Powerful stuff, and required reading, from Peter Steinfels over at Commonweal on the leave-taking of Catholics from their church.
Why have I spent so much time on those of Catholic upbringing who have left the church? First, because the numbers are not trivial, to put it mildly. “Catholicism,” the Pew study found, “has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group.” In American Grace, their new study of religious polarization and pluralism, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell quote a member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Acton, Massachusetts, where it is estimated that former Catholics make up nearly half the congregation. “If it weren’t for people leaving the Catholic Church,” he said, “the Episcopal Church would have died a long time ago in America.” (See William A. Galston, "Getting Along.")
Second, these numbers are not only not trivial—they are not just numbers. They are our siblings, our cousins, nieces and nephews, our friends, neighbors, classmates, and students, our children and grandchildren, even in some cases our parents.
Third, this pattern of loss may well be the wave of the future. Faltering Catholic religious education, declining Mass attendance rates among adolescents, drops in what younger people report about the importance of religion in their lives are the advance signs of generational loss. Unlike the familiar drift from faith of individuals, which may correct itself over the course of a life, the shift of a generation will be felt for decades. And from preboomers to millennials, each generation of young Americans has taken greater distance from organized religion.