The National Catholic Review
Exit interviews shed light on empty pews

It is no secret that increasing numbers of baptized Catholics in the United States never or rarely attend Sunday Mass. In the late fall of 2011, we asked some of them a simple question: Why? At the request of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., of Trenton, N.J., we surveyed nearly 300 non-churchgoing Catholics in his diocese.

We got in touch with registered parishioners who are no longer showing up by placing articles in the secular and diocesan press, posting notices in parish bulletins and asking pastors for contact information. The survey was also offered in Spanish, sent to all the parishes with Spanish-language populations and advertised in a Spanish-language newspaper.

Through these methods, we established confidential contact with Catholics ranging in age from 16 to 90, with a mean and median age of 53. Ninety-five percent of the respondents were white/Caucasian; 2.1 percent were Hispanic; and 63 percent were female. Through Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management, each participant received by regular mail or e-mail a brief set of questions inviting open-ended responses. This article highlights those responses.

Left Behind

An overwhelming number of respondents told us they had left both their parish and the church. About a quarter said they had separated themselves from the parish but still considered themselves to be Catholic. One respondent wrote: “I separated my family from the Catholic Church and turned to an alternate religion for a while and then returned knowing I had the right religion but the wrong people running it.” Several chose to specify that they separated themselves from “the hierarchy.”

A fair amount of ambivalence was exhibited in response to our question whether separation was a conscious decision or not. Relatively few indicated that they simply “drifted away.”

One 23-year-old woman said: “I felt deceived and undervalued by the church. I didn’t understand certain things and found no mentors within the church. I just stopped going because my community of friends and family were no longer in the church.” Another woman wrote, “I tried different Catholic churches in the area because I just didn’t seem to be getting anything out of the Mass, especially the homily.” Another person said, “I stopped going regularly because the homilies were so empty. And whenever the church wanted to raise money, they dropped the homily and talked money.” There were many complaints about the quality of homilies as well as about poor music at Mass.

The scandal surrounding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy was mentioned often. One man said that what did it for him was “the bishop’s refusal to list pedophile priests on the diocesan Web site and his non-support of the effort to lift the statute of limitations for bringing sexual abuses cases forward in the courts.”

To Prompt a Return

We also asked, “Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?” Respondents clearly welcomed the opportunity to express their opinions. We found no easily discernible trend in their replies, but their generally positive tone suggests the wisdom of finding ways for all Catholics to post their views somehow “on the record,” with an assurance that they will be heard. Here are just a few of the many replies this question drew:

“Be accepting of divorced and remarried congregants.”

“I’m looking for more spiritual guidance and a longer sermon.”

“Return to a more consultative and transparent approach.”

“Change the liberal-progressive political slant to a more conservative, work-ethic atmosphere.”

“Make the homilies more relevant; eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing.”

“Provide childcare and a children’s ministry.”

“Give us an outwardly loving, kind, Christian Catholic priest/pastor.”

Our question about whether or not their pastor was “approachable or welcoming” drew a number of warm and positive answers. About half of the respondents, however, were not enthusiastically supportive of their pastors. Where pastors and parishes were named, we gave that information to the bishop and recommended that he deal with the issues privately and avoid unnecessary public embarrassment when he goes public with our report. Words like “arrogant,” “distant,” “aloof” and “insensitive” appeared often enough to suggest that attention must be paid to evidence of “clericalism” in the diocese.

Most respondents were positive or neutral in response to our question about the approachability of parish staff. There were sufficient reports of bad experiences over the parish telephone, however, to suggest that attention should be paid to courtesy and improved “customer relations.”

By a margin of about two to one, respondents reported that they did at one time consider themselves to be part of a parish community. On the negative side, here are two interesting replies elicited by this question:

“As much as I wanted to get involved and expand my faith, there were no clear avenues to do that. So it was just a place to attend Mass. And because attending Mass was a guilt-ridden obligation, I was always alone in a crowd where I knew no one and no one knew me.”

“I did not experience community in the sense that I knew people just from going to church. The ones I knew, I knew them outside of church. No one misses the fact that we stopped going. No one has called from the parish, even though we were regular attendees and envelope users!”

We asked, “Are there any religious beliefs or practices specific to the Catholic Church that trouble you? Here is a sampling of what we heard:

“Yes, the church’s view on gays, same-sex marriage, women as priests and priests not marrying, to name a few.”

“Pedophile priests and brothers.”

“Hypocrisy, history of discrimination against women, anti-gay stance, unwelcoming attitude.”

“The stance on divorce.”

“Bishops covering up child abuse and transferring offending priests to other parishes.”

“Yes, I cannot comprehend transubstantiation, and I cannot see why we have to confess our sins to a priest.”  (Many others mentioned confession.)

“Clerical privilege.”

“I think the church should focus its efforts on poverty, war and healthcare.”

“It’s all about money; that’s why we left”  (from a married couple, age 44).

“The primary reason why I left the church is that divorced and remarried persons are not welcome; they are viewed as adulterous sinners.”

“Overemphasis on abortion.”  (This was mentioned by many, who think abortion is wrong but overemphasized to the exclusion of other social concerns.)

“I feel the church should stay out of politics; it should certainly not threaten politicians.”

“The Catholic Church as a whole is ritualistic and cold. I do not get the sense of family and community that I get from another faith community. I get the feeling that God is judgmental and harsh, unforgiving and unyielding.”

“I am troubled by what appears to be the Catholic Church’s seemingly insatiable demand for money. You can attend Mass every week, but if you are not putting money in your envelope, you can lose your ‘in parish’ status and even your ability to receive letters that are needed to be godparents, etc.”

“It’s all about the priests. The leadership of the church does not seem to understand that we do not care about priests. They live an upper-middle-class lifestyle and are completely disconnected from reality. And yet they think they can preach to us. End the clericalism and people like me may listen to the church again.”  (Others mentioned priestly “pomposity,” “distance,” “aloofness.”)

It should be noted that most respondents said no to our question about any “bad experiences” they may have had with any person officially associated with the church. Mention was made, however, of bad experiences in the confessional; refusals by parish staff to permit eulogies at funerals; denial of the privilege of being a godparent at a relative’s baptism; verbal, emotional and physical abuse in Catholic elementary school; denial of permission for a religiously mixed marriage in the parish church. In one case the parish priest “refused to go to the cemetery to bury my 9-year-old son because it was not a Catholic cemetery.” Several respondents noted that they were victims of sexual abuse by clergy.

In the course of replying to this question about “bad experiences,” a 78-year-old man said something that could serve as a guideline for the bishop in reacting to this survey. This man wrote, “Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule; you don’t get a ‘let’s sit down and talk about it’ response.” It is our hope that there will be more sitting down and talking things over in the Diocese of Trenton, and perhaps in other dioceses, as a result of this survey experience.

The Bishop’s Ear

We asked, “If you could communicate directly with the bishop, what would you like to say?” This drew a few barbs but a great deal of very helpful commentary as well. The responses may prompt the bishop to find a forum for direct one-on-one future communication between parishioners and himself. Here is a very brief sampling of what people would like to tell their bishop:

“The church should not condemn gays, but embrace them as God’s people. The church should also recognize women as equals.”

“Please find a way not to exclude me from the Catholic community”  (divorced woman, 56).

“Remember that the church is not just the religious leaders but the people who sit in the pews each week. Ask more questions; listen to them, and involve them in decision-making.”

“Petition the church to expand its view on divorce”  (divorced and remarried woman, 59).

“Young mothers like me need help. Have women, as well as men, as greeters at Mass; make childcare available; encourage the formation of mothers’ groups; have the homilies speak to me”  (married white woman, 29, now attending a Baptist church).

“Do something about confession; have communal penance services.”

“If the Catholic Church does not change its archaic views on women, it is going to become a religion that survives on the fringe of an open-minded, progressive society.”

“Instead of making every Mass a form of humiliation for Catholics who cannot receive Communion, do something, like a private blessing at Communion time, to include everyone”  (divorced and remarried woman, 64).

“I would advise the bishop to make training in public speaking mandatory for every priest. They should also be trained in how to relate their homilies to the people and inspire them.”

“You have my sympathies, Bishop; I couldn’t imagine stepping into a management situation with such glaring human resources weaknesses. Perhaps you should have your priests live together in regional centers so that they could be psychologically healthier as a result of more human interaction. Also, do something about the quality of Catholic education.”

Our survey instrument gave respondents an opportunity to “break anonymity,” if they wished, and give their contact information so that someone from the diocese could be in touch with them if they would like that to happen. To his credit, Bishop O’Connell has indicated that he personally will respond to the 25 persons who indicated that they would like to be contacted.

The vast majority of respondents said no to our question about whether they considered themselves now to be members of another faith community. Those who do consider themselves affiliated with another church spanned a wide range, including Buddhist and Jewish, on the fringe, and Lutheran, Episcopal, Baptist and Presbyterian, clustered in the middle.

The Take-Away

There is much to be learned from all this. Considering that these responses come, by definition, from a disaffected group, it is noteworthy that their tone is overwhelmingly positive and that the respondents appreciated the opportunity to express themselves. Some of their recommendations will surely have a positive impact on diocesan life. Not surprisingly, the church’s refusal to ordain women, to allow priests to marry, to recognize same-sex marriage and to admit divorced and remarried persons to reception of the Eucharist surfaced, as did contraception and a host of questions associated with the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Throughout our involvement with this project, we thought of the “negotiable” and “non-negotiable” issues that would be raised. All the concerns expressed will, we hope, be received with pastoral understanding. Diocesan officials are taking notice of topics that call for better explanation. As they do, we hope that they will bear in mind the comment cited by one man, who said that “every time you ask a question, you get a rule.” It is not necessary to repeat the rules; it is time to offer more reasoned arguments and better pastoral explanations of points of Catholic doctrine and practice that appear to be troubling to people in the diocese. Notable among these are the exclusion of women from ordination, the perception that persons of homosexual orientation are unwelcome in the church, the complexity of the annulment process and the barring of divorced and remarried persons from the sacraments.

In need of immediate attention is a fresh explanation of the nature of the Eucharist. Underlying all the opinions expressed by the respondents to this survey is the fact that they are, for the most part, willing to separate themselves from the celebration and reception of the Eucharist. This calls for a creative liturgical, pastoral, doctrinal and practical response. An explanation of the “Sunday obligation” as an obligation to give thanks—through sacrament and sacrifice—rather than simply to be present in church at Mass on Sunday might be helpful.

The quality of preaching needs attention, as does the image of clergy who—fairly or unfairly—are all too often seen as arrogant, distant, unavailable and uncaring. Not unrelated to the homily issue is the quality of the sound systems in churches and the difficulty congregations have understanding foreign-born clergy, often with heavy accents.

We have included only a sampling of responses in this article, but we have given Bishop O’Connell our full report and recommendations. He also has what we call a “data dump”—the complete set of all the questionnaires—which will take him on an unedited excursion through the minds of those whose bodies are no longer occupying space in the pews on Sundays.

William J. Byron, S.J., is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pa. and Dr. Charles Zech is professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Chu


JIM MCCREA | 9/9/2013 - 4:15pm

The only reason ... let me repeat: the ONLY REASON ... I attend am a member of a Catholic parish today is that I have found one that it unique in its attitude toward worship, quality of and participation in music, availability of a variety of homiletic styles and viewpoints because of a laundry list of priest who beg to preside for us, and the welcoming attitude of the parish to all who walk through the door.

I have stopped calling myself Roman or American Catholic. I am a Most Holy Redeemer Catholic for as long as the parish exists. If it goes, I go. (

The "treasure" alluded to by an earlier poster is so dull and tarnished that it is no longer seen as a treasure by the many.

Tim O'Leary | 9/10/2013 - 4:29pm

Jim. Fine music is a treasure. But it does not save.
But, you are more honest not to call your self a Roman Catholic if you do not hold to the whole faith.

Smart and witty homilies are entertaining and even thought provoking. But, if they are not about the true faith, they are just distractions. Remember what Jesus said about the focus on earthly treasures ("where moths and vermin destroy"). "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

JIM MCCREA | 9/9/2013 - 4:16pm

Re: Tim O'Leary | 8/19/2013 - 3:15pm

To aver such arrogance does not make it true.

Tim O'Leary | 8/19/2013 - 11:34pm

I am seeing this article a year late, thanks to Anthony's comment below. It is an excellent article. Thanks to Fr. Byron, Dr. Zech and Bishop O'Connell. I strongly endorse such outreach and evaluation of non-practicing Catholics. It is very important to see why they left, and why some of them still call themselves Catholics. They make up a large portion of those described as Catholics by secular opinion polls and this has a big impact on why so many polls get the "Catholic viewpoint" wrong in our culture.

Former Catholics are a major focus of the New Evangelization. I am reminded of Tolstoy's first line in Anna Karenina "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." For evangelization to be effective, it needs to address the specific obstacles to the saving faith, to distinguish between 1) those who leave for personality or governance issues, 2) those who leave because of their personal life circumstances and events, 3) those who are not clear on what the Church teaches, 4) the indifferent or apathetic, 5) those who know what the Church teaches but reject it, and 6) those who know what the Church teaches but have still converted to another religion.

J K | 3/13/2015 - 5:55pm

Actually, right now the focus is on the ones who haven't left yet. A lot of the ones who've already left won't take us seriously enough to sit for 7 or 8 weeks of actual evangelization and talk to us. These complaints are real. Parishes have got to take their purpose and their day-to-day relationships with people seriously. This is not a game or a little empire for the people who often staff parishes and like it the way it is.

So many Catholics know all the rules, but have no idea what the Church is, other than a place they go, a thing they've belonged to all their lives, a source of obligation. And Catholics can be ruthless about keeping the herd together when it comes to these things, not even realizing that there's so much more to being Christian, so much.

The rudeness, the clericalism, the one-ups-manship has got to stop. None of that is Christian behavior. And the general population knows that, even if many Catholics don't. I'm not pointing this out to be provocative or mean; rather, I'm point it out because it's true and we're evading it. We have to change the way we relate to each other and to outsiders. The alternative is not pretty.

Anthony Christiansen | 8/18/2013 - 9:52pm

The closing assertion that those who have left the Roman Catholic Church are willing to part with the Eucharist is absurd. Are the authors really so Ill informed that they think Roman Catholics celebrate the Eucharist? I left the RCC because of its views on women, gays, the divorced and remarried as well as the disordered view it propagates concerning human sexuality that has directly led to an epidemic of child rape among priests and a failure to take genuine responsibility for it. I am now a grateful Episcopalian. We value and ordain women, we welcome GLBT people and the divorced, and we have reasoned views regarding human sexuality. AND the Eucharist is the core if our life together. I'm sure there are other denominations that also have a Eucharistic theology and practice as their central experience.

Tim O'Leary | 8/19/2013 - 3:15pm

But the Episcopalian Eucharist is not the Real Presence, since their clergy are not true priests (unlike the Eastern Churches). So, ironically, Protestants are more correct in believing that their Eucharist is symbolic.

The second problem is well listed by Anthony, in that he and they have also departed from many teachings on faith and morals. It is especially noteworthy how many Episcopalian bishops don't even believe Jesus was God or the Resurrection happened. The new bishop of the National Cathedral believes in a "non-theistic Jesus", according to a recent Washington Post interview.

The 3rd problem, if it is really a "problem" is that the Episcopalians are disappearing demographically. Coming to the end of A 500-year mistake from the murderous wife abuser Henry VIII.

J K | 3/13/2015 - 5:56pm

If you actually knew the theology of your own church, you'd know that reception of Holy Communion outside of a genuine relationship with God is as useless as a fish with a bicycle. It's not primarily about rules, formalities and obligations.

Dumping on Protestants is a varsity sport among Catholics and a lot of us are sick of it. Please stop--if not for the fact it's not Christian, then for the fact that it's offensive bad manners in public. Gloating about the misfortunes of others is an evil. A lot of people are just tired of hearing it, including me. And I'm Catholic.

Pablo Matta | 8/26/2012 - 1:45am
This article had responses to questions that were very challenging. I think the openess to the laity is much needed. I think that our Bishops and the leaders of the Knights of Columbus and EWTN have sold their souls to the Republican party. There one pro-life issue is wrong. Conservative Catholics and Conservative Bishops would rather focus only on abortion when there are many pro-life issues such as immigration, death penalty, lack of health insurance, anti-gay demonstrations, etc.
I think the U.S. Church has to separate from Rome. How can the recent Cardinals be primarily from Italy. How about having a Pope from Latin America or the western hemisphere. The hierarchy has to go or we need to change how Bishops and Cardinals are elected. The hierarchy is still racists toward immigrants especially Latinos. The hierarchy has tried to kill one of our most precious members or groups, the Religious sisters. That is a mortal sin. We have much to correct but at the same time there are many bright lights as far as how we continue to make a difference in many parts of the country and of the world.  
Joel Stegner | 5/1/2012 - 11:57am
I am a non-Catholic who is in a relationship with a Catholic.  I am ecumencial and am happy to attend Mass with her.  I fully participate when there, except to not take Communion out of respect to church rules.  I respect the tradition and the best part of the church.  However, when the church starts talking about some of its traditions that survey respondents criticized, I am in full agreement with their comments.

I am involved at a Methodist church, singing in an excellent choir and teach new member classes.  While some of our traditions are different, we are all Christians - right?  We are a reconciling church (fully accept gays and lesbians) and currently have three clergy - all female.  We have quality sermons and a welcoming attitude, with a great social time between service, and many mission and spiritual growth opportunities.  We attract many people who were raised Catholic as members - and don't really care if they continue to consider themselves Catholic.  

Some may essentially be refugees, who plan to stay for now because the state of their home church.  If key reforms are made and they want to be active Catholics someday, we would wish them well, because it takes reform minded people in any church to make it relevant to the demands of the modern world.  

There is just one thing that I question.  Why does the Catholic Church seem to presume it is the only path to being a Christian?  Is it better for a person to be a non-believer and not actively follow Christ's teachings than be in another Christian community?  I simply cannot believe that Jesus would have taught that.  We were taught to follow him, not this large organization or another.  

The church has seem to put certain Catholics in an impossible position - pushing them away, but actively discouraging them from finding another Christian home.  I think these people are more likely to eventually return to Catholicism is they find a new place and hear that the Catholic church is starting to do more of what Jesus instructed, less of what less divine humans think Christianity is all about.

One of the first things a Christian is expected to do is admit his or her sins and ask for forgiveness.  We Protestants more often to that directly with God, Catholics more often with a priest - I consider either approach equally valid.  However, doesn't the church itself have to admit its own sins and make a good faith effort to correct them?  While maybe the church and its leaders need to talk with God about that, don't they really have to satisfy their own members.  There would be no Christianity with other believers  

Human institutions make many mistakes - and what they do to correct them serves as an example to the flock.  In South Africa, a Truth and Reconcilation Commission was created to thoroughly air the sins of apartheid.  Hypocrisy and denial had to be eliminated before things could get better.  Black South Africans couldn't be forgiving until their oppressors admitted their sins.

At one time in this country, the Bible was used to defend slavery and a whole society built on it.  In this country, we talk about the intrinsic value of human beings - similar to the teaching that God loves all His children.  Modern churches all need to deal with exactly what that means, and bring traditional teachings into conformance.

G WICKLIN | 5/1/2012 - 10:33am

God bless Bishop O’Connell if he meets with alienated Catholics and actually listens.  I wrote my local ordinary to express in rather muted tones why the Church was no longer attractive to me.  I never even received a form letter acknowledging my comments.  My archbishop’s lack of response was not just poor leadership, it was poor manners.

Carlos Orozco | 4/30/2012 - 12:20am
German (#34):

The Cristiada is one of the great testimonies of faith in the 20th century. Although purposely ignored by official Mexican history, it was one of the reasons Pope Pius XI stated for declaring the universal feast of Christ King. The ignorant ease with which you attack those that preferred to take arms against an atheist government than to let their faith be crushed by savages, is a disservice to the men and women who sacrificed all they had for a just cause. The cristeros were in no hurry to start a civil war, but the hatred of the Revolutionaty government knew no limit: they even had the original Christ King monument in Silao bombed from the air, and put an explosive hidden in flowers at the feet of  the image or Our Lady of Guadalupe (that has miracously unharmed, even though the explosion destroyed the altar).

Mucho puede aprender nuestra nación de hombres integrales como el generalísimo Enrique Gorostieta y el maestro Anacleto González Flores. Dios te bendiga y ¡Viva Cristo Rey y Santa María de Guadalupe! (pese a quién le pese).
Thom Nickels | 4/27/2012 - 9:06am
I converted to the Orthodox Church in March 2012. I spent years walking out of Novus Ordo Masses because of liturgical innovations and a very watered down utilitarian liturgy. The liturgy is everything; when you change the liturgy, when you change the way people pray, you risk losing the soul of the Church. In the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, there are no lay ministers holding the chalice; there are no Protestant hymns; there are no denuded modern church interiors that resemble VFW meeting places. In Orthodoxy you get the venacular, but you also get the ancient text, old chants, no 'On Eagles Wings,' no guitars, no nuns in big hair and stretch pant suits, no communion in hand, no rowdy hand skaing Kiss of Peace. You really feel like you are worshipping with the Early Church. Before my conversion, I went to the TLM at a local parish but in the end I realized that this wasn't enough. The bulk, the heart and soul of Catholicism, is with the Novus Ordo. The Orthodox Church also does not preach politics from the pulpit. It stays out of politics. I am very glad I found Orthodoxy.
JIM MCCREA | 9/9/2013 - 4:03pm

But you spend time here @ America's blogsite. Why?

Thom Nickels | 4/27/2012 - 8:53am
I know many Catholics who have stopped going to Mass because
of the way it has been celebrated after Vatican II. Much of
the mystery was lost when the priest faced the people and
not East; when the hymns changed; when lay ministers
came on the scene; when communion in hand became the
norm in the USA. The Mass became a quasi-Lutheran
ceremony, less Catholic and more Protestant. This enabled
people to walk away, the message being that all
Christian religions were the same since the Mass was re-made
to resemble a Protestant liturgy. I know Catholics who
have gone over to the Orthodox Church, where the Divine
Liturgy is forever the same. This survey seems a little
biased, but then again it comes out of Villanova. Thank you.  
J K | 3/13/2015 - 3:38pm

This is the problem the Church faces because it has made the entire outreach to laypeople precisely and only the Mass. Christianity is far, far more than that, even if the Mass is the high spot, the climax of the faith. If you don't participate in the other parts of being Christian--fellowship, scripture study and so on--the Mass is worthless to you, and any changes that occur to it make it seem like the entire Church is changing. It's a huge problem. And a very deep-seated one.

C Walter Mattingly | 4/27/2012 - 6:15am
Anne (38),
I am not encouraging the Church, as you suggest, to model itself after the LDS or the Adventists (although there are aspects of the LDS that I do admire, such as their apparent emphasis on marital fidelity and family life generally). I am rather asking why is the Catholic Church, according to the National Council of Yearbooks, growing membership so slowly, and the liberal Protestant sects losing membership at an alarming rate, for some years now, the recent Georgetown study of a subset notwithstanding? Your contention that it is Hispanic immigration that makes up for the numbers leaving and provides this small growth in Catholic membership seems obsolete, for the recent poor economic performance of the US economy, coupled with the record numbers of deportations of illegal Hispanics under President Obama, suggests the numbers of illegal immigrants, far and away the largest source of immigrant growth, has declined since 2009 and therefore would tend to affect negatively, not positively, the US Catholic population in 2010 and 2011 numbers cited previously. In addition, according to Pew reports, "...Catholicism's retention rate of childhood members (68%) is far greater than the retntion rate of the unaffiliated (50%) and is comparable to or better than the retention rate of other religious groups." Again, my point here is not that I don't support some of the issues you raise that liberal protestant sects have already addressed; it is rather that those liberal protestant churches who have already incorporated the changes you recommend are losing membership faster than most other Christian faiths, Catholics among them.
In addressing this reality the first requirement would logically require obtaining the whole of the relevant information. Can you even imagine Obama or Romney, seeking to grow their voter support, surveying only those who are abandoning them and ignoring the reasons why new supporters are joining them? Of course not, as that would prove inadequate for an effective response. Likewise we also need to know why new members join the Church. To act without that full picture is simply irresponsible and foolhardy. As you state above, unless the Church listens to its members-all of them, not a selective group chosen to advance a given viewpoint and slight another-she will not prosper as she might.
Tangentially, I would also take issue with your false portrayal of John Paul II as a pope who has such hubris and devotion to papal infallability that he would not be willing to admit Church error. I have seen few acts of humility and confession of error more humbling from any major faith leader than John Paul II confessing the wrongs of the Church to the members of the Jewish faith and humbly asking their forgiveness. I also believe you overlook the historical positive impact of the Church upon the status of women. In the early Church, scholarship concurs that women, who were essential to its early growth, responded positively to the bishops' condemnation of abortion and infanticide so prevelant in the pagan world. (Tragically itt is more than a little ironic that this situation seems now to be reversing itself.) And in such total contrast to women as property and even virtual livestock in the pagan and to a lesser extent OT world, we have the only sinless human being since Eden, conceiving the Son of God with no input from a male, in Mary. It took John XXIII to even get a mention of Joseph in the liturgy of the Mass. 
But the Church isn't, and never was, strictly about numbers of members. As you know, according to Mark, Jesus lost many followers when He insisted upon the definition of marriage as an indissolvable bond between a man and a woman, and according to Luke, He lost many more followers when He reiterated that His prohibition on divorce applied equally to women as to men.  That remains an issue for the Church even today.
J K | 3/14/2015 - 12:13pm

1. Christianity, in general, is losing members. Many people do not regard Christianity in general as a source of truth anymore, largely because of how we behave in public and with each other. Sometimes when this is brought up, Catholics get all huffy about this not being the point, which is a dead giveaway of their own biblical illiteracy.
Also, writing people off when they leave is the rule and that's unconscionable.
2. That said, evangelical churches are not losing members as quickly as we are. They do a far better job of genuine evangelization than we do. Many Catholics do not know what it is to be a Christian, whether they attend mass out of habit or obligation or not. Catholics tend to be sacramentalized but not evangelized.
3. It has actually totally been about head count in the Catholic church for centuries, if not millennia. People have been canonized for not much more than officially bringing whole regions into the head-count of the Church. Currently, there are several things that are contributing to the problems with demographics.
First, the Catholic church has been populated with people raised to be Catholic since about 300AD. Right now, over 95% of all Catholics in the US are cradle Catholics. There is only one religious group in the US with lower conversion rates, and it's Hindus. The Amish have better conversion statistics than we do. And of the few people we convert, 70% end up leaving because converts are treated so badly.
The Reformation ushered in a lot of changes but one of the most important was that the Catholic church lost its monopoly on Christianity. For better or worse, which is a much bigger topic, people suddenly had the right to choose. Catholics have been vociferously denying that and all its consequences for roughly 400 years now. We can no longer act like ruthless dictators when it comes to Christianity. It doesn't work and it's incorrect anyway. That was never, ever what Christianity was about in the first place.
Secondly, we are depending on Latin Americans to take up the slack, but they often are only culturally Catholic, and they are now leaving at about the same rate as Anglo Catholics. The sad truth is that they were conquered and summarily added to the Church's population, but vast regions of Latin America received virtually no religious services for hundreds of years, and for many years were prevented from seeking out any alternatives. Many of them were lucky to see a priest once a year in their old country. Yet they are counted as Catholics because they come from Catholic countries and think of themselves as Catholics because up until the 20th century there were no legal alternatives. We took them for granted, and unfortunately, we're still taking them for granted.
Third, average Catholic behavior on the topic of coming & going is so triumphalistic, obstructionist and retributive that many people just tiptoe out and we never hear from them our perceptions about what's going on are skewed and our behavior and verbalizations about this issue are making the issue much worse than it would otherwise have to be. (See #1)
We can do better. Christianity itself is better than this, far better. But we have to change some old--in some cases very old--assumptions and habits and own up to our own Christianity. (Specifically, being vicious may be an old European tradition but it's not a Christian tradition.) This is what the New Evangelization is all about. Gone are the days when it was enough to put a button on your lapel and act like a king because you happened to be born Catholic. Catholicism is a form--the original form--of Christianity and we need to start acting like it. Catholicism without Christianity is less than nothing.

Robert Wilhelm | 4/26/2012 - 10:54pm
Not surprising.  Most of these findings could be found in Andrew Greeley's last book, a similar study in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Greeley quantifies it - the largest percentage of Catholics no longer go to church because of "poor homilies" (44%).  All the other reasons given in Father Byron's study ring true to me, covering my long standing involvement with the institutional church since beginning my ministry in the 1960s.  However, I must say that Greeley's conclusions are mine.  I have taught homiletics in many settings and find that almost all - yes, almost all - priests and deacons do not have clue on what is needed to communicate the Gospel.  The very few that do are rare, and I treasure their homilies when I hear them. My statistics on poor homilies:  about 95 to 98 %.  Sorry this number is so high.  But it is the unvarnished truth.
J K | 3/13/2015 - 6:06pm

Pew Reports has real data, and it's recent. Think again. If Fr. Greeley was ever right about this, he's not right now.
Google "Leaving Catholicism Pew Reports" and find out what the real leading reason is. It's not what you think.
The idea that it's all about the liturgy is a cradle Catholic thing coming out of the habit of identifying anything and everything with the liturgy, since a very narrow and minimalistic version of the faith has generally been a presented to laypeople for the last 70 years or so in the US. Christianity is far, far more than ritual. You've been gyped into thinking it's all about 45 min a week, and you're operating out of your deprivation.

Jeanne Linconnue | 4/26/2012 - 3:43pm
"The devil is working very hard-maybe that is why all this junk is happening-the devil at his best."

Perhaps that is right. Perhaps that is the only explanation for  popes and hierarchy that maintained silence while their priests sexually abused the young, moving sexual molesters around from parish to parish and creating thousands of victims who might have been spared had these bishops and cardinals exercised some moral judgment and stopped them.

Maybe that is why the pope removes good and pastoral bishops (such as Morris of Australia) who understand that women are equal to men - made in the image of God - but promotes and rewards cardinals and bishops (Law, Levada, etc) who put loyalty to an institution ahead of protecting the young.

Is it the devil that is leading men who live lives of prestige and privilege in chanceries and in Rome to attack the women who live the gospel - who have dedicated their lives to working with the poor, the homeless, the sick, the AIDS patients, - all those disenfrancised from society. Perhaps it is the devil who has led the "leaders" to forget that Vatican II affirmed that THE church does not reside in a handful of men, but in the entire people of God and that the Holy Spirit speaks through THE church, not only through the same handful of men.

The Catholic church is dying from within - millions have left, millions more are leaving.  Unless the power structure looks within, with genuine humility and honesty - asks questions (such as Fr. Byron has), and LISTENS to the people of God, this once-great church will continue to waste away.
bernadette debiase | 4/25/2012 - 11:25pm
It seems people keep harping about arrogant priests! Yes, there ARE some arrogant priests as there are arrogant sisters. And yes, I have seen children in grade school being hit on the head with Sisters crucifix. What a thing to be doing with the Crucifix! Or the boy thrown up against the wall and sister's hands around his neck.They have forgotten the humility and poverty of St. Joseph and Francis and Clare. All I can say is to continue praying as hard as you can for our Holy Mother the Church and all its people-the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests,Deacons,Sisters etc. and all the many Ministries involved and all the thousands of volunteers, unpaid,(my heroes) who keep it all going in all aspects of a parish and community. So let's stop the whining and get on with our Faith and embrace it and love it with every part of our body and soul.  STOP WHINING and get with the program. Let God judge-not us-we know as Catholics what we need to do! PRAY FOR EACH OTHER ALSO and forget the other baloney. I still say people that have left, maybe never understood the Faith totally in the first place. No excuses anymore-get to Mass.Confession,Eucharist.Dont forget Pope is infallible in faith and morals-listen to him before it is too late and we end up with some evil Pope someday. The devil is working very hard-maybe that is why all this junk is happening-the devil at his best. DO NOT LET HIM OR IT WIN-PRAY HARD!!
J K | 3/13/2015 - 4:35pm

You said, "Yes, people were assaulted. Stop whining." Are you aware of that?

No wonder we're in the mess we're in.

PS. Please listen to yourself as you talk. It will help you immensely.

JIM MCCREA | 9/9/2013 - 4:18pm

" I still say people that have left, maybe never understood the Faith totally in the first place. "

"STOP WHINING and get with the program."

Now that is a good, inviting attitude that will win people back by the thousands!

john fitzmorris | 4/24/2012 - 10:21pm
None of this surprises me! I have heard it all before. What cut me to the quick was the pompous tone of the Vatican's attack on religious women; in particular the charge that their ministry was causing scandal to the Church. Really! Scandal! That almost sent me packing. Typical! I came close but then I would be leaving my Church if if I did that. I would be leaving the Church to the heirarchy who created the greatest scandal since the Bogia, deMedici and Della Rovere Popes cavorted like pagan princes at the end of the Middle Ages. Scandal, really! What I want is a leadership that humbly prostrates itself at the feet of the children and women it has mistreated and asks them for forgiveness. That would go a long way to heal the pain and sorrow that Fr. Byron so ably set forth. But I have sense that I will not live to see it
bernadette debiase | 4/24/2012 - 6:01pm
My Dear,Dear Catholic Friends, You are missing out on so much. I thinks these are just excuses for not attending Mass. The Church does not put down gays-just gay marriages of which it is impossible to be married to the same sex. Gays are encouraged to attend Mass/Eucharist. No, you can not be divorced and remarried and expect to receive the Eucharist. But you are still obligated as a Catholic to attend Mass. To receive the Eucharist as a remarried Catholic would be committing adultery, as you are still married to that 1st person if married in the Church. Longer sermon?-golly, most people want a shorter one. We are there for the Eucharist. The sermon usually is in re to the Gospel of the day. The Eucharist is why we as Catholics attend Mass.Most parishes have childrens liturgy-or crying room for babies. Where have you all been. Get involved in the many ministries of your parish. You may learn a lot of things. We always need help-you will definitely feel more at home and welcomed. Don't have such a bad attitude. It is your Church! As far as the pediphile priests-their are always a few rotten apples in every batch. Does not make all priests bad! Women priests-no way. When the Holy Spirit dwells within a persons heart to be called to religious life-the Holy Spirit is not calling women to be priests. You need to discern properly.Married priests? I am against that as they have enuf to take care of as a priest than to have to worry about wife,fighting,kids etc. I don't want my priest to be wondering about a fight he had nite before w/wife as he is Consecrating the Host!!Most parishes priest are loving and kind and will find time for you-just keep bugging them! And the church DOES focus on POVERTY, WAR and Healthcare! Where have you all been?All this is what makes us the ONE HOLY CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH-COMMUNION OF SAINTS-FORGIVENESS OF SINS!! NO OTHER CHURCH CAN SAY THAT. I LOVE BEING CATHOLIC AND WOULD DIE FOR MY FAITH!  Don't be so negative!!! You can love it TOO-HONEST!!
John Hughes | 4/24/2012 - 1:18pm
seems to be a lot of mis-information as to why people leave the church

1  Homeosexuality

The church does not discreament against homosexuals,  What the church says is that all christians should abstain from sexuality untill marriage and be open to having children. as for homosexuals are concerned the church can not allow homosexuals to engage in sexual activities, since homsexuality is a disorder saying this by no means am I saying that homesexuals are not allowed to participate as long as they remain chaste.

Many single men and women remain chaste, it's a matter of controlling your urges which by the way can be done as  atesto promise to raise there children in the catholic churchment to this.  not always easy but it can be done


Vows can not be broken unless under extreame cercumstances 
in other words choose very carefully and go through marriage preperation

as far as I know catholics are allowed to marry people of another religion as long as they are married in a church that is accepted by the church as valed

Catholics can be buried in a non religous cemementary

John Hughes

Anne Chapman | 4/24/2012 - 11:46am
Walter, my comment about the ostriches still stands. Believe what you choose to believe. Wishful thinking will not change the reality.  Still, I can't quite believe that you are suggesting that the Catholic church model itself after either the LDS or the Adventists - both very far from Catholicism in belief and tradition.  The importance of the study is that it focuses on the future - and the future of the Catholic church looks a bit questionable - with a good chance that it is slowly declining to a small group of pre-Vatican II mindset people - including the neoconservative young. They are but a tiny part of their age cohort, but very vocal, as we see on this and other Catholic web sites. Even if they all have eight kids each, it won't be enough. This is what has happened in Europe. Without the influx of Hispanic immigrants, it would be apparent that this is happening in the US as well.

 Those who have left are seldom vocal - they no longer follow Catholic issues because they see no hope for them in the Roman Catholic church, especially the young women,  and so begin to try to find their own way - very often as the spiritual but not religious.   THere has long been a traditional pattern of the young leaving, then returning on marriage or parenthood that is also being unraveled.  And of those who do leave and return as young parents, there are factors in play now that may send them out the door again.  Georgetown University had a weekend symposium a few years ago with the purpose of understanding more about the younger generation and their relationship with the church, and their hopes for the church. What they found does not bode well - a huge and growing divide between what the young lay Catholics believe and want in the church and what the priesthood believes and wants - a chasm lies between the young laity and the attitudes of the extremely conservative younger priests who will soon be the pastors of the churches.  It would be interesting to see if the reports of cold, arrogant priests who dismiss the laity from leadership or input in the parishes involves a disproportionate number of "John Paul II" priests.  Anecdotal evidence from my family, friends, colleagues and neighbors indicates that this could be the case. A study done by Boston College illustrated this - the "older" priests ("Vatican II") favor a "servant leader" model of priesthood that does not assume any particular superiority of the priest. The younger ("John Paul II") priests favor the cultic model of priesthood - one that sets them above the laity, and expects absolute obedience and deference from the laity.  Very often when these priests become pastors, parish councils become a historic relic of Vatican II.

The study also notes that the number of non-Hispanic young who have left the church is double that of the Hispanic young adults, thus mitigating somewhat the 8% loss figure, which would be worse without them. As with the general Catholic numbers, the immigration from the south masks the true decline in the Roman Catholic church in the United States, which exceeds in percentage terms that of any other christian denomination, including your favorite whipping boy churches - the mainline Protestants.  (BTW, most evangelical churches have women ministers.) In another decade or two, the majority of US Catholics will be of Hispanic origin. They may end up saving the American Catholic church - but it won't be Benedict's ideal of church - their masses are lively and warm, they develop real communities, they respect their priests but they don't kowtow to them as princes.  Cold, structured Latin masses where the priest's back is turned, where the congregation frowns sternly at anyone who dares to attempt the handshake of peace, churches that are rigid and cold, do not appeal to them.  That is why they too are leaving - although so far in lesser numbers - often the second generation - often for Pentecostal churches. Not because of Pentecostal theology, but because of the warmth of the communities, the warmth of the worship.  Latin America is losing Catholics in droves.  Benedict had his reasons for selecting Brazil (the world's largest "Catholic" country) for the next World Youth Day. But will that do anything beyond a fun weekend for lots of young Catholics with little staying power?  Brazil recently elected its first woman President - a woman who disagrees with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church on many issues. Continuing to relegate women to the role of passive "receivers" (in everything from John Paul II"s Theology of the Body to the local parish) will not "save" the church in the west (or in Latin America).

It seems that there is a lot going on that the powers that be in the church don't really want to examine too closely. After all, what would be their response? A church that had the hubris to paint itself into a corner with Pius IX's definition of "infallibility", and the additional hubris of the "creeping" infallibility of John Paul II, it is difficult to lose male clerical face and admit being wrong on anything at all. The sensus fidelium is ignored. A church that denies the feminine, that insists on keeping women as second class will eventually face the reality that the departure of young women from the Catholic church (which is, of course, even higher than of young men in the church - America had an article about that a few months ago) does not bode well for the future.

BTW, 2000 is a large enough sample size for accuracy, using modern statistical evaluation techniques.  If you pay attention to political polls around voting time, you will see that their accuracy has become quite high even when the sample size is tiny compared to the tens of millions in the electorate.
J K | 3/13/2015 - 4:38pm

Most Catholics ***are*** spiritual but not religious. They follow rules. So does the IRS. That doesn't make them Christian.

C Walter Mattingly | 4/24/2012 - 9:46am
Anne, thanks for the reference. 
Although it seems a relatively small sampling at 2,000 participants, let's assume that it is fully adequate, and that among the young, mainline protestant sects are doing very poorly losing 5% of their membership, and Catholics worse at almost 8%. Meanwhile, among mainline protestant churches generally they are doing similarly poorly and the Church holding its own. The question then becomes, since the liberal protestant churches are doing slightly less poorly with the young and worse with the general population, which churches have generally already provided the liberal reforms such as gay marriage and bishops, women ministers, in many cases approved of elective abortions, etc, and are losing overall membership faster than the Church, what is the issue? Why are say the Church of Latter Day Saints and 7th Day Adventists doing better than either liberal Protestant or Catholic churches in retention and growth of members?
And as I have suggested, to answer these questions in the Church we need to know why new members join the Church as well as why former members leave or we will have but half a picture. 
Bonnie Weissman | 4/23/2012 - 7:54pm
I feel extremely fortunate to be in a great parish community with super priests and staff etc., but I have a close relative in the midwest who is watching her formerly great parish being decimated by an arrogant priest. For years her church had great pastors and lots of people were involved. Now they have an older guy who has never worked in a parish, and refuses to listen to the activists (mostly female) who run most of the parish projects. He changes local traditions and does not consult with the laity, so they are leaving in droves. 

As far as the Church as an institution, I won't leave, but that does not mean that I don't think they have lots of work to do. Sometimes I am tempted to go Episcopalian, but can't fathom joining a group formed so a corrupt king could get a divorce. Reform is definitely needed. There is so much hypocrisy going on in the hierarchy and people are tired of it. Locally the DC archdiocese recognized Speaker Gingrich's third marriage! Nobody wants priests to live badly, but Cardinal Law was rewarded with a cushy job in Rome after the sex abuse scandals in Boston. Priests should be allowed to be married, just as some of the original apostles. Widowers who have become priests later in life are often valued because they understand what it's like to pay a mortgage and raise kids; they can relate to their parishoners' lives. Women should also eventually be ordained as well. It has always stumped me how Jesus treated women as respected equals, but his Church has not... My younger daughter really valued her wonderful education at a local Catholic high school, but all they discussed in her religion classes was abortion, which really turned her off. None of the Trenton study surprises me at all. I hope and pray Pope Benedict reads it and learns from it (but I'm not counting on it).
John Anderson | 4/23/2012 - 4:11pm
I agree with all who have pointed out the truths of the study, but wish to see some information about the "brain drain" in the Church. Having worked as a chaplain at our local state university, I realized that I would see only a tiny fraction of the "best" of our Catholic college graduates. They were and are faithful to the Church. I've witnessed their marriages, baptized their children, etc. But they were fewer than 10% of the total graduates in any of the classes I saw during the 70's and 80's. They are now the young professionals that are making a major contribution to our economy, our society, but only few in number to the local parishes. Where are the young professionals now? What is the Church doing to "feed" them and utilize their talents?
German Otalora | 4/23/2012 - 1:49pm

Comment 32 was the only one reflecting a true Evagelical faith. God Bles Hong Kong Cardinal for still preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

Some weeks ago the Pope visited my country and acted as a politician interviewing the presidential candidates and celebrating Mass in a place dedicated to Christ King ("therefore you are a king". " You said it"). It is a poor memory in the life of Mexicans the so called Cristiada (celebrated in a poor recent film by Andy Garcia). The monument where Ratzinger celebrated was built as a testimony of a turbulent and opaque incident in Mexican history.

Yes, I have deserted the Catholic Church because I´ve quited Rome, the Papacy, the dycasteria and the Cardinals, the wealth and opulent displays of those who prefer money and power instead of the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the common people. My faith (which is trust and joy, and not belief in all the ellucubrations elaborated trough 16 centuries) is in Jesus, who only saves.

Mark Wonsil | 4/23/2012 - 1:41pm
Always like your posts Anne!
German Otalora | 4/23/2012 - 1:35pm
Paul Leddy | 4/22/2012 - 8:12pm
I'm lucky to be in a great parish, with a caring staff, lay and clerical, and a welcoming community,and I treasure that fact.  Not all the homilies are AAA rating, but there have been some that when the priest was through, you didn't know what hit you. a good way.
I'm grabbing the opportunity, now, to demonstrate this. (Also, I'm not convinced that my impression is unique in the Church throughout the country.) Though the following quote by our Cardinal in his Cardinal's Appeal is tangential to the discussion, it is emblematic of how he leads our diocese: that no one is to be left out. And this sentiment is felt, or rather, expressed throughout the diocese by his priests. I know for many of the casual attendees from the neighborhood at our Masses, his words were words they've longed to hear and despaired they ever would; and so welcomed when they did hear them.

"Living out our Catholic faith - manifesting the presence of God's kingdom among us - takes many forms. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, we find the story of the leper who came to Jesus begging to be healed. Leprosy at the time of Christ was not only a disease that ravaged the body but, because of its contagious nature, excluded the sick person from the community. The leper was an outcast - outside the community - or, as the Book of Leviticus tells us, someone who must be kept "outside the camp."
The leprosy noted in the Gospel can be a symbol of all kinds of physical, social, cultural, mental and spiritural afflictions that could make one feel that he or she was "outside the camp" - not a part of God's family.
Yet it is precisely the mission of the Church to bring the healing that says we are all a part of the kingdom, we are all part of God's one should be left outside."
The Cardinal goes on to say "We are not bystanders in God's plan for the world of healing, wholeness, kindess and love. We are participants who answer Jesus' call to meet the needs of others."

I copied out this part of his Appeal and carry it with me so that when people tell me the Church doesn't want them, I can show them that it might not really be the case.  ...that negative aspects they've heard second hand and now believe about the Church may be incorrect.  A Cardinal said it, I have it in writing: "...we are all part of God's one should be left outside."

Amen to that.
Craig McKee | 4/22/2012 - 6:13pm
The good bishop, now fortified with this empirical data from former Catholics and those on the threshold of departure, should convoke all of the priests in his diocese to the cathedral at an hour when he knows it will be EMPTY. Gathered at the front door, which he might just have to unlock himself, as the organist (or a recording) plays some grand triumphal entrance music he and his presbyters can process down the main aisle and into the sanctuary, with their BACKS to the pews.
When the music ends, he should then tell them to turn around and ask this question: "Gentlemen, is this REALLY the church you want?" He might be very surprised by the survey of answers he receives...
Anne Chapman | 4/22/2012 - 9:38am
Walter, I should have been more specific. I was referring to a new study done by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, just published this week. It is not about "general" attrition, but focuses on the young - the "millenial" generation. 

"Across denominations, the net losses were uneven, with Catholics losing the highest proportion of childhood adherents — nearly 8 percent — followed by white mainline Protestant traditions, which lost 5 percent.

Among Catholics, whites were twice as likely as Hispanics to say they are no longer affiliated with the church."
6466379 | 4/22/2012 - 8:15am

Some  see the Catholic Church as an ugly development in Christianity, with an ugly scent. To me, the Church is a spectacularly  beautiful  flower, unfortunately double-scented,  one scent undeniably heavenly, the other scent distressingly earthly, or is it, not earthly enough, in that she doesn’t have a clue as to what’s really important to her membership?   It’s the latter scent, the Church’s obvious “unreal” presence in the modern world  that causes people to walk away from the her, rather than relishing the ever sustaining heavenly  scent of the Church’s salvific  mission, her intrinsic beauty and   goodness!

Sometimes the unpleasant scent is not the Church’s fault at all, but comes from the   odor of  chronic discontent of a “faultfinder!” No matter what, the Church can never do anything right! However, Bishop O’Connell of Trenton is on the right track and deserves  a “Good job, Bishop!” shout-out.

Despite the Church’s sometimes repellant  scent,  for me, I willingly cast my lot with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the Church,  choosing  to hang out where my Mother is! I mean Mary, Mother of the Church, whose soul glorifies the Lord, the one called “Blessed” by all generations, the one who at the Wedding Feast told the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you!” We are the waiters who Wait for and with the Lord!

To be Catholic one must support the Church’s teaching integrity, even the hard stuff, rooted in the words of Christ, Scripture, the Fathers and   Tradition. “Unto thine own self be true!” That’s what the Ancients said, but a lot of us “moderns” don’t have time to listen to what the “Ancients” say, a fundamental reason I think why many walk away from the Catholic Church. The Church is “out of touch” with modern needs and ancient stuff no longer applies!  The Catholic Church cannot do, or be otherwise.  

True, peripheral   in-organic appendages like liturgical forms,  mandatory clerical celibacy etc.,  can change. Laywomen and men   in the College of Cardinals can happen? Well, it doesn’t require Holy Orders, does it to be a Cardinal?  Women and men serving in top administrative diocesan positions, also as Papal Nuncios can happen. Women in the Deaconate can also happen, rooted in a teaching of Blessed John Paul II, that the Deaconate is not part of Holy Orders, but something altogether “other.”  And  more.    But the soul of the Church, cannot be altered, no matter how the winds of societal change may blow. As a result many  suffer I think a “ heart attack of Belief” making  the following anion applicable “Love her, or leave her!” Too bad!

No one  has asked for it, but my advice would be, before   walking away we should all get down on our knees and pray. “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!” Then read John 6 and notice that Jesus didn’t change his message to please the crowd and  many walked away saying. “This is a hard saying!” He even gave the Apostles  an “open door” if they chose to walk away, saying, “Will you leave me too?” and their answer still applies, “To Whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”

We have the choice to stay, or go. But good heavens, if we  choose  to go, what a TREASURE we leave behind!  Simplistic?  O.K.!

C Walter Mattingly | 4/21/2012 - 7:11pm
Anne (#24),
Good to hear from you again.
My focus above on reform is primarily concerned with the American Catholic Church and whether sexual abuse has been contained, that is, is not presently continuing, and when it has currently been found, is it being dealt with. I don't expect perfection; our public school system has a far worse record of sexual abuse of minors as has been already documented here; I expect measures of containment. We know it has not been in prior years. Now the bottom line is: how many credible cases of sexual abuse have occurred since say 2009-2012 in the Church, and how have they been handled? That is my question. 
The most reliable and widely respected source, the National Coucil of Churches Yearbook, contradicts your contention that US Catholics are leaving the Church faster than liberal US Protestant denominations. Here are the membership growth/attrition numbers from the National Council of Churches Yearbook for the years 2010 and 2011, the latest for which there are figures:

2010 2011
Catholic Church +1.5% +.6%

Presbyterian -3.3% -2.6%

Baptist -2.0% -1.6%

Evangelical Lutheran -1.6% -2.0%

Episcopal -2.8% -2.5%

The Church of Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists are both growing faster than the Catholic Church. Pentacostal churches are also holding membership comparatively well.
These are not happy figures. All Christian churches are, or should be, brothers in Christ; any one decline is shared by all. Yet this solid source of information suggests that the liberal Protestant churches, which have provided many of the desired traits of disaffected liberal Catholics such as divorce, abortion, gay marriage and actively gay bishops, etc, are according to the Yearbook experiencing precipitous declines. That is why I believe drawing conclusions from only the outgoing and ignoring the incoming would be a fatally flawed strategy. A very slow rate of growth is far preferable to losing 2 or 3% of church membership annually.
That's why it's important when we assess Church membership issues, we need the whole picture, not just the half provided in this survey. 
PETER HANRAHAN | 4/21/2012 - 11:58am
After reading the article and all the comments, I have the feeling that I live on another planet...or they do! As an 80 year old active Catholic who has been part of several parish communities, including military duty overseas, I do not relate to the whining that is expressed. So maybe the priest appears arrogant, did you ever invite him over for dinner? Are his homilies so bad because he doesn't have time in a day to prepare adequately? Do you know his schedule? Do you visit the sick and take communion to those in nursing homes. How many functions in your parish do you participate in? The church is not only the priests and bishops, the church is YOU. The church is not perfect and neither are we. I can only suggest that people take a more active role in their parish and then they may understand some of the problems affecting their satisfaction. As for my wife and I, we have always made it a point to be part of our parish family and we have always found a way to appreciate and love our priests. Maybe we have a different culture down here but in our parish there are hundreds of people who are active in dozens of ministries and we are family...and we only have one priest.
Jeanne Linconnue | 4/20/2012 - 8:37pm
Walter, so Peter reformed. Did Peter protect those who sexually abused children?  

You wrote:

"On the sexual abuse issue. Lying, sinning, betraying, cowardly bishops and their disheartening actions have been a part of the Church since Peter. Yet Peter, over time, reformed. That is the question here: is the Church reforming? Has it reformed? What has been done cannot be undone, but the damage will continue until the laity concludes such abuse has been properly contained and such activity no longer tolerated."

No, the church has not reformed in its placing an institution ahead of the young. The officials in Rome have yet to demand resignations from any bishops who protected pedophiles - in fact, Rome has rewarded several of them. Cardinal Law, Cardinal Levada, Cardinal Brady of Ireland and many, many others. Their loyalty to the institution was noted and rewarded. They have not been held accountable nor disciplined for permitting thousands of young people to be sexually molested, causing lifelong damage to many, some of whom committed suicide. These deaths are attributable to the sinful lack of moral judgment and understanding on the part of the hierarchy of the church. Tragicially, there is no sign that this amoral stance has changed. The pope still demanded that the latest batch of cardinals make the same oath of silence to protect the institution when necessary as has always been demanded. It is almost unbelievable that the very men who have risen to be bishops, who claim to represent and teach the "truth", are actually so amoral that they maintained silence rather than protect the young.  They forgot God's law in order to follow a vow to an institution.  The recent report on the abuse in Ireland once again blames everyone EXCEPT those responsible (the hierarchy in Ireland and in Rome).

So, Walter, there has been no reform.  They have paid lip-service to 'reform", primarily by creating a few policies (background checks, training) that impact only those working at the lowest levels in the church - the lay volunteers and teachers and staff, and the deacons.  There are NO policies to guide discipline of bishops who protect pedophiles. They are still not held accountable nor responsible. The current cases in Kansas City and Philadelphia are sad evidence of the reality that there has been no genuine reform.

By the way, the continued attrition from the churches (Catholic and mainline Protestant) continues and grows, especially among the young adults. The Catholic church has lost the most in percentage terms (again). The mainline Protestant churches also continue to lost members, especially younger adults, but fewer in percentage terms than the Catholic church. The Baptist church and other evangelical churches are also losing members. As far as the Catholic church goes, the number leaving continues to be about four times greater than the number joining.   Putting an ecclesial head in the sand in denial of reality is no smarter for the church to do than it is for ostriches.
Marcy Meldahl | 4/20/2012 - 8:18pm
This article was very interesting.  I am lucky to have a pastor who does so many things right. I do agree that the church was, in my opinion, getting too involved in politics and this year it is even worse.

I wonder if it would be possible for America to periodically report on how the Trenton diocese uses the information, what if any changes ensue, and how the members of that diocese-both clergy and laity-are affected. I applaud Bishop O'Connell for his courage in commissioning this study. 
Rita Grieco | 4/20/2012 - 5:07pm
This is an excellent article based on a well-designed study of an extremely important topic.  I was puzzled, however, by one of the results.  The authors said early in the article that "many respondents complained....about the poor quality of music" - but then nothing further was mentioned about this problem and no recommendations were offered to deal with it.  My own experience is that raising any concerns about the quality of music in my parish results in my being given a lecture about Vatican II - as if Vatican II mandated that only contemporary catholic composers create good music.
C Walter Mattingly | 4/20/2012 - 4:12pm
A much-needed survey, with few big surprises. Yet it is but a half-finished project.

Perhaps the greatest single issue of contention, the loss of divorced Catholics, is a problem the current Church shares with its founder, Jesus Christ, who, twice insisting on the indissolubility of marriage and His disapproval of divorce, lost many followers. Yet those followers left Him; He did not send them away. Can we even imagine Hiim telling them they could not follow Him as a result of their sins? Is a lesson there which this survey underlines? The bishops must find a way to include those divorced Catholics who wish to remain in communion. Is this truly a question of squaring the circle? I would think, and hope, not. Similarly the issue of gay Catholics.

On the sexual abuse issue. Lying, sinning, betraying, cowardly bishops and their disheartening actions have been a part of the Church since Peter. Yet Peter, over time, reformed. That is the question here: is the Church reforming? Has it reformed? What has been done cannot be undone, but the damage will continue until the laity concludes such abuse has been properly contained and such activity no longer tolerated.

The loss of catechesis and informed background generally is a real problem. It is difficult to comprehend the mystery of transubstantiation, or even the divinity of Christ, if a person does not realize that he lives a life absolutely shrouded in mystery, a creature of an Uncaused Cause which the recent astronomy article here makes clear is as unknown to today's scientists as it was to Aristotle. The Church not only has to contend with catechesis, but with a large group of young citizenry that is not given to thinking.

The issue of married priests seems to be glacially resolving; the issue of women priests is currently frozen. Traditions have to be built here. Female altar servers and Chancellors are only the very beginning. 

Yet this survey remains but a half done work in progress, fatally incomplete. Since the liberal Protestant churches who have already made most of the reforms called for by those in the survey who have separated themselves from the Church, to make a sound analysis, we must find out what were the reasons those new members of the Church left their old congregations to join the Church? They are not small in number. What did they find attractive that compelled them to move to the Faith? The two groups' answers must be considered in tandem. Otherwise, analogously, we will be trying to analyze a balance sheet by considering only the debits and ignoring the assets. Such information would be totally inadequate to the task of taking corrective action.
James Palermo | 4/20/2012 - 2:46pm

            I miss Eucharist and thought of returning to the Church after leaving following my divorce.  But I cannot return because the hierarchy is more concerned about preserving the ”institution” than it is about concerned about living the gospel.  Would Mary be told that she is not worthy to consecrate the Eucharist or to tell others about her son?  And was it not Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who remained at the foot of the cross while the disciples were nowhere to be found?  So why can’t there be female priests? In addition, the ultra-conservatism of the Church seems to place greater emphasis on preserving the institution than on bearing witness to Christ.

Lisa Weber | 4/20/2012 - 2:44pm
Bishop O'Connell should be commended for requesting this survey.  A problem that is defined and can be discussed is half solved.
8891044 | 4/20/2012 - 2:40pm
I left after bishops interfered with the 2004 presidential election and have continued to receive the Eucharist at an Episcopal church ever since, as well as at Retreat Centers where there are no litmus tests for Communion.
I'm not an Episcopalian - just a recovering Catholic who could no longer find spiritual nourishment in an institution whose leaders ignored the sexual abuse of children by priests and bishops, and are now "cracking down" on women religious  - the healthiest people in the Catholic Church, in my opinion.
I doubt whether Jesus would be allowed to receive the Eucharist today.  I can't imagine him obeying the manmade doctrines imposed by the hierarchy today.  He wasn't afraid of women - why are they so frightened?
John McDonagh | 4/20/2012 - 2:16pm
One of the first complaints cited as a deal-breaker was the man who left the church because the bishop failied to support a change in the statute of limitations regarding child sexual abuse.
Editors of America take note:  you yourselves have vigorously opposed the liberalization of the statues of lmitations of child sexual abuse in New York State. This position only serves to continue to facilitate the sheltering of sexual predators, both within and outside the church.  The archaic statute limitations in New York constitutes a failure to protect children. The reforming of these laws, the Child Victims Act, is similar to reforms in California & Delaware.  Despite the dire predictions of church leaders there, no involuntary backruptcies have occurred and more predators have been identified and more children are being protected. Putting the material concerns of the church ahead of children's safety is wrong-headed and shows a lack of faith as well as a pagan attchment to  money.  If the clergy vigorously supported defending the safety of children, even if it cost them money, the faithful would respect the clergy again and begin to be more generous in their contributions.


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