Help! My Children Aren’t Catholic Anymore!

I’m in Indianapolis Indiana leading a parish mission this week, and in the meet and greet session afterwards, the most common conversation I have is with middle aged women who say, “Father, what can I do, my children have stopped practicing the faith!” or  they tell me how their children have married Mormons or Methodists or Baptists and left the Catholic Church.

What’s the problem? The problem is not now. The problem is back then. The problem is how we have educated a whole generation of young Catholics. We’ve driven them off with being nice. The Catholic Church over the last fifty years in the USA has become just another nice American institution. Nice like McDonald’s. Nice like Disneyland. Nice like the Mall. Nice like the neatly trimmed suburbs.

We’ve made catechesis nice. It’s all about the sacraments and being nice and the church and being nice and peace and justice and being nice and forgiveness and hugs and being nice. That’s all very nice… but there is another aspect to the gospel which we’ve quietly forgotten. We’ve forgotten that part about, “If anyone would be my disciple he must take up his cross and follow me.” Or that part which says, “The world will hate you as it has hated me.” or “Broad is the way that leads to destruction, but narrow is the gate and few there be that find it.”

So our children aren’t dumb. They grow up and they figure that if it’s all about being nice that you don’t have to go to church to be nice. You can be nice without church. You don’t have to be Catholic to be nice. You can be a nice Methodist if you want. So if they want to be nice they just go along being nice without church, and they believe that because that’s actually what we taught them even when we didn’t know that is what we were teaching them.

Because we never told them it would be difficult and that it would require discipline and that they should have some backbone and determination if they were going to make it in the spiritual life, they learned that lesson, and therefore when it did turn out to require a little bit of grit and determination and difficult things like confession and self discipline and prayer–they went scooting off because they thought it was all about being nice and praise and worship songs that made you feel good and a warm comfy sermon from Father about loving each other more. That’s what they thought it was. That’s what we taught them it was, and when it turned out that being a Catholic required some backbone and self sacrifice and dedication they were disappointed like we are all disappointed when our expectations are shattered. Never mind that they were false expectations to start with.

They felt like they were sold a bill of goods. Everybody said the  Catholic faith was all nice and warm and cozy and when it turned out different they scoot off to a church where they are made to feel warm and cozy, and who can blame them?

I think our catechesis should be more realistic. It should be more like boot camp than fat camp. We should tell the confirmation kids up front that they shouldn’t sign up unless they’ve got the backbone to do so. We should tell them up front that being a Catholic is a serious business of soul making and if they aren’t going to be there 100% they shouldn’t bother. Keep your lukewarm Christianity. We want intentional disciples or no disciples at all.

I reckon a bit more vinegar in the water would yield good results at the end of the day, and the wandering lambs the concerned mothers worry about will only migrate home to the Catholic church once they see that it is only the Catholics who have the guts and the glory to stand up for the Truth and fight the good fight.

  • Bernard Fischer

    There’s no end of blogs and books these days about what went wrong. So what now? Write off everyone over the age of 15 as unreachable and start again?

    • Jeff

      We might have to. rescuers after an earthquake will use their limited resources helping the most that they can. eg, this building has 100 people buried within it and that one has only 10. you go for the building with the 100. it just makes sense.

      once you’ve defeated in your teens it’s VERY hard to be won back. chances are, the ones who will come back had good seed sown when they were under 15 anyway.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      I would encourage all knowledgeable and motivated Catholics to become catechists, and get involved somewhere between kiddies and adults. I don’t think of it as starting again so much as simply getting started.

  • Jeanne

    wow Father, you hit the nail right on the head

  • Sam

    Amen Fr. Longenecker! I’m currently 19, and this time last year I was an atheist. If it hadn’t been for my driving curiosity and love of books (both of which are severely lacking among most other young people I meet) I might still be. My point is, though despite having gone through the full CCD program at my church, I STILL left the Church at one point. We need reform, desperately.

  • John Mallon

    Yes and their parents were driven off by Catholic officials being cruel and crazy. I have spent my life fighting the liberalism in the Church and its Gospel of “Niceness.” But I also remember when sadism ruled in the Catholic schools at the hands of nuns who never should have been admitted to the convent and child abusers who never should have been admitted to the seminary. The nuns I had were child abusers, it’s just that the abuse wasn’t sexual. THIS is what spawned the “Nice News” era.

    Whenever I hear radical traditionalists speaking of the 50s and early 60s as a “Golden Age” in the Church I want to puke. I grew up in the parish that loosed John Geoghan on the world.

  • Manny

    This is so true. You hit it right on the nail with this one.

  • geoffoster82 .

    Yup, damage is done by age 15 if you haven’t raised them right.

    People’s motto when raising their kids Catholic:
    “Do what I can and leave the rest up to God.”

    Now, this is totally spot on. What people don’t get is that the “what I can” bracket is actually larger than they probably thought. Parents need to be educated about what they CAN do to raise their kids properly, based upon the latest research for the Church to have any chance of a future at all.

  • Daq

    Wow. So true. As a young Catholic I couldn’t agree more.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    You obviously gave in to the temptation to click on the ChurchMilitant.TV Channel on YouTube and drank deeply from the well of Michael Voris this weekend. :)

    Seriously, you’re dead right because I know what you’re getting at.

    But however sound anything else Voris says, he uses his ‘war on nice’ as an excuse to batter people. That is, once he’s rationalised ‘nice’ out of the way, nasty becomes the acceptable plat du jour.

    Sadly, most of the priests and laity I know over here in England ‘faithful to the Magisterium’ and consider themselves defenders of the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ love Voris and behave like little Tourquemadas towards ‘dissenters’.

    These ‘dissenters’, however, are mostly simply ignorant but, finding themselves cornered, try to defend themselves – which then maintains the Vorisesque self-fulfilling prophecy of heretics being everywhere – probably just like many of those found ‘guilty’ by Tourquemada…

    ‘Do the red, say the black’. Does it matter what colour the polarisation is?

    I thank God for you, people like Sherry Weddell, and pray for all those trying to build up rather than iron out…

  • hattip

    Well, I am not sure that you quite have it right–certainly what you say is an element, but it is not all the problems. Let me first clarify something: I am approaching 60, I left the Church in High School and was a “scientific atheist” until around 40. I had a conversion experience when i was around 39. I went back to the Church some where in my 43th year. I would say that I am a rather traditional and orthodox Catholic now. I was raise in a traditional, Irish catholic, working class home, went to parochial schools and both of my parents were strict Catholics.

    I left the church for the following reasons:

    1) First and foremost, I left because of repeated homosexual advances by priests towards me, my peers and other family members. In my case, none of these actually came to sexual acts, thank goodness, but other were not so lucky. These advances destroyed any trust i might have had in the church. Repeated attempts to bring this to the attention of parents by me and others was met with skepticism and rebuke.

    2) No one bothered to really explain the higher religious, theological and metaphysical meanings of Christianity to us. we received what has been called “Crayola Christianity”. Our “religious lives” consisted of (mostly empty) ritual, platitudes and rules. Pretty pallid stuff. Never were we lead to understand that God cared about our inter lives or be living a Catholic life we could actually reach a higher consciousness. I actually think that our teacher did not really understand Christianity or Catholicism very well themselves.

    3) The moral hypocrisy I as a child saw in the both the hierarchy and the laity was horrendous. Rare it was to find someone who practiced what they preached.

    4) The community I grew up lacked the strength to preserve their institutions and their way of live, In my teens i saw two parishes (with parish schools) close down, and one Catholic HS close down. Young people can see the hand writing on the wall, you know.

    5) Related to #2, the mental, emotional and educational level of most Catholics in that environment, most particularly among those in religious orders, was abysmal. It was like talking to Imbeciles. Their knowledge of their own civilization was so poor as to leave the impression that they were barely civilized. As educators they were woefully inadequate. They set the most terrible example to all but the dullest youths.

    6) The Vatican 2 ecumenical movement was extremely confusing to young people. Either Catholicism is the way or it is not. It appears that even the Pope lacked conviction in his own faith.

    7) Attempts to “modernize” the Mass and make it “more relevant” where extremely clumsy. It was obvious that they were caving to the young, and confused surface with essence.

    Teaching people to “be tough”, or having better catechism classes will not address the above. It well may be that it is almost impossible to teach Christianity to the young in any affirmative, spiritual sense, and the true christian live can only come with exposure to the world, but it is none the less true that treating the young like idiots will not work.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      Wow. I was a cute altarboy for years (born in ’57), and flat-out never got hit on by any priest, nor did I suspect anyone else was getting hit on either.

  • Amy Giglio

    I teach 8th graders and I try to tell them that being Catholic is hard. It requires work. It requires living intentionally. It means that maybe some people won’t like you anymore. I also tell them that being human, we all stumble and we need to get back up, confess, and keep on going. The 13 and 14 year olds appreciate this kind of talk from an adult because they know “niceness” is phony. But I also make clear to them by telling them every week: No sin is unforgiveable for someone who repents of it and nothing you do can make God stop loving you.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on,
    Strong in the strength which God supplies through His eternal Son.
    Strong in the Lord of hosts, and in His mighty power,
    Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror.

    Stand then in His great might, with all His strength endued,
    But take, to arm you for the fight, the panoply of God;
    That, having all things done, and all your conflicts passed,
    Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone and stand entire at last.

    Stand then against your foes, in close and firm array;
    Legions of wily fiends oppose throughout the evil day.
    But meet the sons of night, and mock their vain design,
    Armed in the arms of heavenly light, of righteousness divine.

    Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul,
    Take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole;
    Indissolubly joined, to battle all proceed;
    But arm yourselves with all the mind that was in Christ, your Head.

    But, above all, lay hold on faith’s victorious shield;
    Armed with that adamant and gold, be sure to win the field:
    If faith surround your heart, Satan shall be subdued,
    Repelled his every fiery dart, and quenched with Jesu’s blood.

    Jesus hath died for you! What can His love withstand?
    Believe, hold fast your shield, and who shall pluck you from His hand?
    Believe that Jesus reigns; all power to Him is giv’n:
    Believe, till freed from sin’s remains; believe yourselves to Heav’n.

    To keep your armor bright, attend with constant care,
    Still walking in your Captain’s sight, and watching unto prayer.
    Ready for all alarms, steadfastly set your face,
    And always exercise your arms, and use your every grace.

    Pray without ceasing, pray, your Captain gives the word;
    His summons cheerfully obey and call upon the Lord;
    To God your every want in instant prayer display,
    Pray always; pray and never faint; pray, without ceasing, pray!

    In fellowship alone, to God with faith draw near;
    Approach His courts, besiege His throne with all the powers of prayer:
    Go to His temple, go, nor from His altar move;
    Let every house His worship know, and every heart His love.

    To God your spirits dart, your souls in words declare,
    Or groan, to Him Who reads the heart, the unutterable prayer:
    His mercy now implore, and now show forth His praise,
    In shouts, or silent awe, adore His miracles of grace.

    Pour out your souls to God, and bow them with your knees,
    And spread your hearts and hands abroad, and pray for Zion’s peace;
    Your guides and brethren bear for ever on your mind;
    Extend the arms of mighty prayer, ingrasping all mankind.

    From strength to strength go on, wrestle and fight and pray,
    Tread all the powers of darkness down and win the well fought day.
    Still let the Spirit cry in all His soldiers, “Come!”
    Till Christ the Lord descends from high and takes the conquerors home.

    Charles Wesley… :)

  • Christian LeBlanc

    The takeaway from years of Condescending Catechism (a “C” couplet, BTW) is basically that ya gotta love Jesus an’ he loves you. Then Catholic kids grow up and discover they can do those things just fine in some other church; or even in bed on Sunday morning while they read the paper.

  • jacobum

    Bulls eye!

  • TheodoreSeeber

    Pray the Chaplet of Tarski Fatima:

    Preferably the Catholic parts loudly and daily whenever the kids are in the house.

    Eventually, get them to pray the atheist parts.

  • Liam Ronan

    I think you have diagnosed the problem superlatively, Father, and the remedy for future; however, may I suggest that for those who are ‘lost’ now the most immediate and effective means to save the souls of our apostate and agnostic families, etc. would be the daily recitation of the rosary and to undertake the Five First Saturday Devotion in Reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Give your families over to Our Good Mother and have faith in Mary. She will not fail.

  • Suzanne Fortin

    Tell kids the truth. The faith is about salvation. Human beings are selfish, they’re in danger of turning away from God, and faith will save them. Faith not only saves them but brings them Joy. I never heard this when I was growing up. But I should have. Otherwise Catholicism feels fake.

  • KL

    Something I see again & again is not only did those parents have the benefit of the catechesis you are talking about at school &/or home; but they also enjoyed the irreplaceable gift of having parents who lived the faith fully – not a pick & choose version. I don’t know too many parents with ‘non-practising’ children who did live their faith to the full. My first Q to parents when they complain about their children’s lack of faith is usually, “Did YOU obey the church’s teaching on marriage & family yourself?” Commonly the answer is no, they contracepted or were sterilised… some may have come to repent of that & you will see the fruits flow immediately into the adult children’s lives. Some don’t, for various reasons – they prefer to remain unrepentant & that sterility continues to flow in their adult children’s lives.

  • Brad

    I will always remember the following I heard quoted on an apologetics show, probably Catholic Answers Live. It is such a pity I didn’t catch the source of the study.

    Devout, not merely practicing, but truly devout, mother in a household with lukewarm or antagonistic or absent father: children have 20% chance of becoming (even becoming) and remaining devout. St. Monica winces. Notice the three descriptors of the father do not change the 20%: it’s all the same impact.

    Devout father present in household: children have 80% chance of becoming and remaining devout.

    So what happens if a household has not one but two devout parents? 80% chance.

    Mother’s devotion to faith is a wash. It all hinges upon what the children see father doing. Is he St. Joseph to the home? Does he relegate religion, that is the virtue and practice of religion, to women, making it so much feminine, hysterical fluff in the eyes of the children?

    There are exceptions, standard cliche caveat, yes. But all the “middle aged women” complaining to the priest: where was and is the husband. Was he living the Sacraments, and loving the Sacraments? Is he, even now? The children are forty and still watching him.

  • CRS

    Nicely put. ;-) For my little girl’s 5th birthday a few days ago, I dedicated (on Facebook) the “Traditional Catholic: What they think I do, What I think I do, What I actually do” meme to her, then I sat her on my lap, and we went over the pictures and the reality of Catholicism. Of course, I used words a 5-year-old can understand, but I did not sugar coat it. She understood it (of course, as well as a 5-year-old can understand it). In addition, she is being home schooled through a traditional Catholic program that also lacks the ability to sugar coat anything.

    Thank you for being honest and keep up the good work!

  • Kathleen Crawford

    Your right on Father

  • Peter

    When Michael Voris says this he is vilified by nice “church of nice” as he calls it. Be prepared for the same, Father. You are absolutely correct but have entered the field of fire.

  • Scott

    Spot on Father! I will be reading and discussing this with my children.

  • Catherine Alexander

    I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I see the truth of this. My parents were Christian, yet they rarely took us to church and virtually never took us to Sunday school. They never made us read the Bible, or even provided us with our own Bibles. The results: we grew up feeling uncomfortable around kids who DID go to church regularly. Their knowledge of the Bible made us so uncomfortable we began to resent them and consider them to be “Bible-thumpers.” We were never exposed to mature Christian adults who could have been mentors to us.

    We were taught to be nice, of course. We were taught manners, of course. The message we received from our so-called Christian parents was that being nice and having manners was more important than going to church or reading the Bible, and as far as taking up any crosses or becoming disciples — we had no idea what that meant. We never heard a thing about it.

    So all three of us grew up to have sex before marriage. These relationships led, variously, to abortions, clinical depression, STD’s, and one near breakdown. Then there was a nasty divorce. And now there are two grandchildren who are growing up with even less Christian formation (if that’s even possible).

    But we all have good manners, and we are very nice people.

  • James

    Before 50 years ago, the Catholic Church preferred to run young people off through harshness and fear of hellfire. George Carlin was raised Catholic in the 1950s. I think this bit reflects his catechesis.

    “Religion easily has the greatest bullshit story ever told. Think about it, religion
    has actually convinced people that there’s an INVISIBLE MAN…LIVING IN THE SKY…who
    watches every thing you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has
    a list of ten special things that he does not want you to do. And if you do any of
    these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and burning and torture
    and anguish where he will send to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and
    cry for ever and ever ’til the end of time…but he loves you.” – George Carlin

    Some people like to idealize the past, but there were problems then, too.

  • Scott Woltze


  • Samuel

    Right on, Father!

  • Jennifer Fitz

    I was at the SC Book Show this weekend, and met a friendly guy hawking his end-times novel. Goes to a (top notch, very respected-by-me) evangelical congregation in town. Mentioned I was Catholic, oh yes, author nods — he was baptized in my parish, actually. His father was a deacon. Oh, who’s dad, maybe I know him? Gives me the name of a different deacon we both know, says complementary things. Oh my, has your father passed away, then? No, still living.

    I connected the dots — two former Catholics, father and son both. I know exactly why, because I’ve heard their pastor preach before. They finally found someone willing to teach them the Catholic faith.

    • Christian LeBlanc

      I am slap fed up with this sort of story.

  • Robyn Adler

    So what now? My kids are 21, 19, 17 and 14… and they only go to church because we force them to. They’re not shy about it either. This is after sending all of them to Catholic school.

  • Enders_Shadow

    Or as Terry Pratchett, an atheist novelist puts in the mouth of one of his characters:

    Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a
    fever. If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots
    about people, who watched them like a father and cared for them like
    a mother… well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like “There
    are two sides to every question” and “We must respect other
    people’s beliefs”. You wouldn’t find me just being ge’rally nice
    in the hope that it would turn out right in the end, not if that
    flame was burning in me like an unforgiving sword. And I did say
    burnin’ Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be. You say that people
    don’t burn folks anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean,
    y’see? Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame,
    declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathing the soul of it.
    THAT’S religion. Anything else… is just being nice. And a way of
    keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.’1

    Terry Pratchett Carpe Jugulum (London: Corgi 1999), 349.

  • Suzanne 14401

    Finally, you have expressed what I have been trying to point out for years, but didn’t know how to say. I just thought my 8 kids had been “ruined” by Vatican II.

  • Lago

    I`m largely sympathetic to your views and thought the same when I helped out at the confirmation course in my parish. The catechism is terrible. The young people know nothing and our parish council (oh yes, the priest just does as he is told around our way) doesn`t seem to care – its all about the big day
    I sometimes wonder if we need to start making some minimum requirement – but at the end of the day, the Holy Spirit comes upon these young people at confirmation and this might help these luke warm Catholics later in life What is your view here?

  • Bryan

    So, my daughter told the fellow conducting the confirmation class that she supposed the writer of the Gospel of St. John was, perhaps, John the Baptist.


    I’m loaded with all sorts of really good things to read about the faith around this place and we’re always chatting about this sort of thing, so what gives? I guess I messed up, but she also has been going to a Catholic high school, sitting through the theology classes and so on…

    On the other hand, I taught a PSR class a few years back for some high-schoolers. Turns out, they were not quite aware that the constant teaching of the Church is that Christ was raised bodily from the grave. They were not aware that the Christian hope is not a Platonic existence as some enlightened spirit, but bodily resurrection.

    So, maybe the problem is profound.

  • Lotmeets Darwin

    You lost your children when your children where sent for a professional education, either secular or parochial does not matter. You lost your children when you pumped cable television into you home and filled them with anti-Catholicism. You lost you children when you shipped them off to college and told them to wait on getting married. You lost your children when you did not trust the Sacrament and treated them cavalierly. God willing he will find a way to call your children back despite all the road blocks you put in the way.

  • Hal

    Unfortunately, this article is good for prevention, but I don’t see where it provides cure. “Father, what can I do, my children have stopped practicing the faith!” – telling the parents that it is too late now, the damage is done, is not helpful.

  • Jarrad

    bravo father!!!!! preach!!!!!

  • Debby

    I love this article. It is right on! I am going to share it with my priest at bible study. He has been saying this for awhile.

    Thank you Father

  • Lisa C

    I sure hope you’re not saying this to those parents. They may very well have taught their children discipline and spent long hours in prayer and works of mercy with them. And often the parish doesn’t back them up.

  • haggis95


  • Alice

    No comments yet? I totally agree with your sermon. This being nice has become out of hand all together. I see it around me all the time, and it’s true, they feel why go to church, I’m nice. It is hard work being a Catholic and you do need backbone. Pope Benedict had said at one time a smaller church will be with us.

  • Dave Montrose

    Be careful what you wish for. The not-so-nice catechesis you describe might make Catholic kids take the faith seriously. Or it might send them packing in even greater numbers, because those “feel-good” (and immensely successful) congregations you describe offer both the welcoming atmosphere and numerous ways to get involved in ministry. I’m not sure where you’re coming from; I went to Catholic school for 13 years, and niceness was far from a priority.

    I say stop worrying about kids going to other churches. At least they’re going to church!

  • Paula DeAngelis, PhD

    It wouldn’t hurt,too, to keep mass to 30 or 40 minutes as it is most other countries & asit was in the 1960′s & 70′s

  • WRBaker

    And this is why I lost my job….the principal said I was too Catholic and the pastor said I was conservative.

  • Vladyk

    I don’t think i’ve ever met anyone who left the Catholic Church because of too much niceness. If you conducted a poll of lapsed Catholics I doubt that the word ‘nice’ would be the first one associated with “Catholic Church”.

  • Stefanie

    Amen, Father. This reminds me of Annie Dillard’s words: from the essay “An Expedition to the Pole” in Dillard’s book ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’:

    “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk. Harper and Row, 1982)

  • Francisco

    Oh so true. However, why should young Catholics care? It’s not like the Catholic priests talk about mortal sin, the need for confession, sacraments, the Devil (never hear about him anymore), or Hell (I haven’t heard about that place since I was in high school). According to my practicing Catholic friends Hell is really only a place were very evil people go because God is not judgmental (even if the scriptures talk about Jesus being our Judge) and he is the God of Love.

    Until the Church gets back to the job of saving souls, it’s up to the parents to convey the simple message that there is no salvation without the Catholic Church, Hell and the Devil exist, and that they need to know their faith and live it or they run the risk of eternal damnation. Bottom line, if these things are not true, we don’t need the Catholic Church or Jesus and we might as well live our short lives to their fullest in human and materialistic terms and screw all others because there is no downside.

    “I will not serve” because I deserve better is a common human theme. The reality is that most humans would choose to live what they believe to be a great life of luxury, sex, and fun to a boring and hard life of being a good Christian. If you told them that their only potential punishment for not following God’s laws was eternal destruction (i.e., no afterlife but also no Hell), that would be it for most people. Better to live like a king for a small amount of time and then cease to exist versus living like a holy person deprived of the world for a short amount of time and then as a saint in Heaven. I’m even convinced that most people would even choose having to spent a finite time in Hell versus going straight to Heaven or even spending a limbo state with other people that does not suffer the torments of Hell.
    I’ve had this discussion with many priests in that past who have taken the stupid position that God wants people to love him out of pure love versus people being bullied out of fear of Hell. Well how’s that worked out over the last 50 years? I’m convinced that without Hell most people say forget this, it’s too had, I don’t like it anyways, I like sex too much, I like my stuff too much, and heck if I’m wrong and there is truly a God of Love he won’t damn me.

  • Gregory

    I hope that this is not how you answered the concerned parents you met. Rather than stating causes that are generally known already, do you have any solutions to suggest?

  • Thomas Gallagher

    The precipitate decline in belief and practice of religion continues apace. It seems to be affecting all Christian denominations, and so even though our Catechesis has been sadly defective, something else must be at work here. I suggest three things. Firstly, post-Vatican Catholic preaching, at least as I’ve been hearing it for going-on 50 years, has been a call for greater intentionality, a more Christo-centric vision, a quickening of faith commitment, as opposed to the older emphasis on rote memorization of devotions, lock-step obedience to Church disciplines, the milk-bottle theory of grace, and so forth. This is wonderful, but some people may find it harder, less reassuring, than the old system of keeping count of the level of grace in the milk bottle. At Walmart a few years ago, I happened to overhear a rather poorly dressed and poorly educated woman talking with a friend. “The Catholics,” she said, “used to just go to confession and go to church, but now it’s tough for them, they have to really take it seriously. It’s tough for them.” This woman, as Pope Francis might say, showed the sort of Spirit-filled wisdom that no doctorate in theology can match. Secondly, when we attribute the decline of Faith to our poor Catechesis, we’re being a bit too hard on ourselves. The World and the Devil are likely as much to blame for the present situation as the Flesh. One of Papa Francesco’s many refreshing themes is the reality of the Demonic. Satan’s greatest achievement, let’s not forget, has been to convince 20th century man that he does not exist. Thirdly, what young people miss in the Church today is the beauty of the old liturgy, the chant, the incense, the reverent saying of the prayers of the Mass, the gorgeous splashes of color and light inside the church buildings, the sense of the reverence of the Mass–when it is celebrated by priests who keep the vertical sense of worship in balance with the horizontal. Nothing wrong with Vatican II. How could there be? It was by its very nature a mighty inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Much wrong with the way in which we have often interpreted and implemented Vatican II, especially in the USA.

  • Tracy

    My advice for the Hoosier woman is to take her kids to Holy Rosary Church on Stevens Street, Indianapolis for the traditional Latin Mass!

  • Mark Mathias

    Even with the best example at home and the greatest catechesis, young people must make their own choices once they leave the protective care of the family. They don’t always choose wisely or well. Our job is still the same: love them, speak the truth to them and pray for them.

  • Greg B.

    Another grand salami, Fr. D. Very well put.

  • John Flynn

    awesome Fr. D!

  • Gayle

    And we still haven’t learned around here! We are still hearing that mushy ‘God is love’ message on Sunday morning! It just makes me furious…

  • bringiton1979

    This was spot on. I went to Catholic School for 12 years, and I’m not sure I even knew there was a Catechism until high school. Thanks.

  • Nathan

    Your paragraph that begins, “I think our catechesis…” Is probably the best I’ve read on your blog (and that is a high standard). God bless.

  • FIAT

    Finally someone says it like it REALLY IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Weidner

    Fr. Dwight, you mentioned that you are reading Sherry Weddell’s book, but I don’t think you grasp what she has written. Catholics have long followed what she calls the “infant paradigm.” That is, the idea that one becomes Catholic by being raised Catholic and taught what to believe. It doesn’t work anymore, and while adding more vinegar to our catechesis would be a huge improvement, that’s not the deep answer.

    We are in a new age of the world, commonly called the Information Age. ALL groups now, if they are to survive, must learn to recruit constantly, and must learn new ways of communicating with people who think very differently from how people thought when we were young. I’m sure your local Masons or the Model Railroading Club are in the same boat.

    And all groups will need to also understand that even well-established members will need to be “continually recruited,” as it were. The usual cradle-Catholic idea that one does not need to grow spiritually, or can be content with very slow growth, is fatal. The challenges to Christian faith are only going to get worse, and simply being “a good Catholic” won’t give people the strength to stand against the flood.

    The numbers Sherry presents are brutal. For every person we recruit, we lose four. Once our large baby-boom generation starts to fade, the American Catholic Church is going to go off a cliff. I don’t get the sense that you are alive to that.

  • John Weidner

    Re-reading this piece, I see I misjudged you. My apologies. I was seeing it through the lens of the deep frustration I feel trying to communicate these things to people whose eyes just glaze over.

  • John

    my kids didn’t leave because of lack of grit and determination. They left because they of being disallusioned. They went on mission trips and retreats that got them all fired up for the Lord. They loved the sacraments of the Catholic church. They believed what they heard from the pulpit and then when they tried to act on it. Our local priest would constantly stop it, with a demeaning, haughty attitude. Just recently my son (age 17) tried to have a benefit concert to raise money for the St Vincent De Paul society in our parish. He tried to get permission with Father, but Father told him, talk to St Vincent De Paul. So he went to a board meeting and talked to them. They were excited about it and impressed by his enthusiasm. They told him to ok it with Father.

    Father wouldn’t talk to him, too busy. St Vincent de Paul said, talk to the secretary to book the hall. He did. then he lined up chaperones. Then he made posters and hung them all over town. He got kids from his class to help promote it. Father called and shut down the concert one week before the date. He didn’t want the building tore up by a bunch “hooligans”. Finally the president of St Vincent De Paul stepped in to try and get it going again. And several of us had to offer to fix any possible problem with the building with our own money. This is just one of many struggles. The kid is a musician with a heart for God but he’s not allowed to play at church. Because he’s been told that 17 is too young. Lately the local methodist church has been looking for a musician. And they are supportive. even a little NICE.

  • John

    I myself sit here weary of trying. I don’t know what to say to my kids to help them fight through it. It seems to my whole family that our priest and the 2 priests that I had before him (both convicted of pedophilia) don’t really believe what they are preaching. I love our church and that’s why I’m still there every sunday. But my zeal is turning into disillusion. The sermons of Pope Francis give me hope. but I’m not sure the clergy are buying in. at least not the clergy I’m closest to.

  • Theo

    Absolutely right, Father!

  • John Mercurio

    All that and a bowl of She-Crab soup. Amen Father.

  • Mabs

    Actually, it was the “bitter vinegar” that drove me away. I met more “Christian-like” Christians away from the Church, not within it. My love for Christ has deepened, since leaving, though I cannot deny that someday I would like to call myself “Catholic” again, right now I’ll settle for Christian. Because above all else, no matter the denomination, we are all (supposed to be) Christians first. Love thy neighbor, He commanded us. And so, I do. <3 God's Blessings on all of you.

  • Single too long

    One key factor: People leave the Church to marry Baptists, Mormons, anyone who is nice and “Christian.” It is really, really, hard to marry another Catholic today. There are lots of single Catholics who are in their 40s and beyond, who have been praying daily that God will finally send them a spouse or show how they can cooperate with his grace to find a husband or wife. If you speak up and say that it is hard to find a Catholic to marry, Catholics don’t say hold on, its important, or let me introduce you to someone else. They say why don’t you marry a Protestant? We think we talk a good game about “Theology of the Body,” but as a practical matter the Church does nothing and offers no encouragement to single people who get married. Young people leave the Catholic Church in their teens and never come back, even if they join another Church later in life. I will submit its because the Catholics offer no path to marriage within the Church, by which I mean practical assistant and moral encouragement, whereas many Protestants and especially Evangelicals do. I have gotten letters from Evangelical churches in the mail that actually say: Dear Single Person: You can get married if you join our church; our church has lots of people looking to get married. I rest my case. Bad catechesis, sure. But also a refusal to recognize that marriage is a pathway back to the Church and a gateway to the Eucharist for lapsed 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and beyond.

    • Jeff

      I’ll agree with this point.

  • fats

    Suffering and Courage…. although fat camp might be good :>)

  • Michael Kennally Lewis

    Good post, Father. My parents were taught in the 1950s that God was a mean, angry man just waiting to send you to Hell-in short, to be afraid of God. Fear of God is healthy, but it seems baby-boomers have taken the images of terror they learned as children and gone to the other extreme; that God is just a loving, happy-go-lucky guy that would never judge us, and that Hell isn’t real. Seems to me that we need to find a middle ground here, because the “God loves you and wants you to be happy” drivel is what I believe lead my CCD students to be against the Marriage amendment in NC last year. They’re not taught by their parents that there are-and should be- limits to personal freedom and happiness, so when they come to CCD and are taught the Church’s well-reasoned position on marriage and homosexuality, they get all upset. Of 20 kids in my 9th grade class, 1 girl came up to me and my co-catechist after our class discussion on same-sex “marriage” and the NC amendment and said, “Are you guys Republican? I am too but I didn’t want to be the odd one out in class.” Shameful.

  • Jake Q

    Lumen Gentium, the document written by the Second Vatican Council says, “They could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.” You need to get them back.

  • fats

    One of the most glorious things a Catholic can do, is to join their Suffering to His. He gave us His Cross out of Love and without it, i dont believe we can ever be made whole.

  • Margaret Stampfli

    Thank you! This is so true and its getting worse at least our parish. This year the first communion families arrived at class on a Wednesday night in September for the first class of the year. It was chaos and there wasn’t even a teacher. When the families complained, the parish just decided they wouldn’t offer a 1st communion class and the parents were responsible for doing it at home on their own. The parish religious ed program is horrible. They don’t have any books or curriculum. The teachers are given a 3 page handout printed off the archdiocesan website about the standards for their grade at the beginning of the year and told to do what they want. That is the extent of their training and resources. The parents and teachers of the current generation of children received next to no catechisis when they were young either. How is this going to get better?

  • St Donatus

    You got it right Father. I would add that they need to know the reason to feel the pain. Yes, spiritual blessings are nice but everlasting life is even better. If I am happy as a Methodist, why should I be a Catholic? When I was Agnostic, I was happy (I thought). Of course I was selfish and sinful, but I thought I was happy. Once I tasted the spiritual blessings, I wanted to stay Catholic, but in the long run, the world (or the devil) can make it very painful to stay true, and very enjoyable to leave the Catholic church. We need love of God, fear of God, fear of Hell, and desire for Heavenly bliss.

  • John Rayner

    Very recently Michael Voris, in one of his excellent pieces, talked about failures in the Catholic Church right now because it had become the Church of Nice, and did not preach about sin and hell and penance any more.

  • John Hightower

    If you
    took out the faith “Catholic” & substituted Methodist, Baptist,
    Lutheran, Jewish, etc, etc, you would have the same article from
    “sad” parents of those particular faiths! I say with respect to the
    writer, “there ain’t nothin’ new here” (smile)….when we are kids we’ll go to
    whatever church our parents take us to & obediently take up whatever
    religion we are “fed”. When it’s time to THIINK & make our own
    CHOICES that’s the TRUE test of our upbringing. Either a TRUE faith developed
    OR just the passing of a “course” took place. To me, the bottom line
    is really did the faith develop a person with a TOOL for LIFE (i.e. courage in
    the face of defeat, love & respect for others from OTHER faiths &
    backgrounds, willingness to develop a skill to make a living, volunteering for
    duty to country &/or fellow humans OUTSIDE of our faith, to name a few).
    These are my thoughts as a non-Catholic friend of the faith & a humble but
    generous donor to Catholic Charities (for its gracious giving to the community
    to people of ALL faiths or no faith). I respect & am open to what others
    think. I don’t consider my stance as “my way or the highway” (smile). To quote
    the article “being
    a Catholic required some backbone and self sacrifice and dedication…. they were
    disappointed like we are all disappointed when our expectations are shattered….
    Never mind that they were false expectations to start with.” I know that you
    are seeking a solution & I hope you find it, however, in this instance take
    out Catholic & substitute another non-violent faith & the same thing
    happens. It’s a struggle & I will agree that forming young minds to be
    anything less than EVIL is a tough job! (smile).Before I end this, I must say
    that my daughter is now a happy CATHOLIC after being brought up as a Protestant
    (Methodist & Baptist)…now her children have been raised CATHOLIC. I do NOT
    lament HER choice, I celebrate it! God Bless You.

  • Marissa Finder

    I was almost lost because of the “nice” leaders. They didn’t come straight out and say what the church taught. I heard a lot of social justice……but I really didn’t learn about the church. Luckily I have an insatiable desire for truth. And it was my own hunt for truth that lead me back into the arms of Rome. Most specifically the writings of Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. I now see other people doing and saying and living the way I did, and it makes me sad. Because it is a long, hard and lonely road if you aren’t in the arms of the church.

  • Christian LeBlanc

    The opposite of nice must be my catechism class!

  • Momma S

    How about emphasizing the Body and Blood of Christ to your children. I always told my kids that was the most important, valuable aspect of our Catholic church compared to the protestant faiths. I should know because I’m a convert. Also my catholic husband married me, a methodist who feel in love with the Catholic church.

    • bj

      I brought this up to my kids, you know what they said back?

      If that’s the real presence of God and if that is the center of our lives as Christians, why is it that you see Christianity practiced more fervently in the congregations of non-denom churches? They said even the priests that we have had, show no outward signs of knowing Christ. So you tell me, how can that be the real presence of God?

      I thought of several responses, but none that were “mind changing”.

  • A mom

    Father, with all due respect, when I saw the title of this article, I thought you were going to offer advice for solving the problem of the current adolescents and young adults who are leaving the Church. I must say that if, as a mother, I had presented you with this problem and you replied by writing a blog about how poorly I had catechized my kids, I would be reluctant to ask you for any advice ever again.

    We home schooled our kids. I used to take them to daily Mass. They were not taught the catechesis of lukewarm niceness. Neither were they taught the opposite extreme of fire and brimstone and nothing else. Yet two of our five adolescents and young adults are grappling with faith issues right now. If the problem was poor catechesis, why are the other three solidly committed to God and the Catholic Church He gave us?

    God Himself “walked with Adam and Eve in the garden”; is there better catechesis than this? Yet they abandoned Him, just as some of our adolescent and young adults abandon Him.

    These mothers want to know (as I so) what they can do NOW to help wayward children. None of us own time machines, so even if the catechesis of nice is one of the primary problems, we cannot undo that. If anyone out there has suggestions for helping mothers in this situation, please say so.

  • Jennifer Fitz

    Hey, and a quick head’s up for those asking the, “Is it too late? Now what?” question. is going to host a book club this summer for Sherry Weddell’s _Forming Intentional Disciples_, which Fr. L has recommended many times. The book teaches the basics of evangelization, including the how-to’s of getting your grown-up children back to the Church.

    More to follow, but thought I’d toss that out there so you’d know it was coming.

  • Ambaa

    Oh yeah, being hard on people is totally the way to keep them around. Sounds like an abusive relationship to me! Did you ever hear that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?

  • ngalia2

    Although this reasoning may apply to some — perhaps even most — it does not apply to all. I have known a number of really good people who have left the Church for the exact opposite reason you propose.

    For example, I have a friend who was a convert to the Church in College, president of her University’s pro-life group, a philosophy/theology major, and was the main driver behind re-instating the Latin Mass at Georgetown University. Yet despite her example of being a more upstanding devoted Catholic than — by far — most people, when in a moment of weakness she made a mistake, she could never find the forgiveness she needed in the Church, and through much heartache… left. As such, her life has continued to go downhill and there is little anyone has been able to do to help her.

    The Church — wrongly, I’d admit — has a notorious reputation for being judgemental, unforgiving, self-riteous, pharisaical, and not expressing the forgiving, helping, love that Christ preached. If people’s sense of “nice” is responsible for them leaving the Church, then the Church’s lack of making people know and feel they are loved, is just as responsible.

    Although I’d agree that most cases are about those not wanting to put forth the effort, it’s not always the case — definitely wasn’t with my friend (please pray for her).

  • cowalker

    My spouse and I would be the equivalent in age and family situation (two adult children) of the parents anxiously asking how to bring their grown children back to the church. But my spouse and I are the ones who started doubting as children and who left the Catholic Church as soon as we became independent. This even though we attended Catholic schools back in the supposed “good old days”–the fifties and sixties–when those schools were not plagued with excessive “niceness.” Boy howdy, there sure wasn’t any excessive niceness. But there was excellent catechesis. Both of us have a much better grasp of church doctrine than our still-Catholic parents, who attended Catholic schools back in the thirties. I think it was our solid understanding of church doctrine that prompted us to reject it comprehensively as our knowledge of the world broadened. We had no interest in being “cafeteria” Catholics who would gloss over whatever we couldn’t accept as true.

    We presented our personal atheist beliefs to our children as just that–our personal beliefs to be accepted or rejected by them as they deem appropriate. So far they have found the atheist worldview to be adequate, but I avoid investing myself emotionally in their choice of belief system. All I want is for them to be happy, to contribute something positive to society and to treat other people *gasp* “nicely.”

    Commenter John Weidner is much closer to grasping the phenomena that all churches are grappling with than Fr. Longnecker.

    When I read that Bishop Watterson High School fired Carla Hale because she shares her life with a same sex partner in order to protect the morals of the students, I can hardly keep from laughing at how thoroughly the church has gone about grasping the wrong end of THAT stick. You know the kids in that school watched “Glee.” Apparently they liked Ms. Hale. What lesson do you think they took away from her being fired when her choice of life partner became slightly public? You can bet it’s not the one the high school wants to teach.

  • BJ

    Jesus said, I say to you that if they were silent, the stones would cry out.

    my kids found more faith in the stones. They didn’t leave because of a lack of passion or perseverance. They left because they found no love, no passion, no—anything from any of the priests either in our parish, or surrounding ones.

    Some of the teens tried starting a small share group to meet in our parish. The priest wouldn’t allow it without clergy present. So they said, well, we would love to have you come and he said, I don’t have time.

    so what are they going to do? They either meet on their own outside of the church or they just do nothing. The stones cried out.

    I could tell story after story just like this. so you tell me is vinegar what they need?

  • bj

    I need to quit thinking about this article. it’s just making me angry.

    The Catholic church is just throwing darts against the wall seeing if something sticks. For CRYING OUT LOUD diagnose the problem.

    If you take an engine that’s not running to a mechanic you’d be frustrated if he just started trying stuff that may or may not be the problem. If you were having medical issues and the doctor with out even talking to you started saying, exercise more, eat, eat healthier, without listening to a word you say, you be frustrated.

    No body is asking people why they quit coming to church. Nobody is talking to the teens. Nobody is trying to diagnose the problem. we just have people without almost any real evidence of an investigation into it, saying things like. Kids, these days don’t care. or people are too stubborn, or that’s just american culture.

    You know what? go stand in the parking lot of a non-denom church and talk to former parishioners when they come out and ask them, “what happened?”

    adults and teens alike say over and over again, “I wasn’t being fed.” Now that could mean lots of different things. Maybe they wanted more scripture teaching, maybe they wanted challenged more. Maybe they were dealing with real world problems in their marriages and their home life and all they were hearing was what they already knew.

    When you marriage is having real problems you want to know more than “divorce is bad”. you want to know, how do I love her again. how do I put aside the pain she’s caused me, how do I get her to forgive me again? Hearing a priest say, divorce is bad, does nothing to help.

    But on the sign at the baptist church you see a sign that says, “Is your marriage failing?” come join our 6 week seminar. Bingo! they’re gone!

    same thing with Abortion and homosexuality. people know that things are bad they want to know, how do I deal with it. If I bring this up to a priest they say people are lazy if they want to be fed in the catholic church they can be fed. BS! your lazy! Jesus didn’t tell the apostles, to disperse the 5000 he told them “Feed them yourselves!” He didn’t tell Peter 3 times. show the sheep where to eat. He said “FEED my sheep!”

    when people are starving they will either wither away to nothing and die or they will find food. The Catholic church the “professionals” of faith need to start diagnosing the problem and find out “why are people leaving?” Quit throwing darts at the wall and saying it’s this or it’s that. That’s RIDICULOUS.

    There are so many things in play. we need some sort of a comprehensive plan.

    Parents get divorced then they are lonely and remarry and divorce again because they didn’t know how to stay married. Then they can’t receive communion. Then they hear the Eucharist is the center of Christianity. And they think, “well there’s no sense in me even trying.” So they quit coming. then their kids aren’t coming. And the priest is more worried about budget concerns than calling them up and saying, “I haven’t seen you at church in a while. What’s going on?”

    nope what we need is vinegar in the water. GOOD GRIEF!