highlights: why Catholics leave the Church

Todd M. Aglialoro says
"...because through some experience with a sect and its members they are led to experience for the first time an intellectual connection with Christianity.

They may hear a Scripture verse placed into the larger context of salvation history, and for a brief second glimpse God's revealed word as something majestic and profoundly true -- instead of as a collection of Hallmark sentiments best used as a jumping-off point for mundane, anecdotal sermonettes. They may hear a "testimony" on sin and conversion, and be bowled over by the radical nature of Christian faith -- apprehending for the first time that it demands a totally new (and often scandalous to the world) series of life choices. Or they may simply encounter theological conviction in an unadulterated form -- be told unflichingly by someone that Jesus is wholly divine, or the Bible is inerrant, or paradise and hellfire are real and one of them awaits each of us, and that this truth has unavoidable implications -- and say to themselves, I want more of this. I want a religion that makes a statement about the way things really are.


How does this bear on the question of why Catholics leave the Church? Because liberal Christianity, being essentially a working compromise with secularism, cannot sustain itself. This is observable both as a historical phenomenon (each time Christianity has engaged in compromise with secularism, it has emerged less distinctively Christian than it was before) and also in reflection upon human nature. For religions retain believers, and especially those most fervent and active believers, when their doctrines and practices are distinct, complex, and engaging -- and lose believers when they're not.

Put into concrete terms: A Catholicism that sets before its believers a broad and strict test of moral and doctrinal adherence will keep its members. A Catholicism that is reduced (and often it is so, ironically, in order not to scare folks away) to "being a good person" will lose them. Because -- and this is the nub of it -- one can be a good person without going to church."
The estimable Russell Shaw argues -
This disastrous situation reflects the impact of secularization on a Catholic community far gone in theoretical and practical dissent and deeply sunk in habits of keeping up with the Joneses that sociologists call cultural assimilation. American Catholics have long craved to be like everybody else, and now they seem to have succeeded all too well. The sex-abuse scandal, weak leadership, and the unconscionable defection of most formerly Catholic colleges and universities have contributed significantly to the general collapse.

At the moment, I have only two suggestions.

First, the Catholic bishops should declare a moratorium on most of the scheduled activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and spend the next two or three years reflecting on the Pew study and the recent CARA study on the basket case called Catholic marriage. On that basis, and with the help of loyal Catholic scholars, they might be able to develop a worthwhile action plan.

Second, the pastors and people of the Church in the United States should halt the continual lowering of the bar for membership in the Church that's been going on for the last 40 years and start raising the bar instead. To be a member of the Catholic Church is an enormous privilege that carries with it enormous responsibilities. People need to be challenged by that message, not coaxed and cajoled to show up on Sunday every once in a while.
Mother M. Assumpta Long, O.P.-
The reason so many Catholics are leaving the Catholic Church is simple, at least in looking at most of the people who have left: It simply makes too many demands of its members. In a culture where morals are a matter of choosing and sacrifice is unheard of, why would a person want to belong to a Church that says one may not live with someone who is not one's spouse, nor marry a same sex partner; must not use contraceptives; must not have an abortion; and use every effort to stay away from serious sin, or even small ones? Added to this, one must go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, fast on days appointed, and practice voluntary penance. One must keep all the precepts of the Church.

The above is too overwhelming -- plus the fact that many people, for generations now, have not been catechized and don't have the foggiest notion of what they must believe as Catholics. They have little knowledge of the grace and beauty of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the teaching of the Magisterium, and the wealth of Tradition. They haven't become real friends of the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Many leave for "fellowship," which gives them a warm feeling of belonging. Perhaps Catholics need to do more to foster community, but ultimately they will always be faced with the Crucified Christ, an image of which should always be predominate in their Churches, to remind them that a price was paid for their salvation. If they are to follow Christ then they, too, must take up their cross daily. In the long haul, although the Catholic Church makes great demands on its members, it is teaching Truth -- the only thing that will set them free and lead to the Beatific Vision.
Father James Schall adds -
John Paul II once remarked that a scientific survey could not "measure" faith, either its existence or depths. The Pew survey presents a rather bleak picture of Catholic loses due to "affiliation changes": "While nearly one in three Americans (31 percent) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24 percent) describe themselves as Catholic."

Of course, the phrase "describe themselves as Catholic" gives us no indication of just what those who do "describe themselves as Catholic" actually hold. Most heretics usually describe themselves as true believers. One of the main functions of authority in the Church is to keep tabs on just what Catholics, particularly Catholic intellectuals, mean when they "describe themselves as Catholic."

By every criterion, it is difficult to retain one's faith in a hostile culture. I recall reading somewhere that if everyone who was baptized Catholic retained his faith in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country would long ago have been mostly Catholic. The idea that only Catholics should never lose their faith is at best an odd one.

What the Pew report does not cover is the quality of faith. As I have often said, the Catholic Church today has never been intellectually stronger or culturally weaker. We have had as popes two of the finest and most incisive minds of our time. The conversions to the faith are significant. I myself think that someone who in fact ceases to believe or never really takes any steps to understand and retain his faith ought to indulge what is quaintly called "an affiliation change." Much confusion in the Church itself is caused by those calling themselves Catholic but who are long distant from its meaning and practice.

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