, grace, faith, the law of god, true apostolic teachings, and the Holy Spirit working via the words of Christ.I know I am no theologian, but Catholicism is more about politics than the true teachings of Christ. Where is Christ in the Catholic Church? Hidden in Gold or in the pope, in a false miracle, I don’t think so!I am a Mexican-American from Los Angeles, I am not an expert in Catholicism, I do not hate Catholicism, In the contrary I want the Church to repent and returned to its first love. “Let my people go, that they may served Me says the Lord” The responds from those catholic officials is not enough and sadly they just don’t get it.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps the problem is sanctity. This has always been my big things. We need Saints to be visible in the world, to live their faith willingly in the world, but not be of the world. We need people who radically live the Gospel and are convinced by the truths of Christ. People are always attracted by that. Mother Teresa was a cause for conversion in people’s lives (or, I should say, an instrument of God’s grace). The same can be said of JP II. Now, we may not all be universally known like those 2, but the core of the message is true, that we must live sanctity as God calls us to, to discover the more excellent way. When people see that, they won’t be able to but help become passionately in love with Christ.There needs to be, as well, the willingness to accept the state we are currently in. The fact of the matter is, this is the way things are at the moment, that many have left the Church. We have to accept that. We have to remember too that we are not the saviour of the world. Christ is. So we must just be open completely to Him so that He can use us to bring others to Christ. If we could bring but one soul to Christ in our life, then our life will have found its fulfillment, and we can thank God for that.-Harrison

  • Anonymous

    Harrison,Let us Just stick with JESUS, you know the founder of the Church. We are all called to live our lives like His life, “be perfect cause I am perfect,” if I recalled correctly. What else do we want!!!We should have Jesus, the author and savior of our FAITH; Oh Yeah! What happen to that?

  • Anonymous

    Jesus is in the Catholic Church.Heretics be damned.

  • Anonymous

    Where in the catholic Church under he skirts of the anti-christ?You mean heretics are in the catholic church!Therefore let that church be damned!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17845905351822140629 Harrison

    Yes, I agree we need to immitate Jesus. That is what it means to be a Saint to the world, to bring Christ to others. That is the WHOLE point of Sanctity, of Sainthood, to be like Christ so that Christ is made visible to the world in us. We become the instruments of His grace. I don’t see what the problem is…-Harrison

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous, when you say:”The problem that I see within the church is that they have abandoned true Christian doctrine. In other words, the scriptures, grace, faith, the law of god, true apostolic teachings, and the Holy Spirit working via the words of Christ,” and, “Where is Christ in the Catholic Church? Hidden in Gold or in the pope, in a false miracle, I don’t think so!”You sound exactly like Evangelicals who proselytized me out of the church in the 80s (who by the way didn’t know what they were talking about). I am back in the Catholic Church now, thank God. The church has NEVER abandoned the Scriptures, grace, faith, true apostolic teachings, the Holy Spirit, etc., even if the teaching has been very poor in the past decades. I suspect, anonymous, that somebody is filling your head with these ideas like they did mine. I will pray that you come back home as I did. I am so very thankful to be receiving grace through the Sacraments. It has changed my life. Julie

  • Anna

    Anonymous (4:52 pm) Can you please give some examples of how and where The Catholic Church left Christ. That way, we can attempt to answer you, and hopefully plant some seeds that will help you return home.As far as politics, within the Evangelical type churches, they can get pretty ugly, too. I still bear scars from my battles there. (And still pray for my brothers and sisters, there.)

  • Anonymous

    I am just reading a book of the same title of your post: The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture by Philip F. Lawler (Hardcover – Feb 11, 2008)”VERY interesting read. As a convert, I am struggling with my fellow Catholics. Or alleged fellow Catholics. In Protestantism, I found not as a profound disconnect between what the church teaches and what the people do and believe.As a Protestant, It’s a Burger King faith…. “Have it Your way.” Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us.”That is to say, you can go denomination shopping until you find the one that best reflects your beliefs. And if one does not exist, you can create it.In Catholicism, that’s not the case. I will have to defer to those who know more than me about Catholic expression outside the US, but I have read that because America was founded at the approximate same time of the Reformation, this carried over to the colonies of the countries that planted the flag here. The Puritans especially were anti Catholic. Heck, they were anti-Anglican; they were to “Popish.”So in Eastern America (as compared to parts of New Spain or New France that would be absorbed into the future nation), Catholics landed in an area that was tacitly in most places, and outwardly in other places, hostile to Catholicism. Also, for the most part Protestantism was tied to nationalism, so a Catholic was almost immediately suspect as a traitor to the state, as they had a supra-national faith. This caused a certain petri dish for Catholics to need to disconnect or submerge their faith from their political allegiances; culminated in the now famous JFK speech in Texas where his faith would never affect his/her decision-makingAdd to this the already mentioned “Burger King” consumer society where we expect, and demand, choice, and the independent individualized constructs we have in the States (the USA was a foster child of the Enlightenment age), all combines to a toxic mess for anyone’s conscience formation. I came because (a) Christ asked me to, and (b) because it’s TRUE. I also I became Catholic in spite of, not because of, fellow Catholics. Somebody said Catholicism is not a club you join for its membersSorry for the rant. If I am in error on any point, I look forward to edification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13177183667215351026 James

    Anon 16:52: As a fellow Hispanic I can personally attest to Christ’s presence in His Church, the Catholic Church. He is in every Spanish hymn I’ve ever heard; in novenas to the dead; in every little old lady who prays for her fallen away children and grandchildren; in the works of charity and kindness for our fellow man; in the homilies preached everyday; and most importantly, He is in the Eucharist.Anon 09:40: You are so full of BS that it’s falling out of your mouth and onto the keyboard.Father: I agree with you that it is inability to follow the Church’s (and Christ’s) teaching on sexuality that is the biggest reason people fall away. In my family those that have fallen away did so for that and similar reasons. Most simply do not attend any church. The few that have joined some Protestant church have done so because they are able to do as they will without actually having to reform their lives. These are not people who never knew Jesus as Catholics, they knew him very well. They simply prefer a different Jesus, one that allows them to do as they will, a false Jesus.

  • Anonymous

    JAMES: “The few that have joined some Protestant church have done so because they are able to do as they will without actually having to reform their lives. These are not people who never knew Jesus as Catholics, they knew him very well. They simply prefer a different Jesus, one that allows them to do as they will, a false Jesus.”For good or ill, some Catholics do not have to leave the Church to do the same as you have related above.Case in point: Two parishes in the same town. One has perpetual adoration, First Friday Devotions, Stations of the Cross and lines for confession. The one across town has “Peace Masses.” I arrived before Mass on Saturday to go to confession, and the priest said to me, you want to what?It reminds me of a bad joke about a parishoner who sees a Jesuit and a Franciscan standing together and asks …is it right to say a Novena for a Mercedes? The Franciscan replies, what’s a Mercedes. The Jesuit responds, what’s a Novena?

  • Esteban

    I think you are right, Father. In the past 40 years I have read many discussions about why people leave the Catholic Church. I don’t recall that any of them ever seemed to think that it might ever be the weakness or failure of the folks who left in any way, shape or form. It’s always the fault of the pope, the bishops, the priests, the nuns they had back in ’56. Who could ever deny that those who occupy these positions in the Church are imperfect and sometimes have caused scandal and hurt. But, really, I can’t ever recall anyone ever saying that often people just leave because they don’t want to live the life of a faithful Catholic, or that they are looking for some other more “relevant” kind of Church in which everyone is perfect and above reproach. Scapegoating is as old as the human race, of course. Excuse making among the “fallen aways” is a high art right now. There are no sinners except clergy and nuns, in their view; the laity are just put-upon saints who just can’t take it anymore and righteously stomp out and slam the door. They claim that Christ has abandoned the Catholic Church, His bride, but has only done so since the Catholic Church has supposedly abandoned Christ. You know, all that gold, and stuff…yadda, yadda, yadda.

  • Anonymous

    Father,I have to add what ended up being my reason, once I quit kidding myself.Intellectual laziness. Couldn’t be bothered to check out the claims of Holy Mother Church, or anyone elses either.I thank God for His help getting my thick skull back where it belongs.Dean Steinlage

  • blarg

    I disagree father. It is not so much I found Catholic teaching too demanding, it is that no one taught or explained Catholic teaching. Above all my parents did not teach me Catholic teaching. My parents stopped leading prayers. My parents did not lead my around the kitchen table banging pots and pans to reenact the fall of Jericho. Unfortunately, few if anyone’s parents in my generation taught their children their faith. They left that duty to priests and CCD teachers who did not know Catholic teaching themselves. It is the domestic church at home, I believe that failed along with cowardly bishops and priests interested in paying mortgages and keeping numbers than saving souls.

  • Fr. N

    Blarg,What Father said AND what you said can be reasons for people having left the Catholic Church. It does not have to be “either/or”. Now that you are an adult, I think it’s your responsibility to read and study and ask questions about the Catholic faith and discover what the the Church claims and teaches. The failure of parents et. al. at the beginning of one’s life should not be an excuse to stay in the dark about the Catholic faith for the rest of one’s life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14947517047002401152 Ron King

    Dear Father Dwight, I returned to our beautiful and infinitely mysterious faith Easter ’05 after rejecting it for 40 years when I turned 18. For the last 38 years my work and study have been in the field of psychology. Our Catholic faith has added daily blessings in my work as a psychotherapist and has enhanced my understanding of why people have left the faith since God has been sending me former Catholics for counseling in other matters of life.What is amazing is the consistent picture of a lack of love or loss of love that is at the foundation of rejection of Catholicism when the child becomes a young adult.By understanding the critical importance of our early attachments, our particular family history and brain development we can get a better picture of what influences people to reject our faith.Researchers discovered in 1996 a specialized set of brain cells in human beings that are spread throughout the brain in behavioral and emotional areas that record everything in the environment from the time they begin to operate in the womb. They are called mirror neurons. They set up our basic emotional and behavioral reactions to the world we experience even before we have a sense of self. They give us expectations of every different situation we encounter and whether or not we have a sense of belonging or isolation based on internalized and unconscious feelings that were formed in our closest relationships with our parents and others responsible for our well-being.If we experience love our brain will wire itself for reward with that person or situation and we will seek more involvement. If we do not experience love our brain will be wired for distress and we will seek to disengage when it is safe for us to do so.Every sin no matter how seemingly small that an adult exhibits to a child is experienced by the child as a loss of love and safety. The child then goes into hiding with those damaging emotions and it becomes part of the foundation in the formation of their sense of self and the world in which they encounter as either valued or rejected. This is the “flesh” which is the physical brain which is used to determine whether or not our faith has validity. Our primitive emotions are then supported by beliefs to direct our lives as adults. That is why Jesus said to forgive them for they know not what they do.Grace from God brought me home and rewired my childhood circuits into an ever renewing and rewarding awareness of our beautiful Catholic Faith that only Our Lord could reveal to me. “…now that I am a man I put away childhood things…”There is too much to explain here. God Bless You.Ron

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08110491371985845560 kentuckyliz

    Agree w/blarg to the extent of, the widespread failure of catechesis in the wake of Vatican II confusion. People in the church REFUSED to teach her truth and pass on the great treasury of riches to the next generation.Why stay with something so apparently dead and so incomprehensible, that seems to offer nothing any different than the world? Man, Mass back then was a form of torture, too. You didn’t know how slow an hour could go.I bolted as soon as I could.