Lost Sheep

Is the Church a Lazy Monopoly?

One out of every three Americans raised in the church is no longer a Catholic. These “formers” make up the second or third largest religious group in America (depending on whether Baptists are counted in their unity or diversity). In marketing terms, half these Catholics have chosen another brand of religion; the other half are “nones”—unaffiliated. It’s as if roughly 12 million people had forsaken Crest for Tom’s toothpaste, while the other 12 million stopped brushing their teeth altogether. Procter & Gamble, which makes Crest, would work hard to win back those customers: perhaps by banishing turquoise toothpaste or reducing the price. Not so the Catholic Church; it is not a manufacturer and need not be as enterprising as P&G. Does that mean lost customers are more valuable than lost sheep?

Albert O. Hirschman, a brilliant and iconoclastic economist (recently celebrated in a seven-hundred-page biography), laid out a plausible explanation for this kind of phenomenon in his classic study Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, which focuses on organizations that don’t function effectively and their dissatisfied members or customers. Some leave (the “exit” of the title); some stay (the “loyalty”). Hirschman asked why.

He recognized that exiting is easy if we’re talking toothpaste. Consumers dissatisfied with their usual brand can try another. Loyalty is more likely with organizations that invite a strong allegiance, possess a monopoly on something valued, or exact a high price for leaving—for example, families, religions, political parties, and totalitarian governments. Hirschman thinks that a strong sense of loyalty to the group makes exiting a tough, even unthinkable choice for discontented members. Instead, the dissatisfied voice their criticism rather than exit.

Back in the 1960s, when Hirschman was writing Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, voice was in vogue. Women were challenging patriarchy, Democrats protesting the war in Vietnam, Eastern European dissidents questioning Marxist orthodoxy, and Catholics debating Vatican II. These were the voices of critical members who would not or could not exit. Today the cost of exit has declined in all these arenas. Marriages became more egalitarian and divorce laws were relaxed. Ronald Reagan won the votes of FDR Democrats. The Soviet Union collapsed. The Catholic Church lost its monopoly on salvation.

And yet, even as exit from the church has grown, robust voices persist. Catholics, especially of the Vatican II generation, remain loyal in Hirschman’s sense: they do not exit. But neither do they fall silent. Many of these observant (and older) Catholics remain loyal and voice criticisms. Younger Catholics, who do not always possess the same sense of loyalty, are more likely to exit—either to another religious group or to no religion.The church, in these circumstances, fits Hirschman’s definition of an organization that responds neither to exit nor to voice. These he calls “lazy monopolies.” Whether members complain or leave, “management happens to be inured or indifferent to their particular reaction and thus does not feel compelled to correct its course.”

Some would argue that the Catholic Church, claiming a monopoly on truth as well as salvation, has no course correction to make. That has been the stand of recent popes and their episcopal appointees, who have rescinded or tinkered with Vatican II reforms and ruled out further change. Complaints have gone unheard, while conforming members have been embraced. And many have left.

Parents and friends of former Catholics now singing in a Baptist choir, serving on the vestry of an Episcopal parish, or meditating in a Buddhist monastery may be relieved that they’re still praying, still believing in something. Perhaps even the “lazy monopolists” consider that these sheep are not lost, simply misplaced. But what of the “nones,” those who abandon religion altogether or just drift away from it. We seem strangely indifferent to their exit. If 12 million people stopped brushing their teeth, we’d all take notice.

Though Hirschman is inventive in pursuing the combination and permutations of exit, voice, and loyalty that might insure an organization’s long-term survival, he recognizes that efforts to change an organization may come to nothing. He sums up this eventuality on a religious note: “the martyr’s death is exit at its most irreversible and argument at its most irrefutable.” It is ironic to think of those who give up their Catholic faith as martyrs, but their departure is at least as drastic as martyrdom. Lazy monopolists take note.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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When the church leadershp is focused on the elite of the 90+9 and isn't concerned about the "1" (no matter how many "1s" there are), then they have forgotten what Christ had to say about that:  Lk 15: 3-7 and Mt 18: 12-14.

Maybe Francis' examples in this area will cause a new approach, but I'm afraid there will have to be a significant replacement of Senior Shepherds before that happened.  They got where they are, not by being shepherds of the flock, but by being managers up.

A good research project would be to interview those who have gone elsewhere (not the nones) and find out what about elsewhere has captured their imaginations and continues to hold them.  Of course, that presumes that the truth shall make the leadership free, not just more entrenched.

I wrote this about 18 months ago. https://www.facebook.com/notes/mary-sweeney/auditions-and-exit-interviews/412456915432865 I was most impressed with Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Bishop of Trenton, NJ. He took the trouble and time to ask people WHY they left. Findings here: http://americamagazine.org/node/150484

Look - people attend Church for God and for community. Many Catholic churches don't offer much community. People show up for mass and bolt 45 minutes later. And they do this becuase outside of mass, there's not a whole lot going on. And let's be honest: the quality of our priests is nothing to write home about -- and the priest -- right or wrong -- sets the tone. We attend an Episcopal Church so our children can be involved in Youth Group, choir and Youth Sunday which occurs once a month in which the kids do all the readings and participate. Our church also serves a community supper for those in need and anyone who wants a meal and fellowship. Our family is repsonsible for managing the supper twice a year so our kids are cleaning, serving and dealing with those in need - it has been an eye opener for them.  

At the Episcopal Church they get the sacaraments, EAster Week is truly Holy -- and every Friday we do Stations of the Cross - just like at the Catholic Church. We have a Blessing of the Animals for St. Francis Day (not at Catholic Church) and we share many of the same feast days -from the Assumption to All Souls.

Our local Catholic Church has no youth group, no outreach to speak of and - get ready for this -- no  parish hall kitchen -- so no coffee hour even -- kitchen  has not been deemed important enough to be fixed. Fellowship? Forget it.

Why on earth would I take them to the local Catholic Church?  People run in for 45 minutes and run out. They are falling over each other trying to get out of the parking lot.


I think the reason we seem strangely indifferent to their exit is that those exiting are for the most part not the highly educated or white collar persons, but the working class.  The white working class has gone from the most Catholic to the most unchurched part of society in a generation and one searches in vain for even a passing recognition of this from the bishops.  They simply don't care. My guess would be the typical bishop spends 90% of his time with the 25% who have college degrees and 10% of his time with the dirt poor and impoverished.  I would be surprised if even so much as one American bishop has ever had even a 30 minute conversation about evangelization of working class/non-college Americans.

As another leaver, I feel compelled to add my two cents. I fell away in the 60's when the church just wasn't speaking to me. I tried other religions, but I guess the old addage,"Once a Catholic, etc" holds true. So, I pray every morning at an altar I constructed to a "Catholic" Jesus and the saints. I take communion at an Episcopal church who I'm sure would never deny me sacraments for remarrying, and I'm largely ok. I no longer believe the dogma of my youth that "There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church", but I also follow the ins and outs of Church politics and depend on Commomweal as my link. By now, my theology has changed too drastically to think about returning and I do miss the innocence of the 1950's, but hey, it's the Church's loss.

Ditto Suzanne Smith.  I am an Episcopalian and am so impressed by all they offer the congregants- especially the sense of community, all they do for the children and the sick and the poor, and their welcoming attitude to women, GLBT's and all who attend, I left the Catholic Church as a divorced parent of two girls, ages 3 and 5,  in 1970.  Why would I want to be in a church that refused communion to divorcees and looked upon them as pariahs!  Why would I want to be in a church that assigned women a lesser role and patronized them.  I did not want to raise my girls in a church that clearly by action and word signifies that females are less worthy than males.  If women had been accorded respect and leadership in the Catholic Church, it's highly unlikely that pedophilia would have been tolerated.

There are thousands of thoughtful, educated women leaders  lost to the Catholic Church because of paternalistic attitudes and practices. BTW, I applaud the courage of the nuns and other women who have remained in the Catholic Church to fight for change and whose values reflect the values the Catholic Church once held dear-- service to the sick and the poor, care for children and the aged, gratitude for life's blessings. Kudos to nuns on the bus!   I just couldn't stick it out and I did not see any value for my daughters. I do not have any faith that the Catholic Church will change, and in fact, I find it very disturbing the the American Catholic Church has become more politicized,  more conservative and more closed to innovation and dissent.  I was baptized Catholic and have had 16 years of excellent Catholic education. My daughters have no interest in participating in a church that is so clearly paternalistic and has policies that punish women. 

Houston, we clearly have a problem. It appears obvious that it starts with personnel issues and a severe shortage of clergy and religious staffing. We are closing parishes and schools. Our public relations do not seem to attract praise but instead alienate even our loyal patrons. We certainly devalue the gifts of women. And our management style appears authoritarian, to the exclusion of pastoral sensitivity or even caring about people's needs. And no one comes to church specifically to hear the homilies...

In my experience people who "exit" the church fall into several distinct camps.

1. The young who have been raised by lukewarm catholic parents who sent them to church, catholic schools or catechism, but never bothered to lead by example.

2. The self righteous, who judge the whole church on the actions of priests and laity who on the surface don't seem to live their faith.  In the wise words of my mother, if your faith depends on the actions of (fill name) you had no faith to begin with.

3. Those who complain their church was not welcoming, but never bothered to get involved.  These, if they gravitate to other denominations are often filled with the spirit of newness and give time they never bothered to give their original church.  This is a phenomena I have also observed in converted Catholics who are often "more catholic than the pope."

4. The lazy who can,t be bothered to attend any organized religion.  (I can worship God golfing, watching football, etc.)

5. People who genuinely find themselves questioning all religion.

6. Those who pull a temper tantrum because the church has not given them what they want.  I.e. birth control, women priests, the Catholic Church before Vatican II.

There are other subgroups, but I don't want to go on forever.  How is the church to cater to the needs of all the dissatisfied?  I don't think it can, and it should not be catering to anyone.  If one is a catholic one accepts that along with the bible, God's word is transmitted through the magistratium of the church.  Catholics are  called to obedience.  If one is unable to accept this, then maybe exiting is not an act to martyrdom, which seems a tad over dramatic, but then both the liberal and conservative extremists in the church tend towards histrionics, leaving is just exercising choice.  In the words of father groschel,  thrown under the bus by both liberals and conservatives:  the church is an hippopotamus.  It is slow, cumbersome and sometimes it sits on you without knowing it.  

I look to the obedience of Padre Pio, when I get frustrated with the church.  But it might be, that this simple friar is no longer fashionable for both church extremes.

Mary Murray,


I think you make several good observations.  I think another point that we can't forget is the sense of entitlement in our culture.  Our culture thinks it has a right to those things it desires and doesn't react well to being denied.

But I think there is a flip side here.  Though many exiting the Church are afflicted with one or another societal malady, others have been hurt or simply neglected by the Church.   And those who stay have done a pretty pathetic job of evangelizing.  We let themselves get drawn into politics (on both sides of the aisle) rather than being the prophetic voice of Truth.  We do not incarnate Jesus in the world like we should.  The martyrs shone with the beatific vision, our "prophets" are often just bitter beligerants.  More people would listen to our talk if they saw more of our walk.  We've gotten lazy with poor teaching, poor liturgy and poor witness.

We can't just blame the leavers.  Even if they don't always have good reasons for leaving, they have reasons, and we need to address them.  That doesn't mean sacrificing the Truth, it means actually proclaiming it.

Kurt V.. has it right. The last 'labor priest' either died or left ....about 13 years ago.

This is a very interesting comment.  My own assumption (apart from Hispanics who have become evangelical Protestants) has been that most of the exodus was from among the better-educated.  Perhaps that reflects my own experience.  It would be interesting to see some data to backstop your analysis, but it is certainly in synch with the general rightward drift of the Catholic Church, especially in the U.S.  The former reputation of the Catholic Church as the champion of the working class in our country has been sadly tarnished.  

But as to the author's thesis, that the Church has become a "lazy monopoly", I basically agree.  One contributing factor is that in Italy the presence of other Churches and other religions is still muted, although growing.  The Italian clerics in the Curia generally have little or no experience with anyone who is not Roman Catholic, and that colors both their outlook and their policy recommendations. 

On the other hand, the same cannot be said (or ought not to be able to be said) about our own bishops who, in theory at least, have grown up in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious environment.  Still, they cannot seem to conceive that the Church operates in a "market economy" of ideas, and that they are losing market share at a very rapid rate. 

One of the worst, most damaging features of their various responses (or non-responses) to the crisis is their continued attacks on women, both for the inherent injustice of those policies and (perhaps especially, in this context) for the future effects which will flow from those policies.  Women, mothers in particular, are the ones who mainly do the religious education of their children.  If those women become disenchanted or angry with the Church, do you suppose that they will raise their children as Catholics?  Some of the other letters to this very post tell us the answer:  No.  So the bishops are playing with fire, and getting badly burned even if they don't yet seem to feel the pain.  The exodus is not only for now, but also for the future. 

And what father wants to put his children in harm's way, exposing them to seduction and rape?  The tepid, ineffective, and very slow response to the sexual abuse crisis on the parts of both Rome and the local bishops has been and continues to be a deep disgrace, one not likely to slow the exodus or contribute to the growth of the Catholic Church. 

It seems, thankfully, that Pope Francis "gets" all this; but sadly, most of his fellow bishops still do not.  And, as has been mentioned, the quality of parish clergy has also declined drastically in recent years.  Given the importance to Catholics of attachment to their local parish, this clergy decline does not bode well for the future.

In my opinion, it is going to take a major conversion of heart on the part of most bishops and many priests to change our situation.  At the very least, they must stop being deaf and must become more responsive, else Benedict XVI's 'dream' of a smaller Church will become a present nightmare.

Jesus is unlikely to be pleased.

Interesting article. So very sad to hear of people no longer attending Mass because of "issues" or experiences. I have plenty of both, but choose to stay. Left my parish of 40 years .... spent 2+ years "looking" attending elsewhere and now have found another Catholic Church/Parish where I can worship and share as I truly believed Christ calls me to do. I do so pray others "find" their place....their place w/God, hopefully within the chURch, but as long as they "find" God and try to live as HE calls us to ..... well, so be it. Jesus was certainly not pleased w/the church he found ... so, I believe, HE showed us how to live ... and I can not disagree that everyone needs to do likewise; namely live according to THE FATHER'S WILL.....IN LOVE and JUSTICE FOR ALL ... wherever that might be.
Peace n' Blessings to all seekers .... to ALL!



The RC Church must come to terms with twenty-first century reality.  As rational beings we must use our endowed capacities, step outside the indoctrination box, evolve by solving the obvious problem.  We are evolutionary creatures who are experiencing a huge multifaceted leap.  How do we know this?  By reading what the merited minds are telling us. 

Mary Murray says, “How is the church to cater to the needs of all the dissatisfied?  I don't think it can, and it should not be catering to anyone.  [Why not?] If one is a catholic one accepts that along with the bible, God's word is transmitted through the magistratium [magisterium?] of the church.  Catholics are called to obedience.”  


No, Catholics are called, as are all the rest of us, to act with justice, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with God.  We are NOT sheep!  We are NOT called to obedience to some outdated fossil.  The institutional Church has failed miserably on so many levels, as can be seen by the huge exodus of Catholics from the pews.  This exodus can not be simply blamed on the narcissism of the young.  This exodus can be blamed on the smug self-satisfaction of most of the hierarchy and the abysmal quality of most of the Catholic clergy. 


I belong to a large, active Jesuit parish in Washington, DC.  However, there were no activities for my teenage children and no attempt to draw them into the life of the parish.  They are now disaffected young adults who feel almost no connection to the Catholic Church.  Some might blame this on parental negligence, but, if anything, my kids would say that I tried too hard.    


This article is just another indication that the “Church” really does consist of “loyal” Catholics, both the  brain dead who have been with us always and those who see the Church as the true Body of Christ, despite so much evidence to the contrary.  It would be great to make the latter group a lot larger

Mary Murray -- Your list of people who leave the Catholic Church does not reflect me or most of the people I know.  I have no issue with the Church - in fact I love the Catholic Church. I am a woman and have no big beef with the position of women in the church, I am not thrilled but it's not a game changer for me.  I don't question "religion" at all and consider myself Catholic.  

By the way our Episcopal Church is FILLED with devout Catholics who are there  for a meaningful, energized, faith-filled experience of God that is absent at our local Catholic Church.  Half of the Church is quite conservative on issues such as homosexual marriage and the other half is quite liberal -- but everyone comes to the table, serves the poor together and helps our youth. 







I am struck by the number of responses here that cite a move to the Episcopal church. Is it the great similarities in liturgy and theology without the baggage of the current crop of Catholic bishops? Or?

The current leadership of the Episcopal church has its baggage too, but generally we don't hear so much about it in the media, and it is a different set of issues.

Mary Murray:  the organizational church exists for the SOLE purpose of serving the real church, i.e., the People of God.  It doesn't exist to pass laws, issue edicts and expect unquestioning obedience.  These men put it succinctly:   

Cozy traditionalism and stale pseudo-orthodoxy casts out restless, questioning people.  Karl Rahner


 "Authority that commands, kills. Obedience that becomes a copy of what the other person says, infantilizes."  Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Religious.


When I was a very young man I was taught that the church's teachings fell into three categories:  creed, code and cult.  Vatican II talked about a hierarchy of truths.  The organizational church pre-Francis (at least I hope there will be a change) conflated the three into the same level of "all or nothing, take it or leave it" nonsense.

The low educational level, unquestioning adherence and sheep-like behavior or the masses have changed dramatically.  The self-serving arrogance of way too many in the self-appointed, self-selected leadership is about to have its "come to Jesus" moment with this new pope.  One could even look at it as their one last chance.  As my mother used to tell me often:  a word to the wise should be sufficient.

And its not just the ECUSA that is replete with former Romans.  I'm willing to bet that the ranks of the UCC female clergy are heavily staffed by former Roman women.

"Not so the Catholic Church"


at that sentence one has to stop and ask: you don't really mean "the Pope and the bishops" do you? Because while it is obvious that bishops have a special responsibility of proclaming the Gospel, it is quite absurd to expect them to reach out at a capillary level in society. In a sense,  today the missionary work of the Church belongs in a special way to the laity, who can witness to the faith in all the environments where people live and work. As a foreign observer, it always struck me how a certain type of US Catholic is always ready to blame the bishops for almost everything. Sure, during the last 50 years the American episcopate has made many mistakes, especially at the cathechetical level. But the truth is that the lack of a vibrant missionary spirit affects the laity as much as the bishops. Living in the US it is a very common experience to meet Catholics of a certain generation who grew un in the old urban Catholic neighborhoods, came of age in the 60's and whose children are no longer Catholic. Many are probably blameless, given the huge cultural pressures they faced. Still, it is somewhat comical when some of them do not hesitate to blame the bishops for their failure to transmit their faith to their chilfren.

Some would argue that the Catholic Church, claiming a monopoly on truth as well as salvation, has no course correction to make.

The Catholic Church claims the fullness of truth of Jesus Christ, albeit not salvation provided one is denied the opportunity to ever know that Truth.

You guys can dance around it all you want, but know that it's Christ's Truth, and His teachings, to which you dance. The Catholic Church is merely the "enforcer/protector" of these eternal truths in their fullness.  When a church starts to "fit the culture" it ceases to be a Church.

Just yesterday I read an awsesome essay by Msg. Pope of DC regrarding C.S. Lewis's Latin Letters.  In his blog post,  Pope used an analogy that was spot on:  The pagan world was a virgin waiting for her groom. The modern West is an adulterous divorce’, cynical, angry and “so through” with Jesus

In fact, CS Lewis, who wasn't even a Catholic (at least not "technically), sums it up best in regards to the problem you discuss. It may suprise you, worth the short  read. It's excellent.





Ex-Catholics I know (many) really do not miss the church and find themselves less aggravated.

You'd be surprised at how many leeve the church in the their sixties and seventies (joining children or grandchildren) and do not miss it or join another religion. They continue to pray, though, and many stay attached to Mary, a simpler Mary that the one glorified in church. Many come to view yhe sight of the all male clergy and how they dress as offensive.

Too much sbideness in your comments. Snideness and sarcasm finally have gotten to many I know who have left the church. It's not an attitude anyone wants to be around. And it pervades the language of many "proudly faithful" Catholics.

This was in response to mary Murray.

I am a Catholic priest from India who has taught at Master's level and done parish ministry in several places in the US. I have similar experience in Europe as well.

I agree with  a number of things I read here, e.g.. the views of Suzanne Smith. I have heard from US parishioners more than once that, when facing a difficulty or a decision, the priests in the parish are not the first ones they think of talking to. Rectories need to be much more welcoming places. So, too (as visiting priests doing ministry in the US often say), the average American priest can do much more. Compared to life in other places, the life of priests in the US looks comfortable and easy. Many lay people seem to do much more work. I have not found the cliche that, because of shortage of priests, American priests are overworked, to be true.

In the Catholic church, the key figure is the priest. A good priest in a parish makes all the difference. You can see vast differences among parishes, depending on the way the priests pray, preach, relate, live and get involved in the lives of people. Parishes run the gamut from magnificent to half-dead.  

So, too, we need to rejoice over the fact that a church where the priest was one of the few educated persons in the localtiy--and most Catholics were neither well-informed, nor the priest's equals in general culture or living standards--is gone. Thank God most people are educated and able to make decisions on their own. We need priests who can relate comfortably to laity as equals, and preach in a way that makes listeners say, "That makes sense!" 

As for women being treated as inferior and mostly as "hearers" than "speakers" of the Word, I have learnt much from American culture and from the openness of the American church. I recall the wonderful women colleagues at CTU, Chicago, for instance--competent and much-loved professors whose presence truly enriched and challenged the academic setting. I wish women received as much respect and as many opportunities elsewhere as I have seen in the US. 

While I admit that a large part of the disillusionment of Catholics with the church stems from uninspiring leadership and shoddy handling of a number of issues, shouldn't our well-educated lay women and men, often holding leadership posts in the secular world, do more to claim and exercise their rightful place in the church? Taking a cue from Pope Francis (a true gift of God to the church and to the world), please shake up the church!  Challenge the leadership (as well as uninvolved laity). Help to make the church less clerical and more truly the great family of Jesus' disciples that it is meant to be. 

With all its defects, I still find the Catholic church the world's most effective service-based organization, reaching out to the largest number of needy persons by far, especially in poor, forgotten and off-putting settings which so many avoid.  I was inspired to read in The New York Times how in the world's most remote, most poverty-stricken and most dangerous places, the people doing incredibly heroic service are humble priests and nuns. The writer, Nicholas Kristof, is not a Catholic. After writing about a few of them in truly glowing terms, he adds: "It is because of brave souls like these that I honor the Catholic church."

Please don't limit your views of the Catholic church, or judge its contributions and relevance, purely or mostly from the concerns of the American middle class. In the US itself, no other agency does so  much for the poor, or the sick or for the education of less privileged groups. Elsewhere, this contribution is even more remarkable. In India, for instance, where we Catholics are a mere 1.6 per cent of the population, the Church is next only to the federal government in social services (education, medical work, care of the poorest).

What can we do together to make this imperfect but incredibly effective church what it is supposed to be? 

You make some excellent points Father J, and thank God for priests like you.

Even back in the time of Christ and with Christ, the "Church" in regards to its members, was flawed and always will be flawed, simply because we are human.  That is never going to change, anymore than the dogmatic teachings of the CC are ever going to change.  The "action of the members" for better of for worse,  do not, will not, and can not, ever change  the immutable teachings. 

The problem with the Western Culture is  "entitlement and false enlightment."  The Western Expectation of "religion", especially authentic Catholicism that holds one accountable and asks for something in return, especially the carrying of one's cross (es),  is now much more about "how does it fit my lifestyle" than it is about Jesus. 

Consequenly, the 99% of the extraordinary good that the CC does around the world is lost on the Western way of group think and moral relativism, which is why despite the courage and hard work of many Catholics around the world, especially brave and selfless priests and nuns, the narrative always goes back to a handful of  "pedophile priests" and boring "services."  Much is ignorance of the faith, muchmore  is not really wanting a "real religion," at least the kind that ask anything in return. Consequently, the Msg. Pope quote I referenced, "cynical divorcee," sums it up perfectly.

Look no further than the arguments made by Americans.  They are never or rarely about theology, and almost always about why our sins should be justified.  As for the mass, it's not a mere "service", it's calvary.  Anyone bored by a Catholic Mass  is clueless to Catholicism or the life of Christ.  The mass  has nothing to do with being "social" save for the extraordinary union of all being united in the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are called to  "get social" when we walk out the door after mass, until we return for the next one, not "at" the mass. 

Just ask a Syrian Christain or underground Catholic in China, who risks their lives daily to receive the Eucharist, that only the Catholic Church, by it's apostolic priests, can deliver.

  Everything else is "background,' our background

Margaret - I don't have any deal breaking issue with the Catholic Church's baggage -- all churches have baggage because institutions are not perfect because they are created and run by humans (even if we are divinely inspired).  I love the Catholic Church, subscribe to Commonweal (!), and read Catholic theology -- and if I lived in an area with a vibrant Cathollc Church and faith community we would be there. But as I have described we are in a very rural location -- and the Catholic churches closest to us (there are a couple of them) are not exactly alive with joy -- I would describe them uninspired and as limping through the motions.  I have four children to raise - and yes the Episcopal Church is a natural choice as the liturgy is nearly identical, they have priests and bishops, apostolic succession and celebrate many of the same litergical feasts and recognize the saints. Here's what is missing: the exalted position of the pope (although in our church our rector speaks often of the current and past popes and always in a  positive way) and a difference in the understanding of the Eurcharist.  Our rector references Catholic thinkers from Aquinus to Augustine to obscure popes -- even -- Thomas Merton. Last Sunday we had a missionary from Madagascar speak. It was cery moving.

My kids understand that we are "Catholic". They need to hear the Word and they need to see people who live their faith. Doesn't happen when people blow out the doors after 45 mintues and the priest has no rapport with the congregation. Watching people sleepwalk through a mass doesn't strengthen their faith.

If Procter & Gamble's marketing research showed that some people liked mint-flavored toothpaste and others preferred a raspberry flavor, they would attract and retain customers by offering both.  Can that be applied to the Church?

In the infancy of the Church, Paul wrote (1 Cor 9: 19-23) of having become "all things to all," somehow harmonizing what might seem not only opposites but mutually exclusive categories, like "those under the law" and "those outside the law."  

Too bad we don't have a detailed handbook explaining how he managed it.  Some Catholics today seek a Church that exhibits more clearly a commitment to collegiality, transparency, due process, freedom of intellectual inquiry, and ecumenism.  Others wish that creeping infallibilism would break into a gallop, that a new antimodernist oath would be administered, based on the Catechism, and that "radical feminist" nuns and dissident theologians would all be excommunicated without further ado. They might have sympathized with William George Ward's wish for a new papal bull to obey every morning at breakfast.

Please forgive the snarky tone; it's just exasperation.  The late Monika Hellwig stressed years ago the need for intraconfessional ecumenism, recognizing that some of the deepest divisions among Christians are within each church.  Dealing with such divisions is not easy, while ignoring them can only have ruinous consequences.  On top of that, categorizing Christians as conservatives and liberals does not do justice to concrete realities even in a country like the U.S., let alone to the experience of Christians elsewhere, especially in Asia and Africa. 

The apparent unconcern about departing Catholics may reflect not so much laziness as inadequate diagnosis of the problem and overly simplistic prescriptions for envangelization.

As a Catholic and also a musician employee of an Episcopal Church, I read with interest comments by those who have found community and vibrancy within Episcopalianism.  While I agree that many Episcopal churches feature commitment, service, community and good liturgy, I wonder about their declining membership, which is at least as serious as the Catholic church's problem.  A radio story about mainline church membership included interviews with people at an Episcopal church in a neighboring town.  Many of the most active members are former Catholics and someone (perhaps the Rector) commented that the church probably would have closed if not for its Catholic members.

While I love the church where I work, and even (horrors) take Communion there, I still identify as a Catholic and member of the local rectorate (that's right, it's not a parish!)   Why?  Because we had to fight for our church.  We were one of the infamous Boston parish closures in 2004.  We occupied our church building in Vigil for over a year and a half.  We designed and conducted our own liturgies, raised money, held community meetings, and negotiated our reopening with the new Cardinal.  We learned that the Catholic Church resides in the hearts of its people rather than in the hierarchy.  Jesus was with us then, Jesus is with us now. We appreciate our part-time rector but know that the church and its functions are OUR responsibiity.  This sense of responsibility is prevalent in the Episcopal church, and is something that Catholic churches would do well to copy.  Maybe it wouldn't staunch the outflow of members (see Episcopalians above) but it would strengthen those who remain.


"The apparent unconcern about departing Catholics may reflect not so much laziness as inadequate diagnosis of the problem and overly simplistic prescriptions for envangelization."

Or it may represent the attitude found in so many "orthodox" publications and websites of:  "good riddance to bad rubbish."


Amy:  the sense of responsibility you found in your Episcopal church can be found in Catholic parishes and is usually so in those parishes that find themselves without a full-time pastor, or with a pastor/series of pastors, who are not up to /wanting the task of doing the work.  Yes (surprise, surprise) they do indeed exist.   This is one of those 400 member parishes (www.mhr.org) that functions quite well with/without a resident pastor because, long ago, the laity learned that it is THEIR parish and THEY have the responsibility to make sure that it functions physically and liturgically.

And we do that very well, thank you.

Exactly!  Catholics (as in my church) have to step up to the plate and take responsibility. 



You seem to have been extraordinarily unlucky in "the local Catholic Church" where you live. Perhaps, I have been very lucky in each of the three parishes in which I have lived in three different states over a 15 year period. Each had extraordinary pastors who were excellent homilists and communicators, approachable by the parishoners. There were more youth ministries and activities than can be counted. Laymen and women, and religious, were deeply involved in all church activities. In our current parish in Upsate New York, a wonderfully dedicated nun is the Parish Administrator of the two churches that comprise our parish. There were "soup kitchens," "warm places' (where in cold climates any community member could come for a few hours to warm up, and keep their home heating bills down, and get a good meal and some interesting conversation), cultural activities, Coffee hour was de riguer after the main Mass each week in two parishes, and after Mass on the first Sunday of the month in the other. I could go on. There is much more.




Ms. Steinfels refers to the dissatisfied, who "voice their criticism rather than exit" and that "complaints have gone unheard." Of course that is the case, when no one is listening. Some who remain, however, are not content to just sit and complain. A growing group feel that we have an obligation to do something before the Church becomes totally irrelevant. I would refer you to www.accelreform.org.

Here you will find folk who realize that the sheperds don't listen, let alone smell of their sheep.! They have the attitude that reform must come from the bottom up, and are organizing for the purpose of bringing that about.

Look on Facebook for Accelerating Catholic Church Reform. "Lazy monopolists take note."



"One out of every three people raised Roman Catholic in the United States no longer identifies himself or herself as Catholic. Why?" [National Catholic Reporter]

I already responded to this post in September but I'll try again. I have been writing about the issue of the RC church's need to change for years but with little return of interest. If there is no critical mass of interest then there is no change. We the laity have to read, study, discuss and act. The answers are out there from a wide variety of expert sources.

I am a sinner. If not a sinner, then I would be a saint, an angel, or GOD. Since being an angel or GOD is not possible, the only other choice is I am a saint. But being a saint requires too much commitment and effort, therefore I am a sinner.

I am not proud being a sinner, but I identify myself as one to discuss how our church handles our “LOST SHEEP”. I am a sinner who participates fully in the church today, especially attending Sunday mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist.  No one questions me as I approach the altar to receive my Lord’s body and blood even though I am a sinner.  I am comfortable approaching the altar because I have confessed my sins and asked forgiveness during the mass, at the Penitential Rite; where we “acknowledge our failures and ask the Lord for pardon and strength.” Some would argue that as a sinner I have to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before I can celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist; but it is God who forgives sin and I feel a sense of forgiveness from the Penitential Rite. The statement to the Apostles about forgiving sins does not say only those sins you forgive are forgiven. It might be that this power to forgive allows sinners to have an intermediary ask for God’s forgiveness, because we feel that we are not worthy of asking for God’s forgiveness directly.

So, I am a sinner who is allowed to celebrate the Eucharist. There are others who are also sinners, our “LOST SHEEP”, who for some reason feel they cannot celebrate the Eucharist, that sinners are not welcomed at the altar because they have not first asked for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is the feeling that we as the Church must overcome. Jesus wants us all to celebrate the Eucharist, sinners and saints. We as a church should be welcoming all who perceive Jesus as our Lord and God. Requiring pre conditions such as the Sacrament of Reconciliation might make some of us feel better, but who are we to stop someone from celebrating a feast with our Lord, if those sinners feel that a request for forgiveness during the Penitential Rite is sufficient to prepare themselves for the sacred host. Our “LOST SHEEP” need to know that Jesus is always looking for them and that they are always welcomed to our Eucharistic feast.

I, as a sinner, cannot judge our “LOST SHEEP” . I might not understand their motives or their reasoning, but I should be part of a church that says to them that the most important thing we can do for you is to remind you of the peace and forgiveness that Jesus wants to share with all of us sinners, especially through the Holy Eucharist. All else just stands in the way of our lost brothers and sisters getting back to sharing a meal with our Lord.  It is only through the Holy Eucharist that our "LOST SHEEP" will no longer be lost. 


Is the Church a Lazy Monopoly?

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels

September 2, 2013

–Margaret O’Brien Steinfels in her essay is the Church a Lazy Monopoly? has us revisiting her September 2, 2013 attempt. Repetition is often necessary for those preoccupied by other matters.

But here is a telling paragraph that underlines some of the problems.

“Some would argue that the Catholic Church, claiming a monopoly on truth as well as salvation, has no course correction to make. That has been the stand of recent popes and their episcopal appointees, who have rescinded or tinkered with Vatican II reforms and ruled out further change. Complaints have gone unheard, while conforming members have been embraced. And many have left.” M O’B’ Steinfels.


March 10,2014


The Church is an evolutionary church. If we read church history this is abundantly clear. ‘Complaints have gone unheard. ‘ The laity has to read and read and then make its case. We are beyond complaints. We are transitioning from an axial age religion called Catholic Christianity to a post-axial age faith and moral agency phenomenon. It’s the readings that reveal this. My reading and writing on this for more than eight years has yielded little interest as far as I know. Here is a sample.


Submitted by rottsch on March 12, 2008 - 11:18am.


The National Catholic Reporter editorial 3/7/08, “Examine the Catholic Exodus,” reminds us of the usual reasons why people might leave the Church. But are there other even more fundamental reasons? We are witnessing the beginning of a longstanding problem coming to a head. The cavalier attitude of those disdainful of what they perceive as infidelity to the Church, is not the intellectual humility that is necessary for a church wide discussion.


According to critical thinking experts ("The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking / Concepts & Tools” by Dr Richard Paul and Dr Linda Elder), intellectual humility depends on recognizing that one should not claim more than one actually knows. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs. From my observation, the average Catholic, coming from years of indoctrination and an authoritarian structure, initially has to learn critical thinking skills for a church wide discussion to be productive.


Preferably, and primarily, we must adequately pursue scientific knowledge. The ancient world where Christianity originated had a very limited understanding of our scientific worldview. Then we must pay attention to the many who have taken the road called the ‘Catholic Exodus’ and who find the foundation of Catholicism (or Christianity), including the age of myth the early Church experienced, to be in need of strong scrutiny by way of biblical/historical research, a scrutiny which the Church itself has strongly urged. Next, philosophical, especially epistemological (theory of knowledge) and logical examination is required.


Human knowledge has evolved well over the two millennia of Christendom. Evolution is our past base and our future legacy. Unless we take this fact of our human condition seriously, church wide discussion will go nowhere.





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