Why Catholics Leave – A Recent Study and Some Comments from Two Different Perspectives

Concern over the numbers of those who leave the Catholic Church, and those who have simply stopped practicing any faith, has been a consistent discussion on this blog. I recently came across an article by Fr. Thomas Reese SJ. who cites some recent Pew Survey results on why Catholics leave. I will admit that I do not share a lot of Fr. Reese’s views of the Church. Nevertheless, the data he shares is good and, while I do not agree with some of his conclusions, his article is thought provoking.

I will provide excerpts here. You can read his full article here: Hidden Exodus.

Of those who leave the Church, half simply stop practicing any faith. Forty percent go to Protestant denominations and 10 percent to non-Christian religions. Reese focuses his article on those who go to Protestant denominations. His remarks are in bold, italic black, my remarks are in plain text red.

The number of people who have left the Catholic church is huge. To be fair, that is because the Church is huge. There are over 70 million (at least nominal Catholics) and that number is still growing (due mostly to immigration) Even a small percentage of that number is large. Also, to be fair, Protestant, even Evangelical denominations also loose a large number of adherents, close in percentage to the Catholic experience. That said, it still remains that an alarming number of Catholics are leaving the Church.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening.

Agreed. This has not been enough on the radar at the USCCB. Here in the Archdiocese Washington we have recently become more serious about the problem and doing some pretty significant things to focus anew on keeping Catholics connected and evangelizing. But at the national level there does seem to be an eerie silence as hundred of Catholic parishes are being closed, Catholic schools likewise. Where is the reflection, study and teaching on this matter. What is the plan to re-engage the Catholic faithful and get them to return to Mass. How have we let weekly Mass attendance slip to 27%, according to recent CARA studies.

Pew’s data shows that those leaving the church are not homogenous. They can be divided into two major groups: those who become unaffiliated and those who become Protestant. Almost half of those leaving the church become unaffiliated and almost half become Protestant.

Why do people leave the Catholic church to become Protestant?

The principal reasons given by people who leave the church to become Protestant are

  1. that their “spiritual needs were not being met” in the Catholic church (71 percent)
  2. they “found a religion they like more” (70 percent).
  3. Eighty-one percent of respondents say they joined their new church because they enjoy the religious service and style of worship of their new faith.

In other words, the Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service. And before conservatives blame the new liturgy, only 11 percent of those leaving complained that Catholicism had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.

Yes, regarding our “worship service” (aka the Mass), I must say that the key point is not that it is or is not traditional or contemporary. The key point seems to be that Catholic liturgy generally seems sleepy. Sermons are short, often uninspired, filled with generalities and abstractions, and generally do seem to teach the Scripture effectively. Liturgies are often hurried, people do not seem all that happy, and generally seem relived when it is all over. Sometimes, in a typical Catholic Parish, it looks like every one just sucked a lemon. Frowns and distractions are common. One might conclude that a funeral was being celebrated more than a risen Lord, that the Church was a widow, rather than a bride.

It is interesting that, having served in African American Parishes most of my priesthood where liturgies are quite spirited, the most common remark that visitors make is, “Is this a Catholic Church?” To be sure we follow the rubrical norms exactly, it is the enthusiasm to which they refer. What does this say of the average parish?

And these remarks are not targeted at traditional liturgy which I also love. I have been to plenty of traditional Masses where people were awake and joyful. I’ve also been to contemporary masses where musicians et al. thought they we being relevant and behold, the congregation is sleepy and bored. And vice versa.

People, at least a lot of those who leave, really are hungry for a liturgy that is more vital and engaging. They are also hungry to be taught the Word of God. At least for those who leave for Protestant denominations, the “Say it in Seven” “Thought for the Day” Catholic approach to preaching does not nourish them or meet their spiritual needs. Perhaps one Mass in a parish could be tailored to those who are seeking a more substantial homily and are not insistent with being out in under an hour.

Dissatisfaction with how the church deals with spiritual needs and worship services dwarfs any disagreements over specific doctrines…..

People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.

[A]lmost two-thirds of former Catholics who join a Protestant church join an evangelical church. Catholics who become evangelicals and Catholics who join mainline churches are two very distinct groups. We need to take a closer look at why each leaves the church.

  1. Fifty-four percent of both groups say that they just gradually drifted away from Catholicism.
  2. Both groups also had almost equal numbers (82 percent evangelicals, 80 percent mainline) saying they joined their new church because they enjoyed the worship service.
  3. But….a higher percentage of those becoming evangelicals said they left because their spiritual needs were not being met (78 percent versus 57 percent)….
  4. They also cited the church’s teaching on the Bible (55 percent versus 16 percent) more frequently as a reason for leaving.
  5. Forty-six percent of these new evangelicals felt the Catholic church did not view the Bible literally enough.
  6. Thus, for those leaving to become evangelicals, spiritual sustenance, worship services and the Bible were key. They are leaving to get spiritual nourishment from worship services and the Bible.

Looking at the responses of those who join mainline churches also provides some surprising results.

  1. For example, few (20 percent) say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teachings…..
  2. Thirty-one percent cited unhappiness with the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality, women, and divorce and remarriage
  3. 26 percent mentioned birth control as a reason for leaving.
  4. Although these numbers are higher than for Catholics who become evangelicals, they are still dwarfed by the number (57 percent) who said their spiritual needs were not met in the Catholic church.
  5. Those joining mainline communities also were more likely to cite dissatisfaction of the Catholic clergy (39 percent) than were those who became evangelical (23 percent).
  6. Those who join mainline churches are looking for a less clerically dominated church.
  7. What stands out in the data on Catholics who join mainline churches is that they tend to cite personal or familiar reasons for leaving more frequently than do those who become evangelicals. Forty-four percent of the Catholics who join mainline churches say that they married someone of the faith they joined, a number that trumps all doctrinal issues. Only 22 percent of those who join the evangelicals cite this reason.

Thus, those becoming evangelicals were more generically unhappy than specifically unhappy with church teaching, while those who became mainline Protestant tended to be more specifically unhappy than generically unhappy with church teaching.

Lessons from the data

There are many lessons that we can learn from the Pew data, but I will focus on only three.

First, those who are leaving the church for Protestant churches are more interested in spiritual nourishment than doctrinal issues. Tinkering with the wording of the creed at Mass is not going to help. No one except the Vatican and the bishops cares whether Jesus is “one in being” with the Father or “consubstantial” with the Father. That the hierarchy thinks this is important shows how out of it they are.While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions. More creativity with the liturgy is needed, and that means more flexibility must be allowed. If you build it, they will come; if you do not, they will find it elsewhere. The changes that will go into effect this Advent will make matters worse, not better.

Well, OK Father, but if the wording of Mass is no big deal with people, as you suggest, then you shouldn’t mind so much that we’re doing this. Frankly I agree, the issue of the translation is rather beside the point in this whole discussion of why people leave and go to Protestant denominations. Why one of only three points that Fr. Reese chooses to focus on is this, seems puzzling, given the premise that “no one cares” how consubstantialem is translated.

I don’t think anyone has said that we should change the translation to gain new members or staunch the flow of leaving members. Rather, the new translation is necessary since the old one is just plain wrong. It is a paraphrase at best, and inaccurate at worse. It makes sense that we should have a translation that is accurate.

But that is a separate issue in this matter of those who leave and not, as Fr. admits, a major factor in why people leave. So why raise it?

As for “creativity” I’d like to know more what Fr. means here. Frankly, a lot of “creativity” has irked the faithful and has, in fact driven some away. If, he means that we should allow permissible creativity to thrive and do perhaps a little niche marketing, perhaps so. I do have people come from all over the area for the experience of African American Liturgy we have. I also have them come from all over the area for the Traditional Latin Mass I celebrate. We get especially good crowds there when we’ve done polyphonic or symphonic masses. Perhaps too I’d like to see more use of Taize music. I’m not a big fan of “folk” music but some like it, and it’s allowed. Then of course masses in various languages etc. At some level of course we risk a balkanization, but for now, I’m OK with allowing diversity to flourish.

Second, thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic scripture scholars have had decades to produce the best thinking on scripture in the world. That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explain the scriptures to their people. Few Catholics read the Bible. The church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.

Agreed, as I stated above. I would only add, that another big feature of Protestant denominations is the weekly (usually Wednesday) Bible Study. Every Catholic parish should have good, effective bible study available. But please, less of this unguided bible study in the parish hall. If Bible Study is going to be effective, well trained clergy, religious and lay people have to teach it. Perhaps this means that regional Bible studies in which a number of parishes come together. But effective teachers are the key. Just handing out books and having small groups grope through the material is not effective. In my own parish I lead a bible study ever Wednesday Evening and it is usually well attended. People are hungry for the Word of God. It is a lot of work, but THIS is what I was ordained to do.

Finally, the Pew data shows that two-thirds of Catholics who become Protestants do so before they reach the age of 24. The church must make a preferential option for teenagers and young adults or it will continue to bleed. Programs and liturgies that cater to their needs must take precedence over the complaints of fuddy-duddies and rubrical purists. Current religious education programs and teen groups appear to have little effect on keeping these folks Catholic, according to the Pew data, although those who attend a Catholic high school do appear to stay at a higher rate. More research is needed to find out what works and what does not.

But, careful here. Many young people I have met are hungry for liturgy that is more authentically Catholic. Trendy, ephemeral things are less desired among the young than in decades past. I am amazed at how many young adults are interested in Eucharistic adoration, and want vigorous study of the faith and solid moral instruction rooted in Scripture and the Catechism. A surprising number of them attend the Traditional Latin Mass and I get a lot of wedding request in that form.

As for religious education programs and teen clubs being currently ineffective, I surely agree. I just wish I had some clear ideas of how to better teach the faith to young people. It’s tough when so many of their families are lukewarm. Nothing is a better indicator to me that a kid is going to know his faith than that his parents are strongly practicing their faith. The family component is obviously a critical factor. Surely we have to do a better job at the parish level, but the family too must be recalled as the chief influence on whether a kid will know his faith and stay connected through the 20s.

The Catholic church is hemorrhaging members. It needs to acknowledge this and do more to understand why. Only if we acknowledge the exodus and understand it will we be in a position to do something about it.

Agreed, though it needs to be said that many are also coming TO the Catholic Church and we have a lot to learn from them about what we are doing right. There is also the truth that Evangelical Protestantism is not as strong and vigorous as we often think. They too are struggling to keep members and suffer from the tendency to reinvent themselves every 90 days. We’re getting some wonderful converts from the ranks of the Evangelicals and they bring many gifts.

Further, I think it is unmistakable that the Lord is purifying and reforming the Church. And I see a lot of this happening in the best place: among young adults. While it is true that we have on-going concerns about numbers, I also see the Lord laying the groundwork for a Church that may be smaller, but also more intense and more rooted in the faith. We shall see, but I am excited by what I see in many places even as the overall numbers continue to cause concern.


Photo Credit: wetwebwork via Creative Commons

Here is an example of Protestant Preaching. Adrian Rogers (RIP), one of my favorite Baptist preachers, is commenting on the verse that man shall cling to his wife… The preaching is direct, sincere, uncompromisingly biblical and practical. There is nothing of abstract generalities here, rather, it is practical and plainspoken.

142 Replies to “Why Catholics Leave – A Recent Study and Some Comments from Two Different Perspectives”

  1. People have been falling away from the faith for over 5000 years.

    Before Christ, most of God’s “chosen people” were lukewarm and all too eager to join in the latest fad or alternative religion. Some were strong in the faith, some were outright apostates, but most were lukewarm. Even when they had God Himself there to lead them!

    Even Jesus had trouble keeping followers. Many turned away because they didn’t like this or didn’t like that, or preferred the Roman or Greek way of things.

    It has always been thus. And too many of these “why do they leave?” studies begin with the faulty premise that it has not always been so. They leave because that is the nature of fallen man. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it too much.

    That said, the Church, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, has already done something to bring about a new springtime in the Church and society, a new Pentecost, which does not reinvent the Faith or replace it, but reinvigorates it — Vatican II. It is the faulty understanding and implementation of the Council by seeking to reinvent things that, far from keeping people in the Church or bringing new people in, that merely leads them to say, “no thanks.”

    Why do they leave? Because some always have. But that is not the question to be asked.

    The question to be asked is – What do we have to offer the world and fellow Catholics? The answer — we offer the love and truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ. If you want the hope and salvation that comes with Him, come on in. If you don’t, if you want something else, well, that’s your choice.

    1. Bender,
      Fair point that some have always struggled with the legitimate call to holiness and have left, but something else which has also been a part of salvation history is the need for continuous renewal of the institution. A great danger for the faithful is the temptation to think that we’ve got it all down perfectly and are where we need to be. Reading the signs of the times can help the Church to become more faithful to the mission, and the sensus fidelium ought to be taken into account–Vatican II was clear that we need to be open to what can be learned from science, the world, other religions, etc.

    2. Well OK Bender, I get your main point, though, I still think it is true that we have had times of greater and lesser success in the Church in engaging the faithful. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned in both experiences. It is also true that the Lord seemed to have little concern for numbers. And yet, I cannot simply ignore dropping numbers, whether in my parish or the wider Church and simply say, people have always left. I have to accept that the data suggests something is wrong and then say the serenity prayer. For, as I think you note, there are some things I cannot change. But there are some things that I can change and need to have the courage to do so.

  2. Protestant preachers are FAR more practical in teaching about marriage than Catholic priests. I don’t blame celibacy its more a matter of priests being too fearful about offending Catholics by telling them with clarity that if they continue to be self-centered, their marriage will not work. The Church has wonderful teachings which apply to marriage but many priests shy away from teaching them. Sexual morality is almost never taught from the pulpit, and people are longing for truth. I had a wonderful pastor who told us pointblank at the Youth Mass no less, “if you are about to get married, get ready for the Cross”. He got a standing ovation.
    About Bible study, there needs to be an authentically Catholic Bible study (NOT the historical critical method!!!) and youth group in each parish. Protestants make this a priority. We need to be evangelizing in our parishes the way EWTN and Catholics Come Home do so well on TV.

    1. Ray for you Leticia! You hit it right on the head. I was taught in Catholic schools and I believed. But I don’t think the the faith can be taught in one easy CCD or RCIA class. I have seen my children vacate “Catholic” because of their friends, marriage, and schooling even though they attended CCD, we could never afford to send them to Catholic schools. Except for the well to do who can afford private schools it doesn’t jibe with Christian teaching that knowledge of the faith should depend on social status. But your comment on teaching of sexual morality is very true. One would think that Catholics don’t come with the same needs as the rest of humanity. I also think that priests seem to be living in a closed society that most people can’t relate to.

      1. The closed society notion is interesting. I think there is a lot of truth in that. There’s also something to do with age. I have really lost touch with a lot of what younger people, esp teenagers are doing. I think that having a good lay staff helps break the “closed society” a bit, if a priest is willing to listen.

  3. I read your essay with interest. I had already read Fr. Reese’s article. I would characterize myself as a zealous and faithful Catholic. I’ve never considered leaving the faith for any reason. However, many members of my extended family have left Catholicism for the Evangelical form of Christianity. A few have just drifted away into non practice of any faith. One has declared herself an atheist. I feel sad over their departure and pray daily for their return. On the bright side, one of them did return after 40 years away. He seems happy to be back. But I have not asked him why he left or why he returned.

    Concerning your comments, there are two that I especially think are important. One is appealing liturgy with excellent music of any kind and interesting, vibrant homilies. And I don’t think homilies have to be super long to achieve that goal. The other is Scripture study opportunities. Such opportunities are on the rise where I live. The problem with them is they are not consistently excellent. It’s wonderful that you conduct one, but not all priests are willing to do that.

    One other thing that might help is training some of us everyday, happy Catholics in how to evangelize people.

    1. Yes, we have focused a lot on the training to evangelize. As for homily length, not sure I know what you mean by super long, but the typical Protestant sermon is 30 minutes. I hear a lot of Catholics say that the Prots do better, (I generally agree) but the longer format is an important part of the reason they can do that. A message, to be crafted well usually is done in several stages: Read it, analyze it, organize it, illustrate it, and apply it. That takes a little time. Also a sermon should answer three questions: What, so what, now what? That also takes a little time. Even if sermons were just a little longer than the “say it seven” thought for the day format demands.

  4. I understand that the Jesuits have lost two-thirds of their own members. Perhaps Fr. Reese can help his own order to find out why.

    1. Yes, I am not sure if Fr. R has ever dealt with that question in an article or not. But I think I know the answer: dissent isn’t attractive to young people today who are answering vocations. The Jesuits are still known, fairly or unfairly as a largely dissenting order

      1. In all fairness, though, the Jesuits are still the largest (male) religious order in the Church…

  5. I am a forty-something convert to Catholicism. A few of my thoughts. My conversion to the faith, in name, came not from some spiritual awakening but simply because I married a Catholic. My real conversion happened a couple of years later when my wife developed a serious health problem. Prior to that we were “zombie” Catholics, going to Sunday Mass each week but not really having Christ in our hearts. Through an amazing serious of events (to long to fully mention here, but it involved the chance meeting of my wife with a women effectively living and preaching on the streets) the Faith truly became part of our lives. As I dove headlong into this Faith I have begun to realize what a beatiful, intelligent religion it is. (growing up Protestant I always viewed Catholics as bit of a superstitious lot, who just didn’t know better. I have know idea where I got that idea as my parents never anti-catholic, but somehow it entered into my subconscious.) One thing I will agree with Fr. Reese on is the issue of homilies. I attend daily Mass and go to different parishes and I find too often the homilies are just a rehash of why God is love, need kind etc.
    Finally with regard to young people, my observations match yours. They are not into guitars and other “contemporary” trappings (guitars are something their parents did anyway and we want to be different from our parents) but are much more traditionally minded than the average Catholic.

    1. Thanks for this testimony. God often breaks through in difficult moments. One issue we discussed here in the past is how many Catholics are sacramentalized but unevangelized. Similar to your “zombie Catholics” analogy.

      Amen on young people observations.

  6. I would add apathy in general. My husband (a convert, as am I) has been trying to establish a Bible/book study right after mass during parish ed time for two years. Few come, though to a person they all commend him for the effort and profess interest. When queried responded in three ways : “I saw that big e-mail list and I just figured everyone else was coming ” and “You have to remember, we were raised Catholic. We were told all you have to do is come to mass.” and “I would but my kids have soccer (ballet, rowing, theater) on weekends so we go to Saturday mass.” (I have been known to ask point blank what in the world they are thinking allowing theIr kids to play sports on Sunday, but that’s another story…) I become terribly frustrated at cradle Catholics who refuse to crawl out of the cradle and pursue their faith in a mature way–then are surprised when their children leave in college and young adulthood–after all Church is just one other form of entertainment that requires neither sacrifice nor effort! One thing the Church MUST NOT do is follow the trends of popular culture just to appeal to people–she must not water down her message and she must remain faithful to the Truth. If you want to see what happens to a Church that blows with the cultural winds, and tries earnestly to woo folk by “meeting them where they are” (all well and good, but then you need to lead them where they need to be and that is NOT in the modern culture) look at the Episcopal church. I hear too much “cultural relativity” in the Pew study. We are not here to market ourselves as a commodity to the masses, we are here to bear witness to the truth. Sometimes that is popular. Sometimes not. It is always true. ( Sorry. I am ranting. You hit a nerve, and well as always….)

    1. A neighbouring parish spent a great deal of time and money and effort in establishing Lifeteen back when that was the thing to do. Up here in Canada, such groups were always rare.

      Two of my kids attended. Lots of their friends did, too.

      Now that they’re adults, most of them are not practicing the faith. It would seem Lifeteen was not the answer.

      Of those I know who do practice their faith, all come from strongly practicing families.

      When we try to be relevent, we will at some point become irrelevent. What we must do is be Catholic. People will come and people will go, but they need to know fully what they are entering or leaving.

      1. I often wonder too JP. To some extent I fear that when we do “life-teen” sort of stuff that the young people stop taking the Church very seriously since we look a little silly being hip and relevant. At some point that spell wears off, but the impression that the Church leaves (as silly) lingers. Not sure if this is statistically verifiable but I do remember, even as a teen, finding teen masses dopey. Perhaps this approach works for some, but for others not, I am not sure of the answer.

  7. It seems to me that people are leaving for protestant churches because they preach the bible in accordance with their moral and political beliefs. I think homosexuality is ok- I’ll join the elca or the episcopalians, I want the prosperity gospel- I’ll join one of many evangelical churches that preach this, etc.
    I came into communion with the Catholic Church in 2009 and faithfully attend Mass every Sunday, not to get a great emotional high, but to worship our Lord and Saviour, and be obedient to his Church. Hopefully I leave with a sense of joy, contentment, and amazement at his wonderful work not mine. I admit sometimes it is difficult to stay focused on God instead of me but that is what as a Catholic we work toward.

    1. Steve, God bless you!!! I agree with you 100%. Since when is it the obligation of Holy Mother Church to entertain us? I am a convert of over 25 years and I can tell you….I can’t get enough of the TREASURES we as Catholics have that NO OTHER religion has. I can go sit and visit with Our Lord anytime of the day or night. I can receive Our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist everyday. I can ask for the intercession of Our Blessed Mother etc., etc……..don’t even get me started on sacramentals. I also have a son who will soon be a priest.
      I once had a priest state to us during a homily that we do not really have a shortage of priests, because that would be a heresy, meaning that Jesus was not taking care of His Church, but instead if you count up the TRULY FAITHFUL Catholics, the numbers work out just fine.
      If there is a mass exodus from the Catholic church, people need to look within themselves, because WE ARE THE ONE TRUE CHURCH!! I don’t worship a cookie, I go to Mass to worship Our Lord and receive Him in the Eucharist!! You can’t get that anywhere else, nor can you be absolved of your sins, or be anointed when you are sick!!!!!!
      I don’t go to Mass to commune with my neighbors but for COMMUNION!!

      1. Cissy, I think that’s just the point we have to better teach. But the fact that some are not of this mind isn’t always their fault entirely. Some have been misled by faulty liturgical notions etc. That said, I would not describe the compliant of poor homilies and the desire to be more deeply fed on the word as a desire to be entertained. I don’t think you do either. But some distinctions are important. We can’t merely critique those who have left, we DO have some obligation to learn they leave and what, if anything we can do. Sometimes there IS nothing we can do and people DO have unreasonable expectations. Other times however, we CAN learn, and strive to learn how to improve liturgy and more deeply engage people.

    2. Yes, Steve, I thin Fr. R’s data show the attitude you describe more of those who leave and go to mainline protestant churches, which have trimmed away many of the moral requirements of the scriptures.

      I am glad to hear of your personal testimony, but for those who leave, they haven’t made the kind of deeper personal commitment and do not always see liturgy as you (properly) do. I think we have to find ways to help them connect the dots like you have.

  8. “First, those who are leaving the church for Protestant churches are more interested in spiritual nourishment than doctrinal issues.”

    You cannot seperate the two. Doctrinal issues ARE the foundation of spiritual nourishment. The problem isn’t massive bible education alone–it’s THAT PLUS a massive education focusing on the splendor of the Catholic Church and why it’s the Church established by Jesus Christ Himself.

    Every fallen away Catholic I know without exception is a person with a flawed understanding of the history, traditions, sacraments and magisterium of the Catholic faith. Well-catechised Catholics seldom become ex-Catholics. The ex’s with a beef against the Church, usually have become that way for emotional reasons–“the nuns were mean to me,” or “I was bored at Mass”, and the claim “all priests are pedophiles” arguments. Some do leave for doctrinal reasons though. Both groups might not have left so as readily if they understood better what the Church has to offer. Scripture is a one very important aspect, of course, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. This needs emphasized because the entire deposit of the faith is something other demoninations simply don’t have. Teaching WHY we are the true Church, delving into the history (warts and all), and not being shy about why the other denominations broke away, combined with frequent discussions concerning the rich mystical lives of the saints, is a start. Also, we need to really teach the rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy, teaching how prayer is not just a formula, but genuine interaction with God.

    If you push an ex-Catholic who’s left over doctrinal reasons to go into detail, you’ll find they usually don’t grasp the position at all, and never did. They left over what the THOUGHT the Catholic church taught, and not over what the Catholic Church actually taught.

    1. I recall an article by Fr. Kenneth Baker (if I recall correctly) written not that long ago. His point was that pre-Vatican II, homilies were very often based upon the Teachings of the Church, the Catechism, the Magisterium and the Church Fathers. Since Vatican II, homilies are almost solely based on Scripture alone. In effect, we might state that homilies now are “sola scriptura” which is totally a Protestant belief. Msgr. just went through a series trying to relate the different accounts of the Resurrection as they vary slightly. So, Scripture must be read through the eyes of the Church.

      The major issue as you point out is that many Catholics are not catechized. Many cannot even explain the basics dogmas of the Church and that includes some who are catechizing children in “Religious Ed”. I am not saying that “hell and brimstone” is the answer, I am saying that emphasizing WHY we believe what we believe is essential in keeping the Faith clear to the Catholics in the pews as most get little in the way of reading including the Catholic newspaper.

      I am reminded of a situation in which a woman, a pillar of the Church, had a discussion with a senior college student during a Religious Ed session and the issue turned to contraception. The young man maintained that contraception is a mortal sin and must be confessed in Confession. The woman stated that it was not a dogma of the Church and disagreed. When the Pastor was called in, and agreed with the young man, the woman left the Church never to return. That story is going on day after day. I once saw someone pick up the Catechism and ask, “Look, how much of this are we to believe, after all?” A young grad from Catholic University blurted, “ALL of it!” Indeed.

    2. Yes, perhaps the distinction between doctrinal and spiritual nourishment is a false one. But I think what the point that is trying to be made is that many don’t leave becasue they disagree with a doctrinal point, but rather that they, as you both note, feel untaught, uninspired etc.

  9. Thank you, Monsignor, for your comments on this article. I am a “revert” to the Faith. I just finished up about 8 months of RCIA in my diocese. We had a round table during our final class last week…I brought up this article from the NCR….what a Catalyst for discussion!!!! Your comments on the need for scripture study are spot on!!Regional studies work well in our diocese. I joined one in January and plan to continue. What do you think about Father Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” series….for Adult Education???

    1. I like everthing Fr. Barron does and so, though I have not had the chance to review the Catholicism series, I am sure it is good.

      THanks for entering the Church and sharing the gift of your faith with us!

  10. A few comments. I left as a child without really knowing I left. I was essentially taught the Catholic faith consisted solely in Deism, Moral Law, and Reverence. Those can be found anywhere. I didn’t even know that people like Billy Graham weren’t Catholic (you’d be surprising how many Catholics make similar sorts of mistakes, especially if there is some sort of liturgy). I didn’t go Protestant, but I did study every other religion. I would never have learnt my faith if it were not for my wife who was a Presbyterian who brought me to her church. I was stunned that there was no cross or sanctified place, but put those aside as I was taught about the Trinity, what the cross means, and how each of us are called to mission. But after two years, I started to see cracks. Bible studies, especially on Chapters like Ephesians 5-6 and Genesis 1 were not so much studies as they were debates based on personal opinion. I read everything I could during that time (audio books are fantastic since you can listen and do other things) and I was starting to reach the end. I could start to master Protestantism, but I couldn’t grow further. Calvinism ultimately is self contradictory and something I could not accept. I was also shocked that sessions (i.e. Presbyterian “Bishop conferences) seemed to regularly debated things that should have been settled 2 centuries ago. The Trinity was not up for debate, but there was nothing to stop it from being. I didn’t change denominations since my life liked the Church, but I did look around until I eventually discovered the Catholic faith (via the Orthodox faith) and to my pleasant surprise discovered that it was not something I could master in 10 life times, and there were ample excellent Catholic and Orthodox studies on scripture (mostly podcasts), and that there were parish groups (though usually spanning many parishes) where the laity could get involved including prayer groups. I discovered the saints and their writings and reverence.

    My comments boil down to this:
    (1) Denomination hoping is rampant in Protestant Churches and very often the choice is made more for amenities rather than true worship. The Catholic Church cannot out-protestantize the protestants nor can it without destroying the faith.
    (2) People would not leave the Catholic faith if they actually knew what it was about.
    (3) People would be fed if they were told about Rosary Groups, Legion of Mary, Knights of Columbus, Opus Dei, secular orders, apostulates, and all the various ways laity can be involved.
    (4) People need to be taught that the saints left writings and there are ample podcasts.

    Above all, mass is not what you receive, but what you give. We must never forget this. If worship is to be worship, it can’t be entertainment. If worship is to be worship, it must also be filled with joy or at least love.

    1. Thanks for sharing your expereince. I agree, from what I’ve read, that there is a lot of turnover of memberships in the Protestant world. It is very true that we have to bring something to Mass to get something. I am happy you are back in the Catholic faith!

  11. Liturgies are often hurried, people do not seem all that happy, and generally seem relived when it is all over. Sometimes, in a typical Catholic Parish, it looks like every one just sucked a lemon. Frowns and distractions are common. One might conclude that a funeral was being celebrated more than a risen Lord, that the Church was a widow, rather than a bride.
    – Father, this hits the nail on the head. Perhaps it’s my own fault, but I find it distracting when everyone seems so indifferent.

  12. Msgr.,
    You have noted that I tend toward the negative in most of my comments and I take the criticism constructively. Let me say that I appreciate your treatment of Fr. Reese’s article-not that I am an out-and-out fan of Fr. Reese–but because he clearly approaches Church issues from a very different angle than you do, and you are clearly striving for common ground. This is a great example of dialogue which is aimed at unity rather than a polarization. Cheers.

  13. You cannot make someone believe. If a young person does not have the steady hand of older family members guiding them and keeping them engaged in the Church the young person will seek an environment that gives them more. And usually the more is connected to their emotional needs or an answer to nagging Catholic questions like: living together, abortion, birth control, confession, obligation of attending Mass on Sunday, etc.

    Young people are all about themselves. With that mindset can they accept that they are not the center of all things? They have been raised by parents that tended to their every need and tried to satisfy that need. When young people become ‘independent’ they carry this self-centered ideal with them. It will take the hard knocks of life to make them turn home toward the Loving Father that will welcome them, cloth them with what is needed and celebrate their return. The prodigal son over and over again.

    The Churches job is to be that welcoming Father, teaching the truth even when it hurts, ready to cloth God’s people with the sacramental clothing they need and always prepared to celebrate the great mystery of Jesus’ presence in the Holy Eucharist. The Church cannot get side tracked by trying to be relevant according to societal norms or become concerned about keeping the congregations attention by some new device be it music, snappy vestments or extensive homilies. Given the attention span of most people I seriously wonder how many people could benefit from a 30 minute homily or will they simply be entertained and amazed by the wisdom and wit of the homilist?

    Thank you Msgr. Pope for your columns. They are always thought provoking.

    1. Thanks for reading. As for youth being sefl-centered, I suspect that young teenagersa re probably going through a stage here. Even by the end of High School I have discovered it is far easier to engage them on things outside themselves and they begin to have a greater zeal for justice and for truth. So, if, as you say, we can walk with them through the “me” stage, they blossom quite well. But, as you say, we ought speak the truth to them in love. The truth is essential lest we confirm wrongful or harmful tendencies.

  14. My opinion is if you want to appeal to the younger generation, give it to them straight. There is a heaven and there is a hell. Sadly, giving them the scoop on hell will, most likely, attract them and fascinate them. BUT the reality must be stressed and the alternative, Our Savior, given with just as much honesty and zeal. Kids want to be treated like adults in their teen years, so treat them like it. No sugar coating, no “cutesy” retreats, give them the real deal with love and compassion, of course, but the straight dope. Awesome post MSGR. and God Bless you!

    1. I think you are largely right here. I have a similar notion that we ought to just be adults in the presence of teens and not try too hard to be “cutesy” as you say. Above all they should know we love them.

  15. I think one of the problems with surveys about why Catholics leave the church is that they do not probe into the background of the respondent. Anyone can claim to be Catholic or raised Catholic. However, I think that people who grew up attending Mass every Sunday with their parents are likely to show different behavior patterns than people who attended on Christmas and Easter or who were dropped off by their parents who did not attend mass. However, they may all say that they are/were Catholic. While general surveys may point to a problem, it is difficult to draw meaningful conclusions without more in depth study.

    1. True enough, but I suppose an old saying comes to mind: “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.” And while I agree that more in-depth study can benefit us, sometimes it is not possible to do this and so we use what can reasonably get. But in the end you are right, every stat is also an individual story.

  16. I have never heard a “throw away” Homely in a Catholic Church. Everyone has an Obligation to participate (pay attention & pray) during the mass as we are at the foot of the Cross. Our devotion will be noted on Judgment Day. (When the Priest instructs on Obligation and Culpability, we should listen.)

    Priests are chosen for their ability and willingness to suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Sacraments come first; “preaching” ability comes second. (For lukewarm Christians: The closer you come to Jesus Christ, the more you suffer.—-It’s in the Bible + you will live it.)

    Thank you for being a Priest, Monsignor. (No Priest means no Church. And, no Church means no more world.) During the Easter Season, we learn how just about everybody runs away from Jesus; hopefully all will return.

    1. You are right, every homily can have a take-away. But I suppose my own notion is that we priests should work hard so that our people do not have to search so hard for the pearl. But you are right, careful listening is a dying art and all of us can work at being better listeners.

      1. Thank you for being a Priest, Monsignor. Your reply, “we Priests should work hard so that our people do not have to search so hard”, is a priestly reply of “my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.”

        I have a hard time being a Christian. I couldn’t be a Priest, Deacon or an usher…..I’d hear a guy snoring and I would sail an empty Paten like a frisbee right at him. “Could you not stay awake with me one hour.” Good thing God forgives even someone with an Irish temper like mine.

  17. I agree that any organization that doesn’t bother to study why it has lost a substantial minority of its membership is in denial. At this point, I think the issue of people leaving because liturgy isn’t traditional enough is almost a moot point since so few people have experienced it in any way except as jaded, bitter memories from the parish liturgist and older priests. If I only had that input to go on I wouldn’t want traditional liturgy either.

    I think that the issue with Bible study is huge and that the folks at Ascension Press with the Great Adventure Bible Study and the T3 Bible study for teens are going a long way towards remedying the situation.

    The other issue with milk-toast preaching is probably a bigger issue than any other except basic Catholic theological literacy. If all you get at church is “God loves you, now give someone a hug” you are probably going to find a much more fulfilling way to spend your Sunday at a Baptist church. Couple that with a complete failure by the Church to teach what Catholicism is and you have no reason to stay because you don’t really know what the Eucharist is.

    Ian Rutherford

  18. Well look at the bright side,
    we dont need to do self flagellation anymore.
    Oregon Catholic Press and GIA have made painfully bad music
    very easy for musically ignorant pastors to order, through a legion of militant
    legion of vainglorious music directors.

  19. The cause of the silence about the exodus that permeates the bishops’ conference is the near total collapse of Catholic education. Schools are closing everywhere along – often before – those parishes close. Catholic identity is often forensic. But little is done.

    Bishops, great bishops even, around the country do not dare touch their Catholic schools and insist on high standards of education, catechesis, and Catholic identity from their lay teachers. They are often hostile to start-up schools that attempt to model another way. Sadly, some bishops have chanceries hostile to homeschoolers some of whom would love to send their children to a school they could trust.

    With the centuries of educational wisdom we have, it is astounding how little difference there is sometimes between Catholic schools and secular ones. But it is the third rail of the Catholic machine, and insisting on deep reform would cripple any diocese. Such reform in the long run, however, might mean a more vibrant Catholic who is less susceptible to bland homilies.

    1. Raphael, I too, home school my children, and pray for our parish schools to be truly Catholic. It is sad to think of all the effort that the church, the bishops, priests, religious, and Catholic families once put forth to build Catholic schools, churches, and hospitals, and now we have only a remnant left.

    2. I think that most priests and bishops have been convinced by educators that we are not really competent when it comes to education. I’ll admit, I do not have a lot of ideas about how to best educate children (my own notion is a back to basics, master the elementary skills in elementary school). But when I question things like “french immersion” and non-directive learning, and suggest that all the bells and whistles distract from basic skills, I am looked at with dismay and pity and present me with parent surveys that theoretically demand art, PE, French immersion, Spanish, computer labs (kids KNOW how to use computers), field trips, tag days, etc. I really wonder if that is what Catholic parents want. And money never seems to be any object. You are right, we seem to be competing with public schools rather than establishing an alternative or doing niche marketing. But what do I know, I’m just a stupid priest.

  20. Surveys do not convey the truth of any matter. The data contradicts itself. Evangelical churches are far more hardcore in their stance against gays, abortion, divorce, etc. And they cite bible teaching because that is what they are told by Evangelical preachers. Not because that is how they actually feel.

    People leave the Catholic Church for Protestant Churches because they have given in to selfishness and want nothing more than Christian Entertainment. Sing, clap your hands, dance around the church until you pass out. And call it ‘slain in the Spirit.’

    Very few Catholics take responsibility for their own onfoing formation. Very few Catholics understand that one participates at mass, prays along with the priest. Most think one bows one’s head when the bells arr rung. They have no clue that it is the call to adore Christ in the Eucharist.

    People need to give up their selfish ways. The church is a beautiful place with so many ways to worship.

    1. Well, OK, but I would personally be a little more distinguishing about assessing the reason that people leave. I am not prepared to say they are ALL selfish and want entertainment. I remember asking once a Catholic who had left to join one of the “Word Churches” (mega churches near DC) why they left. And she said, “They teach us the Bible there.”

      Perhaps there are some who have a “peal me a grape” attitude but I do know some who have simply drifted, or felt undernourished and simply found something that connected with their hunger for God’s word. To be sure, we have to do a better job of explaining the invaluable gift of the Eucharist, but that too depends on a pretty firm grasp of scripture to form the basis for the teaching on the Eucharist.

  21. “While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions.”

    This right here is the problem. I would think it is indicative of poor catechesis.

    I’m a new convert. I was just confirmed on May 1. I’ve spent the better part of the past year coming to mass and not being able to receive the Eucharist and just about dying every single time. I finally received last Sunday and it was the most joyful experience of my life. When I see sentences like that which I quoted above I can’t help but wonder what is wrong with people. At a Catholic mass you can literally touch Jesus and take Him into your body. The music could be nauseating and the homily sleep inducing, and yet YOU CAN SEE, FEEL, TASTE AND TOUCH JESUS! How on earth does that not touch your heart and stir your emotions? What pastor is there, what sermon is there, what music is there that can surpass the presence of our Lord Himself?

    So the only thing I can think of to explain it is that the people do not know it, or do not understand it well enough.

    1. Ah, here is a great testimony on the True Presence. I am glad you now share Communion with us. That said, I suppose it is good to remember that people are at different stages. You are clearly properly disposed and catechized to realize the awesome reality that eclipses every other aspect. But others have yet to make that full journey and sometimes the setting is important in order to get them there. Preaching must often be powerful and articulate to get through, other aspects of communal life are sometimes necessary to dispose a person to see beyond the sacramental veils. Your testimony is one I wish for every one, but getting them all there is sometimes done in stages and externals do sometimes matter.

      Thanks for bringing the gift of your faith to us!

  22. Our children who left the Faith as adults, never really internalized it. I myself was a faithful Catholic out of duty, and eventually in my 40’s had a profound conversion that cemented my life as a Catholic. By then it was too late to do much about reversing the loss of Faith in our family. There was literally no solid Catholic CCD locally at the time; I taught them from the Baltimore Catechism, they received the Sacraments. We said the rosary nightly as a family. We never practiced artificial contraception. But…teens and adults absorb the culture that does nothing to promote the basic truths of life: we are here to know, love, and serve God in this life and be happy with Him in heaven forever. One has gotten into an “industry” that promotes music as far removed from God and decency as possible. Another moved to live with a partner-no marriage. A third just drifted away-she thought she was expected to rebel because all her friends did, so she followed suit. A fourth-in non-marital relationships. Breaking the 6th and 9th commandments in particular I see as a major factor. And lack of solid reasons to remain chaste. The “Theology of the Body” came too late; I grew up with the fear of hell and frequent Confession and Communion as the best remedies to stay chaste. And I failed as a mother; I listened to the media who told parents that they really didn’t know how to relate to their children any more-let them find their own way. I continue to pray daily for each of them. Only one has remained Faithful; she graduated from a Catholic high school, but so did another who fell away! Priests have told me that our children will come back, but only after I’m gone.

    1. Wonderful to hear of your profound conversion and I pray it for your children as well. Sounds as if you went from being sacramentalized to evangelized! Keep working with your children and grandchildren. Never give up. You were in your forties, who know when they might just awaken to the gift you have received!

  23. Excellent review and somments, Msgr. Pope! Having been in parish ministry 14 years noe with a major participation in adolescent catechesis I agree 100% with your take on parents being the barometer of faith-fidelity. Ask any seaosned catechist and s/he will tell you that parents are by and large the biggest obstacle to the religious education of parish children. This Fall we begin a renewed program of outreach but with limited personnel we need to decide between adult faith formation classes for parishoners or re-instituting a formal RCIA. Not sure which way it will go but either way shows that evangleization and catechesis of adults in a priority and the best way to minister to youth in the long run (not negating youth ministries).

    1. Yeah, in my Sunday School program, I teach the parents while the kids are in with the teachers. Parents are usually poorly catechized as well, even grandparents.

  24. Dear Msgr.,

    Like you say many of us young people are hungry for authentic, Catholic liturgy. But why is that? I think we are starving for mystery.

    If, say, a young person is convicted enough about the existence of God and even of Jesus Christ as His only begotten son, if that young person does not experience the mystery of our Church, in a way it is unsurprising they would consider other denominations. Without a full appreciation for what we alone can claim, in the Holy Eucharist and other mysteries, the search for religion becomes cafeteria-style, pick and choose. I think this also explains the exodus (perhaps that is too strong a word) of young people dabbling in eastern spirituality and even Wicca and neo-paganism. They find mystery there.

    Even attempts to engage Catholic youth, much in the way of the Evangelicals (bible camps, youth groups, etc.) seem misguided to me, unless the mystery of our Faith plays a central role. Because, what happens if said youth “feels” more of God’s presence in an Evangelical setting? Or they begin to doubt the Church’s moral teachings? They will be grounded in their own perceptions and not the reality of the Eucharist.

    And in my experience, those who stray further and do not believe in Jesus at all, will find their need for mystery and faith still elsewhere, in the endless recreation, leisure and self-fulfillment that popular culture offers. Which, interestingly, is like the opposite of contemplative mysticism.

    1. I think you have an important point that I have also noticed. In a materialistic world dominated by a Cartesian Scientism and rationalism, the soul of many young people have turned again looking for something deeper and for a re-articulation and experience of the mystery that, deep down, we all know permeates all things. The danger is that if they do not find it in the Church, they look elsewhere.

  25. What Reese calls “spiritual nourishment” I call “feel goodism”. Most Protestant pastors today are in the business of having good entertainment and mild, “no-fault”, “everybody wins” Christianity at liturgies – because they are, by design, beholden to their congregations for continued employment. That puts “Truth” at risk – and is the reason the Roman Catholic Church still tows the traditional line after the Protestants have, by and large, jettisoned it so as to conform with modern secular thinking and trends. The real reason why non-African-American and non-traditional Catholic liturgies are somewhat gloomy is that most Catholics don’t realize or don’t believe what is really going on in the Divine Liturgy – the Mass. Such realization/belief requires good education (from good teachers or extensive personal reading, or both) PLUS significant mature reflection on the nature of life, reality, and Catholic Christianity. The modern secular milieau (sp?) in which we are all immersed acts as a tremendous, constant tidal wave relentlessly acting to sweep away from the RC Church every one of its active members, steadfast and wavering together. When Reese wrote, “… the Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service”, he used moder, secular, Madison Avenue language to describe what he understands as the problem. Reese probably thought he was being very sophisticated and intellectual in his wording, but I think the words betray his severe weakness as a leader in the RC Church, for he seems to think that by using the right marketing techniques and products he can win over his target demographic. It’s all about being clever enough about how to make marks into paying customers for the side-show. Ugh! I attended a prestigious Jesuit high school in the late 1960’s and, though I was an atheist when I came in as a freshman, I was an even more convinced atheist when I left, having been given no apologetical instruction at all during the 4 years I spent there – we were only given the wishy-washy liberal Catholic version of the Gospels (“…maybe He did or maybe He didn’t physically rise from the dead…”) and the Catholic stance on contemporary moral problems. The Catholic Church needs to promote among its laity a culture shift away from individualist secular values and toward valuing selfless love among family members, education of each such member in the apologetics about the Truths of the Catholic Church, and the casual re-inforcing of belief in those Truths among family members and fellow Catholics. If, on a large scale, one is embarrassed to admit one believes those Truths, or ashamed to talk to others about those Truths as actual realities, the faith withers. This has been my experience, and I fear it will grow worse unless we actively give our fellow church members the tools they need to construct a stronger, more Catholic world-view that they can share with their families, friends, and the world at large.

    1. Yes, I know what you are saying. Though I would probably prefer a few distinctions. For, in the end, though we do not simply seek to market the Church, there IS a connection between the Good, the True and the Beautiful. That Liturgies should be beautiful and appealing at some level is a correct instinct. Of course defining beauty exactly is sometimes debatable. St. Thomas spoke of beauty as being those aspects of something that show forth what a thing really is. Hence the Liturgy and our Churches should manifest heaven, and the heavenly liturgy to be truly beautiful. But I understand your point too which is that we can go too far to fashion things to suit personal whims etc.

  26. People leave the church because they don’t believe in the True Pressence in the Eucharist. When we lived in another location we had a very disruptive pastor. Many people left. Some simply left, a few went to other Christian churchs, and about half went to other Catholic churches. I knew a lot of these people very well, and when opportunity arose, I asked them why. The answer is in my opening statement.

  27. The root of the problem is lack of faith. Faith is not our subjective religious experience or feeling as the modernists say, but a supernatural gift from God that enables us to adhere to His divine Revelation. We should then pray to God for that the True Faith not wane in the souls of our fellow Catholics. Our efforts at evangelizing will bring much more fruit if it is accompanied by prayer and holiness of life. I post this prayer, albeit very politically incorrect:

    O Lord Jesus Christ, Lover and Savior of souls, Who didst choose to die for all men and Whose Sacred Heart yearns that no soul may perish, but that all may come to the knowledge of Thy truth, grant, I beseech Thee, the salvation of all mankind. Have pity on all Catholics, that they may be true to the Faith, steadfast in its practice, faithful to their duties, holy in their lives and happy in their deaths.
    Have mercy on all those disinherited children of God who find themselves in the Christian denominations which are separated from Thy One True Church. Grant them the light to see and the strength to embrace the fullness of Thy Truth. Encourage them to read and study, and help me to find the means of giving to many of them good Catholic books and of bringing them to instructions. Have mercy, O my God, on the great sad multitude of our fellow countrymen, who wander like lost sheep, far from true Christian teaching. Multiply the number of Thy priests, stir up the zeal of Thy laity, so that all Thy wandering children may be brought to the knowledge and love of Thy full Truth. Amen.

    1. Yes, lack of faith is surely a problem. And yet the lex credendi is related to the lex orandi and this surely reminds us that our liturgical experience is deeply related to the faith. I think therefore that what you have said is true but I also think that pondering the liturgy and how well we are reaching people through the way we celebrate it are important issues.

  28. I do not think Fr. Reese offers any valid solutions to the problem of people drifting away from the Church, and I find his suggestions divisive. Having a “preferential option” for young people is wrong; we are all commanded to keep holy the Lord’s day. It never dawned on me that liturgy should touch each person’s heart and emotions, but that it should be worthy of God. We need to do more Bible study, but then Father Reese dings memorization of the Catechism, which really has not been done since the 1960s. We should be concerned about a proper translation of the Mass, because words do matter when we worship the Word made Flesh.

    Monsignor, I appreciate your blog, which takes on some of the toughest issues in the Church, and yet seeks always to preserve the bond of unity.

    1. Thanks for reading. You are right that the First Reason we ought to come to God’s House is that God is worthy of our praise and we are under command to be there. Missing Mass is a mortal sin, and this is seldom heard. Sometimes the proper answer to those who excessively demand liturgical particularities is that “it’s not about you.” That said, we still ought to be willing to critique ourselves to see if there are areas where we do authentically need reform and realize that some leave us because of what we do or fail to do that is in need of correction.

      1. Father, I am fortunate to be at a parish where our Pastor is devoted to improving the liturgy. Ten years ago I prayed that this parish could have beautiful liturgies like at the National Shrine or the Franciscan Monastery. My prayers were answered, but at a tremendous cost to this priest and the music director, which I never anticipated. It is hard to be self-critical when others are complaining about the things that are now being done the correct way.

        I recently experienced one of those complainers–someone who I thought was “on board” with liturgical reform–and who by all appearances seems to be a devout Catholic and “involved” in the church. It was a lesson in how blind we can be in spiritual matters, and I write that with respect to myself as well as this “complainer.”

        Will’s post below is great–when you need another blog topic, take up the issue of religious education!

  29. It feels as if Fr Reese is asking the Church to bend knee. I’m a Baptist convert to the Catholic Church. I was a Baptist for 21 years and I’ve been Catholic now for 10. Here is my opinion on Protestants and Catholics:

    The Exodus itself:
    Protestants change denomination as often as they change clothes. My Mother, raised a Baptist and a member of the same Baptist church for nearly 60 years now goes to a Presbyterian church because she likes the preacher there better. My sister, raised in the Baptist church goes to an Episcopalian church now because her husband is one. Several of my cousins have gone from Baptist to Pentecostal to Methodist. I have an Aunt and Uncle who play the piano and organist respectively and are the “Music Ministers,” they switched denominations after conflict with members of the congregation.

    Growing up I witnessed a lot of my friends and others of my age group that left our church. Namely they went to other Baptist churches instead of stopping altogether, but the reason for concern with my youth group is that it went from over 50 kids all of a like generation, to under 20 while I was in high school, even though their parents still attended the same Baptist church. Eventually I left too, caught up in a friend’s Pentecostal church (he is now married to a Catholic and attends Mass) before I eventually went to Mass for the first time in college.

    In the town where I grew up the Baptist church I attended was enormous and is now over a century old. The two next largest Baptist churches—I learned as an adult—were actually splinters of the one I grew up in. They were started by Deacons who disagreed with other Deacons and/or the Pastor. This is very similar to what I see in the Catholic Church today.

    There is a new Protestant church every week and this is the problem, the original problem from centuries ago, not the fact that Catholics are leaving. As Peter and Paul once taught against a Petrine or a Pauline church, there should be no denominational churches. It is interchangeable to Protestants, since they do not have the Eucharist.

    Doctrinal Changes:
    That’s just a personal pot shot from Fr Reese who clearly has issues with the hierarchy.

    Creativity with the Liturgy:
    I agree with you Msgr, what does he want here? There are bad speakers and sleepy pastors EVERYWHERE. Taylor Marshall has made a great case that St. Paul was a horrible speaker! It is the message of the homilies, rather than the oration skills, and it is the LACK of reverence.

    I have family members who have left parishes strictly because the Priest was too liberal and/or gave the same message in his homily EVERY week. My wife and I often attended four of the five parishes in our city based strictly on the reverence of the mass and the message of the homily. I can’t help but say it but when English is not your native tongue and you don’t speak it well aloud it is really hard for people to grasp your homily. In my current parish the priest who was there for the previous ten years, he left last fall, was—to be honest—painful to listen to. He often spoke about how much he hated the parish and made numerous rude comments in regards to the people of the parish. I now have a wonderful priest from Africa, and even though it is sometimes difficult to understand him, he is truly in Persona Christi. His homilies are focused, to the point and relevant to our day, our life and our salvation—and he is definitely not a top notch speaker—but I wouldn’t trade him for anyone!

    Bible Study:
    I do think there needs to be strong bible study. Growing up where I grew up kids went to Bible School on Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings AND Sunday night! And it continued even if you were 90! Last fall I went with some buddies to a football game out of state for the weekend and on our trip back that Sunday morning I got out my Bible and started reading, one of the guys said, “Hey, I didn’t know Catholics read the Bible!” There’s an answer to a big problem. Fix that.

    We need Tradition Study too! I learned so many things in RCIA that are contrary to how Catholics act in Mass. How many times have you sat through Mass and listened to people pray and they sound like robots, speaking only by rote. Cast inflection and passion and above all reverence into that prayer. Beat your breast, as Padre Pio says, “we are not worthy,” we are sinners, but thank you for bringing us to your table Lord.

    It HAS to start with the parents and it has to be continued throughout their educational years and beyond, not stopped when they become teenagers. Protestant Bible school also does not stop and start in conjunction with school as the parishes around here do, it was year round.

    I think the missalette is a BIG problem. Protestants BRING their Bible to church so that they can flip open to the readings and follow along. The missals are an excuse to not carry your Bible around.


    The biggest thing I see is that the argument can be made that a lot of priests in America are creating their OWN denominations. I had a priest this past Christmas, instead of being silent at the end of Mass as we left and thereby encourage US to be silent, stood by the Baptismal fount, flicking Holy Water on everyone repeating the line from the Wizard of Oz, “I’m melting, I’m melting.”

    Reign them in! The Bishops must stand up and speak out. The Church must exercise discipline. All attention must be on the fact of the Real Presence of Christ. Priests must preach, as the Apostles did, against sin and for repentance. I have family members who tell me I’m too preachy and I should leave certain things to priests, well my friends who I went to school with in college who are atheist or agnostic are not going to sit down and listen to a priest, should that priest ever go door to door. The great distress of America is that too many think evangelism is no longer needed along with the belief that they think an hour of Church a week is going to save them.

    I want a priest that tells someone to stop wearing their flip flops and sunglasses into Church and will refuse admittance to some teenager with her undergarments showing. I want a priest that will exhort the people to spend more time in prayer every day than they do sitting in front of the TV. The respect due to Jesus during the Mass has become completely lost in the morass of theologian versus theologian. The Modern world is what you’re competing against, not evangelical churches.

    As for the people leaving, pray for them.

    1. Wow, a lot of wisdom here. Thank for explaining some of the church hopping among Protestants that I think is very under-reported in surveys. That story about the priest flicking holy water and crying out that he was melting was just awful. He ought to grow up. I wonder if he was subconsciously confessing aloud that he was in mortal sine. Why else would hold water cause him to “melt.” I hope he’s alright. Sounds as if he may be considering leaving the priesthood.

  30. I thought it was interesting that the XM/Sirius satellite radio program, The Catholics Next Door also posted the link to this article on their Facebook page.

  31. If Catholics truly believed in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, they would never leave. It is Our Lady who renews this faith in and love for the flesh of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist.

    St. John’s Gospel Chapter 6 and his 2nd Letter shed some light on why Catholics leave, as this has happened from the very beginning. Sadly, this occurs because many lack faith, most often because they have been betrayed or deceived by the work of the devil or antichrist from both inside and outside the Church whose main goal is to “deny Jesus Christ has come and still comes in the flesh” in the Holy Eucharist. See 2 John 7-10.

    It is St. John who indicates 666 as a number for the antichrist and probably not a coincidence that John 6:66 refers this to the abandonment of faith in, betrayal of and a denial of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist: “As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

    The full passage of John 6:63-70 is: “‘It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?’ He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’ Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?’ He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.”

    Prayer and loving devotion to Our Lady and the Holy Eucharist is the answer.

  32. Possibly an over-simplification, but it seems to me there could be only two root causes for leaving the Church: A personal lack of perserverance in prayer and Sin. Neither of which could hardly be blamed on the Church or the clergy.

    With that said: Dearly beloved Jesus, suffer me never be separated from Thee or Thy Church!

  33. From day 1, Catholocism has never been easy. How many followers did Jesus himself lose with all that talk of “eating My body and drinking My blood”?

    Oi. What a generation we live in. If these Catholics knew what they were giving up, the actual Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, would they be so hesitant to leave?

    Fellowship is nice, but I’ll take the real, actual presence of Jesus any day over some clapping and dancing at chruch.

  34. We Catholics make the mistake of thinking that if we only ape the protestants (i.e., obsess only over the Bible, reading scripture, MTV-like liturgy, etc.) we’ll stop the hemorrhage of Catholics. We tried protestantizing the liturgy and our whole outlook with the spirit of VII. That’s what got us into this mess. We’re not going to stop the hemorrhage by trying more protestantism, i.e., bible studies, relevant hip liturgy, etc. We’ll stop the hemorrhage when we return to teaching the Faith in its entirety, and return to liturgical practices that foster belief and understanding of basic Catholic theology. We need orthodoxy and orthopraxis, not more trendy music and bible studies.

    From the article:

    “Many young people I have met are hungry for liturgy that is more authentically Catholic. Trendy, ephemeral things are less desired among the young than in decades past. I am amazed at how many young adults are interested in Eucharistic adoration, and want vigorous study of the faith and solid moral instruction rooted in Scripture and the Catechism. A surprising number of them attend the Traditional Latin Mass and I get a lot of wedding request in that form.”

    This is the future of the Church. The ONLY future of the Church.

    The Bible is the heart of the Church. The body works wonderfully when the heart is in its proper relation to the body and the rest of its members.

    Rip the heart out of the body, and it will beat for a few seconds then die. And the body itself dies.

    Rip the Bible out of the Church, and attempt to elevate it alone above the rest of the body of beliefs of the Church, and both will die.

    We are witnessing the death rattles of protestantism for exactly this reason.

    We will not move forward and restore the Church by following this same path.

    The Bible can only be properly taught within its proper context, i.e., the entirety of the Faith. It is pointless to initiate “bible studies” apart from comprehensive catechesis in the fullness of the Faith.

    1. OK I understand. But I think there are things we can learn from Protestants about preaching. Further, from the Protestant converts I have known, they bring with them some very real gifts, to include a love for scripture and a capacity for personal witness and evangelization. But I also understand your point. We need to be what we are and not morph something that, as you point out has a lot of problems all its own.

  35. “Finally, the Pew data shows that two-thirds of Catholics who become Protestants do so before they reach the age of 24. ”

    Fr. Reese missed some important fine points in the Pew research here. Overall those Catholics who leave do leave by age 24. But as you pointed out, there are really two groups making two different journey for two different sets of reasons.

    The group of Catholics who become “nothing”: 79% have left by age 24 and 71% have adopted a “unaffiliated” identity by age 24. The vast majority leave early and think of themselves as a “none” by their early 20’s.

    But the group of Catholics who eventually end up as Protestants does everything more slowly.

    1) only 66% have left by age 24 so they leave a bit later;
    2) 41% take on a Protestant identity between ages 24 – 35 and 20% after age 36; so they spend some time between Christian communities and join Protestant communities later.

    That would seem to mean that these spiritual searchers are out there exploring possibilities for a while before they take the plunge and join a Protestant faith. They are hungry, searching, and uncommitted – sometimes for years. During that time period, they might be very open to coming back if we reached out to them.

  36. I wonder how Fr. Reese explains the even more remarkable decline in the number of Jesuits, At least in the U.S., the drop is phenominal.

    1. I recently read that Georgetown is either considering or maybe even now offering co-ed dorm rooms. I said rooms.

      We all know that the Immaculate Conception, St. Terese, St. Catherine, et al, would have found the concept of sharing their young-womanhood private, naked, grooming, sleeping, space with a man just oh so acceptable.

      1. Yes, I blogged on this topic about a NJ College that is planning the same. Do you have any references that mention G-Town doing this? I’d like to know if there is and blog on it if so.

  37. The exodus from the Church is a symtom of a condition that affects those who stay just as much as those who leave: the Church is failing to be what the Church is. To choose one description, it’s the failure of discipleship. (The fact that talk of discipleship “sounds Protestant” to many cradle Catholics is itself a sign of failure.)

    If the three dozen of us commenting here were to become better disciples of Jesus — better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today — the Church of Washington would be on its way to being more fully what it is. And where the Church is in practice as the Church is in substance, the question isn’t, “Where is everyone going?,” it’s, “Where do we put them all?”

  38. 2.Thirty-one percent cited unhappiness with the church’s teaching on abortion and homosexuality, women, and divorce and remarriage

    3.26 percent mentioned birth control as a reason for leaving.

    People are not only losing the faith because of “reasons” which they hold, but because they are involved in PRACTICES that directly militate against the virtue of Faith. Obviously practicing birth control is one of these, but far more insidious is the practice of fraternizing with people who have left the faith. Never in a million years would the early Christians have had to their homes on Catholic holidays those who had left the faith, who were involved in fornication, in homosexuality and the like. Here of course arguments are always made that we cannot hope to win people back by shunning them. NO. They have left US, and we should not pretend that nothing has happened, not even for peace in the family. It is not enough to remonstrate now and then, while continuing to have them over for Easter and Christmas, etc. Beyond that, we are alwsys concerned with what the fallenaways will think, and on not offending them, while they have no problem AT ALL with offending GOD. Perhaps we ought to consider what GOD thinks of hospitality offered to such people, and to the effect it is having on our own faith, and on the faith of the younger members of the family who see no distinction made between good and evil.

    1. Lee,
      I’d be wary of a line of thinking which suggests refusing hospitality to “such people”. During the period of the Judges, the Israelites deemed it God’s will that they kill every man, woman, child, and animal in some of the cities they captured so as not to be led into unfaithfulness by the pagans. Jesus modeled a very different way of engaging people, especially those of questionable moral practices (tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, etc), in such a way that they were invited toward truth rather than shunned.

      1. Daniel,

        In I Samuel 15:3 the Lord commands Saul, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” It was not at all a question of “deeming” it to be God’s will. it manifestly was God’s will. And in fact Saul lost the kingdom precisely because he deemed strict obedience unnecessary. No one, however, is recommending any such line of conduct to us, nor anything analogous, least of all me.

        The line of conduct, however, that you suggest is precisely the line of conduct that practically everyone is following anyway, and there are very good reasons to be very wary of it.

        As you note, Jesus ate and drank with sinners to the scandal of many people. He came as the divine physician to seek and to save the lost. Surely this is a wonderful model for priests, and there is no reason why ordinary laymen should not adopt this methodology in appropriate circumstances.

        Family gatherings, however, do not lend themselves, and in fact strongly militate against the sort of thing that Jesus said and did when he ate and drank with sinners. He was hardly the perfect guest. He was not shy about rebuking his host. “You gave me no kiss…you gave me no water to wash my feet.” He rebuked his fellow guests in very strong terms. He was not there to sip wine and have cheese and crackers and a mellow time. He set people’s teeth on edge, and was there precisely to bring people to repentance, so he did not mince words. Do you think anyone would be welcome at our family gatherings in that character?

        You think family gatherings are analogous to when Jesus Christ ate and drank with sinners? They are very far from any such thing. You response overflows with sympathy for the fallenways and concern for their salvation. However, what about the children, what about scandalizing the young adults who are present, what about heads of family’s incurring guilt by scandalizing the young people in their charge by inviting people who are living in sin? It is alright for the atheistic uncle and the lesbian aunt to be invited, and in your view woefully uncharitable and unchristian not to invite them. That would be shunning them. Yet who is shunning whom?

        Who, after all, has overhtrown the faith of the family and the traditions of the family? They scrupulously shun everything their forebears held precious: the Mass, Our Lady, the Church, the Eucharist, the teaching of the Church, the Ten Commandments, and then expect to be treated as if nothing happened. According to their etiquette, and the etiquette which most Catholics in this country have adopted, it would be woefully impolite to remonstrate with them, least of all to do so in the terms that Jesus Christ used when he ate and drank with sinners.

        In all the vast Parochial and Plain Sermons of Cardinal Newman’s (Ignatius Press) there are several passages in which he points out that scripture essentially forbids any such easy fraternization with those who are living evil lives. Of course, I cannot locate these passages at the moment.

        Nevertheless, I am convinced that a very large part of our problem in losing Catholics is precisely due to our disobedience on this score. The fraternization which you recommend and that is practiced by practically every (soon to be former) Catholic family is a sin against the faith. It is killing us.

        1. Lee,

          Clearly you’re very hurt and disturbed by sin. All of us are, we all must struggle with and suffer it’s effects. Go to St. Mary Magdalene, I’m sure she will help. You might also try asking your guardian angel to remind you of which of your sins Jesus would write in the sand the next time you feel tempted to stone a sinner. Be assured of my prayers that you may find peace, please pray for me as well.

    2. Lee,

      The figures you cite are for those who left for mainline protestant churches. Whereas those who have left for evangelical Churches have no where near those numbers.

      It is true that there are some scriptures that caution us that “Bad company corrupts good morals” but Scripture also tells us to Evangelize and call people back. Hence, a more case by case analysis may be called for here in terms of how to call people back. It is true that some are hardened cases and outreach may prove fruitless. But what of someone who has authentically been hurt by the Church, a priest or a member? What of those who left due to a relationship that later failed? What of those who have simply drifted and may need a nudge. It just seems to me that it depends on the case to know what is best to do or say, or not say and do.

      1. Dear Monsignor,

        With all due respect, the entire focus of your response is on the lost, on calling them back, on evangelizing them.

        My concern, rather, is on stopping the de-evangelization that is taking place within the bosom of the family, virtually every Catholic family. What Catholic family these days does not have members of the family who have fallen away from the Church and the faith and/or who are living in fornication or homosexual relationships?

        That atheist uncle- what is he saying to my 18 yr old son as they are talking in a corner? What does my 12 yr old daughter think of her lesbian aunt and her “partner.” Surely they are very winsome people and have no aspect of evil in their manners or conversations. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY is warning us about this, and it is totally killing us. THEY are effectively evangelizing us. Can no one see this?

        I am completely convinced this so-called tolerance militates against the faith , and is, very ironically, a species of hardness of heart that is leading to a loss of faith and grace. For my money, the far more loving thing is the tough love involved in recognizing that in leaving the faith, our loved ones have sundered a precious bond that no amount of Christmas cheer or Easter brunches can possibly repair. New birth, new family, new Father, new Mother, new brothers and sisters, new dinner table, new Food. If our family of flesh and blood enters into this by baptism, how wonderful! if they leave, how terrible. But how absurd to carry on as if nothing has happened, with family gatherings that are sacraments of a unity that no longer really exists, particularly for the feasts of the Church. For many families these days, putting Christ back in Christmas ( or Easter, or Thanksgiving) means precisely having a holy festival with those who are living holy lives, with those only. What are those without a wedding garment doing at a wedding?

        As for the unholy, let them feel the coldness and isolation of being outside the family and the faith. This is bad? Better there should be a weeping and a gnashing of the teeth here and now, and remorse that leads to repentance, than that we should continue to lead them down the primrose path by accepting a faux unity whose faux sacrament is Christmas dinner and whose ultimate result is proving to be unity of the entire family in disbeilef.

  39. Fix 3 things:
    1) the sound system/acoustics where Mass is celebrated.
    What one often hears is only noise that is distracting.
    2) lectors carefully trained to PROCLAIM the readings at Mass
    Typically all one hears is rapid, incoherent mumbling; a complete waste of time.
    3) music & hymns.
    It is extremely rare that these coincide with the seasonal liturgy
    and rarer that they express lively joy.

  40. Interesting article. I’m a convert from a Protestant church, and am fascinated by the trends of who is coming and going. I personally came to the Church because it offered lasting value, and wasn’t based on the preference of whomever was in charge. I got so sick of church hopping to find the “program” I liked the best, and church attendance seemed like a total waste of time. I’ve come to love the unchanging tradition, and of course the Eucharist. You can truly get something at Mass that you can’t find anywhere else.

    I do agree that I would like to see more scripture study and small groups in the church. That is something I miss.

  41. Fr. Reese’s sleight of hand is in his failure to acknowledge that many of the reforms championed by he and his ilk have already been tried, in renegade Catholic parishes and in the episcopal church. Is the episcopal church significantly more healthy today than the Catholic Church? Nope. The threshold test for any reform—ecclesiastical or secular—is this: Has it been tried in an analogous setting, and what happened? If it didn’t work, the reformers have a heavy burden, which is no doubt why they hope we own’t notice how tired and trite their proposals are.

    While the problems start there, they don’t stop there.People leave the Catholic Church for a simple reason: Because they aren’t Catholics. Or did Fr. Reese think they were going to protestant churches for a more authentically Catholic experience? The cleavage Reese blithely accepts between doctrine and “spirituality” is to a great extent the underlying problem: The trendy, juvenile notion that there is a vague “spirituality” that exists independently of substantive religious beliefs—a spirituality which not only does not need, but that is in fact under constant assault from, “organized religion”—is an intellectual and emotional prerequisite for abandoning ship, and it is precisely this which must be the focus of catechizing young people.

    For all his finger-wagging attempt to cast himself as the voice of “we told you so,” the fact is that it is the Fr. Reeses of the world who have held sway during the very decline he identifies. I agree with him on this much: Any institution that loses one-third of its members should want to know why. It might start by asking this important question: Have we made any recent changes that coincide with the decline? I am not one of these folks who blame the decline on Vatican II and the novus ordo, but it’s remarkable that the decline has coincided with the radical de-sacralization of the liturgy, and even more so that Reese would cure that trend by making the liturgy yet more mundane. With all due respect, Fr. Reese has not begun to diagnose the problem, and is in no position to do so. His advice is akin to a tobacco executive suggesting that lung cancer patients be cured by smoking more: Not only should we be skeptical of the advice, we should be skeptical of the messenger.

  42. Stop the theology and face it,
    …the music really sucks. Run by
    alot of tasteless, vain glorious music directors,
    enabled by pastors who had no music training in artless seminaries,
    and order whatever Oregon Catholic Press and GIA sends
    them because its easy.

  43. we have successfully ritualized “one bread one body’
    the way benedictines sing a Te Deum.
    Consign Haugen’s Mass of Creation to its tired old place of
    beige-era catholicism. These dreadful joncas, haas, haugen tunes we sing all the time are as rigidly
    etched into our worship as any gregorian chant ever was.
    Oregon Catholic Press and GIA people……They are the very Walmart of American Catholic music.
    Its easy, convenient and will keep us forever in banality.

  44. Ditto what Mark just wrote.

    The Eucharist is Christ Himself.

    When His own followers would not accept that, He did not chase after them. That is a hard truth to square with what we also know, flip side, about “actual grace” constantly hounding us down.

    John 6:66, 67, 68. It’s very freezing out there, o souls. Are you sure you want to go out? You can stay in the cenacle with your friends and Her or you can follow Judas out to that field. The thing is, Judas looks very down and you might soon be on your own.

  45. In response to Anrhony Joyce,

    The ides thar a catholic school education is only for the well to do is erroneous. My mother, a widow from the time I was 6 weeks old, managed to send my two older brothers and myself to catholic schools for all 12 years. It was a struggle but she knew what was important.

  46. If they were truly in love with Him as a human who endured the things He did for us and truly believed in the Eucharist being Christ not a symbol they’d understand the church’s teachings and see how beautiful , spiritual , and deep it is , they wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. Thank God for the Roman Catholic Church , as far as spiritual we have mass with all the angels and saints and yes Jesus Himself.

  47. I converted to the Catholich Church just last year. My question is: How many people are entering the Catholic Church each year from Protestant denominations?

    I am continously astounded by the real and tangible hunger amongst cradle Catholics to know more about their own faith, tradition, liturgy, and the Bible. We are lucky to be able to attend a parish that is very vibrant and meets these needs on an ongoing basis. There are even folks from other parishes who attend our classes and programs.
    My thoughts to this aspect of the retention issue are these: when this need to know one’s own Catholic tradition is met, when catechesis is unapologetic about this tradition and affirms “this is what we do and here is why”, then people are given a tangible choice. My hunch is fewer of them will leave, because they are more knowledgeable, and you will retain the folks who would otherwise be drifting away because they don’t know what they are rejecting.

  48. Another little observation I’ve come upon is that some Catholics leave to join Protestant/Evangelical churches where they can exercise roles that they may not exercise in the Catholic Church due to canon law rules. One example: I believe Church law allows only ordained persons to preach at Mass. This leaves out talented lay men and lay women. These days there are large numbers of well-educated lay men and lay women who have masters degrees in theology and special training for ministry in the Church. Some of them could, no doubt, deliver excellent homilies. So, my suggestion for the Church is to change canon law with regard to who can give homilies in a way that allows lay persons to do so. Yes, there should be standards that include training, but I don’t think those standards should be more stringent than the standards required for the ordained priests and deacons who now preach. Will this help stem the tide of those who leave the Church? I can’t say for sure, but it’s a change I would welcome. I also think it would take some of the burden off of priests and deacons who have to try to come up with a good homily every week, and sometimes daily.

  49. Monsignor Pope,

    1. Personally, I would prefer no music during Mass to the music I have heard at most Catholic Churches. Your church appears to be exceptional and that is a blessing.

    2. The homilies tend to be (a) hard to hear due to poor acoustics and miking issues, (b) often perfunctory and (c) rarely inspiring. Many priests appear to put very little time into preparing their homilies.

    Having said the foregoing, I would quickly note that I will remain a Catholic and rejoice in the Church because of the sacraments, the Eucharist and Confession. Many Catholics feel like Peter in John 6: “where would we go and have the words of eternal life and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ?”

    However, with the magisterium and the inspiration of the great Saints, Popes and Doctors of the Church, I am truly baffled why the homily quality is often spotty. I believe people are hungry for the Word; they want to understand why we were created; what it means to be created in God’s image; how we went off the rails so badly; why we are such a broken people in a society of material riches unlike no other time in history; why there is suffering; how that suffering can be made holy through Christ; what will happen to us after death; how to prepare for that; and, most awesomely, to teach about life after life after death (1 Cor. 15) The Catholic Church has the richness and wisdom of the Saints to explain as no other Protestant church can what the promise of partaking of the divine nature (Catechism 460) means.

    With resources available to us in priests such as you, Monsignor Pope, Bishop Wuerl, Scott Hahn and my favorite B16, and the courage to speak truth and humility to power, materialism, narcissistic self-indulgence and pleasure, the Church should have the problem of too few pews for the souls thirsting for truth, charity and love in a society that often denigrates these qualities.

    Another problem is the laity. I have seen people arrive during the Gospel reading and head out the door before the priest and acolytes have recessed. I believe Catholics need to be better Bible scholars and “man-up” to their responsibility under the Great Commission. I think Catholics in our society often feel awkward about letting others know they are Catholic. I would be curious if you agree with this observation, but it seems that much of the new influx into the Catholic Church is evangelical Christians discovering the Church Fathers – – the original “source materials” of our faith – – and realizing that the Catholic Church is indeed the Church Christ established. In fact, one of these evangelicals wrote a book, “Crossing the Tiber.”

    I guess the point I am trying to make, Monsigor Pope, is that with the extraordinary riches of faith, devotion, piety, teaching, truth and servanthood in the Catholic Church, we seem to keep our lamp under the bushel basket. I wonder how many Catholics have read the Pope’s two volumes on Jesus of Nzareth and are ready, as St. Peter, urged us, to provide an exciting account of our fath?

    God bless you and your ministries!

  50. I took an unofficial survey myself of about 50 ex-Catholics and here is what I found:

    1. They left the Church because their spiritual needs were not being met (how could they be met when they did not attend Mass, get involved in their own parish, or pass on the Faith to their children?)

    2. Some left the Church because they were engaged in a behavior that the Church does not accept (i.e., living together, divorce and remarried, the practice of artificial birth control, etc.)

    3. Few left the Church because they do not agree with the Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage, abortion, women priests, etc.

    4. When asked if they believed that the Eucharist was the authentic Body, Soul, Blood and Divinity of Jesus Christ, all without exception responded…no.

    1. GREG,

      yOU NAILED IT!

      4. When asked if they believed that the Eucharist was the authentic Body, Soul, Blood and Divinity of Jesus Christ, all without exception responded…no.


      4. When asked if they believed that the Eucharist was the authentic Body, Soul, Blood and Divinity of Jesus Christ, all without exception responded…no.

  51. Praise God that the Catholic Church stands on it’s unweavering rock, Jesus Christ.! If the
    Church gets to the point where we change this and change that (ie., married priests, birth control, abortion, etc.) then we would be be PRO-TESTANT! If you are protesting against the teachings of our church then you are protesting against Christ himself and are looking for a church that suits YOUR needs, not a church that celebrates sacrifice, Christ’s sacrifice and then therefore your own. Sacrifice and divine mercy are the key words. That is what Christians do. Satisfaction is sacrifice. It is not about a fun church with fun music and feel good messages all the time. It is about the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ himself of which we partake solemly in the eucharist. If you leave the true presence, the bread of life Himself you will eventually go hungary.
    I Know, first hand. I left the church for many years. I married a non catholic who is still in an evengelical church. I went to many churches and bible studies. Problem: I loved reading the scripture however every one not only had their own interpretation but spent forever arguing about interepretation. Even to go so far as split chuches over interpretation or because someone just feels like starting their own church. NO AUTHORITY! Life on the Rock is good. Authority is good, Jesus left us with Peter and all his successors, “The Gates of Hades shall not prevail against our Catholic Church”! Praise God for the Holy Fathers………..
    The ifferences in all of these churches became very depressing for me and while I won’t write my whole conversion, reversion story, suffice it to say I came home to the only church where the Blessed sacrament can fill my soul. I will never leave. I stopped looking for what I wanted and instead asked Jesus to lead me to what He wanted. I do have respect for my husband’s choice for himself.
    Our church has a bible study. More Catholic churches need these. I read the scriptures daily. Don’t give up or feel that the Church is losing members. The evengelization of EWTN alone and Catholic radio are immense in calling people into and back to the faith. Remember a vineyard has to be pruned way back to grow stronger and produce good fruit.Drink of the fruit of the vine, the blood of /Christ and ask Him to lead your life. Pray for and have reverence for our Priests and deacons. Or ………………….. start your own church…………………………

  52. Anyone who truly understands that Jesus is TRULY PRESENT in the HOLY EUCHARIST would never leave the Catholic Church. Love for Our Eucharistic Lord enables the soul to separate the human shortcomings of the Church from its Divine Mission. A faithful, informed Catholic can look beyond Fr. So-so, the poor musicianship, the lector who mispronounces Biblical names, etc. and desire with longing, the moment of Holy Communion with Our Lord, for surely THIS IS WHY WE COME TO MASS, TO PARTICIPATE IN THE HOLY SACRIFICE AND EAT THE FLESH OF THE LAMB OF GOD SO THAT WE MAY HAVE LIFE WITHIN US. Very poor and I dare say false teaching has led us to this day. But we should not be surprised, for our Lord Himself said, “when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith?” KERSTIN’S comments are an important indicator that authentic, unapologetic education in the Catholic Faith leads to better understanding and retention. We are the people of God, but it is God’s Church, not Fr. Joe’s Church, not the African-Italian-American-Church. Our Liturgy is ancient and designed by God Himself. Who are we to trivialize it by making it more worldly according to our whims. If those who left spent more time gazing at the Eucharist instead of the yawning, frowning couple in the next pew, they might have had a different experience of the Mass, which by the way, is not a “Worship Service.” It is the re-presentation of salvation history, from the voices of the Old Testament writers, to the Last supper and Death of Our Lord, to the Life-Giving Food of the Holy Host. We are humbled and thankful. Humility and poverty of Spirit, these are necessary if one is to remain Catholic. Loving obedience helps, too.

  53. I’m curious if anyone has any experience with a program that welcomes back Catholics. I mean a parish based program that you can advertise and invite people to attend. Having looked at a few and not found what we are seeking, we are thinking of developing our own. Any suggestions?

    Our current plan is to offer a 5 or 6 class series several times a year. Our topics would include the Eucharist, Confession, and Mary as well as a class to give a tour of the parish facilities and one to discuss the reasons people leave. Maybe we need one on the Bible. We have a dvd by Marcellino D’Ambrosio called “Exploring the Catholic Faith” which has five, 30 minute presentations and we thought we would use three of the presentations in the three doctrinal classes on the Eucharist, Confession and Mary. Other ideas welcome.

  54. Ok, so the best way to keep Catholics from leaving the Catholic Church and going to Protestant groups is to make the Catholic Church more Protestant. Huh?

    Why don’t we try making the Catholic Church more Catholic. Then those who want to be Catholic will stay and those who want to be Protestant will still go. The result of the last 45yrs or so of “ecumenism” has been to remove the important differences between Catholics and all those thousands of other denominations. It’s just like politics. When there’s no real discernible difference between Democrats and Republicans, people just lose interest. It’s time we stopped this endless ecumenical dialog, admit that our entire liturgy is a shambles, scrap it and start over.

  55. Making Mountains out of Molehills…

    It is no surprise that Fr. Reese proposes further deconstructing the Liturgy of The Mass on the flimsy basis of appealing to the 4% of the population of baptized Catholics who become Protestant. This simply fits the agenda of those “America Magazine” clergy and laity that object to JP2’s Liturgicam Authenticum and the coming reclamation of Catholic content in the English Mass translation set for Advent 2011.

    Bravo to Msgr. Pope for his counter here. I would simply add this anecdote in support of many of the statements of Msgr. Pope and in counter to Reese: our parish church, run by progressive clergy and laity, is in financial straits because it lost hundreds of parishioners because of innovating their own liturgies in The Mass, weaving into it their left-leaning politics, plastering it over with “innovative” theology, and making derisive comments about Pope Benedict, etc, etc. Serious Catholic parents left, making the sacrifice to travei to other parishes 20 miles away, because they refused to submit their children to an impoverished, and often counterfeit Catholicism. Obviously, this is happening all over the country inside the Church. Faithful Catholics don’t leave The Church – but they will leave a parish – especially these days – when there are often no longer any long-standing Catholic communities – but instead many new parishes of American nomads moving from place-to-place.

    1. It’s completely typical that when any difficulty is pointed out, some prominent Catholic a) blames the Mass, and b) drags up the old progressive/conservative dichotomy.

      The mass gets blamed because most Catholics only participate in the Mass, if they participate in anything. Generally in Catholic practice, there’s no “there” there unless you blame the mass. It’s all even most “practicing” Catholics do.

      The old progressive/conservative dichotomies are dead because they have no meaning in the climate we’re now in. Plus they’ll mean even less when the demographics crash hits soon. What will we do then? Who will we blame? SHOCK.

  56. Some 20 years ago, I swam the Tiber from Cantebury to Rome. Blessed Pope John Paul came to Washington, I never attended any event but the force of his faith brought me into the Church, his Bride.
    Open the doors to Christ!,,,,,

    In a related post on the decline of the Anglican Church
    As valid as the institutional question of establishment may be, the more important factor in this pattern of decline is theological. Churches and denominations decline when they lose or forfeit their passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the Bible as the enduring, authoritative, and totally truthful Word of God. If life and death are no longer understood to hang in the balance, there is little reason for the British people to worry about anything related to Christianity. If a church is not passionate about seeing sinners come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if there is no powerful biblical message from its pulpits, then it is destined for decline and eventual disappearance.

    When a church forfeits its doctrinal convictions and then embraces ambiguity and tolerates heresy, it undermines its own credibility and embraces its own destruction.

    We need the give witness for the hope that is the Easter message. In your posts you lament the fact that we have so many Catholics who have Stunted development- their faith is at an 8 year old level.

    Let us concentrate on teaching our faithful from the cradle to the grave

  57. I know many people who have left the Catholic Church for a variety of reasons. Of the people that have moved to other Christian denominations, especially evangelical churches, the primary motivating factor was a clearer focus on Christ with a very simple “logical” doctrine. While I think those doctrines may be overly simple to the point of being illogical, the counter argument could be made that Catholic doctrine is overly complex and distracting to the central message of Christ. Certainly for people who have left for other Christian denominations, their connectedness with Christ seems to be the primary focus. Ironically, some of the strongest, most well grounded, Catholics I know have spent time in evangelical churches.

    1. Catholicism is not just another denomination – It is “The Church”.

  58. The great sin of the Jews in the Old Testament was idolatry. That is why when Christ showed up He didn’t meet their expectations so they put Him to death. With few exceptions, it’s no different today. We worship a Christ made in our own image. People remain in or are attracted to the Catholic Church because of the structure, its dogmatism and its rituals. Other churches are attractive because of their emphasis on Scripture, they are more personal and more flexible in their beliefs. I do believe that if Christ showed up today He would meet with the same fate.

    1. I am afraid you contradict yourself within those few sentences. Flexibility of belief is not an option if you want to avoid idolatry; on the contrary.
      Monsignor Pope raises some convincing points; it might be worth your while to re-read them.

  59. Great article Father!!
    Btw- where is your parish? I attended an African-American parish in Washington DC once and it was amazing worship of our Risen Lord!
    You might really enjoy the Siena.org/blog from the western province of Dominicans. They talk often of the need to make disciples, both in RCIA and in the pews. Sherry (blog author) wrote at great length about the same survey and its practical and demographic implications for the Church.

    Thank you for your priesthood Father! I will pray for you tonight!

  60. I am one of those people who left the catholic church and joined an evangelical church. It all began one day when I decided to read the bible (NAS) for myself. Acts 4:12 startled me. ‘There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

    I always believed that Jesus is the Son of God and Saviour of the world. Acts 4:12, however, taught me that Jesus is the ONLY Saviour of the world. All my life, up to that point, I was taught to be a good catholic. Without exception, for me and every catholic I knew went to mass every Sunday and attended a catholic school, yet, in the ‘in-between-times’, from Monday to Saturday, I (we) lived like the devil.(drinking, coarse jesting, disrespectful judgments, greed, unforgiving, gossiping, fornication, etc…) My motto was, ‘just be a good catholic and don’t hurt anyone” I truly believed that I was a ‘good catholic’ just because I was CATHOLIC. Being catholic is all you needed to get to heaven (well, at least into purgatory) Trusting Christ as my ONLY Saviour and allowing His life to be lived out through me moment by moment was something that had never occurred to me until I read the Gospels and Acts 4:12.

    Why didn’t my catholic church tell me that being a christian was more than mental assent to the creed of the church? Why was I led to believe that being a good catholic was good enough? It is true that the gospel is preached in the Catholic mass. It is also true that much of that gospel is nullified because most catholics do not practice what they believe. (I , and every catholic I knew, was among that group) We confessed the faith, but never lived the faith that we confessed. Many catholics need to get off their high horse and stop seeing the Roman catholic church as the only true and original church. It simply is not true. By the way, in order to allay any fears of my catholic-italian mother, I spoke with a parish priest about my decision to leave the catholic church. Do you know what he said to me? I will never forget. He said that I, “committed spiritual adultery and went after the harlot.” When I asked him to tell me where that is written in the catholic bible, he said, ‘damn you’ and walked away.

    Recently, I attended mass. I listened to the homily. The Gospel message was proclaimed in the mass. What’s missing? In my opinion, I can think of two things. One, there is a form of godliness without the power of God. Two, the priest needs to very clear.He must tell the people to live out what they believe in every sphere of life. Christ must be the control-centre of all my relationships and endeavours. (I am not advocating fanatic devotion.Just consider and apply the teachings of Christ in all your ways)

    In case you are wondering, I am not a bitter anti-catholic. In fact,this web-site,the USCCB website and the Carmelite web site are the main source for my daily devotion and family devotion. I do not hate the catholic church, but I could never return to her. There is too much tradition within her that nullifies the very gospel she proclaims.

    1. Well Anthony, I think there is too much of you rather, to see the truth of the one true church. So it is your imagination now that is that one truth, right?

      1. Hi Joseph,
        Your reply was almost identical to mine when my Catholic faith was first challenged.(from the catholic bible no less) Jesus is the Rock and the embodiment of God’s truth, not my imagination, and not my church for that matter. If my church decides to deny the nature and mission of Jesus as explained in The Gospels, Acts and the N.T. letters, then according to the same Scriptures, it is an apostate church.The one, true church Is universal and exists where ever Christ is proclaimed in accordance to the Scriptures. “When 2 or 3 are gathered in His name”, Christ promises to be present.

        At any rate, my intention for writing on this blog was to share my personal reason for leaving the Catholic Church. Not to create a controversy. I reread my original comments and realize that I should have kept some of my experience to myself and for that I am sorry.
        Sincerely ,Anthony

        1. What about Eph 2:20, Eph 4:4-5, 1 Pet 2:4-8, 2Pet 1:20, 1 Tim 3,15, finally 1 Thess 2:13 – I hope that you Believe!

          1. Hi Vistanow,
            Thank you for providing the list of scriptures for me to read. I am not a Catholic Christian. I am an Evangelical Christian. What I believe is not derived from a private interpretation of the bible. It is based on accepted and sound principles of biblical interpretation.
            I do not find significant differences between catholics and evangelicals on the major doctrines of the bible. I assume, therefore, that we are applying the same rules of biblical interpretation in those cases. (Example:Trinity, Dual nature of Jesus, Virgin birth, death and bodily resurrection of Jesus, etc…)

            What particular doctrine of the non-catholic evangelical christian do you think is a matter of private interpretation of the scripture?
            What bible doctrine is the product of the Roman Catholic interpretors? For example, is Apostolic succession taught in the bible? Can the catholic church show from the scriptures that Peter was the first pope? Accepting that the interpretation of the scriptures is not a matter of private interpretation, what bible verse(s) does the catholic church ‘interpret’ to conclude that the Roman Catholic church is the one true church?

            How does the catholic church interpret John 10:16, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
            And,in light of the many denominations outside of the catholic church, how does the catholic interpret Mark 9:38-40, “John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us”? If christians outside of the catholic church are for ‘us’ and not against ‘us’, can’t we simply see ourselves as part of the same universal church? Can’t we follow the motto, “”In essentials, unity; in non-essential, liberty; in everything, love.”?
            Even Pastor Pope ventures to provide links to evangelical pastors and singers at the end of some of his devotionals.Does providing those links mean he recognizes biblical interpretation outside of the catholic church? Example, Pastor Pope links to a Dr. Adrian Rogers. Is Dr. Rogers preaching just a matter of private interpretation? Should Pastor Pope link to him since Dr. Rogers is not a catholic? (By the way, Dr.Rogers has since passed away)
            I may have read him wrong, but Pastor Pope seems to recognize the legitimacy of Christians outside of the catholic ‘fold’. Most of his messages on this blog are what I as an evangelical would call ‘annointed’ – They are anointed because through the message, the Spirit convicts me to obey the word of God; through the message I am inspired to worship the Lord. They are timely messages from the word of God. Such messages are becoming rare in catholic and evangelical churches alike.
            God bless you and take care,

  61. How many ex-catholics are coming back after being non-religious or protestants for years? what makes them come back?

    1. Very few come back once they leave. About half go on to join Protestant groups. The rest become non-affiliated. Many are angry or disappointed, and most of them move on. A few come back, but not many.

      Most who claim to be reverts really never left the Church, but rather joined the ranks of the “lax Catholics” who are always present at the margins of the Church, and then moved back towards the center again later in their lives.

  62. As a life long, Catholic, educated in Catholic schools and as one of the leaders of the Catholics Comng Home program in our Parish, My wife and I have just joined the 1 in 10 Americans who are former Catholics. I could no longer tolerate the bankrupt leadership of the Church nor some of the postiions on married priests, women, gays or the lack of support for social justice and fairness. The orgnization of my soon to be former Church is what I can no longer accept, my faith is fine, I am still a beliver.

    I just can’t find it in my heart to trust the “Corporate Church”. Money to pay lawsuits but no punishment for the Bishops or Cardinals who let it all happen.The Church will be doomed to continue lose members. I am not sure where this spirtual journey wil take us, but it is a journey that must take place.

  63. In my opinion, leaving the TRUE FAITH because of the sins of clergy would have been a defeat for my soul. We are told to fight the good fight–so instead of being pulled down by what has happened in the Church–I found a Catholic Church with a very Orthodox pastor and attend that parish (and became involved). I do not have to answer for the sins of others–only my sins. It would have been a sin for me to give up the Faith and blame it on other people’s actions as the cause of driving me away. When I have talked to those that have done so I have discovered it was their life style that was at the heart of the matter and blaming clergy was a handy excuse.

  64. Bring them to the Eucharist. PERIOD.

    I grew up with all the silly youth “programs”. I stayed Catholic DESPITE them. I knew Christ, and had to see through how much many Catholics I knew, mostly priests and religious, were distorting His message.

    I agree with Msgr. Pope. I do not at all agree with Fr. Reese. (I only just read that he was the author of the original article. Not surprised, but as always saddened that he gets it SO wrong.)

    DON’T try to entertain. DO teach the faith. DON’T attempt to “conform” to society. DO offer deep, true teaching. Kids and adults are smart, savvy, and interested in the truth. The truth is good and beautiful and we want it. The “fuddy duddy” is the one who ignores the truth, or twists it to cater to perceived “feelings”.

  65. We Catholics need to be more evangelical with the faith and use our gifts & charisms from the Holy Spirit.We must show a Spirit of joy and undestanding to the Cathoplics that do not believe and /or understand the Catholic faith. I can relate to sour lemon faces I’ve seen at my old parish.And some these Catholics have been attending for years and still never had the joy of the Lord.If they had the joy of Our Lord they really had me fooled!

  66. Why do Catholics leave? Because they have taken their faith for granted. INTEREST, the foundation of understanding and growth is not something that can be taught. I personally think that bible study is a kind of devotion, like the rosary, or stations of the cross. To make it central to having or keeping faith is to miss the point. Before literacy became common place the world lived without having to study the bible daily having as its almost only moment during Mass. Which brings me to THE point I’m making. All the wonderful bible study, catechesis, and programs have little import as implied by several writers already and this is because of individual interest. It is this disinterest that allows grave errors to develop in the minds and hearts of members who then go in search of their errors in other places. The question really is how to develop this ‘interest.’

    As the saints have always demonstrated the life of authentic faith is the most powerful instrument for the harvest of conversions, both to authentic faith and to new faith. This is what is lacking. As we all know, faith is a gift of God! The grace of God is most abundant where authentic faith thrives. Therefore, where there is authentic faith conversion flows. The authenticity of faith has to do with its practicality – its authentic life. This is where the leadership in the church can engage the faithful. To engage the faithful they must not only be encouraged and guided in bringing the faith to life by exercise but also helped to understand what especially the Mass is all about.

    The Mass is THE invitation of all mankind to God. This banquet is where the sacrifice of Christ is both offered and received. To understand this we have to understand that the sacrifice of Christ is both an event, and very importantly, a type. When we offer ourselves in our daily lives to the divine good of our neighbour, doing it in the spirit of Christ or at least with that intention we are actually participating in the sacrifice of Christ by type. When we come to Mass it is to bring this sacrifice with us. This is implied and represented by the offering we make at collection and which at the same time is made in Jesus’ spirit – I don’t mean donating trifles that tantamount to no offering at all. While the liturgy of the word prepares us by exposing us to facets of faith, in the liturgy of the eucharist we raise our offerings into the offering of Christ at calvary which at the same time serves as a pledge of commitment to the life of Christ so that the past, after our last Mass, and the future, to our next Mass, are converged in the Mass that we are present at bringing our imperfections into the light of Jesus Christ. This ‘future’ is where the liturgy of the word calls us, in its facets, to practice or exercise of our souls into the mould of God which also comes into the assessment of our souls at the next Mass.

    This is a deep and rich mystery but it is only those who have the INTEREST that will dare to bring such into reality in their lives by effort. It is at the same time these few that actually keep true faith alive and have done so throughout the ages. If we, who have this interest, dare ourselves to become true, what an explosion of conversion shall we expect.

    Notwithstanding, we the laity are part of the church and should not just sit and wait for the clergy to act but should fully participate in our parishes towards the true end of our faith by giving heed to the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, from the Father from where he originates.

    The solution to the ‘problem’ is practical faith and is not by engaging the faithful in more theory.

  67. The real danger zone is between 18-24. This time, leaving high school, leaving home, entering college or the workforce, is a transition time we as Catholics don’t handle well.

    I’ve recently had an idea that I’m going to work on in my own parish- *Every 18 year old should be encouraged to sign up with Knights of Columbus or Catholic Daughters*. Both of these organizations have chapters everywhere in the United States. Both of these organizations are directly involved in local parishes. Both of these organizations tackle excess free time with volunteer opportunities that strengthen the faith of the young.

    The Mass is wonderful. But for many Catholics in this age zone- there’s no reason to go. Get them involved in ministries and volunteer opportunities, and it gives them a reason to be there on Sunday.

  68. One family left the catholic church because they did not understand it, nor had prepare the proper foundation for it, nor did they made any effort to seek its abundant joys, they just did not receive the gift to seek and to ask for a more rich experience, he went on to find himself a position in one protestant denomination. Where will his boat lead them, I don’t know, I hope is heaven. Another son does not enter the catholic church because he began to receive faith when he was a mid teenager while his father is catholic and his mother is baptist, but living separate lives – and he the son has now become very well verse in all the studies of religion and decided to follow the world view against catholicism e.g., why women are not priest, and homosexuals allow to mary, and why isn’t abortion allowed in certain cases, etc. makes it difficult for him to toss aside his mask, Then a friend married his sweetheart, but she had a prior marriage of which the catholic church would not grant an anulment, so he decides that a mainline church will help them cover their sorrows, by telling them forget about the catholic church who needs those catholics, they beleive in the transubstantiation and I don’t. Then you wonder why a catholic pastor would have a serious bible study which I hear is very good, but on sundays it is all abstractions and generalities and nothing substantial. Interesting to say the least!

  69. This mater of Catholics turning away in large numbers plagues and frightens me, largely because there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix. The matter is overwhelming. I hate to admit my cynicism and fatalism. I do have a few thoughts. As a preliminary aside, for those who advocate a lot of left-liberal and artificial tinkering like guitar masses, gleefully dancing around campfires, pictures of Che Guevara on the alter and so on, that is just silly. Turning the Catholic Church into a crypto-protestant Church seems to be giving up and avoiding the problem. The scandals in the Church, the dottering old men in the Vatican who haven’t been in a parish in forty years, a priesthood that is overworked, tired, abandoned, discouraged and listless, the mundane sermons, and the general lack of fire-in-the-belly of the Church are all symptoms of an organization that has atrophied. most such organizations, like the Byzantine empire just fade away but it need not be so. Nor is it to be abandoned because of what is wrong with it. Can you find any corruption or incompetence in your country? Well then just leave it? Further, why not just dismantle it entirely?

    Radical change or renewal does not and must not mean effectively destroying what it fundamentally is. If a person is in poor health for a number of reasons you don’t solve his problem by shooting him. Nor do you try to turn him into a vegetarian joint smoking Moonie. If you believe something is fundamentally true and right you simply cannot abandon it, or shoot it, simply because it is sick and nor can you alter it out of existence.

    I do have some thoughts on what I personally would like to see in my Church. The abusers must be hunted down, thrown out and the evidence turned over to the police. No exceptions, no mercy, for now. We must and can forgive, as easily when they are in their prisons or graves as when they are on the street. As for those who can’t be found out or won’t give themselves up, Excommunicate them all publicly. The old men must be rapidly eased out; how I don’t know, just send them off. The prohibition of women in the priesthood is a man made rule only. Enforced priestly celibacy is a man made rule. Contraceptives that kill a living fertilized egg is abortion but killing a spermatozoa or egg alone is not. Sermons must be strongly biblical and even socio-political although never partisan. Sermons must be tough, even harsh. The re-formed and biblical Church must then be stalwart, never giving in to the whims of fashion. Cling tightly to our 2000 year old tradition and majesty which can, with a bit of imagination, be adroitly woven into a modern place of stability and solace within a culture that is cold and brutal.

    Be proud! On the pulpit and in the coffee shop, be proud! Be assertive and intractable, and ever proud. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart, the people of God! Hiding or negating what we are is cowardly and sinful. We are from the very mouth of Jesus Christ God. All Christians but especially Catholics have allowed ourselves to become easy targets, and we do not fight back. Not me. No more. I am not an easy target and I sure as hell will fight back however I must.

    In my latter years I am starting into lay ministry with a sense of cynicism and overawe. It is indeed an overwhelming task. I can take some solace in two things. St Paul said that we are in a terrible and unrelenting fight, a fight that requires the greatest endurance, toil, and even suffering. Finally, we are the Church, the body of Christ, established for us by Him. We have been in far worse states in centuries past and we always come back some way or another, miraculously or by toil. We are the Church. We cannot disappear.

  70. The data is correct but the analysis has all the typical Catholic mistakes.
    People are leaving not because there’s something wrong with the Mass but because the Mass is all there is. You go to Mass, you scramble to get out of the parking lot alive, and THAT’S IT! If you’re a layperson you’ve done your deal and you’re done for the week. Period. There’s no “there” there.

    Catholics inherit being Catholics. Most of them have never had a conversion experience or anything close to it, and in fact view such things with suspicion and alarm because they sound “Protestant.” They also don’t spend much time talking about the person of Jesus Christ because very few of them have a personal relationship with him. What’s become normal for Catholics in the US and Europe is not normal for Christians in general. This is the problem. It’s very, very common to discover while talking to another Catholic that they’ve never really bought into Christianity although they have enough of the exterior stuff in place to get under the radar. Gaping holes. It’s very scary. Recent research says that close to 90% of Catholics are this way, and I believe it.

    BTW, I know all this because I am a Catholic convert and I’ve struggled with it for years. It’s not easy and it’s not fun. The Church wasn’t always this way, and it’s not this way in the emerging world, but it is in the 1st world. It’s fossilized in a way. Until we stop thinking about maintenance and start thinking about evangelization within the Church, we’re going to keep having problems. But there’s a LOT of denial to get past. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get past it. We’ll see.

  71. BTW, Catholics romanticize the immigrant era. The influx of hispanics has some of the Catholics who make decisions dreaming of those days again. What they fail to realize (or what they chose to deny maybe) is that hispanics may remain Catholics for 1 generation, yes, but after that they adopt the religious affiliation patterns prevalent in the surrounding culture, which means that about 40% of them currently leave. Using hispanics to dream of the past is not only demeaning to hispanics, but it’s illusory and counterproductive to the denial problem that we have. We’re not going to be able to remain in custodial mode much longer. The demographic plunge is going to be breath-taking and it’s coming. Warning.

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