Why They Left: Exit interviews shed light on empty pews
It is no secret that increasing numbers of baptized Catholics in the United States never or rarely attend Sunday Mass. In the late fall of 2011, we asked some of them a simple question: Why? At the request of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of Trenton, N.J., we surveyed nearly 300 non-churchgoing Catholics in his diocese.
We got in touch with registered parishioners who are no longer showing up by placing articles in the secular and diocesan press, posting notices in parish bulletins and asking pastors for contact information. The survey was also offered in Spanish, sent to all the parishes with Spanish-language populations and advertised in a Spanish-language newspaper.
Through these methods, we established confidential contact with Catholics ranging in age from 16 to 90, with a mean and median age of 53. Ninety-five percent of the respondents were white/Caucasian; 2.1 percent were Hispanic; and 63 percent were female. Through Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, each participant received by regular mail or e-mail a brief set of questions inviting open-ended responses. This article highlights those responses.
An overwhelming number of respondents told us they had left both their parish and the church. About a quarter said they had separated themselves from the parish but still considered themselves to be Catholic. One respondent wrote: “I separated my family from the Catholic Church and turned to an alternate religion for a while and then returned knowing I had the right religion but the wrong people running it.” Several chose to specify that they separated themselves from “the hierarchy.”
A fair amount of ambivalence was exhibited in response to our question whether separation was a conscious decision or not. Relatively few indicated that they simply “drifted away.”
One 23-year-old woman said: “I felt deceived and undervalued by the church. I didn’t understand certain things and found no mentors within the church. I just stopped going because my community of friends and family were no longer in the church.” Another woman wrote, “I tried different Catholic churches in the area because I just didn’t seem to be getting anything out of the Mass, especially the homily.” Another person said, “I stopped going regularly because the homilies were so empty. And whenever the church wanted to raise money, they dropped the homily and talked money.” There were many complaints about the quality of homilies as well as about poor music at Mass.
The scandal surrounding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy was mentioned often. One man said that what did it for him was “the bishop’s refusal to list pedophile priests on the diocesan Web site and his non-support of the effort to lift the statute of limitations for bringing sexual abuses cases forward in the courts.”
To Prompt a Return
We also asked, “Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?” Respondents clearly welcomed the opportunity to express their opinions. We found no easily discernible trend in their replies, but their generally positive tone suggests the wisdom of finding ways for all Catholics to post their views somehow “on the record,” with an assurance that they will be heard. Here are just a few of the many replies this question drew:
“Be accepting of divorced and remarried congregants.”
“I’m looking for more spiritual guidance and a longer sermon.”
“Return to a more consultative and transparent approach.”
“Change the liberal-progressive political slant to a more conservative, work-ethic atmosphere.”
“Make the homilies more relevant; eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing.”
“Provide childcare and a children’s ministry.”
“Give us an outwardly loving, kind, Christian Catholic priest/pastor.”
Our question about whether or not their pastor was “approachable or welcoming” drew a number of warm and positive answers. About half of the respondents, however, were not enthusiastically supportive of their pastors. Where pastors and parishes were named, we gave that information to the bishop and recommended that he deal with the issues privately and avoid unnecessary public embarrassment when he goes public with our report. Words like “arrogant,” “distant,” “aloof” and “insensitive” appeared often enough to suggest that attention must be paid to evidence of “clericalism” in the diocese.
Most respondents were positive or neutral in response to our question about the approachability of parish staff. There were sufficient reports of bad experiences over the parish telephone, however, to suggest that attention should be paid to courtesy and improved “customer relations.”
By a margin of about two to one, respondents reported that they did at one time consider themselves to be part of a parish community. On the negative side, here are two interesting replies elicited by this question:
“As much as I wanted to get involved and expand my faith, there were no clear avenues to do that. So it was just a place to attend Mass. And because attending Mass was a guilt-ridden obligation, I was always alone in a crowd where I knew no one and no one knew me.”
“I did not experience community in the sense that I knew people just from going to church. The ones I knew, I knew them outside of church. No one misses the fact that we stopped going. No one has called from the parish, even though we were regular attendees and envelope users!”
We asked, “Are there any religious beliefs or practices specific to the Catholic Church that trouble you? Here is a sampling of what we heard:
“Yes, the church’s view on gays, same-sex marriage, women as priests and priests not marrying, to name a few.”
“Pedophile priests and brothers.”
“Hypocrisy, history of discrimination against women, anti-gay stance, unwelcoming attitude.”
“The stance on divorce.”
“Bishops covering up child abuse and transferring offending priests to other parishes.”
“Yes, I cannot comprehend transubstantiation, and I cannot see why we have to confess our sins to a priest.” (Many others mentioned confession.)
“I think the church should focus its efforts on poverty, war and healthcare.”
“It’s all about money; that’s why we left” (from a married couple, age 44).
“The primary reason why I left the church is that divorced and remarried persons are not welcome; they are viewed as adulterous sinners.”
“Overemphasis on abortion.” (This was mentioned by many, who think abortion is wrong but overemphasized to the exclusion of other social concerns.)
“I feel the church should stay out of politics; it should certainly not threaten politicians.”
“The Catholic Church as a whole is ritualistic and cold. I do not get the sense of family and community that I get from another faith community. I get the feeling that God is judgmental and harsh, unforgiving and unyielding.”
“I am troubled by what appears to be the Catholic Church’s seemingly insatiable demand for money. You can attend Mass every week, but if you are not putting money in your envelope, you can lose your ‘in parish’ status and even your ability to receive letters that are needed to be godparents, etc.”
“It’s all about the priests. The leadership of the church does not seem to understand that we do not care about priests. They live an upper-middle-class lifestyle and are completely disconnected from reality. And yet they think they can preach to us. End the clericalism and people like me may listen to the church again.” (Others mentioned priestly “pomposity,” “distance,” “aloofness.”)
It should be noted that most respondents said no to our question about any “bad experiences” they may have had with any person officially associated with the church. Mention was made, however, of bad experiences in the confessional; refusals by parish staff to permit eulogies at funerals; denial of the privilege of being a godparent at a relative’s baptism; verbal, emotional and physical abuse in Catholic elementary school; denial of permission for a religiously mixed marriage in the parish church. In one case the parish priest “refused to go to the cemetery to bury my 9-year-old son because it was not a Catholic cemetery.” Several respondents noted that they were victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
In the course of replying to this question about “bad experiences,” a 78-year-old man said something that could serve as a guideline for the bishop in reacting to this survey. This man wrote, “Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule; you don’t get a ‘let’s sit down and talk about it’ response.” It is our hope that there will be more sitting down and talking things over in the Diocese of Trenton, and perhaps in other dioceses, as a result of this survey experience.
The Bishop’s Ear
We asked, “If you could communicate directly with the bishop, what would you like to say?” This drew a few barbs but a great deal of very helpful commentary as well. The responses may prompt the bishop to find a forum for direct one-on-one future communication between parishioners and himself. Here is a very brief sampling of what people would like to tell their bishop:
“The church should not condemn gays, but embrace them as God’s people. The church should also recognize women as equals.”
“Please find a way not to exclude me from the Catholic community” (divorced woman, 56).
“Remember that the church is not just the religious leaders but the people who sit in the pews each week. Ask more questions; listen to them, and involve them in decision-making.”
“Petition the church to expand its view on divorce” (divorced and remarried woman, 59).
“Young mothers like me need help. Have women, as well as men, as greeters at Mass; make childcare available; encourage the formation of mothers’ groups; have the homilies speak to me” (married white woman, 29, now attending a Baptist church).
“Do something about confession; have communal penance services.”
“If the Catholic Church does not change its archaic views on women, it is going to become a religion that survives on the fringe of an open-minded, progressive society.”
“Instead of making every Mass a form of humiliation for Catholics who cannot receive Communion, do something, like a private blessing at Communion time, to include everyone” (divorced and remarried woman, 64).
“I would advise the bishop to make training in public speaking mandatory for every priest. They should also be trained in how to relate their homilies to the people and inspire them.”
“You have my sympathies, Bishop; I couldn’t imagine stepping into a management situation with such glaring human resources weaknesses. Perhaps you should have your priests live together in regional centers so that they could be psychologically healthier as a result of more human interaction. Also, do something about the quality of Catholic education.”
Our survey instrument gave respondents an opportunity to “break anonymity,” if they wished, and give their contact information so that someone from the diocese could be in touch with them if they would like that to happen. To his credit, Bishop O’Connell has indicated that he personally will respond to the 25 persons who indicated that they would like to be contacted.
The vast majority of respondents said no to our question about whether they considered themselves now to be members of another faith community. Those who do consider themselves affiliated with another church spanned a wide range, including Buddhist and Jewish, on the fringe, and Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist and Presbyterian, clustered in the middle.
There is much to be learned from all this. Considering that these responses come, by definition, from a disaffected group, it is noteworthy that their tone is overwhelmingly positive and that the respondents appreciated the opportunity to express themselves. Some of their recommendations will surely have a positive impact on diocesan life. Not surprisingly, the church’s refusal to ordain women, to allow priests to marry, to recognize same-sex marriage and to admit divorced and remarried persons to reception of the Eucharist surfaced, as did contraception and a host of questions associated with the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
Throughout our involvement with this project, we thought of the “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” issues that would be raised. All the concerns expressed will, we hope, be received with pastoral understanding. Diocesan officials are taking notice of topics that call for better explanation. As they do, we hope that they will bear in mind the comment cited by one man, who said that “every time you ask a question, you get a rule.” It is not necessary to repeat the rules; it is time to offer more reasoned arguments and better pastoral explanations of points of Catholic doctrine and practice that appear to be troubling to people in the diocese. Notable among these are the exclusion of women from ordination, the perception that persons of homosexual orientation are unwelcome in the church, the complexity of the annulment process and the barring of divorced and remarried persons from the sacraments.
In need of immediate attention is a fresh explanation of the nature of the Eucharist. Underlying all the opinions expressed by the respondents to this survey is the fact that they are, for the most part, willing to separate themselves from the celebration and reception of the Eucharist. This calls for a creative liturgical, pastoral, doctrinal and practical response. An explanation of the “Sunday obligation” as an obligation to give thanks—through sacrament and sacrifice—rather than simply to be present in church at Mass on Sunday might be helpful.
The quality of preaching needs attention, as does the image of clergy who—fairly or unfairly—are all too often seen as arrogant, distant, unavailable and uncaring. Not unrelated to the homily issue is the quality of the sound systems in churches and the difficulty congregations have understanding foreign-born clergy, often with heavy accents.
We have included only a sampling of responses in this article, but we have given Bishop O’Connell our full report and recommendations. He also has what we call a “data dump”—the complete set of all the questionnaires—which will take him on an unedited excursion through the minds of those whose bodies are no longer occupying space in the pews on Sundays.
One of the issues that was mentioned above that has come up as a conversation lately with a few friends is the one of feeling community. In one of the recent issues of Our Sunday Visitor there was an "Opener" by John Norton that talked about finding community in church. At the end he writes, "When we have... church friends, we find it easier to grow in our faith and in our Catholic identity. And we're happier..." One woman above mentioned a possible "mother's group" that would help. Another mentioned feeling excluded from community as a divorced woman. One even mentioned looking for an avenue of involvement in church life but found the only thing they were wanted for was to be a pew warmer. So much of it comes back to community.
There is a lot of grief from the hierarchy or things that I may disagree with that I will tolerate and keep returning if I have a community to return to. Things that were mentioned above about the politics or the over emphasis on abortion (to the exclusion of other life issues) I strugle with too. But I have found friendship and community in my parish which makes quietly walking away next to impossible to do.
p.s. - I plan on printing this article out and using it as a coffee time conversation starter at church. Thank you again for a great article.
I'm glad the bishop of Trenton had the guts to commission (or allow) a survey and exit interviews of why people leave the church. I'm currently an Episcopalian who formally left the Church 18 years ago, although I've been a member of my current parish for 20 years. As I've reflected on why I left, I've come up with the following reasons:
1) I spiritually starved to death in the last Catholic parish I belonged to;
2) I never felt that I was valued as a whole human being; non-Catholic Christians seem to be better at affirming wholeness;
3) experience of an inappropriate relationship with a priest.
However, I am still intrigued with Catholicism. Even though I've left the formal Church, I still value the richness of what Catholic Christianity offers.
And something else the Catholic Church needs to really observe and study is its influence on the rest of Christianity right now. My parish offers centering prayer, for instance. Programs like Cursillo have become staples (or were) in other denominations. Cross-pollination in liturgical music-Richard Proulx (now deceased) comes to mind. The whole broad areas of spirituality, social action and outreach, and liturgy. Catholicism is having such an impact, both negatively AND positively.
Also, the Church REALLY needs to examine its whole clerical structure-from who's eligible for ordination, to selection and education of seminarians, to formation of the whole man (absolutely integrating his sexuality into his being), to cleaning up the Augean stables of sexual abuse. Realistically, it'll be awhile before married men and women are ordained priests.
Lastly, even though the Church seems to be in such crisis over sexual abuse world wide, how does this current crisis fit into the long history of the Church? Is this exposure of root rot another episode in the cycle of health, decline into corruption and reinvigoration through the Holy Spirit AND people inspired by the Holy Spirit to conversion and healing? Where are the historians in all this? We need their input right about now to perhaps give some balance to the current crisis.
Look for the good. Do not dwell on the negatives. Be an active, productive participant. Don't expect others to meet your every need. There are penty of saints to model your life after. Make a habit of investing time in spiritual reading, devine adoratiion, etc. It can and does made a difference.
I have seen many comments that mirror similar sentiments quoted in the article. It reflects an attitude that it is someone else's responsibility to make a parish an accepting community of faith. it is someone else's task to volunteer to set up babysitting, socials, and other programs. We as disciples of Christ have to accept our responsibilities as His followers. Never expect perfection in this life. Look to do the best you can with every effort, including our faith in God.
But I want to point out that nothing in it is news. Any priest who has been talking with his parishioners, his own family and his lay friends knows these are the major concerns both of parishioners who feel marginalized at Mass and of those who've stopped showing up.
The thing I try to remember is that many dissaffected Catholics really want to stay. And the survey responses clearly bear that out.
If someone really wants to be at Mass, it isn't hard for a priest or parishioner to hear them out and tell them they count.
Next, I would urge the authors to conduct a survey among the continuing faithful to determine the number and percentage at risk of leaving the church. There remain many who would like to leave due to perceived shortcomings but are committed to the Eucharist and to their belief in the true presence as vital to their lives. Yet, they are greatly frustrated by the excessive clericalism, lack of transparency, triumphalism, and pomposity of the hierarchy and speak openly of being on the verge of being driven from the Roman church. I am one of them. I was among a throng of over 1000 of the devoted faithful who are striving to remain and who gathered last Pentecost weekend in Detroit at the American Catholic Council convention. Yes, these are the serious Catholics who are in pain.
It is time to "take back the Church" and adhere to the examples and teaching set by Christ and remind the "leaders" of what their original mandate was......
The Church that I attended last Sunday is in a rural community and used to overflow on to the front porch at the one and only Mass per week was conspicuous by the fact that there was not one child in the Church and a grumpy old man of seventy was one of the youngest attending... If this one hundred and seven year old Church closes in the next five years almost no one will notice.
I hope your article/survey is recognised for the true insight to our future that it presents and that those who can create change are reading and acting on it.
Pax Te Cum
Each of the Synoptic Gospels states that Jesus ate with the tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners (Matt 2:16, Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30)
Yet The Church refuses to eat (share the Body of Christ) with the divorced, homosexuals, those who do not follow it teaching on abortion as well anyone who is not a member in good standing of the Catholic Church.
Maybe this underlying tone of exclusiveness (and required worthiness) is why so many do not feel welcome in the Church. We are not projecting the feeling of the God's love for all people
Though I am (still) a weekly church-goer, the lack of awareness and concern by most clerics I've met is a real "turn-off". Most homilies are so bland and unfocussed that they have no meaning for our everyday concerns.
When Jesus talked with the woman at the well in Samaria, He did not condemn her...so why do so many priests seem to lord it over divorcees and people with real problems? We urgently need clerics at all levels, from the Pope to the parish priest, who sincerely empathize with "ordinary" people and understand their physical, economic, and spiritual needs. Furthermore, the Church must NOW recognize that women are just as important, if not more so, than men....it is fundamentally wrong to exclude women from being priests, especially so because they bring a much more humanistic, caring, and listening attitude to this ministry. Where is it written that women are not worthy!?
All priests must care enough to craft their weekly homilies to be meaningful to their local parishioners. Theology as its place, and that place is in the halls of seminaries, not the parish Church.
On a mundane level, all parish finances should be open to view and audited semi-annually, to insure our financial resources are used wisely and responsibly, since the source of all funds is the people who sit in the pews.
Lastly, the bishops and the hierarchy have no right to urge the views of any particular political party on their parishioners, who are well-equipped to thinking over the issues for themselves and choosing their political leaders.
Research parishes and diocese that are growing and successful, we had parish in Washington state which literaly was dying in a very vibrant community, the pastor and visiting Jesuits from Seattle University never wore clericals, there was no visable "Catholic" view in the community, it was as if church was hidden away from society. Then old pastor was replaced, bby young priest who made our community his community, he immediately started replacing elders with young families, had a policy (against bishops wishes) that invited young folks and families, especialy single parents to bring their un-baptized children in for instructions and baptism, he made his sunday presence as open and public as possible, he carried the church out into public having celebrations, rosary, benidiction, marches, and mass into community. He made rounds to both hospitals daily, he organised church groups to venture out in public, started theology on tap for young folks, had local scout troops organise around church, invited folks for wednesday night dinners, awwent to coffee in llocal resteraunts, He even found two lutheran nuns, wearing their habits (catholic nuns are ashamed to be sseen in habits). Ater one year had passed the Catholic church in that community became a viable part of the community. Every one in that parish and througout the dioces has agreed that the dioces (archdiocese is way to big for one bishop to operate and that has been the basic problem in church response and growth, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are about the same sise as Italy, which has 16 cardinals 457 bishops and parises. Amazing that the diocese in America can ever operate covering so many people and processes with so few shepards(bishops) to care for heir numerous flocks.
Editors of America take note: you yourselves have vigorously opposed the liberalization of the statues of lmitations of child sexual abuse in New York State. This position only serves to continue to facilitate the sheltering of sexual predators, both within and outside the church. The archaic statute limitations in New York constitutes a failure to protect children. The reforming of these laws, the Child Victims Act, is similar to reforms in California & Delaware. Despite the dire predictions of church leaders there, no involuntary backruptcies have occurred and more predators have been identified and more children are being protected. Putting the material concerns of the church ahead of children's safety is wrong-headed and shows a lack of faith as well as a pagan attchment to money. If the clergy vigorously supported defending the safety of children, even if it cost them money, the faithful would respect the clergy again and begin to be more generous in their contributions.
I'm not an Episcopalian - just a recovering Catholic who could no longer find spiritual nourishment in an institution whose leaders ignored the sexual abuse of children by priests and bishops, and are now "cracking down" on women religious - the healthiest people in the Catholic Church, in my opinion.
I doubt whether Jesus would be allowed to receive the Eucharist today. I can't imagine him obeying the manmade doctrines imposed by the hierarchy today. He wasn't afraid of women - why are they so frightened?
I miss Eucharist and thought of returning to the Church after leaving following my divorce. But I cannot return because the hierarchy is more concerned about preserving the ”institution” than it is about concerned about living the gospel. Would Mary be told that she is not worthy to consecrate the Eucharist or to tell others about her son? And was it not Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who remained at the foot of the cross while the disciples were nowhere to be found? So why can’t there be female priests? In addition, the ultra-conservatism of the Church seems to place greater emphasis on preserving the institution than on bearing witness to Christ.
Perhaps the greatest single issue of contention, the loss of divorced Catholics, is a problem the current Church shares with its founder, Jesus Christ, who, twice insisting on the indissolubility of marriage and His disapproval of divorce, lost many followers. Yet those followers left Him; He did not send them away. Can we even imagine Hiim telling them they could not follow Him as a result of their sins? Is a lesson there which this survey underlines? The bishops must find a way to include those divorced Catholics who wish to remain in communion. Is this truly a question of squaring the circle? I would think, and hope, not. Similarly the issue of gay Catholics.
On the sexual abuse issue. Lying, sinning, betraying, cowardly bishops and their disheartening actions have been a part of the Church since Peter. Yet Peter, over time, reformed. That is the question here: is the Church reforming? Has it reformed? What has been done cannot be undone, but the damage will continue until the laity concludes such abuse has been properly contained and such activity no longer tolerated.
The loss of catechesis and informed background generally is a real problem. It is difficult to comprehend the mystery of transubstantiation, or even the divinity of Christ, if a person does not realize that he lives a life absolutely shrouded in mystery, a creature of an Uncaused Cause which the recent astronomy article here makes clear is as unknown to today's scientists as it was to Aristotle. The Church not only has to contend with catechesis, but with a large group of young citizenry that is not given to thinking.
The issue of married priests seems to be glacially resolving; the issue of women priests is currently frozen. Traditions have to be built here. Female altar servers and Chancellors are only the very beginning.
Yet this survey remains but a half done work in progress, fatally incomplete. Since the liberal Protestant churches who have already made most of the reforms called for by those in the survey who have separated themselves from the Church, to make a sound analysis, we must find out what were the reasons those new members of the Church left their old congregations to join the Church? They are not small in number. What did they find attractive that compelled them to move to the Faith? The two groups' answers must be considered in tandem. Otherwise, analogously, we will be trying to analyze a balance sheet by considering only the debits and ignoring the assets. Such information would be totally inadequate to the task of taking corrective action.
I wonder if it would be possible for America to periodically report on how the Trenton diocese uses the information, what if any changes ensue, and how the members of that diocese-both clergy and laity-are affected. I applaud Bishop O'Connell for his courage in commissioning this study.
"On the sexual abuse issue. Lying, sinning, betraying, cowardly bishops and their disheartening actions have been a part of the Church since Peter. Yet Peter, over time, reformed. That is the question here: is the Church reforming? Has it reformed? What has been done cannot be undone, but the damage will continue until the laity concludes such abuse has been properly contained and such activity no longer tolerated."
No, the church has not reformed in its placing an institution ahead of the young. The officials in Rome have yet to demand resignations from any bishops who protected pedophiles - in fact, Rome has rewarded several of them. Cardinal Law, Cardinal Levada, Cardinal Brady of Ireland and many, many others. Their loyalty to the institution was noted and rewarded. They have not been held accountable nor disciplined for permitting thousands of young people to be sexually molested, causing lifelong damage to many, some of whom committed suicide. These deaths are attributable to the sinful lack of moral judgment and understanding on the part of the hierarchy of the church. Tragicially, there is no sign that this amoral stance has changed. The pope still demanded that the latest batch of cardinals make the same oath of silence to protect the institution when necessary as has always been demanded. It is almost unbelievable that the very men who have risen to be bishops, who claim to represent and teach the "truth", are actually so amoral that they maintained silence rather than protect the young. They forgot God's law in order to follow a vow to an institution. The recent report on the abuse in Ireland once again blames everyone EXCEPT those responsible (the hierarchy in Ireland and in Rome).
So, Walter, there has been no reform. They have paid lip-service to 'reform", primarily by creating a few policies (background checks, training) that impact only those working at the lowest levels in the church - the lay volunteers and teachers and staff, and the deacons. There are NO policies to guide discipline of bishops who protect pedophiles. They are still not held accountable nor responsible. The current cases in Kansas City and Philadelphia are sad evidence of the reality that there has been no genuine reform.
By the way, the continued attrition from the churches (Catholic and mainline Protestant) continues and grows, especially among the young adults. The Catholic church has lost the most in percentage terms (again). The mainline Protestant churches also continue to lost members, especially younger adults, but fewer in percentage terms than the Catholic church. The Baptist church and other evangelical churches are also losing members. As far as the Catholic church goes, the number leaving continues to be about four times greater than the number joining. Putting an ecclesial head in the sand in denial of reality is no smarter for the church to do than it is for ostriches.
Good to hear from you again.
My focus above on reform is primarily concerned with the American Catholic Church and whether sexual abuse has been contained, that is, is not presently continuing, and when it has currently been found, is it being dealt with. I don't expect perfection; our public school system has a far worse record of sexual abuse of minors as has been already documented here; I expect measures of containment. We know it has not been in prior years. Now the bottom line is: how many credible cases of sexual abuse have occurred since say 2009-2012 in the Church, and how have they been handled? That is my question.
The most reliable and widely respected source, the National Coucil of Churches Yearbook, contradicts your contention that US Catholics are leaving the Church faster than liberal US Protestant denominations. Here are the membership growth/attrition numbers from the National Council of Churches Yearbook for the years 2010 and 2011, the latest for which there are figures:
Catholic Church +1.5% +.6%
Presbyterian -3.3% -2.6%
Baptist -2.0% -1.6%
Evangelical Lutheran -1.6% -2.0%
Episcopal -2.8% -2.5%
The Church of Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists are both growing faster than the Catholic Church. Pentacostal churches are also holding membership comparatively well.
These are not happy figures. All Christian churches are, or should be, brothers in Christ; any one decline is shared by all. Yet this solid source of information suggests that the liberal Protestant churches, which have provided many of the desired traits of disaffected liberal Catholics such as divorce, abortion, gay marriage and actively gay bishops, etc, are according to the Yearbook experiencing precipitous declines. That is why I believe drawing conclusions from only the outgoing and ignoring the incoming would be a fatally flawed strategy. A very slow rate of growth is far preferable to losing 2 or 3% of church membership annually.
That's why it's important when we assess Church membership issues, we need the whole picture, not just the half provided in this survey.
Some see the Catholic Church as an ugly development in Christianity, with an ugly scent. To me, the Church is a spectacularly beautiful flower, unfortunately double-scented, one scent undeniably heavenly, the other scent distressingly earthly, or is it, not earthly enough, in that she doesn’t have a clue as to what’s really important to her membership? It’s the latter scent, the Church’s obvious “unreal” presence in the modern world that causes people to walk away from the her, rather than relishing the ever sustaining heavenly scent of the Church’s salvific mission, her intrinsic beauty and goodness!
Sometimes the unpleasant scent is not the Church’s fault at all, but comes from the odor of chronic discontent of a “faultfinder!” No matter what, the Church can never do anything right! However, Bishop O’Connell of Trenton is on the right track and deserves a “Good job, Bishop!” shout-out.
Despite the Church’s sometimes repellant scent, for me, I willingly cast my lot with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the Church, choosing to hang out where my Mother is! I mean Mary, Mother of the Church, whose soul glorifies the Lord, the one called “Blessed” by all generations, the one who at the Wedding Feast told the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you!” We are the waiters who Wait for and with the Lord!
To be Catholic one must support the Church’s teaching integrity, even the hard stuff, rooted in the words of Christ, Scripture, the Fathers and Tradition. “Unto thine own self be true!” That’s what the Ancients said, but a lot of us “moderns” don’t have time to listen to what the “Ancients” say, a fundamental reason I think why many walk away from the Catholic Church. The Church is “out of touch” with modern needs and ancient stuff no longer applies! The Catholic Church cannot do, or be otherwise.
True, peripheral in-organic appendages like liturgical forms, mandatory clerical celibacy etc., can change. Laywomen and men in the College of Cardinals can happen? Well, it doesn’t require Holy Orders, does it to be a Cardinal? Women and men serving in top administrative diocesan positions, also as Papal Nuncios can happen. Women in the Deaconate can also happen, rooted in a teaching of Blessed John Paul II, that the Deaconate is not part of Holy Orders, but something altogether “other.” And more. But the soul of the Church, cannot be altered, no matter how the winds of societal change may blow. As a result many suffer I think a “ heart attack of Belief” making the following anion applicable “Love her, or leave her!” Too bad!
No one has asked for it, but my advice would be, before walking away we should all get down on our knees and pray. “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!” Then read John 6 and notice that Jesus didn’t change his message to please the crowd and many walked away saying. “This is a hard saying!” He even gave the Apostles an “open door” if they chose to walk away, saying, “Will you leave me too?” and their answer still applies, “To Whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”
We have the choice to stay, or go. But good heavens, if we choose to go, what a TREASURE we leave behind! Simplistic? O.K.!
"Across denominations, the net losses were uneven, with Catholics losing the highest proportion of childhood adherents — nearly 8 percent — followed by white mainline Protestant traditions, which lost 5 percent.
Among Catholics, whites were twice as likely as Hispanics to say they are no longer affiliated with the church."http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/young-millennials-losing-faith-in-record-numbers/2012/04/19/gIQA9QoxTT_story.html
When the music ends, he should then tell them to turn around and ask this question: "Gentlemen, is this REALLY the church you want?" He might be very surprised by the survey of answers he receives...
I'm grabbing the opportunity, now, to demonstrate this. (Also, I'm not convinced that my impression is unique in the Church throughout the country.) Though the following quote by our Cardinal in his Cardinal's Appeal is tangential to the discussion, it is emblematic of how he leads our diocese: that no one is to be left out. And this sentiment is felt, or rather, expressed throughout the diocese by his priests. I know for many of the casual attendees from the neighborhood at our Masses, his words were words they've longed to hear and despaired they ever would; and so welcomed when they did hear them.
"Living out our Catholic faith - manifesting the presence of God's kingdom among us - takes many forms. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, we find the story of the leper who came to Jesus begging to be healed. Leprosy at the time of Christ was not only a disease that ravaged the body but, because of its contagious nature, excluded the sick person from the community. The leper was an outcast - outside the community - or, as the Book of Leviticus tells us, someone who must be kept "outside the camp."
The leprosy noted in the Gospel can be a symbol of all kinds of physical, social, cultural, mental and spiritural afflictions that could make one feel that he or she was "outside the camp" - not a part of God's family.
Yet it is precisely the mission of the Church to bring the healing that says we are all a part of the kingdom, we are all part of God's family...no one should be left outside."
The Cardinal goes on to say "We are not bystanders in God's plan for the world of healing, wholeness, kindess and love. We are participants who answer Jesus' call to meet the needs of others."
I copied out this part of his Appeal and carry it with me so that when people tell me the Church doesn't want them, I can show them that it might not really be the case. ...that negative aspects they've heard second hand and now believe about the Church may be incorrect. A Cardinal said it, I have it in writing: "...we are all part of God's family...no one should be left outside."
Amen to that.
Comment 32 was the only one reflecting a true Evagelical faith. God Bles Hong Kong Cardinal for still preaching the Gospel of Jesus.
Some weeks ago the Pope visited my country and acted as a politician interviewing the presidential candidates and celebrating Mass in a place dedicated to Christ King ("therefore you are a king". " You said it"). It is a poor memory in the life of Mexicans the so called Cristiada (celebrated in a poor recent film by Andy Garcia). The monument where Ratzinger celebrated was built as a testimony of a turbulent and opaque incident in Mexican history.
Yes, I have deserted the Catholic Church because I´ve quited Rome, the Papacy, the dycasteria and the Cardinals, the wealth and opulent displays of those who prefer money and power instead of the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the common people. My faith (which is trust and joy, and not belief in all the ellucubrations elaborated trough 16 centuries) is in Jesus, who only saves.
As far as the Church as an institution, I won't leave, but that does not mean that I don't think they have lots of work to do. Sometimes I am tempted to go Episcopalian, but can't fathom joining a group formed so a corrupt king could get a divorce. Reform is definitely needed. There is so much hypocrisy going on in the hierarchy and people are tired of it. Locally the DC archdiocese recognized Speaker Gingrich's third marriage! Nobody wants priests to live badly, but Cardinal Law was rewarded with a cushy job in Rome after the sex abuse scandals in Boston. Priests should be allowed to be married, just as some of the original apostles. Widowers who have become priests later in life are often valued because they understand what it's like to pay a mortgage and raise kids; they can relate to their parishoners' lives. Women should also eventually be ordained as well. It has always stumped me how Jesus treated women as respected equals, but his Church has not... My younger daughter really valued her wonderful education at a local Catholic high school, but all they discussed in her religion classes was abortion, which really turned her off. None of the Trenton study surprises me at all. I hope and pray Pope Benedict reads it and learns from it (but I'm not counting on it).
Although it seems a relatively small sampling at 2,000 participants, let's assume that it is fully adequate, and that among the young, mainline protestant sects are doing very poorly losing 5% of their membership, and Catholics worse at almost 8%. Meanwhile, among mainline protestant churches generally they are doing similarly poorly and the Church holding its own. The question then becomes, since the liberal protestant churches are doing slightly less poorly with the young and worse with the general population, which churches have generally already provided the liberal reforms such as gay marriage and bishops, women ministers, in many cases approved of elective abortions, etc, and are losing overall membership faster than the Church, what is the issue? Why are say the Church of Latter Day Saints and 7th Day Adventists doing better than either liberal Protestant or Catholic churches in retention and growth of members?
And as I have suggested, to answer these questions in the Church we need to know why new members join the Church as well as why former members leave or we will have but half a picture.
Those who have left are seldom vocal - they no longer follow Catholic issues because they see no hope for them in the Roman Catholic church, especially the young women, and so begin to try to find their own way - very often as the spiritual but not religious. THere has long been a traditional pattern of the young leaving, then returning on marriage or parenthood that is also being unraveled. And of those who do leave and return as young parents, there are factors in play now that may send them out the door again. Georgetown University had a weekend symposium a few years ago with the purpose of understanding more about the younger generation and their relationship with the church, and their hopes for the church. What they found does not bode well - a huge and growing divide between what the young lay Catholics believe and want in the church and what the priesthood believes and wants - a chasm lies between the young laity and the attitudes of the extremely conservative younger priests who will soon be the pastors of the churches. It would be interesting to see if the reports of cold, arrogant priests who dismiss the laity from leadership or input in the parishes involves a disproportionate number of "John Paul II" priests. Anecdotal evidence from my family, friends, colleagues and neighbors indicates that this could be the case. A study done by Boston College illustrated this - the "older" priests ("Vatican II") favor a "servant leader" model of priesthood that does not assume any particular superiority of the priest. The younger ("John Paul II") priests favor the cultic model of priesthood - one that sets them above the laity, and expects absolute obedience and deference from the laity. Very often when these priests become pastors, parish councils become a historic relic of Vatican II.
The study also notes that the number of non-Hispanic young who have left the church is double that of the Hispanic young adults, thus mitigating somewhat the 8% loss figure, which would be worse without them. As with the general Catholic numbers, the immigration from the south masks the true decline in the Roman Catholic church in the United States, which exceeds in percentage terms that of any other christian denomination, including your favorite whipping boy churches - the mainline Protestants. (BTW, most evangelical churches have women ministers.) In another decade or two, the majority of US Catholics will be of Hispanic origin. They may end up saving the American Catholic church - but it won't be Benedict's ideal of church - their masses are lively and warm, they develop real communities, they respect their priests but they don't kowtow to them as princes. Cold, structured Latin masses where the priest's back is turned, where the congregation frowns sternly at anyone who dares to attempt the handshake of peace, churches that are rigid and cold, do not appeal to them. That is why they too are leaving - although so far in lesser numbers - often the second generation - often for Pentecostal churches. Not because of Pentecostal theology, but because of the warmth of the communities, the warmth of the worship. Latin America is losing Catholics in droves. Benedict had his reasons for selecting Brazil (the world's largest "Catholic" country) for the next World Youth Day. But will that do anything beyond a fun weekend for lots of young Catholics with little staying power? Brazil recently elected its first woman President - a woman who disagrees with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church on many issues. Continuing to relegate women to the role of passive "receivers" (in everything from John Paul II"s Theology of the Body to the local parish) will not "save" the church in the west (or in Latin America).
It seems that there is a lot going on that the powers that be in the church don't really want to examine too closely. After all, what would be their response? A church that had the hubris to paint itself into a corner with Pius IX's definition of "infallibility", and the additional hubris of the "creeping" infallibility of John Paul II, it is difficult to lose male clerical face and admit being wrong on anything at all. The sensus fidelium is ignored. A church that denies the feminine, that insists on keeping women as second class will eventually face the reality that the departure of young women from the Catholic church (which is, of course, even higher than of young men in the church - America had an article about that a few months ago) does not bode well for the future.
BTW, 2000 is a large enough sample size for accuracy, using modern statistical evaluation techniques. If you pay attention to political polls around voting time, you will see that their accuracy has become quite high even when the sample size is tiny compared to the tens of millions in the electorate.
The church does not discreament against homosexuals, What the church says is that all christians should abstain from sexuality untill marriage and be open to having children. as for homosexuals are concerned the church can not allow homosexuals to engage in sexual activities, since homsexuality is a disorder saying this by no means am I saying that homesexuals are not allowed to participate as long as they remain chaste.
Many single men and women remain chaste, it's a matter of controlling your urges which by the way can be done as atesto promise to raise there children in the catholic churchment to this. not always easy but it can be done
Vows can not be broken unless under extreame cercumstances
in other words choose very carefully and go through marriage preperation
as far as I know catholics are allowed to marry people of another religion as long as they are married in a church that is accepted by the church as valed
Catholics can be buried in a non religous cemementary
Perhaps that is right. Perhaps that is the only explanation for popes and hierarchy that maintained silence while their priests sexually abused the young, moving sexual molesters around from parish to parish and creating thousands of victims who might have been spared had these bishops and cardinals exercised some moral judgment and stopped them.
Maybe that is why the pope removes good and pastoral bishops (such as Morris of Australia) who understand that women are equal to men - made in the image of God - but promotes and rewards cardinals and bishops (Law, Levada, etc) who put loyalty to an institution ahead of protecting the young.
Is it the devil that is leading men who live lives of prestige and privilege in chanceries and in Rome to attack the women who live the gospel - who have dedicated their lives to working with the poor, the homeless, the sick, the AIDS patients, - all those disenfrancised from society. Perhaps it is the devil who has led the "leaders" to forget that Vatican II affirmed that THE church does not reside in a handful of men, but in the entire people of God and that the Holy Spirit speaks through THE church, not only through the same handful of men.
The Catholic church is dying from within - millions have left, millions more are leaving. Unless the power structure looks within, with genuine humility and honesty - asks questions (such as Fr. Byron has), and LISTENS to the people of God, this once-great church will continue to waste away.
I am not encouraging the Church, as you suggest, to model itself after the LDS or the Adventists (although there are aspects of the LDS that I do admire, such as their apparent emphasis on marital fidelity and family life generally). I am rather asking why is the Catholic Church, according to the National Council of Yearbooks, growing membership so slowly, and the liberal Protestant sects losing membership at an alarming rate, for some years now, the recent Georgetown study of a subset notwithstanding? Your contention that it is Hispanic immigration that makes up for the numbers leaving and provides this small growth in Catholic membership seems obsolete, for the recent poor economic performance of the US economy, coupled with the record numbers of deportations of illegal Hispanics under President Obama, suggests the numbers of illegal immigrants, far and away the largest source of immigrant growth, has declined since 2009 and therefore would tend to affect negatively, not positively, the US Catholic population in 2010 and 2011 numbers cited previously. In addition, according to Pew reports, "...Catholicism's retention rate of childhood members (68%) is far greater than the retntion rate of the unaffiliated (50%) and is comparable to or better than the retention rate of other religious groups." Again, my point here is not that I don't support some of the issues you raise that liberal protestant sects have already addressed; it is rather that those liberal protestant churches who have already incorporated the changes you recommend are losing membership faster than most other Christian faiths, Catholics among them.
In addressing this reality the first requirement would logically require obtaining the whole of the relevant information. Can you even imagine Obama or Romney, seeking to grow their voter support, surveying only those who are abandoning them and ignoring the reasons why new supporters are joining them? Of course not, as that would prove inadequate for an effective response. Likewise we also need to know why new members join the Church. To act without that full picture is simply irresponsible and foolhardy. As you state above, unless the Church listens to its members-all of them, not a selective group chosen to advance a given viewpoint and slight another-she will not prosper as she might.
Tangentially, I would also take issue with your false portrayal of John Paul II as a pope who has such hubris and devotion to papal infallability that he would not be willing to admit Church error. I have seen few acts of humility and confession of error more humbling from any major faith leader than John Paul II confessing the wrongs of the Church to the members of the Jewish faith and humbly asking their forgiveness. I also believe you overlook the historical positive impact of the Church upon the status of women. In the early Church, scholarship concurs that women, who were essential to its early growth, responded positively to the bishops' condemnation of abortion and infanticide so prevelant in the pagan world. (Tragically itt is more than a little ironic that this situation seems now to be reversing itself.) And in such total contrast to women as property and even virtual livestock in the pagan and to a lesser extent OT world, we have the only sinless human being since Eden, conceiving the Son of God with no input from a male, in Mary. It took John XXIII to even get a mention of Joseph in the liturgy of the Mass.
But the Church isn't, and never was, strictly about numbers of members. As you know, according to Mark, Jesus lost many followers when He insisted upon the definition of marriage as an indissolvable bond between a man and a woman, and according to Luke, He lost many more followers when He reiterated that His prohibition on divorce applied equally to women as to men. That remains an issue for the Church even today.