“Why do you remain Catholic, when so many are leaving?”
That’s the question that many here at the Patheos Catholic channel and elsewhere have been answering lately.
I gave you my answer a couple weeks ago, that is, that I felt that, in the course of being received into the Church at Easter Vigil, that I had made a commitment, and that deciding, for instance, that it was too much work to get the kids and myself, or even just myself, to church every Sunday, would be violating that commitment.
Now, as a refresher, at the Easter vigil, candidates for full communion are called to make the following profession of faith:
I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
And my RCIA sponsor* and good friend at the time was insistent, and rightfully so, that I couldn’t just say, “sure, whatever, just gimme that liturgy I like,” though she did allow that I could go with “assenting” rather than wholly embracing, the pieces that I don’t get too excited about (for instance, the Immaculate Conception).
*who, incidentally, pretty much abandoned orthodox Catholic belief in favor of de facto self-ordination some years later, though, at roughly the same time, another friend who was also a part of these discussions, became an actual Catholic priest.
But most of the replies were different: the Eucharist, the liturgy, the Church as family/community, and, of course, the salvation and new life offered by Jesus Christ through the Church. Or, as the Lutheran Gospel Acclamation puts it (citing Peter), “Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, Alleluia.”
And it strikes me: it drives me batty that people who have abandoned the doctrines and moral teachings of the church, one after the next, continue to profess that they are Catholic, and, indeed, insist that the Church must change, to conform with their own beliefs. But the truth is that their reasons for remaining Catholic are really no different than these — much as I’d wish that they’d just recognize that their beliefs really dovetail quite nicely with the Episcopalians, and, heck, they have a nice liturgy, and bishops, and even Apostolic Succession, too.
It’s all the more extreme, of course, in those parts of the world where Catholicism is pretty much the only game in town. Back in November, I wrote about a woman in Austria who claimed to be a priest, and who was, at least, in her telling, welcomed by the Austrians, and by Austrian priests, and I observed:
Why do these individuals not just simply leave the Roman Catholic church for a denomination that’s more to their liking? In part, because Catholicism is the only game in town in Austria. As recently as 1951, 89% of Austrians were Catholic, with most of the remainder Lutheran (6%). Now the percent of Catholics has dropped to 62%, but, so, too, the % Lutheran is now less than 4%, and the remainder are Muslim or Orthodox (due to immigration from the East and from Turkey) or Nones (now 19%).
Functionally, the Catholic Church seems to be viewed as the State church, with the consequence that people expect it to be a pretty big tent, and accommodate every desire.
Of course, that’s not just Austria. It’s Ireland, and its approval of gay marriage, and it’s Germany, and the reports that its cardinals/bishops are pushing for “leniency” with respect to divorce/remarriage, gay relationships, etc. (Yes, there are Lutherans, too, and in some parts of the country, Catholics are the minority, but, in general, there is still a “state church” feeling, with one or the other dominating in a given region, and generally no other choices.)
And this feeling, that the Catholic church is the church, that is so deeply felt for so many people, is something that’s just not there among Protestants, at least, in my experience, who are much more likely to see “the church” as the Christian church, with one’s particular denomination as of secondary importance.