8 Bad Reasons to Leave the Catholic Church, and 1 Good Reason to Stay

8 Bad Reasons to Leave the Catholic Church, and 1 Good Reason to Stay May 14, 2015

Mark Judge bookThere’s been a lot of conversation on-line over the past few days regarding a column by Mark Judge over at RealClearReligion. Judge, a columnist at The Daily Caller and the author of A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, explained why he left the Catholic Church.

IT’S BECAUSE HE’S AN ARTIST.

Judge is discouraged by what he considers the Catholic Church’s negative, obstructionist, and soul-crushing” attitude towards the arts.  As an example of the way to win souls, Judge cites St. Augustine–who wrote “entire volumes” about paganism, thus winning pagans to the gospel. In contrast, Judge bemoans the fact that the Catholic Church has not a single think tank to support the arts. Explaining his departure, Judge writes:

In the end, I left the Catholic Church because as an artist I could no longer hold out hope that there would be a place for me in the church. The Catholic Church, which gave the world the Sistine Chapel, Dante, and the genius filmmaker Robert Bresson, has lost interest in supporting artists. God is a dynamic and creative universal force who can be found in movies, rock and roll, and poetry.

*     *     *     *     *

OH, WHERE TO BEGIN?

In the first place, I think Mark is dead wrong. The Church remains the world’s foremost patron of great art. Yes, we still have the fathomless beauty of Michelangelo’s Pieta and the profound Scriptural lessons expressed on the stuccoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But modern-day artists continue to create.

I’m thinking of this beautiful statue, representative of the “invisible poor,” which we snapped while at the Cathedral in Salzburg, Austria in 2000.

Invisible Poor - Salzburg

And there is the contemporary work of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, who created the “Homeless Jesus” statue depicting Christ sleeping on a park bench.

Homeless Jesus

Or this (so sorry I forget its name) photographed during my 2003 tour of the Vatican Gardens:

Vatican Gardens

You prefer music? Well, this is not to my taste–but Pope Francis did, after all, invite both Sister Cristina Scuccia (of Italy’s “The Voice” fame) and American punk rocker Patti Smith to perform in the Vatican’s Christmas concert. Also at Christmas, the creche in St. Peter’s Square was graced with the presence of statues reminisccent of the lighthearted Italian comic opera “The Elixir of Love.”

I wonder whether Mark has ever experienced the “Courtyard of the Gentiles”–that Vatican-sponsored festival of the arts which has been offered in several cities throughout Europe. Sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, the Courtyard of the Gentiles  has as its mission to interact

with those to whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.” (Benedict XVI, Speech to the Curia, 21/12/2009) ; follow through on those which are undertaken by various institutes of the Church in the field of dialogue and, so far as necessary, lend them assistance (art.168). 

Mark Judge hungers for good art–and I insist that it’s all around him.

Perhaps he hasn’t yet toured the Vatican Museums and Vatican Gardens, where he would find not only the medieval masters but also great works by contemporary artists. Perhaps his local parish is limited in its musical presentations–with a mediocre organist and a volunteer choir doing the best they could. I’m truly sorry that his experience of religious art has been so sparse that it caused him to flee.

There would be many other relevant examples, drawn from art and music and theater and sacred architecture, examples which stretch beyond the focus of this article.

But more to the point, I’ve got to ask:  “Mark, What Are You Thinking?”

Mark Judge would have done well to ask, as did the Apostles in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”   

*     *     *     *     *

Unfortunately, Mark Judge is not alone in his abandonment of the Catholic Faith.

As the recently released Pew Research Center study on America’s Changing Religious Landscape shows, all too many Catholics have been abandoning the Faith. The most recent demographic study shows a drop of more than 3% in the percentage of Americans who self-identify as Catholic.  Only mainline Protestant denominations have experienced a sharper decline.

A lot of people–some well-intentioned seekers and some just disinterested or, dare I say, lazy–have turned away from organized religion altogether and joined the ranks of the “Unaffiliated.” Why? Most have not listed Mark Judge’s beef with the Church, “bad art”, as a reason for leaving.

To help Mark think through his frustration, I thought I’d post here just a few of the reasons I’ve heard from people who once attended Catholic schools and church, but who have since moved on to spend Sunday mornings at the lake or in bed, catching up on their sleep.

Excuse #1. “I don’t get anything out of the homily.”  This complaint actually takes two opposite forms: Some people complain that the priest is a windbag, repeating himself, talking in a monotone, or otherwise bothering them for 20 minutes, making it difficult to finalize the shopping list. Others complain that the priest’s message is too short–only eight minutes. That group actually likes the fact that Protestant preachers continue on (and on) for 30, 40 minutes, and they want more–not less–from their own pastor.

Excuse #2. “The Catholic Church doesn’t offer children’s programming.” Well, yes they do. Many if not most parishes offer a babysitting service (aka preschool program) for the very young during at least one liturgy. Some also provide “cry rooms” where mothers of rambunctious children can see and hear the Mass, while keeping their screaming infant or exuberant toddlers separated from the congregation. There’s a difference in the Catholic Church, though:  Even though it may be stressful for parents and others when a child is disruptive at Mass, the child is from the earliest years embraced by the community, and is learning the importance of the liturgy. If you have a problem with a noisy child, may I suggest you break down and purchase a few age-appropriate kids’ books on the Mass, so your son or daughter can learn to follow along? And of course, learning about God doesn’t stop there: There’s family prayer time as well as Catholic school or, if that’s not a possibility, weekly Catechism classes.

Excuse #3. “The Catholic Church doesn’t teach the Bible.” Well, yes she does. In each Sunday liturgy, there will be three Scripture readings: from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Bible. There are also bible studies and other study programs offered in classrooms and on-line. Want to see something on-line and have a little fun at the same time? Check out my friend Christian LeBlanc’s “Summapalooza” on YouTube!

Excuse #4. “I like the Women’s Fellowship at the church down the street.” Well, make some new Catholic friends! Remember the Girl Scouts song, “Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Don’t forget the dear women in your Protestant fellowship groups, but come on over and investigate the Council of Catholic Women, the Moms and Tots group, the altar society, the Christian Service Commission, the St. Vincent dePaul. Pitch in and sell hot dogs at the parish festival. And of course, there are those other great women who provide encouragement, help and model the Christian life: I’m thinking of Mary, the Mother of God and all the great female saints who intercede for us at the throne of God.

Excuse #5. “The Protestants go on lots of mission trips.” Oh, yes, remember Campus Crusade for Christ and those great Spring Break trips, hanging around on the beach in the hope of snatching uninformed Catholics and converting them with the Sinner’s Prayer? But the thing is, the Catholic Church has an expansive outreach, with religious sisters, brothers and priests all over the world carrying the message of the Gospel to all nations.  If you can’t go yourself, support these great missionary efforts directly (the Missionaries of Charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and many more), or contribute to the U.S. Bishops’ annual collection for Catholic Relief Services, or the many specific appeals such as this week’s CRS appeal for the victims of the earthquake in Nepal.

Excuse #6. “I like the donuts better over there.” You enjoy that stop after service for donuts? If your parish doesn’t have an informal gathering after Sunday Mass, consider starting one–or make plans to have breakfast with a few parishioners you’d like to know better.  And really, are donuts more important than Christ in the Eucharist, body and blood, soul and divinity?

Excuse #7. “I don’t like other Catholics.” Ugh (shaking head in regret and sadness)! I’ve actually heard this–that too often, Catholics rush out the door after Mass without making eye contact, rushing home to catch the football game or run to the mall. Missing sometimes is the friendly outreach that is common in some Protestant communities. Here a cultural shift may be in order: Could you start the ball rolling, making a friend by being a friend?

But suppose that one or all of the above “excuses” are true. What if your parish never changes, you never hear a great homily, you never get a free donut, and there’s never an effort to start a street mission or a bible study? The Catholic Church, as Pope Francis has said, is a field hospital for sinners; what if those sinners just really get on your nerves?

In that case, there is still one benefit which overrides all the little problems at your parish, and in the Church as a whole:  Jesus.

Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is there. He loves you just as he loves all those other sinners, those unworthy Christians who are muddling along together on the path toward union with Him.

If receiving Christ Himself into your person in the Eucharist, if resting comfortably in the knowledge that your faith is built on the shoulders of giants, that the Church you attend has been given Jesus’ own guarantee of infallibility, can’t override the inconveniences of sitting in an ordinary pew beside ordinary people, then what in the world can?

 

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  • Korou

    Are those really the reasons you hear for people leaving the Catholic Church?

    • captcrisis

      There are three or four big reasons people will give, and Kathy doesn’t mention them.

      • Korou

        Maybe she’s saving them for a follow-up post? This one could be “Excuses” and the next could be “Reasons”.

      • kathyschiffer

        You mean sex, sex, sex and sex? Contraception, homosexuality, divorce and cohabitation? Perhaps people should learn what the Catholic Church teaches and WHY. God’s laws are made, not to punish us or keep us from having any fun, but for our good.

        • Korou

          Ah. Strawman number 2. “We want to have as much fun as possible in life, and the Catholic Church’s “rules” on being “good” just make it difficult to enjoy unbridled sexual excesses.”
          You don’t really believe that’s why people are leaving the Catholic Church, do you?

          Maybe Father Daley can put it better:
          http://ncronline.org/blogs/parish-diary/attempt-answer-question-where-are-young-adults
          “The No. 1 issue by far, which came up over and over again, was the Catholic church’s treatment of lesbians and gays. Everyone, conservative or liberal, disagreed with the church on that.”
          It’s not about sex. It’s about love and hate. People feel that the Church hates them for their love. You say you “hate the sin but love the sinner” but it feels to the rest of the world like you hate the people you call sinners for doing what you call sinful.

          • Cynthia Brown Christ

            Growing up within the Catholic church was the most beautiful time of my life. The nuns taught me what service to others, and unconditional love was all about.

            Years later, when churches from mostly the east cost (I think) started to get overtly vocaly and physically against the gay community, I felt in my Gut that God was telling me to get out to get away from such an unloving anti-christ-like environment.

            Especially when I began to read articles from pastors tellling the parents of gay children to denounce them.

            I miss the church immensely. I spend a few hours on Sunday listening to my favorite hymns waiting for some change of heart on the local pastroral level,

            I long t come back, and hope to be able to worship with those whose pastor tells them their hearts were right all along.

          • Korou

            Thanks for sharing that. I’d guess that there are a lot of people who feel the same as you. Let us hope that things will change for the better soon.

          • Neko

            Parishes do exist, even conservative ones (such as my own), that aren’t disfigured by the mean-spirited crusade against LGBTs. Perhaps it’s time to shop around again!

          • kathyschiffer

            That article is one more reason why Bishop Finn, in January 2013, demanded that the National Catholic Reporter–a newspaper renowned for its “liberal” stance on numerous doctrinal and moral issues, should not advertise itself as Catholic. I’m sorry that columns like this one confuse you as to what the Church really teaches. And no, the Church doesn’t “hate” gay people, nor does it “hate” all the rest of us sinners. .

          • Korou

            Have you read the article?
            If you do, you’ll find it doesn’t advocate for more liberal stances. All it is is a recount of a priest who asked his parishioners why they don’t come to Mass any more, and then records the reasons they gave.
            Father Daley wasn’t saying he thought the Church was a sexist, homophobic institution devoted to teaching people to hate others. He was saying that that’s the answer he got when he asked “Why don’t you come to Mass any more?”

            Also, I’m not confused in the slightest as to what the Church teaches. That’s why I said “it feels to the rest of the world like you hate the people you call sinners for doing what you call sinful.” Which it does.

            Put in a nutshell, you say that you love gay people, but to them your love feels like hatred.

            Please, stop hurting people. Wouldn’t that be nice?

          • Neko

            The National Catholic Reporter most certainly is Catholic, and an oasis of independent and progressive reportage in a desert of mind-numbing apologetics.

            Not sure why anyone would look to disgraced Bishop Finn for advice on media consumption. He didn’t even have the prudential judgment to discern the inappropriateness of images of the children in his own diocese. I’ll remind the peanut gallery that these photographs were overwhelmingly crotch shots of children, one nude.

            The catechism exhorts charity toward “homosexual persons” but deeds speak louder than words. Perchance the bishops’ prolonged and expensive war against SSM and notorious firings of gay employees have contributed to the perception that the Church hates LGBTs.

  • Gillemar

    Ah, Kathy, way too much common sense about people’s reasons for leaving the Church. Just another reminder of why I love your articles so much.

  • Will

    Our former pastor preached a lot about sin but not much about love. Apparently there were many hassles (people refused sacraments, etc.) about baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We were told over and over that everything since the 1960s was bad. Many people left the parish and probably the Church. Our new pastor describes himself as a “glass hakf-full person”. He is much more people friendly. Attendance has risen.

    I do not claim to know that this type of thing is why many people leave the Church.

  • Gillemar

    Reminds me of the sad saga of Michael Coren, the man who seems to have forgotten “Why Catholics Are Right.” How would you answer his objection that Catholics are not compassionate enough toward homosexuals? (Although especially in light of Pope Francis’ statements this seems a ridiculous reason for leaving the Church).

  • Lookingup73

    It is incredible that you have heard such lame reasons for leaving the church! There are plenty of good reasons, but they involve actual intellectual inquiry, not mundane wordly, material desires. Thank you for the article pointing out say petty excuses people give.

    • Cynthia Brown Christ

      No, thank you for showing all of us how much better and more impoirtant you are than the rest of us.

      • Lookingup73

        Huh? I did not indicate I was better than anyone. I was thanking the author for revealing these sad reasons people give for leaving the RCC. If they apply to you, sorry…

  • Danielle

    I think it’s so funny: “I don’t like other Catholics.” I think more most people, it’s “I don’t know other Catholics.” Too many people go to Mass and that’s it. Growing up, my only friends at church were friends from school who happened to go to the same church as me. It wasn’t until I got to college when I made “church friends.” And now, I’ve gotten involved in all these groups and ministries that I never even knew about when I was younger.

  • DebraBrunsberg

    I think every one of those were excuses, not reasons. I also think those are given by people who have no knowledge of the faith and most likely, little faith to begin with. Faith is a gift and it has to be cultivated to grow. That requires going to Mass, frequent confession, reading Scripture, a daily life of prayer. All of those reasons are given by people who are not going to Mass to worship God. To praise God. To thank God. They are most likely ignorant of what is happening in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They are all a part of the “it’s all about me” and I am not being treated like something special by those around me crowd. We can only pray that they will eventually come to know Christ as the one who loves them, the one who desires their love and the one who has given them life. Until then, they will not find anything anywhere. If living life here on earth, with Christ, is not enough reason to worship him in the Church he gave them, in the manner he gave them, they might just want to think about what refusing to worship him will bring them, in the hereafter.

    • Neko

      The mantra of poor catechesis, self-congratulatory pieties and fear of Hell is repellent but typical.

  • Snowflake

    I love that Girl Scout song!

    • Cynthia Brown Christ

      What girl scout song?

      • Snowflake

        Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold. Mrs Schiffer mentioned it in her post. It was something she said that I agreed with.

  • Dan13

    Sometimes the given excuses are not the actual reasons. For example, when students left the catholic school where I used to work, the given reason was almost always “tuition.” However if approached about scholarships or loans or some way to help out on tuition then the actual reason would come out. The “tuition” answer was given out of politeness. Maybe some people who have these excuses left because of theological reasons but felt a softer excuse would be more polite?

    But I did think Mr. Judge’s reasoning was a bit odd.

    • Neko

      Agreed. An art lover, I have no sympathy for Judge’s lament. While it’s true Catholic art is impoverished these days, I’d think an artist would put his or her gift at the service of the Church rather than expect the kind of patronage that no longer exists.

  • Robin Ludvig Isomaa

    As a former Lutheran, I can guarantee that they have Jesus too.

    • Janna Watson

      They do. But they also have “rituals” that are not of the Bible. For example, “Worshipping Mary, and the Saints, asking for Intercession in Prayer.” No where in the Bible does it say that Mary or the Saints can hear your prayers. Only the Holy Spirit can Intercede for you. They also believe that “works” through the Eucharist can get you to Heaven faster than just by grace, and faith alone. I do not recall reading that just works can earn your way to Heaven. How about confession? You do not need a priest to confess too. You only need Jesus himself to whom you confess your sins; and of course anyone you may have sinned against, “Confess your sins one to another.”
      Here’s a good one, not allowing another non-Catholic to take part in Communion. I do not care for denominations and yet I attend because my husband is from a strict Catholic family, (which I do not understand why) and just because I am another Christian from another church means I cannot share too? That is really ridiculous.
      Here’s the last one: Purgatory. Ok, so once you die you get a second chance to be washed clean before you can go to be with Jesus? WRONG!!!
      Purgatory is a man made doctrine. No where in the Bible does it say that you get another chance once you die. Hebrews clearly says “One Death, One Judgment.” If there was such a place than you are saying that you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior. Only Jesus can wash you completely clean of all sin. Let’s not forget that he lead a SINLESS life and wants us as followers to be more like him. I will pray that you Catholics will wake up and see the true light. All you need is the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Are you Born again as John states to Nicodemus? Born of the Spirit? I doubt many of you are.

      • kathyschiffer

        This long response requires many, many specific rebuttals; but believe me, I can answer every objection you make. I can’t do that in the next few minutes, but I will pray that your heart be opened to hear.