Matt Emerson ended a post to the thread below on the interview with Archbishop Dolan that prompted a discussion why people are leaving the Church: “The point of all this is to say that I think people are prone to dismiss something without really appreciating why or investigating whether their reasons for doing so are consistent or valid. I think a lot of Catholics have left the faith or find it unconvincing because they have never been introduced to, or considered, the deeper elements that sustain it.”
I think this is a very important point. I wish there were data on at what level most Catholics ended their education in the faith, grade school? high school? college? after Confirmation. I’d like to know how many of them have an education in the faith equivalent in quality to their education in other areas, and not just in the area, say, of their college major. Thus they leave their education limping, one leg well developed, the other weak, atrophied. Most Catholics do not attend Catholic schools or colleges. Most Catholic colleges require only two or three courses in religion; some of them don’t require that they be in theology as distinct from religious studies, so that you could come out of a Catholic college having satisfied your “religion-requirement” by taking one course on Meso-American Creation Myths” and the other on “The Marxist Critique of Religion.” Anecdotal evidence points to an astonishing ignorance of their religion on the part of Catholics entering college–so much so that at Catholic University we had a mandatory introductory course that the faculty, among themselves, called “Remedial Catholicism.” And, again, most Catholics do not go to Catholic schools or colleges! So that when people say that this is the best-educated generation of Catholics in history, I want to make some distinctions: In other areas, perhaps yes; in their faith, I have my doubts.
Again, I would love to see data on what effort adult Catholics have made to make up for the deficiencies of their education in the faith or, if they got a decent one, what they have done to make progress in their adult appropriation of the faith. I’d love to know how many of them have ever read a serious work in contemporary Catholic theology, or any of the great classics of Catholic thought, How many Catholics are there in the USA–60 or 70 million? Publishers regard a book in theology as a great success if they can sell 1,500 copies of it! How many parishes offer programs or courses in adult education in the faith? How many people ever take part in those that are available? One may often justly criticize the quality of preaching, and wonder about the level of education that priests have received, but at some point do not Catholics have to take some responsibility for their own appropriation of the faith?
All these factors must surely enter into any discussion of why people leave the Church. I do not say that they are the only, and perhaps they are not the most important ones, but Matt Emerson has raised a point that surely needs attention and discussion.