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Tom BeaudoinMarch 09, 2012

In January of 2011, on this blog, I posted an entry with the title "A New Post-Catholic State of Awareness: Has Public Discussion of Catholicism Reached a New Moment?" In that entry, I suggested that "a new courage for telling the truth about the range of affiliations in and out of Catholicism seems to have taken over in the last several years, and I wonder if 2010 was the year in which this dynamism reached a certain irreversibility." 

I thought about that irreversibility when, today, I opened the New York Times to page A13, and I saw a full-page ad by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, headlined "It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church." You can see the ad at the FFRF website here.

The ad, an "open letter to 'liberal' and 'nominal' Catholics," asks Catholics to consider leaving Catholicism because of a range of public harms that it lists as being propagated by the Catholic Church, focusing most of all on the recent debate over contraception. It concludes by pleading, in a pun that would otherwise be playful were it not so striking in its content, "Please, Exit En Mass." 

A short blog post is not adequate space to think thoroughly enough about this ad, but I want to offer a few reflections and see what comments folks might have about it. 

Whatever one thinks of this ad, it seems to mark a particular moment in the unfolding history of the Catholic Church in the United States. That a full-page ad in one of the most influential newspapers in the country would ask members of a major religious group to walk away from that group is an extraordinary occurrence.

I hope that before people take sides pro or con on the ad, before the tendency to separate into "evil vs. good" or "good vs. evil" here, we might be able to take this opportunity for some serious thinking, and ask: What is happening with religion in general and Catholicism in particular today that would make such a moment possible? 

The ad trades on the newly widespread awareness that Catholicism is shedding adherents: that most Catholics live on the "lower" end between moderate and marginal affiliation, instead of high affiliation, and that a great many are actively disaffiliating. It trades on the widely understood distance between most Catholics' beliefs and practices and official teaching on certain matters. Most important, as far as I can tell, is its remarkably confident appeal to a kind of personal agency that would make Catholics, who so often see religion as something akin to an ethnicity, walk away from it. The example the ad gives is that of an abusive marriage, and the FFRF is trying to help Catholics who are the victims-survivors of being married to Catholicism cry "Enough!" That such an exit is up for public consideration is one of the most telling points here regarding what is happening with religion in general and Catholicism in particular. 

A Fordham colleague, Prof. Patrick Hornbeck, and I are presently working under a grant from the Louisville Institute on a study of "deconversion" in Roman Catholicism. Deconversion, in the theological and religious studies literature, is the process by which people step away from what they formerly held in religious belief and practice. It is a deep change of mind and heart about one's faith, away from where one had been formerly situated. This ad speaks to the cultural legitimacy that deconversion has achieved (although of course that term is not used), particularly in regard to Catholicism.

But some of the deconversion literature would suggest that when people do walk away from their faith/religion/religious community, they don't only want "freedom from religion." Some switch to another religious denomination or even another religion, some hang loose and nurture a religious/spiritual life apart from active affiliations with recognized religious communities, some let go of faith/religion/spirituality altogether, and some hang on within their religious community and struggle more or less openly with it. (These "trajectories" are the findings of Heinz Streib, et al, in the important research study titled _Deconversion_ (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2009).) 

One challenge is that scholars don't have a strong and complex enough sense about Catholic deconversions. There are very few in-depth deconversion studies with Catholic (or formerly Catholic) participants. A lot of the research is with evangelicals and mainline Protestants, and with new religious movements of various stripes. 

I know there will be those who want to vilify this ad, but I think a more productive and theologically searching route is to see it as a conversation starter, for the reasons I suggest above. It is an occasion to think about where Catholicism stands in our culture, and to ask where things go from here, and why.

Tom Beaudoin  


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10 years 2 months ago
I was offended by the ad ... but
I think the comments here by some wjho see decoversion as part of staying catholic is more and more the case and those who want to write them off here as being a further cause of deconversion.
I congratulate Tom for his keen awareness of where things are  that make his stufdy relevant.
As FRF, fuggdahaboutit as anything in itself!
Mary Slattery
10 years 2 months ago
Deconversion does take place but how much can be attributed to a lack of awareness of
voices that have been lost amid the "liberal" and "conservative" arguements of the last few
decades.  I'm still in the church because of Catholic women-Dorothy Day, Edith Stein,
Flannery O'Connor, Caryll Houselander and Mother Teresa.  They all, by the way, were against artificial contraception, abortion, had a devotion to Mary, and believed that the
Eucharist is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.  They were able to see beyond the
fraitly and failure of the human face of the Church and love Holy Mother Church, hard as that is at times.  Three of these women were converts-Day and Houselander from the
Protestant tradition and Stein from the Jewish tradition.  They were able to bring
something more to the banquet and our faith is the better for it.

Besides Mother Teresa, I heard or read about none of these women either from the pulpit
or from Catholic reading materials.  (Granted, I wasn't much of a reader at the time.)
I stumbled upon them one by one in searching for some evidence of the existence of God
and I am so grateful.  These women knew how to truly love according to their own unique
personalities and gifts through what the Church offered, however brokenly, in Word and
Sacrament.  That's what the Church can offer to each one us if we let it. 
Jim McCrea
10 years 2 months ago
The FFRF ad was no worse than the drivel put out by Bill Donahue, or that is steady diet on EWTN.
Eugene Pagano
10 years 2 months ago
Crystal Watson,

To paraphrase the signs outside Episcopal church, the Episcopal Church would welcome you, as it has welcomed Anne Chapman, as it has welcomed me. 
Bill Mazzella
10 years 2 months ago
While we Catholics may criticize the leadership it is a misake to conclude that we admire the FFRH for its denial of God. By its denial of God it alienates us immediately while the bishops have a chance for repentance. Catholics have always known that we are church of sinners pleading for God's mercy. The problem more often than not is that the bishops try to  justify themselves in their arrogance while true Christians ask God to merciful to us sinners. 
Crystal Watson
10 years 2 months ago

Thanks for the input.  I do believe, though, that Jesus is just as much to be found in other Christian denominations as in the Catholic church.  What I'd miss most would be St. Ignatius - my conversion experience was during a Jesuit retreat.
Jim McCrea
10 years 2 months ago
Deconversion has happened once you realize that there is no there there.  It happened to me about 18 months ago.  It was surprisingly painless.

I attend mass from time to time, but it's primarily to see friends and socialize afterwards.  And to have an ongoing argumet about whether there is a there there.

There isn't but I love the tussle nonetheless.
PJ Johnston
10 years 2 months ago
The ad itself lapses into the rhetoric of old-school, Protestant anti-Catholic diatribe which makes it somewhat difficult to take seriously, but the core issue (whether or not US Catholics who do not support the USCCB on the current crop of controverted political issues play a useful role by remaining in the Church or simply "enable" political activism which from their POV is destructive) seems like a legitimate issue for discussion.  It's too bad the article's rhetoric obscures issues considerably.

Some of the answer will probably depend upon personal prudential calculations about where potential "harm" comes from and whether or not one actively contributes to that harm.  (For one possible example, are you giving a lot of money to the church?  If not, how are you harming anybody just by showing up for mass on Sunday?  If so, is the money going to something relatively neutral like the parish building fund, or is it getting passed on to the bishops to fund a local ballot initiative directly contradicting your values?)  Probably these kinds of determinations are so situational that they could not be reduced to simple black-or-white, all-or-nothing, one-side-or-the-other, one-size-fits-all recommendations to stay or leave.

Another issue worth exploring is whether political issues should determine your denominational affiliation or whether theological issues should, and to what degree the two are extricable.  The RCC has official theological positions concerning the morality of same-sex unions, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, abortion, etc., but none of these necessarily translate into a concrete program of political activism.  One does not dissent from the magisterium if for example one believes that one or more of these things is wrong but should not be banned in a non-Christian secular society which operates under a constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state - it is possible to judge that that such an effort would have little or no practical chance of success and would simply waste money, exacerbate social divisions, and damage the Church in the process of accomplishing nothing.  The question about whether it is prudent to attempt to politically influence a particular government to adopt one's theological values is an open question - a number of perfectly orthodox Catholic theologians hold that same-sex unions are theologically sinful but should be protected under secular law.  In many cases, the USCCB seems simply to be overreaching in its current political involvements - the magisterium of the Church may or may not be able to dictate to Catholics that certain things are morally wrong, but the political question of whether or not these moral values should be enacted in the legislative arena is a separate question, and the magisterium of the Church has and claims no special competence over that.  Individual Catholics are free to ignore or oppose these legislative initiatives even under the most traditional and pro-magisterium construal of the authority of bishops.  From the other end of things, even Catholics who dissent from the magisterium on these theological issues may not find it desirable to leave the Church over these issues if they do not believe that their presence actively harms their beliefs, or if they believe that the theological good of remaining in communion with the Roman Catholic Church exceeds the political harm that remaining in the Church might directly or indirectly cause.

In the end I think that the FFRF and the bishops conspire in doing American Catholics a great disservice by implying that you cannot really be a good Catholic if you oppose efforts to legislate Catholic sexual morality in the public arena (the bishops' take) and that you cannot really oppose these efforts without leaving the Church (the FFRF's take) - two positions which really amount to the theological and secular faces of the same argument.   Prudentially, I think it's an argument that serves the FFRF pretty well and hurts the bishops considerably, because the bishops are the ones who are going to lose out when/if American Catholics (who are indistinguishable from other Americans in terms of sexual morality) opt into this all-or-nothing thinking and take it to its logical conclusion, which is leaving the Church.

I would like to think that this change of direction represents a simple tactical blunder on the part of the bishops.  (I say "change of direction," because the de facto policy has always been to attempt to mediate a strong official teaching with pastoral flexibility in the confessional so that individual Catholics who cannot implement the official teaching in their lives do not feel forced to leave the Church).  Historically, the Church has wanted contracepting and cohabiting Catholics, Catholics in same-sex unions, etc. to remain in the Church and has encouraged pastoral solutions which allow people to receive weekly communion - see the Vademecum for Confessors (available on the Vatican's site online) if you do not believe me.  In my area, the local bishops are all interviewed as saying that excommunication of dissenting or non-conforming Catholics is not the answer (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/comments/article/20120310/NEWS/303100032/Pope-tells-bishops-speak-out-against-gay-marriage).  But nobody goes to confession, so nobody ever hears anything except the official teaching as mediated through news agencies when the bishops are involved in the latest controversial political push to criticize or ban some practice most Catholics are fine with.  There is no official teaching mediated by individual pastoral flexibility, because nobody is really getting individual pastoral direction.  People hear only one side of things and they just leave the Church.  Unless that's something the bishops want, they need to either tone down the political rhetoric, or else get much more public about the acceptance of individual Catholics who dissent in theory or practice.  At this point, can they really believe that it is a simple lack of official shouting of magisterial teachings in political discourse that is making American Catholics dissent, so all they need to do is shout louder to get people to obey?
PJ Johnston
10 years 2 months ago
Sorry about the bad link.  The local news story is actually located here:

Marie Rehbein
10 years 2 months ago
The ad is simple-minded.  It doesn't take a degree in psychology to know that this will have no effect except to get Bill Donohue all fired up.

The ad is also ridiculous because it attributes so much power to the Catholic Church without recognizing that many people, even some atheists, can have ethical disagreements about the issues the ad lists.  That the Catholic Church is agitating about some subjects is annoying, but it's not getting its influence on these matters from liberal and nominal Catholics anyway.  Nominal and liberal Catholics disassociating themselves from the Catholic Church would make the Catholic Church even more noxious to the people who drew up this silly ad and wouldn't weaken the Church one bit.

I think most people who leave the Church are sad about it and actually feel that they have been driven out.  I think they should come back and let God use their presence to make the Church more reasonable - stop letting that voice in their heads tell them that they are the only people there who are not buying it.  If the contraception controversy tells us anything, it tells us that almost no one is buying it.  They go to church to be with God.
Knud Rasmussen
10 years 2 months ago
If I might be forgiven a bit of honest snark, when I saw the FFRF ad, my first response was that, if I had the money, I would pay for a follow-up full-page ad in the NYT: "'An open letter to 'Liberal' and 'Nominal' Catholics persuaded by the FFRF ad: Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"
Anne Chapman
10 years 2 months ago
Crystal (#5), I guess I am among the deconverted. Part of me will always be ''Catholic'' - that strong tie of identity that is much like that of nationality and that is one reason I still read America (I am an alum of Jesuit higher education). But, after years of struggle, decades of struggle actually, against so many teachings of the Roman church, I reached a breaking point because of the unholy combination of sexual abuse of the young protected and enabled by the hierarchy, and because of the demeaning teachings regarding women. The combination finally drove me out the door - I couldn't deal with it any more.

 I felt that by staying in the pews and contributing money, I was enabling the bishops who had caused so much harm to thousands of young people by protecting pedophile priests and moving them to parish after parish after parish where they might find new victims. I also felt I was enabling an institution that causes a great deal of harm directly and indirectly through its treatment of women as second-class citizens.  All parishes are taxed by the diocese - all must send money to the bishops, so some part of everyone's collection money is sent out of the parish to the bishop. There is no transparency and no accountability - the bishops use the money of the people in the pews however they want. If it's to kick out some elderly nuns in Long Island and take over their building as office space and do a $5 million ''renovation'' for the bishop's personal living space, complete with Viking range and two-temperature wine coolers, there is no way the people whose money he is using can stop it. If they want to use the money to pay for the defense of a priest who took pornographic photos of young girls in his parish, as happened in Kansas City - unreported by his bishop to the police - he can do it. It pays for anything the bishops want to use it for, without any accountability to those whose money it actually is.

Now I attend mass at an Episcopal church - a wonderful parish with two wonderful priests, one of whom is a woman. Our new bishop is also a woman and she is already injecting new life into the diocese.  One thing I have learned during the last few years is that Episcopalians are usually open to the wisdom of all christians - they do not close the door on it because the person is not of the same denomination.   A couple of weeks ago, at the Sunday forum the speaker did a presentation on Ignatian discernment. She was the assistant rector there for years, and is now a Spiritual Director and teaches at the local Episcopal seminary.  Our extremely insightful, intelligent and highly educated pastor quotes frequently from those from whom he learns - they include people like Catholic theologians and spiritual writers, as well as those from other religions, and also those like Karen Amstrong, who does not belong to a particular denomination as far as I know. 

You don't need to leave Ignatius behind.  The Episcopal church is what the Roman Catholic church was for a brief time in the years after Vatican II - a big tent, open to the ideas and insights of many - not a closed little club where anyone who does not conform to a particular mindset is not welcome.  Joan Chittister, OSB, cannot give a homily at a Catholic church because she is a woman. I have twice had the privilege of hearing her speak, and teach, AND give the homily at the Episcopal cathedral near my home.  She is not welcome as a homilist at any Catholic church - she is banned because of her gender. How incredibly sad that she is banned by her own church, while welcomed with open arms by the Episcopal church and others. 

One person mentioned a priest in their parish who became an Episcoplian. That is not so unusual - I have read that an average of 75 priests/year leave the Roman church for the Episcopal church in the United States - some are ordained to be priests in that communion and some are simply members, but they too quietly deconvert.  They don't make a big deal of it, and the humility and absence of triumphalism are so refreshing.
Marie Rehbein
10 years 2 months ago

The people to whom the letter was addressed had nothing to do with it.  Your comment is rude.

It's this kind of thing that makes people leave more than any encouragement to do so.  If your aim is to make people feel unwelcome, you might want to discuss your post with your Confessor.
Rosario Conde
10 years 2 months ago
I was not at all offended by the ad; I thought it raised legitimate issues for internal reform of the Church.  I feel that the antagonism against the hierarchy is not prompted by Catholic haters but by persons of good will who are shocked by the self-inflicted criminal actions of some clergy and generally by members of the hierarchy, which tragically and inexplicably have not yet shown a true sense of contrition, individual or collective.  I still feel physically ill that the Church has not reacted to the sexual abuse scandal with the same "vigor" and "urgency" devoted to the contraception issue.  In Kansas City an indicted bishop continues his duties and in Philadelphia a criminal case against a member of the hierarcy, who reportedly got a standing ovation at Archbishop Chaput's installation, will begin on March 26. The Philadelphia grand jury report, which is available in the Internet, cries out to high heaven.  I cannot imagine how anyone can remain unmoved by the story of Billy described in the grand jury report.  Until the hierarchy shows true contrition, like Archbishop Diarmud Martin in Ireland, the US bishops will have forfeited their prophetic voice.  And true contrition is not shown by Cardinal Rigali being forced by a grand jury report to suspend over 20 priests only a couple of years ago, like in Philadelphia. True contrition is not shown by the USCCB lobbying to shorten criminal statutes of limitation.  In that sense, I am feeling more and more that I am an enabler by not speaking up but, as a believer in God and the richness of the Catholic tradition, I will not join skeptics, agnostics or atheists.  I do wish that these subjects were treated seriously within the Church and that we all were able to contribute to a true renewal guided by the Holy Spirit.  I do hope that Jesuits continue their thoughtful, well-reasoned and respectful disagreement with the hierarchy when warranted.  I thought that the March 5th America editorial and the statements by Georgetown President John DeGioia on free speech showed Catholic tradition at its very best.  The openness of this very article, and the willingness to discuss difficult issues as adults, gives me much hope and comfort.  Thank you.
10 years 2 months ago
Well said, Marie Rehbein:

I was not at all offended by the ad; I thought it raised legitimate issues for internal reform of the Church.  I feel that the antagonism against the hierarchy is not prompted by Catholic haters but by persons of good will who are shocked by the self-inflicted criminal actions of some clergy and generally by members of the hierarchy, which tragically and inexplicably have not yet shown a true sense of contrition, individual or collective. 

It's time for the USCCB to back off.... Dolan is way off base....
Rosario Conde
10 years 2 months ago
Thank you, PJ Johston, for your educated and thoughtful post.  I looked at the links/references you provided and I am so encouraged by them.  I am understanding this issue with a completely new clarity; the Vademecum for Confessors is consistent with the best of Catholic tradition.  I agree that the bishops, knowing that people don't go to confession so much and lack personal spiritual guidance, should tone down their public statements and pastorally teach our tradition.  You have given me tremendous hope; I really feel that we must continue to admonish/encourage our bishops to talk to us as adults, nourishing us with the fullness of our rich tradition.  Right now, it is magisterium by tantrum on narrow litmus tests.  Why settle for this when we can build our faith on the compassionate richness of our beautiful tradition?  Thank you so very much again; you renewed my faith.  Thank you America for this forum to discuss such important and life-sustaining issues.

"I would like to think that this change of direction represents a simple tactical blunder on the part of the bishops.  (I say "change of direction," because the de facto policy has always been to attempt to mediate a strong official teaching with pastoral flexibility in the confessional so that individual Catholics who cannot implement the official teaching in their lives do not feel forced to leave the Church).  Historically, the Church has wanted contracepting and cohabiting Catholics, Catholics in same-sex unions, etc. to remain in the Church and has encouraged pastoral solutions which allow people to receive weekly communion - see the Vademecum for Confessors (available on the Vatican's site online) if you do not believe me.  In my area, the local bishops are all interviewed as saying that excommunication of dissenting or non-conforming Catholics is not the answer (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/comments/article/20120310/NEWS/303100032/Pope-tells-bishops-speak-out-against-gay-marriage).  But nobody goes to confession, so nobody ever hears anything except the official teaching as mediated through news agencies when the bishops are involved in the latest controversial political push to criticize or ban some practice most Catholics are fine with.
Crystal Watson
10 years 2 months ago

Thanks for  the information  :)   I do really like what I know of the Episcopal Church and visit a number of Episcopal blogs already, like the Episcopal Cafe.  I don't go to church anymore so at least I'm not still  financially contributing to policies with which I disagree.   A part of me feels we who believe as we do should stay in the church and try to change it, but of course the mechanisms for change by lay people are pretty much non-existent.  It is hard not to feel complicit just by remaining a Catholic, so I try to at least speak out against stuff I disagree with when I have the chance. 
Jim McCrea
10 years 2 months ago
" I remembered at Mass today, and will continue to remember, in prayer, those here who have left their Mother. "

Maria:  many find that when their Mother stops being both holy and motherly, they need to leave to refind their Father in heaven.

Ask John Hardon about that, but don't expect a truthful response from him.
10 years 2 months ago
"What is happening with religion in general and Catholicism in particular today that would make such a moment possible?"

I have a different take on why this happens.  It happens because the people who make these ads are cowards.  They know that Catholics will not react with much outrage and certainly without violence.  Why not pick on one of the other major religions who hold views that are contrary to the liberal/progressive utopia?  You see we Catholics turn the other cheek.  Some other religions would would not turn the other cheek but would behead the makers of these insulting ads. 
Tim O'Leary
10 years 2 months ago
Of course the FFR Ad is full of lies and calumny, and clearly bigoted in its style. Using the current dispute on religious freedom, the atheists are trying to seduce less informed and less committed Catholic women away from the fullness of the faith. I think it will have the opposite effect, as it shows the true colors of the opposition. Many of us Catholics are aware we don't live up to the legitimate demands of the faith and know that the secular world offers us easy excuses. Living the faith can be hard. But we don't use the sins of others to justify ourselves. This sleazy come-on from the atheists only reinforces their hedonism and nihilism. There is no good news in atheism, no romance in life, no community of love, no salvation where we rejoin our loved ones, no agape - just utilitarian hedonism & atomistic individualism, followed by death and extinction. I think even they know that deep down, atheism is a road to nowhere, and a dead end.
Aimee Ross-Kilroy
10 years 2 months ago
While I appreciate your sense of caution about rushing to vilify this ad, it seems to me that one cannot actually vilify that which is, actually, already villanous.  This ad contains the kinds of lies and bigotry one expects to find in a Jack Chick tract rather than on the pages of the New York Times.  I agree that we seem to have reached some kind of a moment in relationship to religion, but I can't see that moment as anything other than a flashback to the 1800's and the Know-Nothing movement.  This is regress, not progress.  The days when people like the writers of this ad could expect to write this kind of diatribe and have it published in the venerable Old Grey Lady were, I thought, firmly in the past.  I am saddened that those days seem to be here again-they are not happy.  You ask your readers to consider the place of the Catholic Church in America today-it is clearly a place where we can now expect lies to told and printed about us, without public outcry.  It is a place where we are accused of doing the opposite of what we have done, with impunity.  It is place where we are the catalyst for political propoganda that is fed to useful idiots to achieve cynical ends.  It is important to pray for our enemies, and to work together with people of goodwill.  But as Catholics, we are called to be clear about the world around us, to see things as they are, and to understand that while we love our enemies, sometimes they remain, by their own choice, our enemies.  Make no mistake, the writers of this ad are hateful in the most precise use of the term.  The language in this ad is meant to isolate and, yes, dehumanize Catholics who do not ''walk away.''  Replace Catholic with the name of another religion; replace the accusations with the kinds of hysteria directed at Jews or Muslims, or a given ethnic group, at various times in our history.  Would you not be concerned?  Would you not wonder if you seeing the rise of something very old, and very ugly?  Please, we need to take this seriously, and at least consider that it is part of something larger, and perhaps part of something dangerous.  It isn't about arbitrary constructions of good and evil, it's about reality.
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 2 months ago
I'm all for a discussion of why people are leaving the Catholic Church, but I really couldn't take the FFRF ad seriously.  In asking people to leave the Catholic Church to join them, the FFRF is simply replacing one tribal collective with another.  If they are really proposing "freedom" from religion, why join anything?  I was turned off by the way it used the recent contraception controversy as a ploy to pull people in.

I have known several people (myself included) who have had to move into a relgion-less space in order to get clear of superstitious and "magical" thinking.  Stepping back from what was taught since earliest childhood in order to re-evaluate what is true, and how it is true.   Many people have to declare themselves atheists in order to fully make this break, even though most atheism is probably just another version of fundamentalist religion.

Deconversion seems like a good thing, to me.  Unfortunately most Churches have not grown with it (or even shown much interest in it).  And I agree that Catholic deconversion is deep and complex.  Protestants routinely moved from one denomination to another, but Catholics, told that they had "the one true faith", rarely left for something else.  For a Catholic leaving the Church is like leaving the family.

I would like to explore this phenomena more - why Catholics leave, or just lapse into non-interest.  Thanks for putting this on the table, Tom.
Amy Ho-Ohn
10 years 2 months ago
Well, the ad is addressed to "nominal" Catholics, so it probably can not hope to appeal to anybody who reads Catholic blogs. But more specifically, it seems to be addressing nominal Catholic women, and sympathetic men. And the point it makes is not altogether nonsense.

In the last few decades, the Church has chosen to ally itself with the lost cause of male hegemony. It lobbies in favor of issues that prevent women from doing things they think are good for them (whether these are things they ought to do is a separate question,) homiletic rhetoric from every level disparages and ridicules women who do not fit the docile, submissive Marian mold, the priesthood is marketed as the mediocrity's last best hope for never having to treat a woman as an equal, and contempt and derision of religious women and female theologians is openly encouraged. There is powerful movement in modern Catholicism that has set itself up as the apothesis of male privilege.

But I personally am not inclined to leave on this account. On the positive side, I will stay for the rest of Catholicism; the gospel of Christ, the millenia-old intellectual and artistic tradition, the commitment to fighting worldy vice and temporal suffering. On the negative side, it is obvious to me that this pathology is doomed to failure. Because at least twice before in recent history the Church has made the same mistake. Both times She has lost desively but both times She has survived.

In the wake of the revolutionary era, the Church set herself up as the apotheosis of aristocratic privilege. Many canonized saints died only nominally for the faith, primarily for loyalty to the landed aristocracy. The war on nineteenth century secularism was really a war in favor of sixteenth century Church-aristocracy solidarity. Even today, when they aren't bashing Jews and women, SSPX dreams of the restoration of the Bourbons. And yet, the battle was decisively lost. The aristocracy is gone and the peasants did not abandon the Church.

In the twentieth century, the Church set herself up, in many cases, as the apotheosis of colonial privilege. The right of people of European ancestry to retain the lands their ancestors had taken by conquest was upheld as adamantly in those years as the right of Taco Bell owners not to provide insurance for birth control is today. In Mexico, Cuba, Peru, and elsewhere, thousands of devout Catholics were excoriated from pulpits, excommunicated, anathematized, for having the impiety to demand land reform. And yet, that battle is also decisively lost. The Pope is planning to visit Cuba and he will smile when he shakes hands with Fidel Castro. A loser's smile.

So I can't take this ad seriously. It will be the same this time. It's happening already. There is no reason to leave. A little frustration and aggravation is a small price to pay for eternal salvation.
Stanley Kopacz
10 years 2 months ago
If I ever leave, it'll be through the sustained efforts of the hierarchy, not some dorky ad.  And the hierarchy has been working hard at it.  Bad management can make life tough.
Rick Fueyo
10 years 2 months ago
One of my favorite priests said you must go where you are being fed.  That has caused me to change parishes, but i could not imagine leaving the Church.  But the terrible sexism of the hierarchy makes it hard to inculcate faith while trying to raise a strong daughter.
Gabriel Marcella
10 years 2 months ago
What effect will an ad in the New York Times by non-Catholics have on "nominal" Catholics? Probably none, because nominals don't feel so strongly about it. Moreover, what's the loss if they're nominal?  "Liberal" Catholics, if they read it, will be offended by the simplistic reasoning. Net result: some Catholics will find inspiration from this to do a better job of understanding and defending their faith. In the meantime, the New York Times made some money.

Friends of mine joined a fundamentalist Protestant church because they found more emotional support, not because of theology. It's also true that in American history hundreds of thousands  if not millions, of Catholics became Protestant simply because there was no Catholic church to minister to them. Also, in our parish there was an unusual case where a priest became Episcopalian.
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 2 months ago
I guess I'm mostly speaking for myself, Gabriel, when I say that leaving the Catholic Church is like leaving family ... but it seems that there is more of a loyalty factory among those who were raised in the 40s and 50s (and before) than younger Catholics.  Catholicism was a part of your identity as well as where you went to church.

I now understand Church to be the body of Christ, and am rather vague about whether or not it involves belonging to a particular denomination.  But I still can't imagine identifying myself as anything other than Catholic.

I would hope that hierarchical Church would make an effort to better understand this widespread non-participation of so many people who previously identified themselves as Catholic.  The study that Tommy Beaudoin is doing at Fordham seems like a step in this direction.  I'm curious as to what format this study is taking - what question are being asked, who is being asked - and hope that he'll write more about it.
Livia Fiordelisi
10 years 2 months ago
I like the notion of deconversion, sort of process of spiritual annulment as one grows past a tribal faith into something deeper and more universal and lasting. Like the process of annulling a marriage, it would help the individual to recognize and reconcile immature and incomplete past spiritual commitments and provide a framework for healthy future commitments.
10 years 2 months ago
I wonder if items like this don't give more ammunition to the bishops who are beating the war drums about religion being under attack in the U.S.  And that this was a full-page ad in the NYT, I wonder if the bishops might be on to something
Martin Stone
10 years 2 months ago
The letter by Annie Laurie Gaylor (and the FFRF) is not “Anti-Catholic Bigotry on Steroids” as you suggest.  Rather, it is nothing more than bold naked reason and brave common sense.  Frankly, the RCC has been and continues to be its own worst enemy since its defacto founding in 313, by the murderous and corrupt emperor Constantine.
Less than 100 years ago, the RCC was against the use of anesthesia of ANY kind to aid women with the pain of childbirth.  Why?  Because the bible says that because of the sin of Eve, women shall suffer pain during childbirth.  Will Catholic run hospitals stop providing such medication as well?  If no, why not?  Has something about what the bible says changed?
Once again, the RCC wants to flex its political muscles in a secular society under which it pays NO taxes.  The RCC desires to impose Medieval medical controls upon others – especially women.  And it wants to do this by virtue of being a moral and upright institution?  If this weren’t so alarming, most of the country would be rolling on the floor in laughter. 
Never mind that in America, the RCC receives loads of secular taxpayer dollars to aid in the running of its hospitals and health care operations.  BTW, why isn’t the RCC complaining about having to pay for erectile dysfunction meds?   
When people who claim to ‘belong’ to an institution for which they no longer share the same values – humanist values – like equality, respect, dignity, then it is time for them to reevaluate their place in the world.  Hopefully, they will make a wise and reasoned choice – one not based on a dogmatic patriarchy which once suppressed the fact that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe. 
10 years 2 months ago
I'm glad we're having this conversation. Thank you, Tom.
I think a large factor in this issue today is the fact that the Church is more actively and publically speaking out on a few issues that people are confronted with in their daily lives.
And that such speaking out is perceived of as selective-calling out people engaged in some actions deemed sinful or contrary to Church teaching, while remaining relatively silent on others.
For example, the Church has been much more outspoken in recent years about gay people and, in recent months, about contraception. Divorce and the death penalty, however, are not addressed as forcefully or as publically.
This has created a sense of marginalization among many people who want very badly to feel part of the Catholic Church they were raised in and which is very much part of the underlying fabric of their identity. Anne Rice's recent deconversion (though I doubt she would embrace that term) is perhaps the most public example of this phenomenon. You can go on YouTube and listen to Rice discuss her personal journey.
A sort of all-embracing acceptance as part of the Catholic community has been a hallmark of Catholicism for those of us who grew up in the post-Vatican II church. And, yes, perhaps the calling out of objective sin has been less frequent than in the years when my parents grew up. But the current downplaying of the former and uptick of the latter has had some costly consequences: people feeling unwelcome on a gut level to the degree that they ''deconvert'' or, more commonly, just fall away. Often, the latter results in a social marginalization and a spiritual void in people who are otherwise draw toward community and things of the spirit.

ed gleason
10 years 2 months ago
The US church was severely infected with triumphalism from the 1920 on. We identified too much with a public Catholicism, more huzzahs, less faith. From ND winning on Saturday and Bishop Sheen beating Milton Berle in TV ratings and finally the Kennedy win. down hill from there.  Latinos were and are less identified with a public Catholicism dominated by hierarchy and more family connected. As with baseball, when your team is losing and the stars are on steroids, attendance drops. But not with the real fans who love baseball regardless of the over inflated stars who can't seem to play their position.   
Martin Gallagher
10 years 2 months ago
Martin Stone wrote, "the RCC was against the use of anesthesia of ANY kind to aid women with the pain of childbirth." 

That's another anti-Catholic myth.


Stephen Schneck
10 years 2 months ago

The implicit assumption that Catholics who are dissatisfied with the Church are more liberal or more secular is more wrong than not. The data on low-attending, lapsed, and former Catholics finds them to be all over the map ideologically.  When they do leave, sometimes it happens with an actual decision but more often than not they just drift away.  Of former Catholics who remain religious, more switch to Evangelical or other very conservative denominations than switch to the Episcopal, Unitarian, or other more liberal mainline churches. People leave the Church for liberal reasons, conservative reasons, personal reasons, and frankly for no reason at all - and the two latter categories are probably the biggest.

The task of the New Evangelization will need to be guided with careful study of this disaffection. Care must be taken in our highly politicized time that we not mistakenly see Catholic disaffection through red and blue lenses.
Vince Killoran
10 years 2 months ago
I'm not leaving.  But I do understand the anger and hurt of Catholics who have experienced abuse, stonewalling, tone-deaf clergy, and a narrowing of the understanding of the Faith.

Unlike the Mormons, at least the ad's creators aren't baptising us posthumously.
John Barbieri
10 years 2 months ago
Professor Beaudoin, much as I often disagree with you; your article is an excellent one.
As far as the New York Times advertisement is concerned, what else would we expect from both the advertiser and the newspaper? Neither care about catholics or the catholic church - never have, never will.
Your comments about deconversion are far more imporant.
Some months ago in a similar vein, if I recall, there was an article in the blogs about the desirability of exit interviews for catholics who either are leaving or have left the church.
Again, if I recall properly, most of the people invoved simply couldn't put up with the institution (read hierarchy) anymore. I have no desire to engage in a diatribe other than to say that the incompetence, indifference, and sometimes the criminality of the bishops is too much to take. Alas, reform just does not seem like even a remote possibiity at this time. How can it take place when the hierarchy -men who are responsible to no one - holds all the power? By their actions, the bishops continue to show that they just don't care about the laity.
In closing, I sadly recall the ending of T.S. Elliot's ''The Hollow Men'':
''This is the way the world ends,
   This is the way the world ends,
 This is the way the world ends,
   Not with a bang, but a wimper.''

Crystal Watson
10 years 2 months ago
I do think the ad is offensive, but I understand the deconversion idea - it seems to be happening to me, bit by bit.  Every next creepy thing the bishops or the Vatican do seems to push me further away .... an example of the latest:  in my diocese, the church has decided to no longer fund Francis House which helps the homeless, because of the director's *personal* views (she supports Planned Parenthood and seme-sex marriage).  It's like the hierarchy's actions are making it harder and harder for me to remember that the spirituality is what matters.  I look at the Episcopal Church and think 'why can't we be like them?'
Martin Gallagher
10 years 2 months ago
Crystal Watson wrote;, "I understand the deconversion idea - it seems to be happening to me, bit by bit." 

Crystal, that happened to me in my 20s and I left entirely.  I became an affiliated, sola scriptura, "Jesus-only" Christian.  Ironically, it was this committement to Christ that brought me back.  I realized that if I really wanted to follow Jesus, I had to belong to His church - even though it sometimes failed us.  Scrupture & 1st-2nd century history are pretty clear.  Christ estabilshed a church with a hierarchy - even though that hierarchy fails and sins - (as I do).

 Anyway, I encourage you to stay - not for the church's sake, but for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully, despite our sins, our participation in His church will make it a smidge better before we die.

Kang Dole
10 years 2 months ago
Maria, I'll be praying that Cthulhu eats you first*.

ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn Maria!

*That's a good thing.
Anne Chapman
10 years 2 months ago
How sad. It seems that Feeneyism still lives among some.
10 years 2 months ago
Exit interviews!  Now that's a good idea.  Researchers would serve the Catholic Church well and religion in general if we knew more accurately why people leave.  Is it just disagreement with doctrine?  Is it perhaps just a tiredness with the whole spectrum of societal debates e.g. political, medical, religious and otherwise.  I for one am willing to be engaged in the discussions but I'm despairing that politicians, medical professionals and religious leaders are up to the task.  
Ruth Walker
10 years 2 months ago
Apparently Catholic women use contraceptives and have abortions at about the same rate as everyone else.  It's time to stop the hypocrisy.  When I was a child, Catholic families were usually large, but that has changed and it is not because the rhythm method started working.

The Catholic church thinks it's above the law - upset that their leaders might have to do something they have decided is against God.  It seems to be news to them that the United States is not a theocracy.  Since 1878 it has been clear that religious freedom is about beliefs and opinions, not actions and practices which are governed by law.  See REYNOLDS v. U.S., 98 U.S. 145 (1878) where the court unanimously ruled that if that were not so, it would ''permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances.''

We need to stop those who pretend that our government is not secular, as it has been so since the Constitution was ratified.

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