The National Catholic Review
William J. Byron
What exit interviews could teach us about lapsed Catholics
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Ever since Larry Bossidy, a former C.E.O. of Allied Signal and the Honeywell Corporation, raised the question of conducting interviews with lapsed Catholics, I have been giving it a lot of thought. Mr. Bossidy is a devout Catholic and the co-author (with Ram Charan) of a bestselling book, Execution, which Bossidy likes to explain is about effective management in business, not about capital punishment. He addressed a meeting of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management a couple of years ago and pointed out that if businesses were losing customers at the rate the Catholic Church in the United States is losing members, someone would surely be conducting exit interviews. His observation was prompted by data on declining church attendance released by the Pew Research Center.

Immigration, largely Hispanic, is still shoring up the aggregate numbers for the Catholic Church in the United States, but there has been a dramatic decline in Sunday Mass attendance and church life among U.S.-born Catholics, not to mention the drift of Hispanic Catholics toward Pentecostal sects.

The church in America must face the fact that it has failed to communicate the Good News cheerfully and effectively to a population adrift on a sea of materialism and under constant attack from the forces of secularism, not to mention the diabolical powers that are at work in our world.

An exit interview, if used creatively, could help church leaders discover ways of welcoming back those who have left, even as it helps leaders find ways to strengthen the current worshipping community. This interview could also help identify what else might need to be taught to those called to positions of parish leadership. The church would have nothing to lose by initiating exit interviews.

As a long-time writer of a biweekly column called “Looking Around” for Catholic News Service, I devoted a recent column to the exit interview idea and was inundated with responses from readers. Many indicated that they had been waiting to be asked why they left. The high response rate is all the more unusual because the column appears only in diocesan newspapers around the country. Evidently, respondents who claim to be no longer “in the boat” are still keeping in touch. Many of my respondents identified themselves as older persons.

I asked: Does anyone know why the ranks are thinning at Catholic weekend worship? There are several obstacles to finding out. First, pastors and bishops tend not to think like business executives, so the practice of conducting exit interviews is not likely to occur to them. Second, no one is sure how to reach those Catholics who are no longer in the pews. Third, we do not know precisely what to ask. This is not to say, however, that the problem cannot be investigated.

What Should We Ask?

Back in 1971, John N. Kotre conducted a study of 100 young Catholic adults. Fifty of these, by their own definition, were still in the church; 50 were not. All were graduates of Catholic colleges; all were enrolled at the time of the interviews in graduate school at either the University of Chicago or Northwestern University. Kotre published the results of the study in a book that has been reissued under the title The View From the Border: Why Catholics Leave the Church and Why They Stay (Aldine Transaction, 2009). It contains a 400-item questionnaire that could be helpful to anyone interested in designing a briefer survey instrument that could be useful now.

Assuming that it is possible to connect with those who are not showing up on Sundays, here are seven starter questions one could pose:

• Why have you stopped attending Sunday Mass regularly?

• Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?

• Are there any doctrinal issues that trouble you?

• Does your pastor or anyone on the parish staff know you by name?

• Are you in a mixed-religion marriage?

• Do your children go to church?

• Did you ever really consider yourself to be a member of a parish community?

The point is to find a way to elicit honest answers to open-ended questions aimed at identifying specific Catholic doctrines or practices that may have been factors in the break. I presume that there may be misunderstandings of doctrine that require attention. Whether the respondent is male or female is relevant, as is an assessment of how the respondent regards the status of women in the church. The quality of preaching and the worship environment are also important factors that encourage or discourage attendance and participation. So what do those who no longer show up think about those elements of Catholic worship? If a person has stopped going to Mass, he or she is separated from reception of the Eucharist. Hence, it would be important for the church to find a way to re-educate (or, perhaps, educate for the first time) those who have left about the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic life.

A good exit interviewer can find ways to detect secular political influences, as well as social class considerations, that might influence the decision to leave a Catholic worshipping community. Lay expertise in designing and implementing an exit-interview schedule is surely needed, along with a commitment on the part of parish and diocesan authorities to use it.

In the absence of good data, church leaders might be accused of sleepwalking into the future or walking with eyes and ears closed to those they want to serve.

What Readers Told Me

One reader of my column agreed that information gained from exit interviews might help in the training of parish leaders. He wrote: “We need top-line leadership—leaders who can think like business executives since they are running multimillion-dollar organizations. Tell them to read The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki (former marketing head of Apple Inc.) and the book that guided me through very tough times in telecommunications, namely, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, by John C. Maxwell.”

A woman who described herself as a “human resources manager and very well informed about the benefits of doing exit interviews,” said: “I just recently turned 50, and I can tell you that I am pretty much the teenager in my parish. Most of my friends have abandoned their faith. You hit the nail on the head! I wish the Vatican would listen.”

Another woman who identified herself as “a cradle Catholic, educated exclusively in Catholic schools, married to a practicing Catholic, raised five children in the faith, taught C.C.D., was involved in the marriage preparation program in our parish—in short, one of the active practitioners of the faith,” said she had opted out because of “the recent church teaching on end-of-life issues; the moving, instead of removing, of priests and bishops involved in the molestation of children; the headstrong opposition to the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS; and the absence of any priest I can talk to.” She added: “I’ve stopped going to Mass because I can’t in good conscience say the Creed, as I don’t think this is a ‘holy’ church, and I don’t feel I can receive the Eucharist under these circumstances.”

“Exit interviews for departing Catholics or those just not attending Mass is a nice thought,” said a 69-year-old retired businessman, “but it is obvious to me that there are two reasons for the drop in Mass attendance and withdrawal of financial support: (1) the pedophile issue and (2) the exclusion of women and married men from the priesthood.”

“I miss the Catholic church I grew up with,” said a woman who once wanted to speak to a priest but was unable to explain precisely why to the person who answered the rectory telephone. “When you figure out what is wrong, give us a call,” she remembers the receptionist telling her many years ago. “Needless to say, I did not call back.” She recounted other bad experiences with her local parish and noted with a tone of regret: “Our priests used to walk the neighborhoods and stop and talk with the children, the teenagers and families. Back then, the clergy had time to talk with you about God.”

“Why did I leave?” wrote a retired business executive with experience on his parish council. “It’s simple. Dealing with the top-down organizational structure was like trying to change the direction of a bulldozer heading right at me. It was frightening, suffocating and frustrating. It went against my natural tendency to get involved in real change. I gave up on it like thousands of people have given up their right to vote.”

Another retiree, who recently re-read (approvingly) the documents of the Second Vatican Council, recalled his past experience at work of an organizational shift that did not meet its desired objective because “the leadership focused on the new thing but lost focus on the good old thing.”

“I am on the knife edge between staying and leaving the church,” he said. He offered these reasons: “(1) I no longer trust the management; (2) I have no way of influencing the selection or change of a priest or bishop; (3) the clergy sex abuse scandal continues to grow; and (4) the continuing lawsuits continue to drain my spirit.”

Is It Too Late?

“Personally, I think exit interviews are too late,” remarked a former military man. “The church can find plenty of ideas from those still in the pews.” As for himself, he wrote: “I only go to Mass to punch my ‘stay-out-of-hell-for-another-week’ card. I don’t celebrate the Mass; I endure it.”

Deploring the absence of any feedback mechanism to hear from the voiceless laity, another senior citizen suggested that the church should have a uniform job description for the parish priest. “How can you run any organization,” he asks, “when each leader brings with him his own set of rules?” In the absence of a published job description, he argues, the parishioners will have their own separate perceptions of the role of the priest. “No priest can live up to each perception; nor should every priest be free to create his own job description.”

“Aren’t you sorry you asked?” said one of the above respondents at the end of her e-mail message to me. Not at all. I just wish I could improve the organizational acoustics in the church so that leaders could hear what the people of God want to say. Leaders must try to discern the presence of the Spirit in what laypeople are saying and find the pastoral courage it will take to implement necessary change.

In 2010 the decennial U.S. census was conducted, and the term “census enumerator” became familiar in news stories. I wonder if dioceses could or would enlist and train volunteers to follow a uniform set of questions and conduct telephone interviews with persons who self-identify as no longer “in” the church. With expert lay assistance, the diocese would have to design the questionnaire and engage the parishes to find telephone numbers or e-mail addresses of those willing to participate. Then the diocese, again with lay help, would have to figure out how best to respond to the data it collects.

If there is no official interest at the parish or diocesan level for taking a page from the business world and employing exit interviews, one has to wonder about the quality of both diocesan and parochial leadership.

Have you left the church, or considered leaving? Why? Post your comments on America's Facebook page.

William J. Byron, S.J., is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pa. He is the author, most recently, of Next-Generation Leadership: A Toolkit for Teens, Twenties & Th

Comments

Dominic Tomasso | 1/4/2011 - 10:59am
I hate to be redundant but apparently everything I've been saying in my above comments seem to be completely ignored and I don't like to be ignored. I can accept people saying, Tomasso Tucson, you are completely out of line. Your stupid. You don't know what your talking about BECAUSE. That hasn't happened.

Postings discuss the catechism, Truth and Reconciliation Heaings, exit interniews, bad homilies, etc., as though any of thoes things have anything to do with WHAT WE HAVE HERE MY BROTHERS & SISTERS IS, our church and finances our being completely controlled by an organization that has been involved in ciminal activities. An organization that is not accountable for what they have done. I'm not going to spell out what their criminal action have been over the past decades because if you don't know by now, it would be hopless for me to try and convince you at this pont in time.

Since I left the church because I strongly believe what I have been saying is true as well as what I believe has to be done if there is to be any healing, is completely ignored, which means I just have not been able to get your attention enough to say TomassoTucson, enough already BECAUSE.

That is what I want to hear,BECAUSE.

If your reading this, I want you to know I'm not going away. I'M not going to quit pointing out that we have criminals as leaders of our Church. That we have a pope that has done nothing to correct the situation. A pope that has not seen fit to remove the bishops that have been involved because, as part of the problem, he can't.

If your aware of these problems and can still remain apathetic, God help us, the future of the Catholic Church is doomed.

DO I HEAR, TOMASSO TUCSON, YOUR WRONG, BECAUSE

Dominic Tomasso,
Advocste For Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net














Veronica Harrison | 1/4/2011 - 10:47am
Anne C:  Why don't you share with us what you consider the difference between Real Presence in quotation marks and transubstantiation as we were taught both as children and as adults?  Do you mean that Christ is made present sacramentally in the body of believers in the breaking of the bread, in community?  (And not except in community?)

Define Real - with and without quotation marks, please.
Greg Krehbiel | 1/4/2011 - 10:47am
The exit interview is a good idea. Getting data is important to finding a resolution.

I suspect that a big part of the problem is that mass is - quite frankly - a great big waste of time. The music is awful. The liturgy is boring. And the sermons are trite, uninspiring and de-motivational.

Yes, yes, I know all the pious platitudes about meeting Jesus and whatnot, but that's all pie in the sky, and only if you believe it. Priests need to learn to challenge people - intellectually and emotionally.
J B | 1/3/2011 - 10:15pm
Walter, you raise many issues. There is no time to address all of them. I am not familiar with the study you cite, but apparently the validity of it is questioned by some. Regardless of that, comparing statistics of public school victims with those of Catholic church/school victims is both irrelevant and a case of comparing apples and oranges. Even if the figures you give are true - 290,000 molested children in public schools v. 14,000 in Catholic parishes, you cannot compare raw numbers - how many millions of children attended public schools during the time period referenced compared to how many tens of thousands of children in Catholic schools?  You see the problem.

As far as the church "being true to itself" - that may be a part of the dysfunction - the leadership seems far more concerned about itself and the institution than about being true to God.

As far as cases documented since Dallas, I have not done a study. Perhaps bishopaccuntability.org has information. I have no time to research it right now. However I have read of a number of cases, and that Cardinal George himself reverted to the old "protect the priest and ignore the victim" pattern after Dallas until forced by family and media to finally do something about the man.  He gave a belated half-hearted apology once his actions were public knowledge.  There have been other cases in the news now and then. However, from what I have read, young victims of sexual abuse seldom are mature enough and strong enough to go public until ten or twenty years after the abuse takes place.  In discussing post-Dallas abuse patterns, it's impossible to make a judgment at this time.  I suspect that the policies put into place at the parish level will help.  However, there are still no policies in place to make sure that bishops and Cardinal George stop protecting priests when the cases are still not known to the public.  Until that happens, there is no assurance that the protecting of criminals by their superiors in the church won't happen again in the future.

Jason Berry began exposing sexual abuse in Louisiana almost 30 years ago.  This was followed by Thomas Doyle's 42 page report to the bishops outlining the seriousness of the problems.  Although he was directed to do the report (completed and given to the bishops in the mid-80s), once he came up with a report that apparently wasn't what they wanted to hear, he was exiled to ecclesiastic Siberia, his fast-track career in the church totally derailed, and the bishops just buried the report - done at their request.  Doyle, as you know, has refused to be silenced in spite of everything the hierarchy has tried to do to him to punish him for telling them the truth.

As far as public school abuse goes, the problem probably is worse in some communities than others because the laws were enacted differently in different places. In the community where I live, schools immediately report suspected abuse and puts staff on paid leave when turning over the investigation to the police.  It has done this for decades!  As far as laws go, state laws in this area go back for many decades.  Federal laws were enacted by the early 1970s, since the states were not all equally vigilant in these areas. Even though Victorian England considered both women and children to be the chattel of males, that country began passing laws protecting female children in the mid-19th century; they didn't start including boys until later, however.

Re the Baltimore Catechism and transubstantiation.  I am not surprised that only 1/3 of practicing Catholics believe in transubstantation. I didn't while still a practicing Catholic, and I don't know many Catholics who do - even among those of us who are thoroughly familiar with the Baltimore catechism from memorizing it starting in first grade.  While still in parochial school in the 1950s, I (silently - questions and dissent weren't welcomed then either) rejected at least three things the nuns taught us - transubstantiation (why on earth would Jesus ask us to commit cannibalistic acts? Well, he wouldn't.  Jesus often taught using parables and using metaphors.  Why the church decided to read this one literally is a true mystery), papal infallibility, and the pre-Vatican II teaching that only Catholics would go to heaven. As I grew older, the questions and doubts become more and varied, all the way through college and beyond.  I stayed Catholic because of Vatican II - which has been essentially negated by John Paul II and Benedict.  I have many Catholic friends with similar backgrounds - parochial schooling before Vatican II, complete with Baltimore catechism, and catholic schools all the way through college/university.  Of my friends, all catechized by the Baltimore catechism among other things, no more than 1/4 are still practicing Catholics.  Even among those who still go to the Catholic church, not a single one accepts the teaching on transubstantiation - even though they may believe that Christ is indeed present in the Eucharist. Believing in the "Real Presence" is not the same as believing in transubstantiation.  Although I did not buy into that teaching in elementary school just because it sounded both nonsensical and a bit sick, later my early intuition about it was validated during one of the required six semesters of religion/theology and six semesters of required philosophy classes I took in college.  At that time, we were, of course, given all the theology and philosphy leading to the teaching - and the nine-year old's instinct was clearly shown to be on target.

This is too long, and I will leave this discussion now. Thanks to all who participated. It has been interesting.  I am glad to know that I am not alone (I had not read "The Long Good-bye" - and I am very glad it was brought up - it articulates so much of my experience and thoughts. 

MARY CASTRONUOVO | 1/3/2011 - 9:27pm
I raised an issue on the USCCB Facebook page several months ago (back when FB members were still allowed to post on the page itself) about whether our Church should embrace "Truth and Reconciliation Hearings" for cases where victims have already been financially compensated (not that ANY amount of money could compensate what has happened to them) and for Priests who have been adjudicated through the criminal courts (not that many of them have). 

I don't hold out hope that our Church Leadership would ever consider allowing her Priests and Bishops to publicly confess to her victims, what they did to children, or in some cases, didn't do to protect children.  But what if the laity began calling for Truth and Reconciliation Hearings and there came a groundswell of support, globally, as a pathway for healing in our Church?  How could the Pope, Cardinals, and Bishops refuse "reconciliation" and still claim to have ANY moral authority?

These hearings could initially be private before a combined lay and clerical commission, and be for the perpetrators, collaborators, and the victims.  The victims would be free to share, if they choose, what happened in the hearing, in order to bring healing to the rest of us, that members of hierarchy were truly willing to confess, ask forgiveness of the victims, and to allow the commission to have authority to "sentence" the clergy to a role within the Church that keeps them away from children and strips them of their governing authority. 

Even as I write this, I see the flaws in this process, as well as the unlikeliness that anything even resembling this, would be considered by the Hierarchy.  But I invite others who understand how "Truth and Reconciliation" brought a pathway for healing and moving forward in South Africa, to weigh in on this topic and offer your own suggestions on what might work.  Just imagine if such an idea took root and grew throughout the Church...Just imagine what that might look like...and what it could mean for "The People of God" reclaiming our Church!
ed gleason | 1/3/2011 - 5:51pm
 Walter Mattingly's says sex abuse is just as common outside of the clerical circles and he sites the much criticized  Shakeshaft's public school school studies of public school teachers abusing students. We  should know that Catholic school teachers out number priests 4 to 1. Where are these abuse reports? Yet there are  no studies or even stories of 10s of thousands Catholic school teachers abusing students. Why ? because there have been only a very few reports. Or are Catholic school teachers hundreds of times more virtuous more than public school teachers and If they are so why not the clerics more virtuous than everyone?  I can't recall a cover-up story about a Catholic school superintendents or bishop covering up Catholic school teacher abuse. Years ago America magazine printed a similar public school teacher abuse report by a Mr Clifford I believe. It didn't fly then and it certainly won't fly now. Maybe that's why people are leaving.  
8262969 | 1/3/2011 - 2:45pm
Janice- There is one major difference between children being raped by school teachers and neigbors and being raped by priests:  many who have been victimized by clergy and their families have turned away from not only the church but from God as a result of their experiences.  What do we do with this? When the clergy is responsible for people losing faith in God?  You read this from victims and their parents. I believed in God and trusted the church - my child was destroyed - and I am the one who put him/her in harm's way - how can I believe in a God that would allow my family to be destroyed and for the priest there is no punishment, no expectation they they must even ask for forgiveness.?

Is this the Holy Spirit at work?

What greater sin can priests and bishops - chosen to serve God and to faithfully lead the people of God - commit then to be personally responsible for turning the faithful away from God?  

Do you remember Jesus' admonition to beware of false prophets who claim to do work in his name?  Please remember that the one true church is not greater than God.

I think the Holy Spirit is at work - in many Catholic churches but by no means all, in soup kitchens, and in ghettos, in many who serve in religious orders but by no means all. 

Many of the greatest saints (recoginzed and unrecognized) of our church challenged the established authority but were later recognized for their steadfast devotion to God. Catherine of Siena wrote a lot of letters to the Pope telling him and  everyone else what to do. She referd to the cardinals as devils in human form.

Obedience is extremely important. But obedience in the face of pernicious wrongdoing is simply to make one's self complicit in the evil.
C Walter Mattingly | 1/3/2011 - 2:05pm
Anne, Janice's points about the prevalence and unaddressed nature of sexual abuse in the public domain until the late 70's are well taken, and for documentation, you might refer to the Charol Shakeshaft study of 2005, authorized by the US Government, Dept of Education, in which Dr Shakeshaft concludes that the estimate of sexual abuse of minors by employees of the public school system to have been 290,000 or more in the 10 year period ending 2000, or over 20 times greater than the 14,000 instances of abuse estimated over a 20 year period involving catholic priests/clergy. The church's inexcusable mismanagement was that it reflected typical, not atypical, or just, treatment of the issue. It was so common to pass on teachers suspected of sexual abuse of students because of union and other pressures that the process was referred to by teachers and adminstrators alike as "passing the trash." Our immediate concern as US citizens and church/exchurch members  should be how many of such cases have been documented since the Dallas action of US bishops in 2002, or from 2003 to present. Or has this policy of avoidance ended, and what has been the effect on sexual abuse cases in the parochial schools/churches the last 8 years? Anyone with such figures would be welcome to report them here. If it has been resolved in the church, we in the US then need to address the far greater issue of abuse within the public schools.
It is surprising that so many of the above have not made reference to what is likely the greatest single reason Catholics (as well as other Christian denominations) have left the church: a rejection of the idea of mystery in favor of logical positivism, which in its simplest definition is that the only admissible truth is that which can be verified by the senses.  Since the central act and belief of the Catholic Church is the Eucharist, which involves that the Substance at the Mass becomes other than its accidents, becomes indeed the Body and Blood of Christ, is contrary to the senses, it is contrary to positivism. That is likely a reason that only slightly over a third of those considering themselves to be Catholic, according to a poll provided here in America, believe in the doctrine. (That, and the lack of catechesis since we killed the Baltimore Catechism.)
But to deny transubstantiation would involve the Church not being true to itself. It would be difficult to reretranslate the words of the NT and the mass from Hoc est enim Corpus Meum to This is to remind you of My Body and remain the church.
Likewise some of those commentors above who would like for the Church to relax or expand its position on divorce or same sex marriage, while at the same time urging a return to Jesus's own words. His disaffection for divorce is made quite clear in the NT. When the pharisees tried to entrap Him by referring to Moses' toleration of divorce, Jesus replied that it was their "hardness of heart" that caused Moses to do so. Elsewhere He is quite clear about the permanance of the bond, with "what God and man have joined together, let no one break apart," or words to that effect. His change on that OT permissiveness for divorce is as clear as His change on the eye for an eye to turn the other cheek is. Likewise, it is His own words which define marriage as existing between a man and a woman, not two of the same gender.  It would be difficult for the church to be true to itself by approving of divorce or contradicting His definition of marriage without being untrue to itself.
The married priesthood is quite another issue, as it has precendent among the apostles. Furthermore I cannot see why we should exclude women from high office within the church, as although the apostles were all male, women were highly involved in the church in leadership roles from its inception. And it has always struck me as strange that the church would proclaim the only merely human ever born without original sin, Mary, with the woman Mary providing the fleshly material for the son of God without the required male element, and yet deny women access to so many church offices. In these cases, it seems to me, the church could adapt and yet remain true to itself.
The Irish, Jesuit-trained novelist James Joyce, who was belligerantly antisectarian for the most part, commented that the only Western institution which had remained true to itself for 2,000 years was the Catholic Church. Perhaps that is one reason why there still remain a billion members across the world. Although it may seem that adjusting the course of the Church resembles adjusting the course of a cruise ship in the Panama Canal at times, the Church needs to make certain it is true to itself as it adjusts itself sub species temporis nostris.



J B | 1/3/2011 - 11:09am
Janice,

Although I question some of your assertions (which don't corrrespond to my personal experiences as a woman in her 60s, but I am not a professional in the field either and my personal experience is geographically limited), I know that much of what you say is true - child abuse, physical, sexual and emotional, was long ignored in our country.  However, I also know that people were fully aware of it a long time ago, including in the church - I was warned by my own piously devout Irish Catholic mother way back in the 1950s when I was just a kid - and again, by my mother, after I gave birth to sons. When they were still in pre-school, she explicitly told me never to leave my sons alone with a priest. You are right - nobody talked much about it - openly, but they did talk about it.  In the metro area where I live, there are reports of abuse every year - sometimes public schools, sometimes private schools, sometimes coaches in rec leagues, and I also know that when the report is made to the school, it is (and has been policy for all the decades I have lived here) reported to police authorities, the teacher/coach is removed, with pay, from his/her job during the investigation.  Almost every single report turned out to be true and the abusers were given appropriate penalities. If it had ever been learned that the Superintendent of Schools had simply moved teachers from school to school and not called in the authorities, he/she would have had to resign or be fired, and would have also faced legal problems for concealing a possible crime. 

Secular schools did more than the church in many cases, and earlier. Do you not hold the church that literally claims to speak for God to a higher standard than others?  I have a close friend who was abused physcially and emotionally by her father growing up, and abused sexually by her father's close friend, the pastor of their parish - a frequent visitor to their home.  She never told her parents - she would have been beaten. (She also never came forward as did many victims in recent years - and I suspect that she is among the majority of victims who chose not to come forward when this was at its height.  She said the man was in his 90s in a nursing home and no longer presented a threat to anyone. She did not want to have to  relive the horror by coming forward to church authorities who were perceived as hostile to vicitms; sadly these perceptions were solidly grounded in too many cases)

Yes - these tragedies occur in homes, as well as schools, as well as churches of all denominations.   That does not mean that we should continue to let the authorities in the Roman Catholic church off the hook - we have seen in the last several years that once the media glare was off them, some bishops continued "business as usual," including Cardinal George, who was elected to head the USCCB  after he had again (post Dallas) protected a priest with multiple allegations of abuse made against him, until he was forced to do something by the civil authorities and the media.  It didn't matter to his brother bishops - he was elected to "lead" them anyway.  This year we were treated to a Cardinal in Belgium telling the nephew of a bishop  who had sexually abused him beginning when he was only 5 years old that he should say nothing and let his uncle retire with "dignity."  No concern about victims. Last week another bishop in Belgium made the news for his total callousness about victims.  Over and over we hear of recent cases that show that too many of the men in the hierarchy "still don't get it."  They (especially the pope) accuse everyone but themselves - the media first and foremost ("anti-catholic"), secular society, even Vatican II.  Without a free media, accused by so many of being "anti-Catholic",  none of the now-touted safeguards at the parish levels would have been put in place. Nor would increasing vigilance be occuring everywhere young people are vulnerable to adult predators - including the public schools. The church's sins have at least awakened others to these problems, and safeguards continue to be put into place outside the church.  But, I also know that  long before the 1990s, when we had a son in Boy Scouts, that not only leaders, but fathers, were not allowed to share a tent with their own sons on camping trips.  The Boy Scouts had had some problems and had  moved to reduce the chances for further problems. Without the media, the Roman Catholic church would not have done anything at all.  Everyone should give a prayer of Thanksgiving for a free press.  I often surveyed diocesan newspapers (online) during these years - they gave little to no attention to "the scandal."  Hear no evil..... 

 Even now, after years of scandal after scandal finally breaking through that wall of silence in the church, there are NO policies governing the behaviour of bishops - they continue to absolve themselves from accountability and responsibility. The pope continues to absolve them from accountability and responsibility. You have plenty of fully justified outrage at abuse in families and in public schools - but where is your outrage towards the leaders of your own church? 

David,

I have heard your excuse - "But the church has always had scandals and sinners" - from too many Catholics who want to look the other way and wash their hands of any responsibility for the actions of their own church.  Jesus went into the temple and clearly conveyed the message that tolerating filth in his temple was not acceptable.  Yet many Catholics seem willing to tolerate the filth in their own church, with the weak defenses - "Everybody else does it too," and "There has always been sin and scandal."   Would you accept these excuses from your own children if they offered them?

Which brings us to this point, made by Janice

"My message is to those who believe and find nourishment in the Eucharist to stay and /or return and help us rid our church of sin and evil."

My question to the "faithful defenders" has never been answered in the years I have been asking it - how do we "help rid the church of sin and evil" when laity have no say whatsoever in the governance of their own church?    The only answer I have gotten is this - echoing the pope - WE must repent, and we must pray - nothing whatsoever about those who knew of these crimes and did nothing at all to stop them.

In article cited above, The Long Goodbye, you will note that many who have left, left precisely because staying enables the dysfunction - finances it, quite literally - and because they have no way to "help rid the church of sin and evil."

Jack Barry | 1/3/2011 - 10:32am

A striking feature of the articulate comments above is the number that come from people whose ages are in the 60s to 80s.  Some have thoughtfully, painfully gone, some are in the process, and some are staying in spite of what they know.   These are not the young non-participants usually heard about with lamentation or criticism in the news.   These have lived with the Church in parishes, dioceses, and Vatican going through its legalist Latin stage, its Vatican II stage, and its current reform-of-the-reform, child-abuse-coverup stage.   


Those worrying about "apathy" among the "lapsed" ignore the overwhelming reality in front of them.   Passion is the opposite of apathy.  It is found in remarkable abundance among those who might be expected to have cooled down a bit with the wisdom of age.   See above.   One might hope the departure interviewers start with the voluminous information already available.  

Dominic Tomasso | 1/3/2011 - 9:40am
David Smith, you are so wrong. I believe your still attending Mass  and just blowing smoke. I'v outlined  in my above postings why I do not go to church anymore, See 45,46, 60, and 62.


Tell me why you still go to church after reading the reasons why I don't. Do you think I 'm making it all up or do you think my reasons are not justified.

To guys like you, people like me are only trying to harm the church. People like me are just exaggerating the problem. Most priests and bishops are good .

Have you visited the web site, "Bishops Accountability." Do you really know what is going on ? Or do you care?

OK David, it's your turn , give me your reasons why, in spite of the facts that I have pointed out, you think I left the church becase of resentment.

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability.
tomassotucson@cox.net
David Smith | 1/3/2011 - 12:02am
In the two thousand years of the Catholic church's history, there has been much scandalous behavior among the clergy and the hierarchy.  The recent sexual-abuse scandal is nothing really new and unique.  Yet many of the people who are leaving now feel deeply that what's happened in the last half-century or so is so heinous that it's not possible for them to stay.  The outrage they express and the pain they describe are real and sincere, no doubt.  But the church to which they belonged while they were practicing Catholics was the same church that had seen all this and worse long before.  Is disgrace unacceptable only if it happens in one's lifetime?

I suspect that for many people who are leaving, the sexual-abuse scandal of the past fifty years isn't the only cause, but, rather, that it's the last straw.  I can easily imagine that years before the media made that story a cause célèbre they were stoking fires of resentment for other reasons, many of which, probably, would have been difficult if not impossible to articulate.
JANICE JOHNSON | 1/2/2011 - 8:18pm
Ann C.,  Yes, Christ is found in all places, cultures and times, but he is most present to us in the Eucharist, his Body and Blood which he left us for our spiritual nourishment. Before he died he also promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide his church.  These are beliefs from the very beginnning of the church and I have not yet given up on the Holy Spirit.  I would think it would be very painful for Catholics who have this belief to leave the Eucharist.  For those, to whom it is just a symbol, leaving would not present such a problem.  My message is to those who believe and find nourishment in the Eucharist to stay and /or return and help us rid our chu;rch of sin and evil.  Knowing as St. Augustine said that the church is a "corpus per mixtum" and will always be struggling with evil.

I don't need anyone lecturing me about child abuse in any form.  My entire adult life has been spent (and is still being spent) on ministering, caring for and advocating for the least of Christ's brethren.  I spent years in the field of social work and I have lived through the evolution of the recognition of child abuse from complete denial to the way things stand now.  I have a very good grasp of its complexity.  In the 50's and 60's, the only protective issues were neglect, abandonment and delinquency.  I never once heard in all the classes, conferences , etc. that I participated in, the term sexual abuse.  Not even once.  My whole profession was in denial.  I happened to work with a Juvenile Court Judge Archie Gingold, who was a pioneer in the legal recognition of physcial abuse.  Our country did not pass Child Protection laws until the late seventies. , first physcial abuse and later, sexual abuse. 

In 1990 Alice Miller, a renowned expert on child abuse wrote a book:  "Breaking Down the Wall of Silence".  The wall of silence is a metaphorical wall behind which society-academia, psychiatrists, clergy, politicians, members of the media-has sought  to protect itself denying the mind-destroying effects of child abuse.  wikipedia.  Please note the date:  1990.

During the past 3 decades I worked in Child Protective Services and much of my work encompessed children who had been sexually abused in their own homes, by fathers, stepfathers mother's boyfriend, even mothers and grandmother.  I held and comforted children who had been abused.  I worked as a volunteer group therapist with children who had been molested.  Please don't ever tell me I don't know the effects of abuse on children and please don't ever critique my soul. 

I know evil first hand.  I worked in a field that is heart breaking and receives very very little support from the community.  And I'm angry.  I'd like to know where all the outrage is for children who suffer like the ones I knew.  Where is the outrage over the widespread molest that continues to occur in our public schools?  I hope before I die that I see evidence that those who are so outraged about abuse in the church take on the cause of children abused in their own homes and in the public schools.   Ironically, children are now safer in Catholic church facilities than they are at school or home.
Ana Blasucci | 1/2/2011 - 7:24pm

Exit interviews would likely be a good idea.
But for those who might benefit from talking to a priest, but seemingly can't find one that would be a spiritual partner, or who want to make a last attempt to stay in the faith, it would be worth calling or e-mailing a few retreat houses (the Jesuits are especially thought of).  There quite likely awaits a more productive spiritual and Catholic environment at some of these places for such beleaguered souls.  
Be persistent.  Give it a try.  Even try a retreat.  Some are offered with individual direction.  
One might also try asking to speak to a chaplain at a local Catholic college.
Tell them what you need.  Don't be disuaded by a (perhaps literally) 13 - year- old "receptionist" filling in at the parish rectory. 
So, before throwing in the towel, step out of the Parish church, hopefully briefly, and check out these healing sources.  They can be a life-long supplement to parish life! 

Maryann Emery | 1/2/2011 - 7:01pm
I left the church and no longer consider myself a "Roman Catholic" because I became convinced that the church was a force for evil in the world and I could no longer participate in its immoral activities, either actively by financial contributions or passively, by being part of a church parish and stiffling my dissent with the rationalizations that no longer worked. (No, I don't agree with the church policy on women, gays, politics, etc. but there are still good people there.)  However it took a long time to liberate myself from the 12 years of Catholic education and the brainwashing I received there, that the catholic church is the "only true church." 

As a girl in elementary school I wasn't allowed to be a server, much less aspire to be a priest.  Boys only.  My Catholic girls high school often seemed to have one focus, ensuring we girls remained virgins until marriage.  The "sex education" we received in Grade 12 was taught by a male priest!  That certainly encouraged discussion!  The marriage class I had to attend to be married in a Catholic church was mostly about women not working or using birth control.  Yikes... what a disconnect even then from life as I envisioned it.

I attempted many times to attend a Catholic Mass but usually left furious by the end due to sermons about birth control, divorce, Catholic education or other subjects where I totally disagreed with the policies.  I constantly had to explain to my two children after catechism classes that I did NOT agree with this, that or the other outrageous statement.  Finally I gave up and went to the United or Anglican Church for Christmas.

When my 19 year old son was suddenly killed in an accident, we knew we wanted a religious, but not a Catholic, funeral.  We wanted a personal, hopeful service focussing on our son, with eulogies from people who knew him closely and prayers that would be meaningful to a diverse group of friends and relatives.  Our friend, a wonderful Anglican priest, was able to help us in that devastating time.

Since then I have been a member of this Anglican (Episcopal) Parish in our small town.  We have had three ministers, our friend who was incidentally a gay man, a married priest with a wife and small child and now our priest is a woman.  How wonderful as a woman to see a woman priest. Our Sunday school teacher is a former Roman Catholic who wants her two girls to see strong women as role models.  I only regret the years I wasted hoping the church would change.

Why do we leave?  I believe the church's policies toward women are unjust and immoral.  The sex abuse of children is inexcusable.  Bishop Olmsted would rather see a woman die than address complex issues with an open mind.  The Pope would rather people contract AIDS than for women to use condoms. I could never vote for the Republicans and I find the church's obsession with sexual control of women obscene. Abortion has become a single defining issue for a church that would forbid contraception and divorce if it could.  What about the millions dying in unjust wars.  I support the right of gays to marry as a human right and I'm sick of the church trying to force citizens to discriminate.  Although I grew up in the United States I live in Canada, a country where gay marriage has been allowed for a few years.  Guess what, the sky hasn't fallen in, young heterosexuals still get married but now that is open to homosexuals as well.  This is something to celebrate.

I believe that Jesus was all about love, and the church, as my very religious practicing Catholic cousin put it, is about power, money and sex(ual control of women.) 

I sincerely wish all Catholic women would vote with their feet and their wallets and find a church where they are truly valued.  It is a wonderful thing to enjoy a church community where love prevails and diversity is accepted.  I'm 64 years old and I am more satisfied with my church life than I have ever been.  That's because the focus is on Jesus and love and acceptance of others, not dogma or doctirnes that you MUST accept and believe without discussion or questions.
8262969 | 1/2/2011 - 4:36pm

Abberant sexual behavior seems, sadly, to be a systemic problem within the Catholic Church. Not simply the rape of children, but wait until the full report of JP II's much-favored and beloved Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado finally makes it to print. (You can read about it now at The Catholic Reporter).

Sexual deviants are everywhere of course - even in other churches - but not to the degree that they seem to exist within the Catholic Church. Moreover, when people have tried to make complaints, such as in the case of Fr. Degollado, they were ignored and basically banished. This is also true of people in parishes who made complaints about priests fondling altar boys.

The issue here is horrific abuse of authority and what appers to be a default drive within the church that the church protecta ita clergy at all costs - regardless of the veracity of claims of misbehavior.

Finally, while disobedient nuns are excommunicated at the drop of a hat - Fr. Degollado got to retire and enjoy his last few years quietly and in good standing - even though he was guilty of the incestuous rape of his own biological childen, among other unbelievably sordid transgressions all of which, by that time, were well documented and well known by church leaders.

I read the saints and I read Catholic theologians (I subscribe to America!) and I will be spending a weekend at a monastery in February.

But don't ask me to check the conscience that God gave me at the door. Or forget everything I learned in Sunday School. Sorry, the Church is not greater than God. 

Dominic Tomasso | 1/2/2011 - 3:44pm
I really don't think, why I left the Church, like so many others, has sunk in the heads of those that are still attending  Mass.

We still love the Cathoilc Church. We still love God as you do. So let me ask all of you that still attend Church functions a few questions.

Do you know that RAPE, SODOMY,& MOLESTING children is not only a sin but it is also a CRIME.

Do you know that over 60% of the bishops in this country have secretly moved priests that have RAPED, SODOYMIzED and MOLESTED God's children from parish, to parish to protect them from being prosecuted?

Do you know that these same bishops have allowed these sex abusers to leave the ministry without having them register as sex offenders?

Do ypu know that these same bishops have used more than 3 billion dollars  of Church funds to settlle abuse claims and for high priced law firms?

These are just a few reasons why I left the Church. In fact, I have asked God to strike me dead if I am doing something wrong or if I am hurting the Church like many hve told me. The fact that all my reasons have nothing to do with the Catholic Church but everything to do with the leadership.

If you are NOT aware of any of the FACTS that I have listed,check with your priest or pastor or bishop, Please. 

If you are aware of what I have said and believe that only a few priest and only a few bishops have been involved and the more than 3 billion dollars of Church funds that these bishops have used without any accountability is ok with you and only a few priests have left the ministry without having to register as sex offenders and these are not reason why anyone should leave the Church as I have, is something I will never be able to understand.

One minor point. The bishop of Tucson, Gerald Kicanas, the guy that was not elected to the Presidency of the USCCB's organization, the most photographed bishop in the world will not answer any of my letters. Our late bishop, Nanuel Moreno is listed as one of the 10 worst bishops in America, and when I asked bishop Kicanas, why he still allows the name of Moreno to remain on the public building address of our Tucson Partoral Council Center, he refuses to give me an answer. When asked, how can he allow parishioers of a small town to dedicate a building in their town to this guy that is listed as one of the 10 worst biships in the country, he tells me, it's just a small old building.

These comments have nothing to do with why I left the church. If you care to check my comments above,#45,46,60, and 62 I think you"ll find my reasons spelled out. 

By the way, I find God every where. If by not going to Church would mean that I would not be in touch with our Lord, I would be as quite as a Church mouse.

One more comment.years back, I was a member of the Tucson Catholic Social Services Board of Directors for 4 years and President for 2 more years. I have been on the building committee of 2 new Churches and a contributor for a 3rd new  Church and Seminary. Priest know my name and so does the bishop. I don't need an exit interview, they know how I feel. To them, I have lost my faitlh and trust in the Catholic Church when they know very well why but comming from the bishop, you know he's not going to give him the same reasons I've stated here. It would make him look bad.

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net

I'll answer any questions.
J B | 1/2/2011 - 1:29pm
Janice,  it seems that some of you have read the posts, but have not "heard" them in your soul.  You say "If you leave because of the sins of some priests or some bishops...." you totally ignore the role the church's teachings and structure contributed to these crimes, and trivialize the tragic damage done to TENS OF THOUSANDS of young people, and the damage done also to their families and friends, and even to the whole people of God.  These sins to tens of thousands have caused people to commit suicide, have led to years of therapy, failure to "thrive,' etc.  The molesters were protected by the so-called leaders of the church - by the bishops and all the way up to Rome itself - Cardinal Ratzinger knew of these crimes and sins, but, as the obedient servant of the pope, he did nothing.  As pope, while calling on parishes to enact safety measures, and calling on the (not guilty) laity to "repent," he has yet to enact a single measure that disciplines the bishops who enabled these crimes, nor has he enacted a single measure to ensure that bishops don't enable future crimes.

 These sins were made possible by abuses in the hierarchy's conveniently self-serving understanding of its own authority, of its right to use your money and mine - billions of dollars collected from the people in the pew (who have NO SAY AT ALL in the governance of their church nor any control of how the church uses its money - no accountability mechanisms either, no transparency) to support the protection of thousands of pedophile priests, to pay lawyers to harrass victims, and even to support their own often very lavish lifetstyles.

 Christ can be found outside the Roman Catholic church, which has no ownership of God - and those of us who do not wish anymore to support those who enabled the most heinous crimes against young people and children to go on for decades, paid for by us, no longer wish to be complicit in any future crimes committed by the priests and hierarchy of this church.  Since no reforms are in place to prevent this from happening in the future (bishops protecting criminals) and since we have no way to impact the church's governance or teachings, to continue to support it seems to risk becoming enablers, guilty of passive participation in some horrible sins.
JANICE JOHNSON | 1/2/2011 - 3:17am
This morning I read about the murders of Coptic Catholics in Egypt as they were leaving Mass and I thought about how blessed we are here to worship God freely and safely .Later I celebrated a beautiful, inspiring Mass at a Benedictine abbey.  Then, this evening I read the above article and sincere but , except for a few, disheartening comments. During my 74 years of life I've endured my share of pre and post Vatican 11 , Masses with sloppy liturgies, banal music, uninspiring homilies. On the other hand are the many times my participation has been marred by distraction, stress and tiredness.  But, even so at every single one of these Masses I have been able to worship God and receive Christ in the Eucharist.  What greater gift of love could our savior have left for us, but to feed us with his Body and Blood.  For those who leave the church, are you not walking away from Christ and his Gift of Self?  What human being or what issue could take precedence over Him? 

If you leave because of the sins of some priests or some bishops, I think you are giving them too much power over your spiritual life.  As for "burning issues", there are people who have opposite opinions.  Should the church take a poll or have an election to determine which opinions are to be church teaching?  Of course not.  Are your decisions to leave cast in stone.  I pray not.  Think about Christ waiting for you  and come back to Him and to your sisters and brothers.  We are waiting for you.
PAUL DION | 1/1/2011 - 10:28pm
Have you noticed how most of the latest comments have been confessions of love for the Church?  I am convinced that there are MANY Catholics sitting in Protestant pews who know that love but who are locked in to a decision that they made sometime in their past based on a material, non doctrinal flare-up.  Now they are either afraid or embarrassed to "change their mind."  We all know someone like that.  We have to take the first step to invite them back.  
I am convinced that we do not need "exit interviews" because we already know the expressed "why's".  What we need is grace-filled hospitality and a spirit of reconciliation so that the love that we have and the love that they have for Our Holy Mother the Church will bear the fruit of their "return"...in quotes, because in their hearts they really never left.
Katie Fisher | 1/1/2011 - 8:13pm
Great comments, Bruce.  It would be wonderful if  every parish in every diocese could have this type of dialog- I am refering to everyone's comments on this post.  The posts have been heartfelt and beautifully expressed.

 
I do hope that we will get to  some sort of way of voicing the opinions of the laity.  I think the Bishops equate listening to compromising the faith or having doctrine reduced to whatever is popular.   What they don't realize is when you listen to someone, you show respect to that person by valuing what they have to say and contribute.  I think the first step to the healing process is letting all express their frustrations and anger.  Dialog is also the way to understanding.

I will continue to pray and to fight for this type of dialog in the Church today.
6466379 | 1/1/2011 - 7:21pm
No easy answers here and lots of emotion in the postings. They remind me of what the emotions of unrequited love must be like, unrequited love by the Church to the individual lover/believer, rage by the beloved against a Church that seems so
reciprocally loveless. Sadly however, it seems to me in many of the postings that the abuse BY the Church has been replaced by abuse OF the Church, punishing the Church  mercilessly. To a degree I get it, but respectfully, WHOA! ...  Remember,

Ever since Jesus told Peter to quit fishing and follow him, there's been something "fishy" about the Church! From the very beginning two of Jesus' trainees, Judas and Peter, showed there was something "fishy" about them, one a thief, the other a coward. The other Ten were not much better, fighting among themselves  for positions of honor and power - sounds a lot like what goes on in the Church and has always gone on in the Church  within hierarchy and also the  laity - the lust for power, dishonesty and cowardice ever present, yet at the same times producing men and women of outstanding virtue and goodness. It's the same stuff that bugged the Apostles and the early Church and still bugs the Church today! Do you know why? Because the Church is made-up of weak, sinful people, ever and always in need of repentance and forgiveness, from the laity to the papacy.

There's lots of examples of the Church's "fishy" smell, a stench at the Institutional level that, according to Pope Benedict XVI writing as Cardinal Ratzinger in "Introduction To Christianity" is enough to make everyone "go rigid with horror." He continues, "The centuries of the Church's history are so filled with all sorts of human failure that we can quite understand Dante's ghastly vision of the Babylonian whore sitting in the Church's chariot." He further agrees with William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris, that "We are no longer dealing with a bride, but with a monster of terrible deformity!" (Quotes from "Introduction To Christianity" Part 3, Chapter 2.)Yes, the Pope said all of that and more about the nstitutional Church, the work of human hamnds, not about the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, the work of the Hand of God!

There's a lot more that needs to be said, but how about everybody stepping back, taking a deep breath, listen to what Carlo Carretto says about the Church. Hopefully we'll all agree to stay with the Church, resolving to help help heal her warts!

"How much I must criticize you, my Church. And yet how much I love you.You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owemore to you than to anyone! I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence.You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yetnevwer have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful.Countless timesI have feltlike leaving you, my Church and yet every nightI have prayed that I might die in your warm loving arms." 



 
Michael Barberi | 1/1/2011 - 4:02pm
I am inspired by these postings.  While my reasons (#68) expresses my disposition, I like many of you will never leave the Catholic Church.  I also never turned my back on God.  My prayer life is my relationship with Him and that is the most important thing for me.

I remain in the Church but decided to fight for reform.

If there is a culture that influences most Catholics, and their profound disenchantment, it is the "culture of the Catholic Church".

Eileen Ford | 1/1/2011 - 11:16am
As a 77 year old Catholic, I was impressed by an article in the Oct. 22 issue of Commonweal Magazine by Notre Dame Law Professor Cathleen Kaveny called "Long Goodbye: Why some devout Catholics are leaving the Church." 

 It's the first time I've seen a Catholic magazine address the subject of Catholics who leave "as a matter of conscience."

Kaveny describes them as people who "see no hope of institutional reform" because clergy abuse is seen "as a problem of individual sinfulness, not of broader flaws in church teaching and practices ... From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.

"But why not stay and fight?" Kaveny writes. "First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don't like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ."

After five years of holding Voice of the Faithful meetings in an Episcopal Church because we were forbidden to meet in our own parish in Gloucester, I felt like I was being consumed by anger — infuriated at bishops who declared "zero tolerance" against priests while ignoring their own involvement in crimes against children, and irritated by those who didn't share my anger.

I didn't leave because of clergy abuse, however. I left in 2004, when a few bishops declared that John Kerry and anyone who voted for him should not receive Holy Communion because of his pro-choice position on abortion.

I personally believe that abortion is just about the worst thing any woman can do to herself and her unborn child, but the audacity of Catholic bishops interfering in presidential elections by politicizing the Eucharist was the last straw.

Around that time, I attended a funeral in a local Episcopal Church and heard the Rev. Karin Wade say, "In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians can receive the Eucharist." After making an 8-day retreat, I began to receive the Eucharist in that church and continue to do so today.

When it comes to politics in church or state, I'm an independent who doesn't believe in litmus tests for the Eucharist and refuses to allow anyone to "diminish my ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news" or deprive me "of the peace of Christ."

The life of Jesus taught us what some of his "official representatives" don't seem to understand. Eucharist is much more than something we receive on Sundays in a church.

Veronica Harrison | 1/1/2011 - 3:12am
I forgot to mention (this last post just reminded me) that a primary reason that I do not leave is that I have tried that before.  I have left and returned 3 times.  It's just too hard to be away, and coming back is also very hard.  The trauma is not worth it to me.  If I felt that my beliefs were in major conflict with the Church, I would have trouble staying (such as, if I believed that homosexuals are morally correct in being sexually active).  Any disagreements I have either do not arise to the level of internal distress or public scandal/hypocrisy, or they are such that I have a clear conscience about the dissonance, because I was lucky enough to be well-grounded in the entire Catholic intellectual framework.

I'm in some respects traditional, but I am an intellectual traditional, which is why I don't hang out with rad-trads.

What I get from Church life is what I desperately need:  sacraments, spirituality, prayer life, sensitive liturgies.  Again, I'm selective.  I rarely attend the typical Sunday parish family Mass, full of distractions and half-filled with people performing obligations halfheartedly, more interested in socializing, people-watching, and going through motions.  I don't say that arrogantly:  it's just really, really obvious.  If any of you have parishes like that (and no alternatives), I wouldn't blame you for leaving.  When people come into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass looking like they just got out of bed, and when they approach the Eucharist with their hands in their pockets or swinging their arms casually, I wouldn't be very inspired to be in such a community either.

I guess the one thing good about my leaving & then returning (this time for good) is that I understand now that I'm in control of my spiritual life, and no Bishop (particularly one ill-informed) can keep me from as full a relationship with God as I choose.
PAUL DION | 1/1/2011 - 1:11am
I am 73.  I am still active in the Catholic Church.  I have read each and every comment.  The Catholic Religion is so complex that it is lost in its own infinity.  I have every reason to leave that has been mentioned here, and then one or two more.  But I will never leave because I take pride in being able to needle Her personnel from the inside.  They don't have to listen.  All I care about is that they hear.  The rest is up to God and to me.  I'm staying.
David Smith | 1/1/2011 - 12:46am
It's interesting how much of the angst expressed here has to do with sexuality - homosexuality, child sexual abuse, contraception, abortion, women's place in the Church.

How much of the angst is due to doctrinal dissonance and how much simply cultural?

Does a church have to be a friendly, culturally compatible place, or can it be culturally neutral?  Can it be both, or must it be one or the other?
Michael Barberi | 12/30/2010 - 10:56pm
I have been a cradle Catholic, went to Catholic school, been devote for most of my life.  I took my family to Church every Sunday, went to two men's retreats and had a daily prayer life, and still do.  However, I stopped going to Mass et al, for the past 10 years.  However, I have not turned by back on God and the essential fundamentals of the Catholic faith.  Some easons for not falling away include:

1. Contradiction between many pastoral practices and doctrines: such as giving absolution to people who practice contraception with no firm purpose of amendment based on the principle of graduation, yet people who remarry and have sexual relations cannot receive Holy Communion or absolution under the same principle because they are not married in the eyes of the Church.
2. An ultra orthodox Vatican with an exaggerated fear of losing its power and authority if it revises past papal encylicals such as Humanae Vitae, divorce/remarriage, homosexuality, abortion to save the life of a mother when the fetus is not viable outside the womb, etc.
3. A disconnected Vatican that blames its inability to change Catholic behavior and solve its internal and external problems on a secularize world and the enlightenment religious mentality.
4. The profound silent dissent that exists among priests and bishops regarding many doctrines and Church ecclesiastical reform. Yet they will not admit it or do anything about it.
5. Guilt-ridden repetitive homilies without much focus on the positive gifts of the Holy Spirit and hope in spiritual growth beyond individual human failings.  Its time for a change.
MARY CASTRONUOVO | 12/30/2010 - 9:12pm
Chris, why not share your last name?  Come on, be bold!  I admire your courage in speaking up.  I grew up in a family of 7 children and I remember my parents struggling with Humanae Vitae.  My husband and I embraced the Church's teaching early on and then struggled as well.  Later on, I studied the document at length while studying for my Master's Degree.  I actually wrote a paper and challenged the teaching by claiming that it actually asks humans to reduce ourselves to making decisions based soley on our biology, rather than on the fullness of our humanity; body, mind, and spirit.  

I have studied the Theology of the Body, and the beauty of this teaching reaches it's fullness when "Body" is extended to all of God's creation.  We reflect the divine image of God when we reach out in lov, to all peoples, precisely through our diversity, not inspite of it. Go deeper Chris!  

Blessings to you and to all who have written so eloquently here.  I no longer feel alone in my struggle.  I too had to walk quietly along the fringes for awhile, and have just recently begun to find my voice again.  I am inspired by the courage of all those who have written here; among those who have been called to leave, and those of us struggling in our call to stay. 
Lynn Frank | 12/30/2010 - 7:27pm

I was so impressed with the Data collection and analysis. I agree with the conclusions of the article. When my husband and I moved to Stuart Florida, we when to all of the 5 catholic churches, only one St. Joe's had a priest who really "get's it".  There are so many lay ministries in our church that every member of the community can contribute to the church. My husband is President of the St Vincent DePaul society of the church, and I coordinate the hospital ministry.  We are so involved in the church, but quite frankly are embarrassed by the Vatican's position on birth control, stem cell research, HIV prevention, marriage and the priest hood, lack of women as priests, among other issues.   But it is in our blood, we are trying to contribute to this wonderful community, while just putting aside the issues. It is hard to defend the church's horrible reaction to child sexual abuse, sometimes I have to qualify by membership in the Church, explaining that there are intelligent members of the Church , that have found a Parish that helps them in their faith.    We have a very good friend at Woodstock Theology Center at Georgetown, who preaches the just word, our parish is an example of the just word, which I belive Jesus showed us the way over 2000 years ago.  Sincerely, Lynn Frank

MARY CASTRONUOVO | 12/30/2010 - 5:55pm

Why are women forbidden to preach at Catholic Mass?  Are we a less intelligent species?  Are we of a different species altogether?  What are men so afraid of?  The only answer that stands the test of time is that men are afraid of losing power.  And the power they cling to comes from themselves, not from above.  Ever since the Church needed to compromise the original message of Jesus, that no longer would there be, “slave or free, Gentile or Jew, Male or Female,…you know the rest, in order to be accepted in the wider society, the voice of the fullness of humanity…”male and female I created them”, has been silenced.  Was that what Jesus gave his life for?

Jesus was put to death precisely because he challenged the status quo that allowed any group to lord power over another.  So when the Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops issue their pronouncements on issues of faith and morals, and govern the Church, without the fullness of humanity being consulted in the process, how can they then claim to be the “Teaching Authority of the Church”?  Their “wisdom” is suspect and their knowledge is for sure, incomplete.


I'm not leaving.  I'm staying and challenging the status quo.  I used to be afraid.  When faced with the option of leaving, staying and remaining silent, or staying and speaking up, I chose the latter.  I encourage others to do the same.  The TRUTH will set you free!!

Mary Hanlon Castronuovo, MPS (Masters in Pastoral Studies)

8262969 | 12/30/2010 - 5:00pm
One more thought:

#58 -Anne says:
One reading of the gospels, and then one look at the wealth and pomp ostentatiously displayed in Rome and by much of the hierarchy (throughout the world), and the problem begins to be seen. The verbal message does not match the actions and lives of those who claim the leadership role in the church - instead, they deplore materialism, consumerism, relativism, wealth, love of power, etc with their words, while adopting these same false values for their own lives."

Actually this has always struck me - and bothered me - as well. I have also often wondered just how well the Pope and Cardinals  eat at the Vatican. Can you imagine the monthly food bill?  I have always imagined the costs must be scandalous. Am I wrong and being unfair?  I hope so.
8262969 | 12/30/2010 - 4:39pm
A few observations.

Those who are upset about people leaving the church/defending the church here suggest that those leaving do not understand the Catholic faith.

Actually, most people here who are reponding are still fully engaged with the Catholic faith - even consider themselves Catholic - even if they attend an Episcopal Church like me.  They remain very engaged with the system of belief, partake in the sacraments and pray. Read and reread papal encyclicals.

I thougt what JPII wrote about abortion in Crossing the Threshold of Hope was deeply thoughtful and made absolute sense based on our faith and history. Too bad none of it trickles down into the churches.

People seem to be unhappy about two things:

1) Deadly parishes with no talent in the pulpit (a HUGE problem - I don't know who is going into the priesthod these days - but there are way too many priests who are simply not up to the very important job they have). Those of you who live in areas with access to strong spiritual leaders and dynamic parishes are very, very lucky.

Last week at the Episcopal Church our priest talked about Mary the Mother of God and Flannery O'Connor.  There are many activities for kids - our local Catholic Church doesn't have any kids programs. Our Episcopal Church offers two free suppers a month for  the community (we live in the poorest county in New York state). Catholic Church offers no suppers. We held a large Thanksgiving dinner for the local poor - Catholic Church offered nothing. Christmas Eve was the Children's Pageant and another  "free" dinner for the congregation and wider community.
 We also send people to places like Madagascar and the Sudan to work among the poorest people.  A couple of weeks ago the local Catholic Church had an evening discussion, "What does the Bible Really Say about Homosexuality?"


2) Loss of faith in our human leadership, not our God  As Thomas Merton wrote in a letter in 1967 (quoted recently in Commonweal), the bishops have been jackassing around for so long that at some point they forfeit the right to be listened to.  Perhaps that time has arrived?

Here's what the church needs: More Cardinal Bernardins. More Daniel Berrigans. More attention to the Sermon on the Mount. More focus on Jesus' life, death and resurrection and less obsession about preserving the chain of command (and I don't mean apostolic sucession!) and an authority that slips into authoritarianism.
Dominic Tomasso | 12/30/2010 - 1:33pm
THANK YOU ANN C.

Whenever I have the opportunity to point out the facts that it's not the Catholic faith that is the reason I have left the Church but the bishops that control it.

I can't say this enough, God is everywhere. You don't have to go to church to be with him. I'm still a Catholic.

The reasons I've stated above, more than justify to me that  Jesus approves what I'm doing and saying.

I'm 88 years old and I pray that before I die, there will be bishops held accountable for they're criminal actions, then I will return to the Church. But, as long as this pope is alive, I don't believe it will be possible.  In the meantime, I'll try to convince everyone that we have to get the US Justice Department to investigate the USCCB'S organization.

An organization much more powerful than the Mafia. An organization the FBI, the Justice Department are truly afraid to investigate.  Only until enough voices are raised will it be possible to get them off their butts, to do their job. There is no other way unles we have another pope that has not been involved in this scandaless mess.

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate for Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net

J B | 12/30/2010 - 12:36pm
Tomas, you are right to keep bringing this up - for many former Catholics, this issue is what finally gave us the push needed to leave - our consciences bothered because if we did not leave, we become passive participants in supporting the system that enabled these crimes and for which there has, to this day, been no accountability among the hierarchy or the pope himself.  This is part of the tangible harm done to real people that I have referred to earlier. 

I finally realized that the very grave harm inflicted on innocent young people by the hierarchy's faciliation of the crimes of child molesters (and other harm done to women, in relation to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, in relation to many other issues that hurt people) is rooted in church teachings.  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia explains many of these linkages in his book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus.  Tragicially, Bishop Robinson is now a pariah among his peers in the church. When he visited the U.S. a couple of years ago on a book tour, every bishop in whose diocese he was scheduled to speak forced churches and religious houses to un-invite him - he was forbidden to speak on any church property.  I heard him speak at a 4-H club.  He is suffering for speaking the Truth, but he speaks it anyway.  He is one of the few bishops today that deserves any respect at all from "the faithful."
Dominic Tomasso | 12/30/2010 - 11:46am
I'm amazed at most of the comments or postings, whatever you want to call them, indicating problems churchgoers or non churchgoers have with this or that about the Catholic Church.

Am I just dreaming that too many priests have sodimized and raped children. Am I just dreaming that over 60% of the bishops in this country secretly moved these criminals from parish to parish.

Am I just dreaming that billions of church funds have been used by these same bishops to settle financial abusive cases and for law firms. 

Am I just dreaming that these same bishops have allowed these pedophiles to leave the miniustry without having to register as sex offenders.

Am I just dreaming that the Pope has not found it necessary to punish any of these criminal bishops.

Am I just dreaming that these same criminal bishops are still in complete control of everything Catholic and millions and millions of Churchgoers continue to act as though everything is just fine in River City.

Bad musiic. Bad homolies, no exit interviews. What else bothers you?

If these are your main concerns, I know for a fact your priests and bishops love you.

If you think the facts that what I have pointed out are not the truth, God help us. There will never be true healing.

Dominic tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability.
tomassotucson@cox.net
Jack Barry | 12/30/2010 - 11:34am

Father Byron - 
Your article helps illustrate why the Church is collapsing in size and unity.  

The effective companies of Larry Bossidy have succeeded by knowing and providing what people need and want in certain areas.  The proof is that customers come and return.  The CEO, managers, and field reps share and continually carry out a common, accurate understanding of what they are there for.   Managers who haven't shared that understanding don't work there anymore.  Which of those characteristics can be found in the human ensemble of today's Church?

Blaming the competition  -  "a sea of materialism", "forces of secularism", "diabolical powers"  -  for the results of what one does is the mark of an organization destined to fail.

Commenters here are notable for their evident sincerity, anguish, and ability to articulate thoughtful statements.   For an illuminating thought experiment, assume each of them is not unique but roughly represents 200,000 others who are not similarly inclined to write comments in America for some reason.  What would that suggest that you don't already know? 

You asked "Does anyone know why the ranks are thinning at Catholic weekend worship?"  Some sample questions are hardly what scientific surveyors would call open-ended questions meant to uncover new knowledge.  They indicate clearly that you know many answers well enough to proceed now with belated efforts to attempt to revivify a Church in turmoil. 

My wife and I are now seeing the third major variant of the operating Catholic Church in our lifetimes, locally and internationally.  Perhaps it is time to extend pro-life enthusiasm to the life of the Church. 

J B | 12/30/2010 - 10:05am
Katherine,  the Episcopal church not only has the qualities you cite, it is modeled more closely to the early Christian church than is the Roman Catholic church today in terms of governance and the full participation of the laity.   John Cardinal Newman was investigated by Rome for many years after being removed from his editorship of England's primary Catholic journal, The Rambler.  He devoted his final issue (a forceful reminder to the bishops who removed him as to what they were doing wrong) to the subject "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine," published in July, 1859 and available online today.  Newman believed that the whole church must be involved in developing doctrine, a concept supported at Vatican II (consensus fidelium).  However, the popes, with the exception of John XXIII, have chosen to reserve this role exclusively to themselves, much to the detriment of the people of God who are The Church. 

The laity in Roman Catholic pews have no voice in their own church - on doctrine, on governance.  They may not even have a say in choosing their own priests, much less have a voice in who should be their bishop.  This was not the case in the early church, where the churches (basically, what we might call a parish today, since the christians were few and far between for the first couple of centuries) called its own priests, and bishops served only with the approval of the whole church.  This model is at work today in updated form in the Episcopal Church, but, as we know, is denied to Roman Catholics, who still, as the saying goes, are expected to "pray, pay, and obey' without having a mechanism to be heard by those who run the institution - and spend the money (without accountability or transparency) of the people of God.  The Roman Catholic church lost its way a long time ago. One reading of the gospels, and then one look at the wealth and pomp ostentatiously displayed in Rome and by much of the hierarchy (throughout the world), and the problem begins to be seen. The verbal message does not match the actions and lives of those who claim the leadership role in the church - instead, they deplore materialism, consumerism, relativism, wealth, love of power, etc with their words, while adopting these same false values for their own lives. Vatican II seemed to offer a way to get back on track, but, John XXIII died, and that was the beginning of the end of hope for the Roman Catholic church for the foreseeable future.
Ed Kardas | 12/30/2010 - 7:08am
Sorry, comment #56 was intended for Mary.
Ed Kardas | 12/30/2010 - 6:58am
Katherine: the Church has for so long denied, covered for, protected and defended, know pedophile priests, that it is now virtually impossible to clear the name of an innocent man.  This scandal first victimized children, now adults are being affected.  What priest would feel comfortable wearing a collar while supervising children on a school playground? I know I won't; that's why I left the seminary.
David Smith | 12/30/2010 - 6:52am
One thing to consider is the possibility that many Catholics became sick of the political-theological infighting.  It's been going on for fifty years now.  That's far too much turmoil, with no end in sight.  I imagine that for most people, religion needs to be a refuge, not a place for constant bickering.

Also, the post-conciliar Church is a hyperactive place.  No room for contemplatives.  That'll appeal to some and turn away others.

And, speaking of Hispanics, the North American Church is a cold beast.  No wonder so many turn to the heat of pentecostalism.
David Smith | 12/30/2010 - 6:13am
Sounds as though you already think you know why they leave.  Maybe you're wrong, or far less right than you think.  Beware of going into research determined to prove what you already know.
Mary Wood | 12/30/2010 - 3:22am
One group of leavers who presumably usually do have an exit interview are priests.  Of course their reasons are many and various, and it is a very broad generalization to say that their existing situation just doesn't give them scope to grow.  So I'll be specific about the reasons why one young priest I know is no longer committed to the Catholic Church.

Quite simply he was accused of "grooming" a toddler in the parish by the child's mother who felt her "friendly," indeed amorous, overtures to her parish priest had been spurned.  As indeed they had.

The priest was put on administrative leave and banned from the entire area of the diocese.  The police were informed and after lengthy investigation they said there was no case to answer and told the diocesan authorities of their decision.  The Diocesan Child Protection Officer however was convinced that the complainant was telling the truth and had the priest sent to a secular sex-abuse assessment centre, where his guilt was declared "not  proven".  As many readers will know, psycho-assessors will never give any "suspect" a clean sheet.  Incidentally this facility made no provision for Catholics to attend Mass, ever.  And the diocese knew this - did they do anything about that?  I think you know the answer. They did not.

By this time so long had elapsed (about 20 months) that the diocesan priests were saying "There must be something in it - it's been so long," this despite the parish great and good having testified from their experience as school heads, MC and servers, Parish Council reps, sisters in parish work, presbytery housekeepers and parents of pubescent boys that they were confident the allegation was entirely without foundation.  

Next the priest was sent to a Catholic therapy centre for "priests with difficulties" where he remained for many months until they agreed he had no tendency to paedophilia, though indeed he had other psychological problems.  The Bishop said he would get him a post, and meanwhile told him to get a job.  What does a penniless young man do with a DD and no general secular experience, when forbidden to teach in a Catholic school?

Yes, he did get a job and has done extremely well in it.  The Bishop has done nothing further.  My friend keeps up old friendships with Catholics but understandably doesn't practice.  The way he has been treated is a major scandal to his family and friends.  Including myself.

I appreciate and share the anguish and outrage of those who are scandalized by the abuse cover-ups, but please remember there are other victims of abuse.  One unexamined accusation results in the elimination of any priest for a considerable period.

 Justice?
Katherine McEwen | 12/30/2010 - 2:33am
I'm no longer a Catholic, at least formally.  I was received into the Episcopal Church in December 2003.  My execrable experiences with the Church are primarily around sexuality:
     1.  the Church's lousy job of preparing ordained and vowed men to integrate their sexuality into their lives.  If celibacy's going to continue to be a job requirement for ordination, then the men need education academically, spiritually and emotionally to allow them to freely choose their vocation.  And dealing with the sexual abuse crisis through both civil and canon law-among men and women; women also sexually abuse people.
     2.  the Church's only ordaining "celibate" men.  My Episcopal parish has FOUR priests and TWO permanent deacons.  Two priests are women and both our deacons are women.  Five out of six of our clergy are married.
     3.  I left originally because I starved to death spiritually in the last Catholic parish I belonged to.

As an Episcopalian, I still have liturgy and sacraments, including reservation of the Blessed (Reserved) Sacrament.  Liturgy, sacraments, theology, spirituality and much liturgical music are very similar.  (Organization into parishes, deaneries, dioceses, etc. with priests, deacons, bishops, nuns and sisters, and brothers too.)  

As to my background:  education from elementary school, high school and some Catholic college.  Working for a local diocese for several years.  Work in several parishes as musician and office worker.  Experience as Eucharistic minister and other volunteer activities.  Growing up in a family where issues of faith, spirituality, theology and social justice were discussed with supporting magazines and diocesan papers.  Deep faith, relationship with Jesus, and active prayer life.

There are places the Catholic church does things superbly:  social action and outreach, spirituality-for examply, centering prayer is popular in my parish.  Who's the person who's popularized it?  Fr. Thomas Keating.  The Church is still very much spreading so much of what's good through example and outreach and grace.  Its spirit is NOT dead.  Also its deep body of spirituality, prayer and grace, from Theresa of Avila forwards and backwards.  Its example that's keenly observed, and in mostly healthy ways adapted by non-Catholic churches.

However, even the UK Catholic paper last year remarked about the sexual abuse scandal in Ireland that the Church was so Catholic that it forgot to be Christian.  And here, I believe, is the crux of at least some of the situation:  the rules and their sinful misuse smother the spirit and example Jesus demands we as Christians demonstrate to other people.  That how we as Christians think, act and behave will be caught as well as taught.  Here's where the institution falls down.  Here's why I don't come back.
Veronica Harrison | 12/30/2010 - 12:38am
Regarding post 25:
Most Holy Redeemer Church is essentially a gay parish.   I don't see it as a solution to some of the overarching concerns mentioned in this article & responders (regarding institutionalism, regarding authoritarianism, regarding the politicization of the Church), nor concerns I hear raised from others.  In fact, I see it as mostly a heterodox response to an overly reactionary & rigid hierarchy - not a solution, merely, like the clergy, reactive.

The Church, esp. in the U.S., is deeply fractured, somewhat mirroring other fractures in society, but additionally reflecting the distance of authority from local communities of needs and worship.  It is less and less "One."  Multiculturism has essentially gutted it of its "Catholicity," and at least one other astute poster pointed out, its catholicity is also called into question by the arbitrariness of different bishops' policies, not to mention the widely varying emphases among parish priests.  As still others have pointed out, it appears weekly to be decreasingly "Holy."  As to its "Apostolic" character, one wonders what Bishops and Cardinals, in their medieval trappings, have to do with Peter and James.

Had I not the deeply spiritual, canonical, and richly intellectual upbringing that I had throughout my years of Catholic schooling and much better access to sacraments, prayer life, and an understanding of how I can directly relate to the mysticism, not to mention trials, of the saints, I would be Outta Here myself.  The reason I stay is that I know better than people like Bishop Olmstead what true moral theology is, in the excellent Thomistic tradition.  I know that he's off, and I'm not.  I also know that bishops, cardinals, and Popes are not (for the most part) saints; therefore, I do not look to most of them for spiritual leadership or moral guidance.  I look to some excellent parish priests, teaching priests, women religious, and lay "saints" as spiritual mentors and role models, as well as a few select bishops.  Which is not to say that I look among the heterodox, because I don't.  But I do know true Catholic morality and spirituality when I see it, and too little of it was pronounced by people like JP2 and so many of his appointees, who are legal technocrats.

I also live in a metro region with many choices for worship.  I go only to Masses whose form is deeply spiritual, and where the homilies are well thought out.  It's difficult to belong to a single parish because there may be only one Mass per week that is said reverently and where the homily is deep and the music resonant.  If the music is horrible (most parish music is, to my trained musical ear), attending is a turn-off.  I am definitely not a Cafeteria Catholic, but I am to some degree a Cafeteria parishioner.  (Big difference.)  These are choices that most baptized Catholics in the U.S. do not necessarily have.

Also, most Catholics do not understand the true role of conscience - both the options it does provide and the options it does not provide.  When you know that a clergymember is making a political statement rather than a theological statement - when his politics collides with Catholic theology, you have no requirement to assent to him upon pain of sin.
Katie Fisher | 12/29/2010 - 10:28pm
What interesting commentary. Great comments, Anil.

 I am probably older than Chris, but younger than many of the posters.  I have had, by most accounts, a challenging life, and more struggles than most people.

That being said, Chris makes some valid points and I wholeheartly agree with and support his sense of faith.

From my experience in RCIA, I encounter people coming into the Church and Catholics who want to know more about their faith.  I have met many a parishoner who, upon really understanding church teaching, had a newfound respect and love for Catholicism.

Does this mean that I am a blind follower?  By no means.  I too struggle with the horrific nature of the sexual abuse scandal, the church teaching on birth control, as well as other issues. 

The reason I stay in is my focus on Christ.  I have learned that humans always disappoint and sometimes dissapoint greatly.  Our church as all religions on this planet are made up of very fallible humans who will dissapoint us, fail us, make us want to run away from the pain they inflict. I have personally experienced several situations where some priests were rude, and diocesan staff were indifferent. 

However, I try to keep my "eyes on the prize" - I have never had a greater sense of God than as a Catholic, and I have had experiences with several faiths.  I could not let the insensitivity of others influence my relationship with the Church. 

I am also very lucky to be in a Jesuit parish now where I am spiritually fed.

What saddens me the most is the lack of hope and sense of despair of most of the posters.  They sense the eminent demise of the Catholic Church. 

I have hope however - but this hope is based on action.  Here are some of my suggestions:

#1 - Prayer.  I think that this church, from the laity to the priests have gotten away from prayer.  I sincerely believe that we need to pray that our leaders will listen to us.

#2 - Petition - for those of us who really care about this church, why can't we petition our leaders to have more dialog?  If enough well meaning Catholics e-mailed their bishops, who is to say what positives can happen?

We also need to make sure that there is complete transparency in terms of the sexual abuse scandal.

#3 - Dialog and understanding.  Some problems are not just problems for the Church For all the posters disagreeing with the Church's stance on homosexuality, why is it that the majority of Americans still have anti-gay view points and are opposed to gay marriage?  Respect for gay and lesbian people is an American problem, not just a Catholic Church problem.

Other problems in the church are definitly due to the fact that the Church does a very poor job explaining other teachings that are valid.  We need to have more dialog and have people who are expert at explaining church teaching in a clear and intellegent manner.

#4 - Respect - As someone "still in the pews"  I make an effort to be another face of the Catholic Church.  I greet strangers when they come to my parish for mass.  I try to treat all people with dignity and respect irregardless of race, sexual orientation, ethnicity.  For those of us still in the church, we need to reach out to all  - I think this too can go a long way to heal the church.
Winifred Holloway | 12/29/2010 - 7:08pm
This article has occurred at just the right time, when so many of us are heartsick and bewildered about what has happened to our church.  And Chris, as many above have noted, it is not because we don't understand the teachings.  We were proud of our church and many of us have been active participants in the liturgical, social justice and educational life of the church.  That's why this disillusionment hurts so much.  We are not becoming the "smaller, purer church" that Pope Benedict had wished on us, but a meaner, cramped and narrower church.   My parish, at the moment, is lucky to have a religious order who espouses the Vatican ll reforms and serves us well with beautiful liturgies and attention to the needs of various age groups.  This can, and probably will, change in the near future given the dearth of priests.  One dear friend of mine who lives in Florida loved her parish, her pastor and associates, and the staff.  All changed with a new bishop.  A Law & Order man.  The long -time pastor has moved on and the new one is a former Episcopal priest really interested in the Latin Mass and the wearing of those retro vestments.  My friend, a rather traditional person and not given to advocacy for gays, was particulary turned off when the pastor did a rant against gays during his homily.  She has fled to a small Spanish parish where, she says, she can't stand the music, but the atmosphere is warm, welcoming and demonstrates kindness and acceptance.  You don't know her so you cannot share my amazement.  She is just one example of disenchanted Catholics that I know who are hanging on by their fingertips.  We don't know where this will end.  I hang on too, in faith and hope.  I worry about my children and grandchildren.  My kids were raised in the faith and are serious about its implications in the living of their lives - and they are appalled.  And Chris, it's not because they are uneducated in the faith or don't understand.  In fact, it's because they do understand, that they are appalled.
Mark Davenport | 12/29/2010 - 6:51pm
Profbam, the Catholic Church does not teach that gay people are deranged.  Some individual Catholics hate gay people but they are not the Church.  A lot of priests and nuns are gay.  I have to say that in 12 years of Catholic school, I never heard one word said against homosexuality or gay people.  In over 40 years of going to Mass every Sunday, I never heard one word said against homosexuality or gay people.  Gay people have made many contributions to the Catholic Church in 2000 years and surely there are many gay saints. 
Jack Barry | 12/29/2010 - 6:41pm

Anne C  -  Agreed

Anil  -  You would be correct if you said "Most people here simply do not understand the Catholic faith" in the same way.    Judging fault is often left to Whomever has the authority.

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