The National Catholic Review
William J. Byron
What exit interviews could teach us about lapsed Catholics
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Ever since Larry Bossidy, a former C.E.O. of Allied Signal and the Honeywell Corporation, raised the question of conducting interviews with lapsed Catholics, I have been giving it a lot of thought. Mr. Bossidy is a devout Catholic and the co-author (with Ram Charan) of a bestselling book, Execution, which Bossidy likes to explain is about effective management in business, not about capital punishment. He addressed a meeting of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management a couple of years ago and pointed out that if businesses were losing customers at the rate the Catholic Church in the United States is losing members, someone would surely be conducting exit interviews. His observation was prompted by data on declining church attendance released by the Pew Research Center.

Immigration, largely Hispanic, is still shoring up the aggregate numbers for the Catholic Church in the United States, but there has been a dramatic decline in Sunday Mass attendance and church life among U.S.-born Catholics, not to mention the drift of Hispanic Catholics toward Pentecostal sects.

The church in America must face the fact that it has failed to communicate the Good News cheerfully and effectively to a population adrift on a sea of materialism and under constant attack from the forces of secularism, not to mention the diabolical powers that are at work in our world.

An exit interview, if used creatively, could help church leaders discover ways of welcoming back those who have left, even as it helps leaders find ways to strengthen the current worshipping community. This interview could also help identify what else might need to be taught to those called to positions of parish leadership. The church would have nothing to lose by initiating exit interviews.

As a long-time writer of a biweekly column called “Looking Around” for Catholic News Service, I devoted a recent column to the exit interview idea and was inundated with responses from readers. Many indicated that they had been waiting to be asked why they left. The high response rate is all the more unusual because the column appears only in diocesan newspapers around the country. Evidently, respondents who claim to be no longer “in the boat” are still keeping in touch. Many of my respondents identified themselves as older persons.

I asked: Does anyone know why the ranks are thinning at Catholic weekend worship? There are several obstacles to finding out. First, pastors and bishops tend not to think like business executives, so the practice of conducting exit interviews is not likely to occur to them. Second, no one is sure how to reach those Catholics who are no longer in the pews. Third, we do not know precisely what to ask. This is not to say, however, that the problem cannot be investigated.

What Should We Ask?

Back in 1971, John N. Kotre conducted a study of 100 young Catholic adults. Fifty of these, by their own definition, were still in the church; 50 were not. All were graduates of Catholic colleges; all were enrolled at the time of the interviews in graduate school at either the University of Chicago or Northwestern University. Kotre published the results of the study in a book that has been reissued under the title The View From the Border: Why Catholics Leave the Church and Why They Stay (Aldine Transaction, 2009). It contains a 400-item questionnaire that could be helpful to anyone interested in designing a briefer survey instrument that could be useful now.

Assuming that it is possible to connect with those who are not showing up on Sundays, here are seven starter questions one could pose:

• Why have you stopped attending Sunday Mass regularly?

• Are there any changes your parish might make that would prompt you to return?

• Are there any doctrinal issues that trouble you?

• Does your pastor or anyone on the parish staff know you by name?

• Are you in a mixed-religion marriage?

• Do your children go to church?

• Did you ever really consider yourself to be a member of a parish community?

The point is to find a way to elicit honest answers to open-ended questions aimed at identifying specific Catholic doctrines or practices that may have been factors in the break. I presume that there may be misunderstandings of doctrine that require attention. Whether the respondent is male or female is relevant, as is an assessment of how the respondent regards the status of women in the church. The quality of preaching and the worship environment are also important factors that encourage or discourage attendance and participation. So what do those who no longer show up think about those elements of Catholic worship? If a person has stopped going to Mass, he or she is separated from reception of the Eucharist. Hence, it would be important for the church to find a way to re-educate (or, perhaps, educate for the first time) those who have left about the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic life.

A good exit interviewer can find ways to detect secular political influences, as well as social class considerations, that might influence the decision to leave a Catholic worshipping community. Lay expertise in designing and implementing an exit-interview schedule is surely needed, along with a commitment on the part of parish and diocesan authorities to use it.

In the absence of good data, church leaders might be accused of sleepwalking into the future or walking with eyes and ears closed to those they want to serve.

What Readers Told Me

One reader of my column agreed that information gained from exit interviews might help in the training of parish leaders. He wrote: “We need top-line leadership—leaders who can think like business executives since they are running multimillion-dollar organizations. Tell them to read The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki (former marketing head of Apple Inc.) and the book that guided me through very tough times in telecommunications, namely, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, by John C. Maxwell.”

A woman who described herself as a “human resources manager and very well informed about the benefits of doing exit interviews,” said: “I just recently turned 50, and I can tell you that I am pretty much the teenager in my parish. Most of my friends have abandoned their faith. You hit the nail on the head! I wish the Vatican would listen.”

Another woman who identified herself as “a cradle Catholic, educated exclusively in Catholic schools, married to a practicing Catholic, raised five children in the faith, taught C.C.D., was involved in the marriage preparation program in our parish—in short, one of the active practitioners of the faith,” said she had opted out because of “the recent church teaching on end-of-life issues; the moving, instead of removing, of priests and bishops involved in the molestation of children; the headstrong opposition to the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS; and the absence of any priest I can talk to.” She added: “I’ve stopped going to Mass because I can’t in good conscience say the Creed, as I don’t think this is a ‘holy’ church, and I don’t feel I can receive the Eucharist under these circumstances.”

“Exit interviews for departing Catholics or those just not attending Mass is a nice thought,” said a 69-year-old retired businessman, “but it is obvious to me that there are two reasons for the drop in Mass attendance and withdrawal of financial support: (1) the pedophile issue and (2) the exclusion of women and married men from the priesthood.”

“I miss the Catholic church I grew up with,” said a woman who once wanted to speak to a priest but was unable to explain precisely why to the person who answered the rectory telephone. “When you figure out what is wrong, give us a call,” she remembers the receptionist telling her many years ago. “Needless to say, I did not call back.” She recounted other bad experiences with her local parish and noted with a tone of regret: “Our priests used to walk the neighborhoods and stop and talk with the children, the teenagers and families. Back then, the clergy had time to talk with you about God.”

“Why did I leave?” wrote a retired business executive with experience on his parish council. “It’s simple. Dealing with the top-down organizational structure was like trying to change the direction of a bulldozer heading right at me. It was frightening, suffocating and frustrating. It went against my natural tendency to get involved in real change. I gave up on it like thousands of people have given up their right to vote.”

Another retiree, who recently re-read (approvingly) the documents of the Second Vatican Council, recalled his past experience at work of an organizational shift that did not meet its desired objective because “the leadership focused on the new thing but lost focus on the good old thing.”

“I am on the knife edge between staying and leaving the church,” he said. He offered these reasons: “(1) I no longer trust the management; (2) I have no way of influencing the selection or change of a priest or bishop; (3) the clergy sex abuse scandal continues to grow; and (4) the continuing lawsuits continue to drain my spirit.”

Is It Too Late?

“Personally, I think exit interviews are too late,” remarked a former military man. “The church can find plenty of ideas from those still in the pews.” As for himself, he wrote: “I only go to Mass to punch my ‘stay-out-of-hell-for-another-week’ card. I don’t celebrate the Mass; I endure it.”

Deploring the absence of any feedback mechanism to hear from the voiceless laity, another senior citizen suggested that the church should have a uniform job description for the parish priest. “How can you run any organization,” he asks, “when each leader brings with him his own set of rules?” In the absence of a published job description, he argues, the parishioners will have their own separate perceptions of the role of the priest. “No priest can live up to each perception; nor should every priest be free to create his own job description.”

“Aren’t you sorry you asked?” said one of the above respondents at the end of her e-mail message to me. Not at all. I just wish I could improve the organizational acoustics in the church so that leaders could hear what the people of God want to say. Leaders must try to discern the presence of the Spirit in what laypeople are saying and find the pastoral courage it will take to implement necessary change.

In 2010 the decennial U.S. census was conducted, and the term “census enumerator” became familiar in news stories. I wonder if dioceses could or would enlist and train volunteers to follow a uniform set of questions and conduct telephone interviews with persons who self-identify as no longer “in” the church. With expert lay assistance, the diocese would have to design the questionnaire and engage the parishes to find telephone numbers or e-mail addresses of those willing to participate. Then the diocese, again with lay help, would have to figure out how best to respond to the data it collects.

If there is no official interest at the parish or diocesan level for taking a page from the business world and employing exit interviews, one has to wonder about the quality of both diocesan and parochial leadership.

Have you left the church, or considered leaving? Why? Post your comments on America's Facebook page.

William J. Byron, S.J., is university professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pa. He is the author, most recently, of Next-Generation Leadership: A Toolkit for Teens, Twenties & Th

Comments

Paul Gifford | 7/1/2011 - 9:23pm
For various reasons I found myself reading this article as I prepared for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  In this Gospel Jesus tells the poor and disenfranchised that the wise and the learned do not understand him but (they) the little ones do.

I find in the church in the US the wise and learned tend to not only be well educated, but have good jobs and their future is somewhat secure.  Although some may experience difficult families issues, most have model families.  They then look at the fine points of Catholic teaching and find faults that resonate with them and separate themselves from the church.  They don't like some of the teachings of the church on ordination of women, abortion and others and they find the Mass boring and homilies tepid.

On the other hand, I find the "little ones" tend to be poorly educated, live from day to day are often unemployed or underemployed have family difficulties and a lot more.  They don't question church teaching because they don't really know it.  They have faith in the church and with faith they have hope.  It is this hope that sustains them in their wretched lives.

If we are called by Jesus to reach a hand out to "the little ones" we need to stay in the church, pray with them, help them, give them hope.  Unfortunately the wise and learned tend to abandon them. 
Christopher Hall | 4/26/2011 - 12:59am
As a new "catholic in training". I must tell you all that I have been conflicted by much of what all are saying here on the way in. Let me tell you about myself. First I was raised southern bible thumping baptist, I was a DeMolay boy, and am an active Freemason. As a mason and a history major I study all aspects of Masonic and church history. I was very clear to me why my family chose hundreds of years ago to leave the church (in Scotland). However, I personally have had a hard time in certain regards with almost any church Ive been to in my life,and I gotta say, after my research into history even with all its faults, and moral difficulties I wanted to be a Catholic Christian. At this point, I am aware after reading so many posts how lucky I am to have a church like mine. They Laity is VERY active in MOST church matters. They are all very supportive and not judgmental (I stated I am an open, practicing Freemason), and our priest, though can be hard to get a hold of , it is clear to me that he is a reformer, and enjoys the changes of the 2VC. It saddens me to see that there are not many who feel that their community isnt like mine, but there is something I think i should share, and that is... After going to so many churches trying to find one that fits, NOT ONE has ever been perfect, and in the end I have to be aware of my Conscience (the conscience clause*) and make these descisions for my self, not for the church, but for me. I know many have made the decision to leave for the same basic reason, and I do understand. I think the faith and the religion is great, but as even one of my friends showed me after going to his Catholic church, the priest makes all the difference, with the bishop close behind. I feel truly blessed to see the Laity so involved in my parish.
There are already matters of which I know I'm not happy with the Churches handling of, but I still want to be faithful.....again, I'm there for me, not them, per se'. I'm there for my soul, my family, and my relationship with god.

I dont really know how to finish, and I might have been a bit scattered with how I got this out, but I guess I'll say thank you all for posting and giving me more perspectives, that I'll reatin through my Catechism studies, and Bless all of you, especially for having the conviction and courage to do what you feel is right.


Just some thoughts from one on the way in.
Timothy Ross | 3/20/2011 - 4:31pm
Such amazing suprise to find a courteous civil dialogue ! Thank you all.

I feel the concept of exit interviews would be very enlightening to those who value the work of the institutional church. First to the gentleman below who says he does not celebrate the Eucharist, but endures it, I completely sympathise. Years ago I felt exactly the same way, especially when I discovered that truly wonderful, riveting, intellectually compelling homilies were being given at the distinguished Presbyterian Church in our city. Even though I preferred a Eucharistic setting, the normal drivel being spouted in my parish was very annoying, at best. I began to think.....life it too short, the energy required to constantly translate the nonsense is too expensive. Then to my delight I found the Episcopal Cathedral Church in our state was full of ex-Catholics, and ex-Lutherans, and then discovered that those statistics are a nationally recognised, and a well known trend. We DO celebrate the Eucharist, with intelligence and beauty. The music program at our Cathedral is nationally recognised, which may be somewhat irrelevant, but at least it's not distractingly bad, and annoying  (As much as I still love Gregorian Chant, it turns out Anglican Chant is a more beautiful way to chant in English.)

I maintain a deep and abiding reverence for many of the traditions of the Catholic Church, especially the monastic Cistercian traditions. I attend a retreat annually my lifelong favorite Trappist monastery. My point is that I am here to say the liturgy need not be a chore. In an era when many many people attend the symphony, and go to serious art exhibits, then are forced to "slum it" when going to be subjected to trash at church, there exist near you joyful, beautiful intelligent ways to celebrate the sacraments, many of which would be considered "valid" in your tradition, if that is important to you. Suggest you give them a chance, before throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Peace.
José Acosta | 3/8/2011 - 12:27pm
For the faithful, this is a very painful analysis.

What are we doing to remedy or at least control such trend?

While the criticism at some bishops may apply, I have seen others, my own in Long Island included, fully committed to the cause and working hard to live by the Gospel with deeds more than by words.

Convenience and conviction get often mixed particularly with strictly personal matters.

Let's do something radical to change and remain loyal not to human figures but to our faith! 
Katherine McEwen | 2/28/2011 - 9:18pm
I'm sorry the discussion seems to have ended.  It was fascinating reading all these different entries about why people have left the church, why they stay and those folks who swing back and forth.  The Catholic Church has such a deep and rich history, both angelic AND satanic (referring to some of the recent sexual abuse revelations), as well as the wide witness it still gives, particularly to other Christian denominations who benefit so deeply.  Fortunately, the church is an institution it's difficult to be indifferent to!  The Holy Spirit HAS to be hovering at all times!
Michael Cassidy | 2/19/2011 - 7:56pm
    I am 68 years old, and also hanging on by my fingernails — even though I am Catholic to the bone.  Mine is not a crisis of faith, but of confidence. Why?  Initially, the whole matter of the new so-called translation of the liturgy, for three reasons:  1) The patently obvious attempt to undo as many of the Vatican II changes as "they" thought they could get away with. 2) The poor quality of the language itself.  and 3) The truly sinful history of Curial interference in the process, clearly violating at least three Council documents, viz., that on The Church (collegiality, subsidiarity), The Liturgy (jurisdiction over vernacular translations, intelligibility to the least educated), and Ecumenism (repudiation of the Common Texts, then being adopted by many Protestant Churches; and granting them no role in the revision process).  This was capped by the issuance of the ill-named "Liturgiam authenticam" by which the Church once again made itself a laughing stock in both secular and ecclesial settings.  All these events began to reveal to me more clearly the depths of corruption which the much more serious pedophilia crisis had already pointed out.   This is truly an attack on the ecclesiology of Vatican II and upon aggiornamento.  It also strongly resembles the H.G. Wells novel, 1984.
        On top of that, the liturgy debacle was completely unnecessary, and yet various "conservative" forces (What were they conserving? The 16th century, apparently) had no qualms about sticking it to the English-speaking Church, no matter the consequences.  Bishop Donald Trautmann and a few others fought the good fight, but most of our bishops were supine, hoping (I suppose) for appointments to larger and more prosperous sees, or maybe even to Rome.
    Then along came the appointment of Bishop Robert F. Vasa as coadjutor with right of succession to the see of Santa Rosa, California. This is a diocese that has suffered terribly from both sexual and financial shenanigans for close to three decades.  The last thing in the world such a diocese needs is a bishop who has such a poor record in dealing with sexual aberrations by the clergy or other employees.  In fact, who in his right mind would recommend him as bishop for ANY place — especially in light of other factors such as his weak grasp of theological nuance, his hard-headedness, his penchant for loyalty oaths, and especially his "young earth" fundamentalist biblical views?  Santa Rosa deserves THIS?  
    But there is another lurking question behind these facts:  Who recommended Vasa, and who approved him to be coadjutor?  Well, we know at least part of the answer to both questions, though not all.  The Pope ultimately approved him, so he bears the responsibility, though others were involved.  Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the current Apostolic Nuncio (ambassador) to the U.S. had to recommend him to Rome.  Whose help or encouragement  he had from among the American hierarchy is not clear, but Sambi most certainly did not properly conduct due diligence.  If any ambassador inserts himself or herself into American affairs in such an egregious way — putting at potential risk more American children and young adults — the federal government has a legitimate interest in asking "Why?" and taking appropriate diplomatic action. Perhaps that should include expelling the ambassador and insisting that his replacement no longer engage in acts inimical to the American public.  
    Now, the true depths of corruption in our hierarchy have become abundantly clear.  So many years after the pedophilia scandal became public, and yet Rome is  promoting people to larger sees (Vasa is coming from eastern Oregon) who have no business being promoted.  
    This appointment does, however, follow a series of other 'conservative' appointments to San Francisco Bay Area dioceses (the area where I live).  No doubt these are designed to 'reform' us.  In practice, we have had pastoral bishops replaced by more-or-less canonical hard-liners.  It has caused some significant tension — but Santa Rosa takes the cake.      
    At the national scale, we have seen an episcopal retreat from real engagement with the modern world, a remarkable narrowing of concern to a single, if important, issue (abortion), a near total abandonment of the Church's social teaching, and a fawning embrace of the Republican party, which is largely antithetical to that social teaching.  The bishops opposed a health care bill, and insisted in the face of statements by people who knew the facts (e.g., Representative Bart Stupak, a courageous and respected pro-life Democrat, whom they hung out to dry) that it would promote or pay for abortion.  In general, the hierarchy have retreated from honest intellectual explorations of any issue.  It truly disgraceful, and frankly, not in the real Catholic intellectual tradition. They have lost all credibility to speak on moral issues, but have no clue that they have lost it.  How sad.  Instead, some try to bluster and threaten their way to compliance with their narrow views.
    And so, as the bishops remain on course for a liturgical train wreck come Advent, I must ask myself what to do.  My conscience tells me that it is clearly immoral to have anything to do with a liturgical translation confected in conscious opposition to an Ecumenical Council; and so I will not.  It is possible that at least one local parish may simply ignore the changes and proceed as usual; if so, I'm off the hook (sort of).  But if not, there is an Oriental Orthodox parish in the neighborhood with a welcoming attitude and a policy on intercommunion similar to our own, and that may become my spiritual home until such time as Rome straightens up and flies right.  Sadly, I'll probably die there; but it is a good place to die.
    But, shouldn't I stay and fight?  I have done what I could.  I have signed the petition at www.whatifwejustsaidwait.org and have written in some detail to my bishop (the silence is deafening).  I have written in the public forum and talked to my friends and fellow parishioners.  There are no more levers left for me to pull, no effective way to get the deaf to hear.  "Packing the court" works.  So I must wait for their healing.  
    The Orthodox have an interesting custom:  When a man is named bishop of a place, at a certain point early in the ceremony, the congregation is asked if he is worthy (axios).  On more than one occasion in recent years, the crowd has responded "Anaxios" (unworthy).  Perhaps it is a custom we should emulate.  Beginning in Santa Rosa.  
    One priest said to me recently, "The laity are going to rise up against the bishops like the people of Egypt [against Mubarak].  And I'm glad that I'll be around to see it."  Well, time will tell.  
   
Dominic Tomasso | 2/11/2011 - 10:35am
USE YOUR INDEX FINGER AND SCROLL BACK TO POSTINGS 45 & 46.

Need I say any more.

If you can continue to follow that type of criminal leadership in spite of where it has gotten the Catholic Church, you deserve what your getting.

I can't think of anything more they can do to you that will ever change your mind.

Domiic Tomasso
Advocate for Bishops Acountability
tomassotucson@cox.net
JIM MCCREA | 2/10/2011 - 6:45pm

Re #19:


(with credit to “There Is Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones - http://library.timelesstruths..../)

Should you be free from the burden to serve?
There’s pow’r in the role, pow’r in the role;
Should you o’er humility a victory win?
There’s a longing for pow’r in the role.


Refrain:
There is pow’r, pow’r, pleasure-providing pow’r
In the role of the priest;
There is pow’r, pow’r, pleasure-providing pow’r
In the clericalist role of the priest.

Should you be free for your passion and pride?
There’s pow’r in the role, pow’r in the role;
To the episcopacy’s ranks do you expect to glide?
There’s a longing for pow’r in the role.

Should you be thrilled on performing the show?
There’s pow’r in the role, pow’r in the role;
Maniples, birettas and cassocks all add to the glow;
There’s a longing for pow’r in the role.

Should service be for all others to bring?
There’s pow’r in the role, pow’r in the role;
Should we live daily your praises to sing?
There’s a longing for pow’r in the role.

JOHN KOTRE | 2/1/2011 - 10:35am
Exit Blessings

Two days ago, a woman "exited" the Anabaptist church I attend.  She had been coming for about three years but felt she was being led elsewhere.  She sent an email to the church community with a simple explanation, and on Sunday we gathered around her, laid hands on her, and blessed her.  She will have left, but she'll be staying in touch.

These blessings have occurred before at this church, usually in recognition of basic theological differences.  There is love in them, and a sense of truth and clarity.  The how of leave-taking matters.

I received a blessing of this kind nearly 50 years ago when I left the Society of Jesus.  There was no formal gesture-it was more like slipping out the back door-but I was helped in finding a new life.  Former teachers wrote letters of recommendation.  Classmates came to my wedding.  I was able to attend the ordination of an older friend.  After 6 years of (free) training, my superiors helped me discern a path and asked absolutely nothing back.  My departure was blessed, and that is one reason I endorse the saying "once a Jesuit, always a Jesuit."

Walter, Michael, Anne, there has been this sense of truth and clarity in the spirit of your comments.  I am very appreciative.  And I wonder if this church we care about could find a way to do more than exit interviews.  Perhaps its pastors could help discern the paths of staying or leaving.  Perhaps the church could bless them both.?
Michael Barberi | 1/31/2011 - 6:23pm
Walter:

Thanks for your post and insightful comments. There is no doubt in my mind that the Church will eventually change for the better. Unfortunately, this may not happen in the near future. Historically, the Church is very slow to change/reform. Sometimes it has taken several centuries.

We all need sactifiying grace to reach our ultimate end in Christ. Everyone knows the journey is not easy, but we have faith and hope in the Holy Spirit who resides in each of us. As you wisely said, Jesus did chose Peter as the head of his Church with all his doubts and shortcomings. His successor is only human and is not perfect either. This explains the problem, not the solution.

Vatican II was a water shed moment the brought forth much hope for reform. However, the encyclical Humane Vitae (HV) that was issued shortly after Vatican II sent the Church back into the preverbial dark ages of the pre-conciliar Church. JP II was part of the Birth Control Commission. He was part to the minority (the 25% that voted for no change). After the Majority Report was issued, JP II summoned his own commission in Poland to study the issue further. His philosophy at that time was articulated in his book/essay Love and Respnsibility. Sixty percent of HV was based on this. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that JP II's Theology of the Body and his many encylicals supported HV. The weaknesses and cracks in these doctrines on sexual ethics began to be seen as contemporary science progressed (in vitro fertilization, complications of pregnancy when the mother and fetus are in danger of death, et al). When you hold a moral norm as a concrete moral absolute (e.g., contraception is intrinsically evil), and you start to embrace a recovery and re-interpretation of Thomistic ethics, the moral absolutes become ambiguous, unsupported and lead you to question what God really wants.

If you combine doctrines that the enter the marital bedroom that are incoherent to the realities of marital love and procreation, with a Church that does not teach or preach about how we should live our life as we struggle in our journey to Christ, attending Mass becomes an obligation only. It becomes a one way conversation. The laity is marginalized in any debate on reform. The needs of the faithful are heard but not answered.

I cannot see myself joining another Christian Church. Hence, I rely on my daily prayer life, readings and studies. I support good causes within the Church not only by writing but also financially. I do communicate with several theologians and have a prominent one as my mentor.

Maybe things will change sooner than I think. In the meantime, I try to move the conversation forward as best I can. By this I mean promoting new directions and thinking about sexual ethics. We have too many divorsed/remarried Catholics, homosexuals and those that don't attend Mass sitting out in the street. God is calling them into his Church. Let's pray that Peter's successor recognizes the truth and has the wisdom and courage to reform in accordance with God's Will.  
J B | 1/31/2011 - 9:55am
John, 

Thank you for your post.  Your journey is yours alone, as each of us walks our own spiritual path, yet the essentials of what you describe are also shared by millions of us who struggled and struggled to remain in the Catholic church, yet finally left , heeding the proddings of the Holy Spirit.  Thank you for the information on the Mennonite-Catholic group.  Many Christians who sincerely believe in Christ and Christ's teachings have trouble with parts of the creed.  I have found  Sr. Joan Chittister's reflections on the creed to be very helpful - her book is called "In Search of Belief."  
C Walter Mattingly | 1/31/2011 - 6:56am
John, mostly, and Mike,
John, I personally have had a dual response to your spiritual journey which you outline above. In the first instance, your desire to draw closer to God and self-definition as a determined seeker of a relationship with your Creator is inspiring. In the second, in the final analysis, you are not a Catholic christian, although you draw inspiration from some of its sources and traditions.
Here's a question. Why did Jesus found His Church upon Peter, whom He knew to be a liar, coward, and base betrayer of the very physical person of the Son of God? What kind of "Rock" was this? The answer can only be that, like Jesus's baptizer proclaimed, His bishop was called to repentance because he was a sinner. And that certainly was prophetic: anyone who reads of the Renaissance popes might just as soon have had Don Cordeleone as the Holy Father. From its foundation, the Church has always taken two steps forward, one step backward, and sometimes two steps backward, and one step forward. Like Peter, the Bishop of Rome was fallen then, in the past, in the present, and will be in the future. The Rock is a shaky one, will tumble from its foundation, but just as surely will be restored. Even our most revered Christians have had severe issues. Mother Teresa's struggles with Doubt are now documented. According to Thomas Cahill's biography, Pope John XXIII had struggles with doubt at his sister's death and may been sexually active, as many popes were before him; Pope John Paul II may have covered up or at least been negligent addressing sexual abuse within the Church. The essential message of repentance, an eternal call to metanoia, covers us all, every one of the Mystical Body, and that body itself. It is intrinsic to the Church's foundation by Christ.
Your reaction to regular repetition of the Nicene Creed and final rejection of its contents calls to mind an islander in one of Melville's South Sea tales. He is recarving a wooden idol of a deity, reshaping him in the image he desires. That is what you seem to be doing here, and indeed I suppose, if we are honest, all of us engage in to some extent by emphasizing those aspects of Jesus's words or the Church's interpretation of them we find amenable and deemphasizing those we don't. Yet at some point we can carve out an unrecognizable figure that is not that original figure we inherited. By outright rejection of the Creed, that is a conclusion about the direction I believe you have chosen, not in any way a criticism of it.
There is a tendency in some of the Catholic thinkers you have found inspirational, such as Fr Rohr, to deemphasize the centrality of Jesus and the New Testament in their sayings. Take for example some of his famous quotations, taken out of context for sure, but existing nonetheless in the popular Catholic consciousness. An example: "There is nothing to prove and nothing to protect. I am who I am and it is enough." Not according to Jesus Christ. He calls forth, as even He submitted as human, baptism, repentance, and metanoia. Jesus is not preaching I'm Ok You're OK. Likewise Rohr carves away too large a chunk when he denigrates self-restraint and integrity  when he says God is manifest "in the concrete incarnation of life, and not through purity codes and moral achievement contests...." Is it merely "a moral achievement contest" in which a pregnant unwed mother decides not to abort her child, or a tempted husband remains true to his vow of fidelity to his wife? Or are these denials of convenient self-interest, these moral achievements, acts of integrity and caritas? So it goes with many in the lengthy commentary above who refer to the Beatitudes as their guide, which of course they are and beautifully so, yet omit the beautiful affirmation of Christ of the marriage between a man and a woman, "what man and God have joined together, let no man separate," perhaps because they don't desire proscriptions of certain activities they find virtuous in themselves, but too specific and difficult?
The often subtle attempt to reduce such affirmations as participations in "a moral achievement constest" or, worse, the Church's (and Christ's?) "pelvic anxieties" calls to mind G.K. Chesterton's famous quote, "Christianity has not been tried and found difficult; it has been found difficult and not tried." Of course the carving away comes from the other side as well. I once heard a preacher promoting the idea that praying to God will make you rich parody the Beatitudes on TV with these words: "The Bible tells us that the meek shall inherit the earth, but they won't get title to it."
Things can get worse, I guess.
My concern is that the attempt of devout members of the Church to be ecumenical and inclusive not include the deemphasis of Christ and His teachings nor overlook Church tradition.
Mike, I share with you the feeling that, basically since Vatican II, I have heard precious little about our faith in church sermons or elsewhere. It almost seems at times that priests are afraid to even mention certain subjects, such as eternal separation from God, and prefer to speak in generalities that are inadequate for many of us. Hopefully this lack of catechesis and inspired teaching will be reemphasized. It is a real problem involving us as well, as previous commentators here such as Veronica have documented. But I have to say that I had the idea that I could not  on my own live a full Christian life unaided by grace absolutely drummed into me.  Also I find that the most human of the theological virtues, Hope, like Christ aligned with the second positon of the trinity, with John Paul II and Benedict are receining a heavy, overdue perhaps, emphasis.
I have not meant any of these words as criticisms of anyone, only as one member's view of the church's limitations of what it can and cannot do while remaining true to itself, as well as simply acknowledging its sad moral failings, clearly anticipated in Jesus' selection of Peter, as well as Jesus's hope and confidence in its ability to reform itself.
Michael Barberi | 1/30/2011 - 5:36pm
More Relections of a Stuggling Pilgrim.

As a young Catholic I went to Catholic elementary school and stayed loyal to the Roman Catholic Faith and its tradition through my college years. Ditto for the first 20 years of my married life.

I was taught that Mass is about worshiping God as a community as opposed to just worshiping God yourself (which was also encourgaged). However, in all my years of worship I never felt any sense of community worship. Everyone was in Church because of their obligation. People were friendly to an extent and I never had any issue about everyone's love of God.

The tradition of the Roman Catholic Church has its roots and is centered in the sacrament of confession. We all are sinners so we go to confession, Mass and receive Eucharistic communion. We all carry the weaknesses of a Fallen-Redeemed World, so we all sin. Then, we go to confession, Mass and receive Eucharistic commuion again in a never-ending cycle. In over 30+ years, my local Church (I attended several in 3 different states) never provided any formal sermons, special lectures or educational programs about how to grow morally and spiritually. I never heard anything about how to practice the virtues, how to live my life or inform my conscience especially about making moral decisions. The implicit message was "do good and avoid evil" and listen to the pope. The emphasis was on avoiding sin. It was about a series of laws centered in "don't do that". Growing spiritually and morally was trusting in the process of confession-Mass-Eurcharistic communion. The scripture readings were mostly about "this is what God wants you to do and not do". It was about what "YOU" should do and not do. It was never about the fact that YOU cannot do anything without God's help and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Guilt was a natural consequence of what YOU did or did not do. Hence, the theological virtues of FAITH and HOPE became watered down by guilt and a weak sense of spiritual self-confidence.

In one sense, the Church replaced the Holy Spirit. In other words, just listen to the Church since the Church is the authority on Faith and Morals. Conscience was never discussed. Conscience was prone to error, while the Church was not. Conscience could lead to relativism, so forget about it. Just listen to the pope.

As the post-conciiar era (post Vatican II) emerged the issues were about sexual ethics. Everyone knows this era and the profound disagreement over certain doctrines and Church teachings. Of course, the sex abuse scandal only brought to a head, the pent-up frustration that most Catholics had with the Church Hierarchy. The latest case in Phoenx did not help either.

I yearn to be brought back to Church and I pray each day for enlightenment and divine assistance. I am at peace with God and my relationship with HIM. However, I am saddened by a Church that hears the cries of its membership for solidarity and new direction, but does nothing about it. Like John Kotre and others, I am a still a Catholic but without much of a Church.



Joe Ippolito | 1/30/2011 - 10:33am
Dear Fr. Byron


I read your article with great interest, and was particularly struck by one individual's desire to see a "uniform job description" for parish priests.  Two years ago,
the organization I work for (Education Development Center, Inc., {EDC}) in partnership with the Midwest Association of Theological Schools (MATS) completed a project that led to the development of a profile of a Roman Catholic priest that was accompanied with rubrics that offer incremental stages of development for the ministerial tasks performed by priests.  These materials were developed through the adaptation of methods commonly used to analyze secular professions.  The profile articulates what it is that a "successful" priest needs to know and be able to do in his ministry.  These ministerial activities are organized around major ministerial responsibilities and their constituent tasks.  The rubrics offer four stages of development and include descriptions of what the profile's ministerial tasks "look like" when performed at the levels of Novice, Approaching Proficiency, Proficiency and Above Proficiency.  Several seminaries are now using these materials in the classroom and/ or with their diocesan vocation office.  More recently, these materials were adapted by priests from the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh to reflect the ministerial context of Scotland.  In Scotland the mateials are being shared with lay leaders as a resource for discussions involving stewardship. I believe the profile approximates the individual's idea of a "uniform job description".  An essay describing the priest profile, rthe profile and rubrics have been published in a booklet entitled "In Fulfillment of Their Mission: The Duties and Tasks of a Roman Catholic Priest".  It is available through the National Catholic Education Association.  I would be glad to send you a copy if you are interested.
JOHN KOTRE | 1/29/2011 - 10:32am
For starters, I should identify myself as the John Kotre Fr. Byron referenced in his article.  I conducted the study of Catholic Ins and Outs that was first published in 1971, and now, having read these comments in America, I'm left to ponder the same mystery of connection and disconnection: how is it that so many who "exited" the church stayed attached enough to read the article and respond?

My own story begins in Chicago, in the 1940s, in a Catholic neighborhood, attending Catholic schools.  I came in contact with good people.  I was a Jesuit seminarian for six years, embraced Vatican II, and raised my family in a wonderful student parish here in Ann Arbor MI, now run by Jesuits.  But all along the way I had problems with the Catholic tradition.

About three years ago, at Mass and probably during the recitation of the creed, I found myself saying, "I'm just not Catholic anymore."  It was an honest assessment.  I was aware that, like many Vatican II liberals, I had kept on stretching the boundary of "Catholic" in order to remain part of something I loved.  But at that moment I had to say I couldn't keep mumbling my way through the creed.  I had to say the words.  And I couldn't.  It wasn't so much what the words were.   It was that so much of being Catholic was about creed, about doctrine, about orthodoxy.  Not about a way shown by Jesus.

My journey brought me to another church community, a small Anabaptist group of Mennonites and Brethren.  What a difference!  The only creed was, "Continue the work of Jesus.  Simply.  Peacefully.  Together."  The first time in that environment, I wept.

And then, paradoxically, when I returned on a Sunday to my Catholic church, I wept as well.  My heart lay in both places.

I can attribute a lot of this movement to getting to a place in life where I want to distill.  I want to find the essence, the pearl of great price.  Very simple.  What alienates me from the Catholic tradition?  The fact that, as many of the previous comments show, the bishops are always in the room with you.  What keeps me part of it?  (1) my local parish (2) the contemplative tradition-Merton, Rohr, Keating, etc. (3) the New Story people-Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, etc. (4) the witness of many women religious.  My favorite recollection from a Catholic childhood is not a church filled with song, incense, and ritual, but an empty church, just the darkness and the flickering red light.

So have I "exited" the Catholic Church?  Not really.  I am Catholic and Anabaptist.  You'll find me at both churches.  I find them complementary, one the antidote for the other.  And just a few months ago, thanks to a reference in America, I found there are others like me.  Take a look at www.Bridgefolk.net.

I've been struck by ironies where I'm at: more Latin, for example, at the Anabaptist gatherings than at the Catholic!  More connection to the Catholic contemplative tradition.  I've learned what my Mennonite friends admire about Catholicism (start with the sacred space in cathedrals), even as I become aware of Catholic and even Jesuit persecution of Mennonites.

So am I in or out?  It doesn't matter.  When I'm asked on some form or other to put down my religious affiliation, I simply say "God."

Michael Barberi | 1/25/2011 - 11:44pm
Good points Fr. Rick.

I know it is not surprising to you that little fruit has been borne from the relatively few parishes that have implemented the pre-Cana conference educational materials on marriage and sexuality. In the U.S. about 1.2% of married couples practice periodic abstinence. World-wide the percent is about 2.1%. A 2007 survey of young Catholics by Dean Hoge (those born between 1961-1979 and those born after 1980) reported that these two young cohorts hold to greater individual authority in religious and moral decisions that older Catholics. They show little signs of returning to earlier levels of religious orthodoxy and practice by the pre-Vatican II generation. Also, the youngest cohort have little confidence in Church leaders. Of course, there are many causes to these problems.

However, these kinds of problems are one of many that cause refection about the necessity of Church reform especially over sexual ethical issues. If history is our guide, this will take a long time. However, I often ask myself two questions: If God revealed that contraception is intrinsically evil, why does he make it so difficult for Catholics to understand? The Church blames the inability to recognize and embrace the truth on the ills of modern society, invincible ignorance and the mentality of the enlightment religion. While it would be foolish to discount the impact of these factors on the problem, the Church does not admit to the need for reform of doctrine or Church structure.

When you consider the Phoenix Case as another example of a Church gone wrong in its teachings, it is abundantly clear to most Catholics that the Chruch has a monstrous problem. In that situation, Catholic Health West asked a prominent theologian from Marquette University to analyze the situation and decisions made and prepare a report for them for the bishop's consideration. Her report was excellent and thorough and it sited the opinions of Martin Rhonhiemer and Germain Grisez in her defense of the decision of St. Joseph Hospital. Yet, the bishop dismissed the findings and recommendations of this report, ex-communicate the good sister and the ability of the hospital to call itself Catholic. One can only be perplexed and profoundly disappointed that the Church would have preferred the hospital watch two people die rather than save the life of the mother despite the fact that the fetus could not survive under any circumstance.
RICK SHERMAN | 1/25/2011 - 7:55pm

On your way out (1-17-11), grab a copy of the DVD series, Theology of the Body for Teens (Ascension Press) and a copy of Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice by Daniel G. Groody (Orbis).  Perhaps the greatest tragedy behind the people leaving the Church is that they most likely were never really instructed in a reasonably comprehensive range of Catholic teaching in the first place.  On some level their souls know this, but it has not yet registered in their heads.  I wonder if most defectors even know what they are leaving.  I have been at least a Mass going Catholic (as opposed to a fully faithful Catholic) for all of my 56 years, eleven of that as a parish priest and six years as a seminarian.  I could probably count the parishes I have been in on one hand, with fingers left over, which have done any significant ongoing and age appropriate instruction on human sexuality and Catholic social teaching.  These two areas are perhaps particularly central to the apostolate of those called to be married and to live and do justice in ‘the world’.  If people have not had good guidance in understanding their sexual lives, it’s hardly possible that they could be genuinely in touch with the true ordered intention of their interior lives or their exterior lives; ie, becoming one.  Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that the user friendly teaching materials and the technology are here anytime we wish to get up to speed.


In my view the responsibility for these soul- and Church- stifling deficiencies lie about 55% with the clergy and 45% with the laity.  The boomers and the X’ers have been especially resistant to the teaching on human sexuality and our ‘in-your-face’ attitudes will require lots of crow eating and follow-up formation to make the situation right.  Most of us currently lack the emotional stability and the spiritual depth to do the level of soul searching, repentance and growth that our current situation demands.  Add to that the interpersonal sophistication that is needed to actually ‘become one’ with our increasingly diverse and complex demographics and all of a sudden heading for the door looks pretty attractive.


I would add to the exit interview:


1.  What have you learned about the Seven Major Themes of Catholic Social Teaching and how have you applied them in your life?


2.  How have you learned to integrate the becoming one flesh of marriage with the becoming one body, one spirit in Christ of Eucharist?


If the exiting parties look back with frowns and crossed eyes, invite them to gather a group of their friends (in and out of the Church) and discuss the two references above.  We have precious little time to waste.

Michael Barberi | 1/21/2011 - 9:31pm
Bravo Rev. Dave! 

The divorse/remarriage issue would be a huge step in the righ direction.

I am perplexed and profoundly disappointed when I think about the fact that the Church instructs priest/confessors to utilize the principle of graduation when faced with an habitual sinner. For example, those 98% of Catholics that use contraception and not NFP are treated as habitual sinners and given absolution even without a firm purpose of amendment. However, this seems contradictory to most Catholics because once someone confesses contraception as a sin (most don't), why should they confess the sin again?  No one expects these Catholics to stop contracepting, nor does anyone expect them to return to the confessional each week. Yet, they are not denied Eucharistic communion. For the majority of Catholics that don't confess contraeption as a sin, no one refuses them Eurchaistic communion either. 

The contradiction is that this principle of graduation for habitual sinners does not apply to divorsed/remarried Catholics. They are allowed to remain Catholic but cannot receive our Lord.
DAVID BUERSMEYER REV | 1/20/2011 - 11:31pm
William Byron mentions three obstacles to finding out why the numbers are declining at Catholic weekend worship.  I agree with his three but he fails to mention the biggest obstacles: the lack of interest on the part of those in leadership to hear the results of what is found out and, equally important, their perceived inability or even fear to do much about the results.

On the parish level exit interviews might be quite instructive and help pinpoint some key issues to address. On the larger Church level the point of such exit interviews can't be to learn why people are leaving. Any good social scientific survey of a relatively small number of such Catholics achieves that result. I would be surprised if that hasn't already been done by CARA or the Notre Dame study on parish life or some place.  The point of exit interviews is to give people who are tired, hurting, fed up, angry or whatever a change to voice those concerns and have some way to address a Church leadership that otherwise, even if not always intentionally, can make people feel of very little importance in their own Church.

Although I would like to see our Church open to other changes, my guess is that one change would make the most difference, even if very little else changed: do not exclude divorced and remarried persons from Eucharistic communion.
Michael Barberi | 1/18/2011 - 9:04pm
The Greeley survey was not received by the US Bishops, nor by the Vatican. It was political theater. There are a host of surveys about priests that also go "unaddressed". The great majority of priests do not support the Church's teachings on such topics such as contraception, divorse/remarriage and abortion to save the life of the mother when the fetus is not viable.  The USCCB or the Vatican will do nothing to address the profound "silent dissent" among its priests and bishops because they don't want to deal with the consequences. The laity ignores this lack of responsibilty or any issue concerning "reforming the Church" because they find such an effort a waste of time. The time has been ripe for a long time to do something about the crisis in the Catholic Church. This does not mean we should all throw up our arms in despair.

The good news is that there are many clergy and theologians in the Church today that continue to work for reform. However, it will take a long time. In the meantime, we all do what we can individually to make a difference and support those that strive for the same. I wish there was an easy answer.
David Smith | 1/18/2011 - 6:42pm
This issue seems to cry for an investigation of the sort that Andrew Greeley (#156) could have undertaken.  Is there anyone out there now trying to do that sort of work?  As the article suggests, there's a crying need for it.  The time is ripe.
Michael Barberi | 1/15/2011 - 5:35pm
Ami:

I support your rebellion and hope your efforts will be sucessful. Unfortunately, most Catholics today simply elect not to follow many of the Church's teaching (e.g., contraception), and don't want to work for reform. They are simply not interested. They leave the Church or simply stay Catholic based on baptism. Unfortunately, this does not move the Church towards reform, other than the overall statistic of declining Mass attendance. Your efforts at hurting the pocketbook of the Church is a good strategy but unless you can created critical mass it will not be effective. Those that give to the Church today, each week during Mass, will not hold back their contributions in any meaningful way. I could be wrong, but my intuition tells me different.

There are many in the Church today that do indeed work for reform such as many theologians despite the fact that the pope has closed all debate on many sexual ethical issues.

If you want to educate yourself on how some prominent theologians are trying to make a difference in the Church today, read "The Sexual Person" by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler and/or "Just Love" by Margaret Farley. You will find both books extremely insightful and refreshing.

Like I said, Church reform will take a long time. Let's pray that I am wrong.
Jack Barry | 1/15/2011 - 5:12pm

Michael - 


Good luck in your efforts.  Nevertheless:


 


Consider what is known world-wide about Catholic bishops and cardinals facilitating, enabling, and concealing crime-related activities involving priestly sex abuse in the US and many other countries.  Then imagine, instead, that the same information was known about a similar number of senior officials in AT&T or Coca-Cola or a major health-care corporation.  How many years would the masses and governments placidly analyze and pray in hope that something or other would reverse the relevant traditions and moral values in that case?  


 


Dialogue takes two.  Ami (#172) is  correct as to its chances.  Archbishop Dolan in his first day as USCCB president explained why.  He affirmed that the bishops are teachers, and, beyond that, they are "the teachers."  So much for dialogue.  The claim that we are all sinners can satisfy as an explanation for the facts, but it is no justification for continuing to honor, follow, and pay for bishops and cardinals we know to be inclined to foster serious crime and ongoing legal abuse of sexual abuse victims.  

J B | 1/15/2011 - 4:22pm
Michael,

Thank you for your response.   I wish you luck.  Moving the church towards reform as a lay person is virtually impossible, wishful thinking and maybe even gives some a false sense of "doing something" even if they really aren't, so they don't feel guilty about supporing the structure.  But if you wnat to try, then go ahead.

 I think that the only way to get the attenton of the hierarchy is to rebel, unfortunately.  That means closing the wallet and perhaps leaving completely.  Sitting docilely in the pews every Sunday and writing checks to the parish which are "taxed" by the hierarchy is a sure way to make the hierarchy think that they can continue to walk all over THE church.  They get away with it, so why not?   Most American theologians (and Asian and Dutch and alot of others) are pretty good - but Rome slams the door in their faces because Rome does not really seek the truth, but hangs on to the status quo.
Michael Barberi | 1/15/2011 - 3:40pm

Ami:

For the past two years I have been studying moral philosophy and theological ethics. This is a subject that I have a keen sense of interest in.  I also understand professional and healthcare ethics from my position as a senior officer of two major healthcare corporations.

I write essays and correspond with theologians. Currently, I am trying to get an essay published on the topic of virtue-centered action theory and the ethics of procreation. It offers a different opinion in tension with current Church teachings. This is how I try to influence the Church. When I said my efforts may not amount to much, I was pointing the reality that the Church (and most theological journals) are closed to anything that goes against Church teachings. This is especially true if you are not a theologian. However, one must not give up the good fight because small efforts can influence others and collectively the effort will bear fruit, it we believe the Holy Spirit guides us all to the truth and the good.

Each of us has special gifts and it is up to us to utilize them as best we can. When I said that we should try to change the Church's behavior, et al, in a loving way, I meant not in a angry or inappropriate way. The best dialogue should be civil and respectful. That does not mean that one should be soft and ineffective. Far from it. You can be persistent and offer a compelling argument and point to inappropriate behavior without being derogatory or hurtful. Martin Luther King is a good example. There are many ways you can "dress-down" people and move them in the right direction. I am not naive or idealogical but realistic. Reform in the Church will take a long time.

In the end, some people must leave the Church or their parents for good reasons.

Hope this clarifies my comments and answers your questions.

J B | 1/14/2011 - 11:40pm
Michael, I forgot one thing - how do ordinary lay people "correct" the leadership of the church in a "loving way."  The leaders don't even know ordinary lay people, and it doesn't seem as if they have any interesting in knowing what we think anyway.  So, how does "loving correction" occur in these circumstances?
J B | 1/14/2011 - 11:37pm
Michael, you have referred several times to working for reform or to change the hierarchy.  For example, you said "As for my efforts at reform, they may not amount to much. However, I keep trying by using my God-given skills. I am not giving up." You also said earlier "I work in my own way for reform."  I asked you to explain exactly how you work for reform - but you didn't answer.  Could you please?

Also you say "You reject this behavior but you still love them because they are your parents. You don't turn your back on them and leave them. You work as best you can to correct them in a loving way. The same can be applied to the Church."

But, sometimes people do have to leave their family, because sometimes the dysfunction is so great that not leaving amounts to enabling.  This is true in many cases of family dysfunction, whether addiction, or violence, or criminal.  There comes a point where people have to leave or else they become part of it.
Michael Barberi | 1/14/2011 - 9:57pm
Dominic:

Your position on this issue is not unreasonable. Your decision about leaving the Church was yours to make.

I have a cousin that was the Chancellor of a Diocese in Florida before he retired. One day I was arguing with him over contradictions in the Church's teachings (I will not go into details), he gave me some good advice.

He said: Think of the Church as your parents. When you are young and growing up, they are the world to you. They can do no wrong, they are perfect. Then when you mature and become an adult you realize that they have faults, sometimes bad behavior, sometime they do deplorable things that you are ashamed of. You reject this behavior but you still love them because they are your parents. You don't turn your back on them and leave them. You work as best you can to correct them in a loving way. The same can be applied to the Church.

In the end, everyone makes their own decisions. There is no right or wrong answers to difficult situations. After careful reflection and prayer, and with good counsel, your decision is right based on your conscious. You should never go against your conscience as long as you realize that your conscious can err. After all that is said and done, if you have joy and peace, you have a good conscious. That is one way of testing it, but there are no guaranteed methods of knowing for certain.

Hope that is helpful.
Dominic Tomasso | 1/14/2011 - 8:17pm

Michael, 

I don't want to beat this to death but I thought of another very, very strong reason for my anger.

I know if I raped sodomized or molested a child, it would be a crime as well as a sin, since I'm Catholic.

Yet the bishops have secretly knowingly,protected priests that have committed such crimes by moving them from parish to parish, placing other children in harms way. In doing so, these bishops have enabled these sex abusers to abuse other children. That too is criminal.

Even the pope has not called what the bishops have done, a criminal action or punished them.

I know that in the world- over, atrocities have happened and for whatever reason, those involved have not been punished. Neverheless, that is no reason for some Catholics to excuse, justify or rationalize why the pope or bishops should not be criminally charged. If I'm wrong, I can still live with it.

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability.
tomassotucson

Dominic Tomasso | 1/14/2011 - 5:49pm
Michael,

Thank you for answering my 2 direct question.
Believe me Michael, I'm not trying to be argumentative but I have yet to read of any bishop being charged with a crime.

Bishops have been legally involved in financial settlements etc. but to my knowledge, never directly for a crime. I could be wrong.

I have never tried to hide my anger when posting comments. If you haven't read my 101 posting, please do.
I feel exactly the same today as I did when I posted that message.

More than anything else that has bothered me is how the pastors and the bishop Kicanas of Tucson can remain so indifferent to all my memo's to them.

It's almost as though the bishop instructed all of them not to respond to any of my messages. God, if I was a pastor and a parishioer wrote what I did to them, I would want that parishioer to talk to me personally. Not one, not even the bishop asked me to meet with him.

Not very many churchgoers feel as strongly as I do about their reasons for leaving the church.  I'm aware of that but whether or not you can agree with me, I believe my reasons are more than justified.

I also believe that there is absolutely nothing  that will move them except through civil action, and then, chances are the USCCB"s would find a way to drag it out until everyone over 12 years of age, is dead.

I'm also angry because the people I held in high esteem all my life, can be reponsible for doing all the thing they have done, that are not only sinfull but criminal. I know that most of them are not sinfull or have done criminal things but their silence amazes me.

Leaving the church atmosphere, has cerainly helped me. I realize that God can be found anywhere and as long as I have God with me, Im comfortable.

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability.
tomassotucson@cox.net
Michael Barberi | 1/14/2011 - 3:52pm
Dominic:

The answer to both of your questions is yes. You still don't get it. Perhaps my previous postings were not clear enough.

The Civil courts are bringing those who committed crimes to justice. They are also trying to tie the bishops and even the pope into a legal system. Some are succeeding. As for those that cannot be drawn into the civil courts but have participated in such crimes (e.g., cover-up or moved chlld molester priests around to different parishes), I don't know how you can get the Church to defrock them.

Your efforts at organizing the laity to pressure the Church into reform may work. I wiish you luck and I support your efforts for accountability. My point was that your past postings seem profoundly angry to me. It is understandable that people are angry over this sex abuse crisis. However, too much anger can be detrimental to your good intentions. Perhaps I misread you.

As for my efforts at reform, they may not amount to much. However, I keep trying by using my God-given skills. I am not giving up. We may never see true Church reform in our lifetime.  However, that does not mean we all should not work for reform. I will support any effort for reform as long as it is properly directed and the means to the end/goal is not extreme or profoundly disproportionate and not civil.
Dominic Tomasso | 1/14/2011 - 10:16am
MICHAEL, CAN YOU JUST ANSWER THE TWO QUESTIONS ?

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net
C Walter Mattingly | 1/14/2011 - 3:26am
Jack,
For starters I wouldn't have racially imprisoned over 100,000 totally innocent American citizens on no grounds for two years. I would hope I wouldn't have authorized the firebombing of Dresden or overseen shooting captured Japanese prisoners through the back of the head because the Germans and Japanese did like terrible things. I hold President Bush responsible for the events at Abu Ghraib even as they occurred in the fog of war, as I suspect most here do. But while I reject the idea that these terrible issues can be so glibly excused as wartime excesses, we could use other examples from popular presidents. Many still admire President Kennedy although, as Johnson exclaimed after seeing what the CIA was doing in Cuba and South America, "We're running a GD Murder Incorporated!"   President Reagan is likely the most popular expresident since Ike, but his contra affair was simply wrong. The point is the public looks at their entire career, not simply the worst failure, in assessing their legacy. So too with John Paul II, who was and is admired around the world despite his mishandling of the abuse issue.
Jack Barry | 1/13/2011 - 12:40pm

Walter -


Your analogy collapses because, twice, you omit a very significant "established fact"  -  Roosevelt faced a World War started by Germany and Japan and going well for them in Western and Eastern hemispheres at the expense of millions of innocent people.    Air, ground, and sea attacks were in progress, destroying whomever and whatever was in the way as countries were attacked and many overrun.   Ignoring that fact in order to draw some contrast with John Paul II does little to help your argument.   What would you have done if you had been there?

C Walter Mattingly | 1/13/2011 - 11:16am
Dominic,
As you can get neither my name nor my statements right (see drwho #155), let me see if I can clarify.
I compared a US President considered highly by most Americans and some of his actions, an acclaimed leader of the mid20th century, with a Pope considered highly by most Americans and one of his actions, an acclaimed pope of the late 20th century. The first unjustly imprisoned over 100,000 totally innocent American citizens for 2 years in what is certainly one of the grossest racial miscarriages of justice since slavery in America, which bracketed a time period of then to present (hence your irrelevant stone age comment?) and his firebombing of innocent civilians on a grand scale, comparing that to the gross negligence of John Paul II in mishandling the sexual abuse corruption within the church. The point was to drwho that the public does not evaluate Roosevelt based upon his disastrously unjust racial act and what many would consider his war crimes but rather the total context of his actions. Likewise the esteem in which John Paul II is held by most of the world despite his mishandling of sexual corruption within the Church.
Drwho, I suggested why Rico will not be invoked against the Church in the US (see post 142), as it would open the door to attacking the public school bureaucrats, teachers, principals, and superintendents on a scale many times larger, with immense liabilities to the US Treasury. Should the public become acquainted through proceedings on the intensive union involvement in protecting its members from accountability, it might further weaken or even collapse public opinion on a main support of the current party in power. Since that won't happen, reform actions will have to come from elsewhere.
Ed Kardas | 1/13/2011 - 6:41am
Ami (160): I'm in complete agreement.   I suspect that a lot of the non-involvement by our government is political, and I don't know how to fix it.   Legislators and DA's  fear offending their constituents.  I do not believe that the average Catholic laymen has any idea of how corrupt the Church is.  Educating them is difficult, because the extent of  evil taking place within the institution is hard to believe.  Before I entered a religious order, if I were told about what was taking place within, I would have been certain that I was being lied to.  It's like the mob; their ways are not our ways, and they are not going to let us in on how it works.  I would love to see RICO law applied to the Church.  I'm not a lawyer, but from what I believe their application could be valid in many Church cases.  There certainly are good bishops, but as a group, I would never play cards with them.  I distrust them,  disrespect them whenever I have the chance, and certainly never give them money.  I'm still with God, but out of religious life, and away from its creepy hierarchy. 
Dominic Tomasso | 1/12/2011 - 11:30pm
Michael, I did not miss-interpret what you said. You said," I do not minimize the many sins of the church especially sexual abuse and the cover up.'  I can't read your mind. You never once mentioned the word crime in your posting.

Do you consider sexual abuse a crime?

Do you consider secretly moving sex abusers from parish to parish a crime?

It reminds me of a priest that said to me,"I know there are some bad apples in the church but only a few." When he said bad apples, did he really mean sex abusers? I don't think so. In his mind, they were bad apples.

When you read what I have to say, it's exactly what I mean.

You say in the above posting, " vicious rhetoric and inappropiate methods of demanding accountability are not the answer since the church will not respond to that kind of strategy." Michael, obviously you consider my comments  as being vicious rehetoric, I consider them ,"stating facts."

And since when does the Church heirarchy respond to anything, not even court orders.

Do you honestly believe that the bishops will hold themselve accountability for anything?

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net

J B | 1/12/2011 - 10:55pm
Michael,

Can you describe exactly how you work for reform?  I know of no way anybody outside of Rome can actually work for reform of the Roman Catholic church.  Everyone else who is trying (VOTF and many others) seem to be simply voices crying into the wind.  It does no good. Rome does not listen, nor does Rome care.
Michael Barberi | 1/12/2011 - 9:29pm

Dominic:

I never said that some priests or bishops have not committed crimes. You missed the big picture.  I also did not say that those who committed crimes should go unpunished. Nor did I imply that such crimes were just sins, so what is the big deal, as you assert. I do believe that those who have committed crimes or covered up those crimes should not continue to be Church leaders.

Viscous rhetoric and inappropriate methods of demanding accountability are not the answer since the Church will not respond to that kind of strategy. I am as appalled as everyone else over the culture of the Church heirarchy and their recalcitrant attitude toward the needs and opinions of the laity and those responsible theologians and clergy who call for reform.

I do not have answers other than to point to the many suggestions already posted.  I work in my own way for reform.  

Dominic, if I was not clear please accept my apologies.

Dominic Tomasso | 1/12/2011 - 8:09pm
Christopher Malinger, I can find God wherever I look.

Apparently Chris, either you haven't read very many of these postings or you don't want to be confused by reading them.

If you want to know why I have left the church (not God) and you have about a half an hour to read them, go to postings;

45      101
46      107
60      110
62      124
80      149
86      134
96      141
         149
         154

Mabe you will consider rewriting your understanding as to why people like me have left the church, maybe not.

Dominic tomasso
Advocate for Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net
Christopher Malinger | 1/12/2011 - 5:33pm

William J. Byron’s “On Their Way Out”  struck a nerve with me and not in any positive way.  I find it always sad to hear the excuses that people have for leaving the Catholic Church. 

His consolidated list of seven questions could be answered this way:

I have stopped going to Sunday Mass regularly because I am too lazy to get out of bed, we have a soccer game, or I want to watch something on TV.

I would go to Mass if they energized the music, had more of an entertainment atmosphere. Yep, I would go then.

We need to have more married priests, and women as priests too. After all, don't we live in a democracy?

My attendance at Mass maybe spotty, but shouldn’t the priest know me anyway , after all he did meet me when I had my child baptized a few years ago?

I know my husband isn’t Catholic, but I don’t want to offend him by being too pushy.

My kids are bored in church and I don’t want them to feel pressured into going to Mass, it could have serious psychological consequences.
 
Who has time to join another organization? Between my bowling league, golf commitments and club membership who has time for another thing?

Most people, not all, leave the Catholic Church because it conflicts with their lifestyle.  To make these people return to the Church would require a change from within.  They have the choice of Eden, to be like God or trust in his word.The Catholic Church isn’t a democracy.  It is the most important organization you can become a member of in this world.   You go to Mass to better know God and grow in your faith, not to be entertained, but worship Him who gave us life and the promise of eternal happiness.To those who would leave the Church, I would have them recall the passage in John 6: 67-68: “Then Jesus said to the twelve: "Will you also go away?"  And Simon Peter answered him: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Alexander Larkin | 1/11/2011 - 5:21pm
I believe that the basic problem is one of methodology. Our church leadership (i.e. pope, bishops, to some extent priests) are limited by a system of thinking that relies almost exclusively on deductive thinking. In addressing marriage, sexuality, medical issues, they work from theoretical principles with no credence given to psychology, sociology, genetics, etc. They show no appreciation for the empirical sciences. Until there is an appreciation for empirical information, e.g. that gathered from exit interviews, nothing would be done with the information gathered. Look, for example, at the fate of the studies commissioned by the NCCB decades ago, conducted by Eugene Kennedy and Andrew Greeley. The bishops distanced themselves from both studies and never acted upon them.
Ed Kardas | 1/11/2011 - 3:32pm
Dominic,

For the record, drwho did not make the following statement: "drwh, you site what preidents did, as an act of recial injustice since slavery plus you site another act committed, which incinerated 10s of thousands of innocent men, women and children civilians of Tokyo that many would describe that these Presidents as diobolic agents of war crimes, who should be prosecuted."
Dominic Tomasso | 1/11/2011 - 1:07pm
Sorry, I can't help myself.

Michael, you say," there is plenty of blame to go around and you do not minimize the many sins of the church especially sexual abuse and the coverup. 

Since you claim the church, not the bishops, have sinned ( instead of, have committed many crimes ) what can I say. I guess if I raped a child and told the judge, I know I sinned but rape, sodomy and molesting a child is not a crime, he would not charge me and just let me go on my way. Yeh. right.

drwh, you site what preidents did, as an act of recial injustice since slavery plus you site another act committed, which incinerated 10s of thousands of innocent men, women and children civilians of Tokyo that many would describe that these Presidents as diobolic agents of war crimes, who should be prosecuted.

I probably would have also  included that  there were natives of the stoneage that killed and ate their enemies and how about the Romans that put Christians in the arena for lions to kill and eat.

So Michael, I guess, in your mind, that what the pope and bishops have done are really just sins and when you come down to it, there were many atrocities that went unpunished so what's the big deal. Life goes on. These church problems will eventually fade away and besides, it's useless to to keep mentioning them because it only tends to slow down the healing.  You intelligent people must be right because that is what the bishop of Tucson tells me when I point out how the  diocese has cost us more than 22 million dollars as a result of their failed project. 

I guess I'm out of line to actually think that just because our leaders have committed many crimes that we shouldn't expect them to be held asccountable and that it's perfectly normal to have these failed leaders continue to control everything Catholic. So, please excuse me. I'll try to be more understanding as all you very , very intelligent , knowledgeable Christians. Yeh, right. Don't hold your breath.

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net

C Walter Mattingly | 1/11/2011 - 8:25am
drwho,
I would add to my above comment an analogy.
There once was an American president who imprisoned 100,000 American citizens totally without cause for two years in the one of the greatest and most collosal act of racial injustice in America since slavery. Furthermore, he authorized American participation in the firebombing of Dresden, an act which incinerated 10s of thousands of innocent men, women, and children civilians and set the precedent for the terrible firebombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
And these are not argued points, but rather established facts. And it may well be true, as you state about John Paul II, "no accomplishments can offset the diabolical acts of these (war crimes)."
Yet while some consider this president's record a mixed bag of bigtime failures and successes, I doubt many here would describe Roosevelt as a diabolical agent of war crimes who should be prosecuted. We view the total picture, not just his war crimes and grossly immoral and illegal racist imprisonment of so many innocent citizens, in assessing the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, with many (granted I am not among them) considering him the greatest of 20th century presidents.
Michael,
I would welcome such formulations, although Veronica and a few others have outlined such proposals in previous postings. Most of us lack the expertise to perform the task you outline but look forward to the output of those who possess it.
Michael Barberi | 1/10/2011 - 9:27pm

I agree with Veronica on at least one point, that the Church has mostly neglected to educate Catholics about how to grow an interior life. I found silent prayer though my own initiative and education, not from the parish I grew up in or attended as an married adult. However, arguing over prayer and the interior life or catechistic instruction gets us no where.

If we don't all recoginize that there is some truth to many points of view, and stop demonizing each other, we simply feed the sources of discontent within our Church.

There is plenty of blame to go around and I do not minimize the many sins of the Church expecially sexual abuse and the cover-up.

A solution to profound disagreements will never be solved until the heirarchy takes the first steps towards reform. Unfortunately, any modification of the doctrines concerning issues such as sexual ethics is plagued by an exaggeated fear that the morality of many things become open to serious debate. This is what the majority of laity want as well as many bishops, priests and theologians. However, this is likely not going to happen in this papacy. I hope I am wrong.

We may feel good about blogging about the many problems in the Church today, but if we sincerely want to find a solution we have to offer them up. By solution I mean a way that both the Church heirarchy can accept (a plausible way out of dilemma) and the rest of the Church can live with.  This is not naive or idealistic thinking but common sense. Like many of you, I have not offered any solution. However, I would like to see some part of this blog start the process. Many will be happy to participate. However, let's not fool ourselves. There is no easy solutions. Any sign of public disagreement will be viewed as apostacy. Any attempt to influence theologians through articles will be met by the arrogance of not having the right credentials and a polite "not interested in your essay". Any type of criticism of the Church will have be carefully constructed.

I chose to take the scholarly essay approach to influencing theologians and clergy through new argumentations concerning the issues that divide us. However, this is easy to say and much more difficult to do. Thankfully, I have found some prominent theologians that offered me mentoring and assistance. So there is hope, at least from my perspective.

There are many ways that we all can work toward the same goal. There is no right or wrong approach as long as there is love as our guide.  In the meantime, I will not be surprised or the least bit offended if no one responds to my opinion.

C Walter Mattingly | 1/10/2011 - 3:39pm
drwho,
I understand that criticism. How accurate the description, how feeble and cognitively impaired he was near the turn of the century by the bullets and his Parkinson's, to what extent Cardinal Sodorno was calling the shots, the salutory nature of so many things he accomplished in his life all come into play. We do know that then-Cardinal Ratzinger earlier recommended to move against Macial and wasted no time doing so once he was Pope.
Tomaso, to more than one of us here you were hopelessy "outta here" from your first posting on.
Ed Kardas | 1/10/2011 - 12:29pm

Walter #148, you reference Suzanne's position; stating,  "...your portrait of John Paul II as an archconservative supporter of a corrupt priest. No doubt he was fooled by what may have been a psychotic charlatan for too long. But let's examine a few of the things this ecumenical, internationally admired pope accomplished."


"Investigative journalists Jason Berry and Gerald Renner, in their explosive book, Vows of Silence: the Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II; doggedly lay out the evidence that nine ex-Legion members had filed charges against the group in a Vatican Court of Canon Law in 1998. Their sworn depositions alleged that all had been sexually abused by the man who had styled himself "nuestro padre."                                    As the authors marshaled their evidence, the Vatican refused comment. "No Vatican official ever told us Maciel was innocent. There was simply-no answer to the accusations," the authors ruefully write" (Catholic New Times, Inc., Gale Group).


Walter, if the the above information is correct, no accomplishments can undue his diabolical failure to act against Maciel.  Assuming that JP II was duped prior to 1998, something I don't believe, he was far too intelligent and savvy.  His lack of action after 1998 would be gravely evil.  I come down on the side of Suzanne on this one.

Dominic Tomasso | 1/10/2011 - 12:26pm
I'M OUT OF HERE. YOU PEOPLE ARE HOPELESS

Dominic Tomasso
Advocate For Bishops Accountability
tomassotucson@cox.net
C Walter Mattingly | 1/10/2011 - 9:01am
Suzanne, if you are going to paint an angry portrait, it will not suffice to make a few considered strokes on the canvas, then splash the canvas with your can of paint, and call it significant. Well, maybe if you are a Jackson Pollock....
For example, your portrait of John Paul II as an archconservative supporter of a corrupt priest. No doubt he was fooled by what may have been a psychotic charlatan for too long. But let's examine a few of the things this ecumenical, internationally admired pope accomplished.
A virtual martyr to the cause of religious, political, and economic freedom, he took two bullets to the gut, likely planned by his atheistic adversaries, and continued unabashed and uncowed to proceed, finally freeing 50 million people in 20 nations.
He had a tremendous ecumenical impact, meeting and praying with the rabbi in the synogogue of Rome. He then formally apologized for the past sins of the Church for mishandling and mistreating  "Our Jewish elder brothers" for long stretches of the Church's history.
He gathered absolutely throngs of young Catholics to his frequent national and international Youth Days. His effect upon evangelization was widespread and pervasive.
He offered an extensive and tireless outreach to the Orthodox Church and the Christian world in general.  He was not just seen on international TV, but freely amidst the lepers, and he met in the jail in honest conversation with his attempted assassin.
At his death, a convocation of Catholic and also nonCatholic youth a million strong gathered around the Vatican that was virtually unprecedented. You want a Catholic leader who the Catholic young could rally round for joy and inspiration, and for the world look up to? There he is.
Can you name another Catholic Christian religious leader of any congregation of the last twenty years more widely known and acclaimed internationally, with the possible exceptions of Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu?
Likewise with Thomas Merton not having a separate entry in the NCE. I agree that is regrettable, although he is cited in various other place therein. Speculative theologians and thinkers often have uneven treatment in Catholic and other congregations. But far more influential as a liberal Catholic theologian, far more extensive in his radical writings, is Karl Rahner, the current pope's longtime friend, collaborator, and occasional adversary. Here we have such a radical proposition as Rahner's concept of the anonymous Christian, in which Rahner would propose an atheist such as Dr Rieu in Camus' The Plague, who rejects the idea that there could possibly be a loving God who would allow innocent children to suffer but nevertheless remains in the town at great risk to himself to serve those hopelessly afflicted. Rahner would deem such an avowed atheist an anonymous Christian because he nonetheless followed the essential message of Christ. Here, and on such doctrines as original sin, Rahner stretches Church orthodoxy to its limits. What was the Vatican comment on Rahner at his centenery celebration under John Paul II? The archbishop representing the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith praised Rahner and declared him "an orthodox Catholic theologian." And Rahner has his space in the NCE.
Likewise your statements that Benedict has not spoken out against the persecution of Coptic and other Christian sects. Again,  John Paul II spoke out clearly against the war in Iraq and both he and Benedict have done so generally. I can understand being uninformed, but why make pronouncements upon that which you are uninformed?
On your issue of defense spending, probably off point, I would agree with you we spend too much. Fortunately we have the most talented secretary in the current administration at defense. He has and continues to responsibly cut the defense budget. But here is my question to you. Far and away, the greatest expense in defense is the pay, retirement, and benefits, especially medical benefits, of the personnel. Are you ready to replace the 20 year retirement plan with say 25 year retirement? Are you ready to support Secretary Gates as he raises the copay for military retirees? Gates has already defeated the Murtha/Dodd/Shelby contingent who supported the extraordinarily expensive new jet fighter's expansion and many other programs such as the amphibious assault vehicles. Unless you want to endanger our troops by undersupporting them, are you ready to cut their entitlements? That's where the big bucks are. Or are you like VP Biden who supports helping the needy unless it comes to his pocketbook and putting his money where his mouth is on his charitable donations?
Likewise on the issue of abortions as it relates to moral education. Are you going to support the desire of inner city parents to use their tax monies to send their children to a school wherein they might receive a moral/religious education and the attendent life skill of delayed gratification, or are you going to deprive them of that possibility by opposing vouchers? Should the church encourage raising NY's 40% abortion rate by encouraging taxpayers to provide the funding for abortion on demand, or oppose it? (Here I grant you that the Church's historic across-the-board unqualified opposition to contraception is a big problem, but even there Benedict may be signalling a slow change with his recent statement on condoms.)
In sum, Suzanne, if you are going to describe a donut, you must describe the entire donut, not just the hole.
Veronica, I can understand your exhaustion on the abortion issue. No doubt the Church has damaged its moral authority with the abuse and papering over of ten thousand innocents, yet it does not gain credibility by ignoring or supporting the extermination of 30 million unborn innocents. You correct the abuse and oppose the killings or you will lose all standing in the present and future. If the first human right is the right to life and the killing of the totally innocent the greatest imagineable moral and ethical violation, then given the enormity of the problem you and I don't have the luxury of being exhausted on this issue. It is the greatest American social justice issue of our lifetimes.



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