In January 2011, William Byron, S.J., wrote a much discussed article for America making the case for "exit interviews" of lapsed Catholics. Bishop David O'Connell of the Diocese of Trenton was intrigued by the idea, and commissioned Fr. Byron and Charles Zech of Villanova University to conduct just such a study of former parishioners of the Trenton diocese. The results, which were announced last week at the Catholic University of America, will be published in the April 30 issue of America. Here we present an advanced look at the article:
It is no secret that increasing numbers of baptized Catholics in the United States never or rarely attend Sunday Mass. In the late fall of 2011, we asked some of them a simple question: Why? At the request of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of Trenton, N.J., we surveyed nearly 300 nonchurchgoing Catholics in his diocese.
We got in touch with registered parishioners who are no longer showing up by placing articles in the secular and diocesan press, as well as notices in parish bulletins and requests for contact information from pastors. The survey was also offered in Spanish, sent to all the parishes with Spanish-language populations and advertised in a Spanish-language newspaper.
Through these methods, we established confidential contact with Catholics ranging in age from 16 to 90, with a mean and median age of 53. Ninety-five percent of the respondents were White/Caucasian; 2.1 percent were Hispanic; and 63 percent were female. Through Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, each participant received by regular mail or e-mail a brief set of questions inviting open-end responses. This article highlights those responses.
An overwhelming number of respondents told us they had left both their parish and the church. About a quarter said they had separated themselves from the parish, but still considered themselves to be Catholic. One respondent wrote: “I separated my family from the Catholic Church and turned to an alternate religion for a while and then returned knowing I had the right religion but the wrong people running it.” Several chose to specify that they separated themselves from “the hierarchy.”
A fair amount of ambivalence was exhibited in response to our question whether separation was a conscious decision or not. Relatively few indicated that they simply “drifted away.”
One 23-year-old female said, “I felt deceived and undervalued by the church. I didn’t understand certain things and found no mentors within the church. I just stopped going because my community of friends and family were no longer in the church.” Another woman wrote, “I tried different Catholic churches in the area because I just didn’t seem to be getting anything out of the Mass, especially the homily.” Another person said, “I stopped going regularly because the homilies were so empty. And whenever the church wanted to raise money, they dropped the homily and talked money.” There were many complaints about the quality of homilies as well as poor music at Mass.
Read the rest here.