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Limping Catholics?

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 onat what level most Catholics ended their education in the faith, grade school? high school? college? after Confirmation. Id 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 dont 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 collegeso 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. Id 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 USA60 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.

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Archbishop Dolan that prompted a discussion why people are leaving the Church: ..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.AB Dolan, as many other bishops, hasnt a clue. Many Catholics, as me, have considered the deeper elements that sustain the faith and above all many Churchs teachings and deeply disagree on many of these subjects, therefore many have left. But obviously we lay people are a bunch of stupid.

I wasn't raised a Catholic, I'm a convert, so I can't say why they leave, but a spiritual director told me once that theology is what people do after a religious experience, to explain it. Since my conversion experience, I've learned more about theology (my old blog post - Best Contemporary Theology Meme :) but theology alone would never have made me a Catholic.

I am a deacon in the Catholic Church and have petitioned my bishop that I be returned to the lay state. I no longer participate in the Catholic Church. I have studied the Catholic Church all of my life growing up in a family of 12 catholic children. I have been educated at Catholic schools through my high school education mostly with teachers who are nuns and priests. My sister was a woman religious for 35 years before leaving her order. I have studied the scriptures and catholic tradition. I was a coordinator and catechist for the Rite of Christian Initiation from 1987 through 2002. I went to Mass each Sunday for all of my life except when on remote assignments in the Air Force. I was employed for 8 years as a Business Administrator and Development Director at two Catholic parishes. As I was involved with the inner workings of the Catholic Church and well respected by the clergy of my diocese I came to see the hypocrisy and pharisaical actions of the clergy. The clergy wishes to collect and preserve their power at all costs. They pile burdens on to the laity without shouldering those burdens. The majority are celibate men who claim to be all-knowing but have lived in a vacuum of their own narrow thinking. Before I retired I questioned the methods of my pastor and presented them to my bishop. My Bishop told me that I had done nothing wrong as an administrator even though my actions were at odds with my pastor. Yet, my bishop would not support me at the expense of the pastor who was not acting correctly. The bishops and priests continue to appease the affluent at the expense of justice on the backs of the poor, women, gays and lesbians. The clergy fear to meet with those at which they are at odds on common ground. They polarize pro-life and pro-choice factions at the expense of coming together thus preventing the decrease of abortions. Jesus allowed all to come to the table as the bread of life will be the judge of who is raised and who is condemned not the clergy. There it is in a nut shell. That is why the church is losing members. The bishops are clueless and cannot empathize with the common lay person as they do not live like lay people but like mini-gods that want to rule instead of walking with their people. The leaders want power and control not brothers and sisters in faith. My faith in Jesus Christ is stronger than ever and I find peace being free of Catholic control. Freedom and peace is what Jesus came to give, to free the people from the Pharisees.

As I understand it, Catholics are leaving the faith now in disturbingly great numbers. The argument of the post is that inadequate religious education is the problem (or a great part of the problem). This, however, seems to assume that religious education was better in some previous time when Catholics did not leave the Church in such great numbers. Is that true?I would think it more likely that people have left the Church because of its well known adherence to unpopular views on sexuality and the role of women in the Church (among others) and, on the other hand, because of its shift away from the Latin mass, no meat on Friday and other reforms. People who have left for the former reasons in general are not bothered by the latter issues and vice versa. It is possible that education could address some of these issues (eg., the change in the no meat on Friday policy), but I doubt that education could make a dent with respect to some of the others. I think, for example, that those bothered by the Church's stance on sexual orientation or male clergy would be even more bothered the more they understood the Vatican's rationale. The Vatican's justification for its position on birth control is probably not well understood. Although I think that rationale would not be nearly as alienating as the other positions, I think it unlikely that it would persuade the unpersuaded. In short, I think education is not the answer unless the education moves in a different direction. The education needs to flow from the People of God to the Church leaders. If Church leaders are not educated by the People, the Church will grow smaller.At the same time, I agree that Catholics ought to know more about their faith than they knew in the 8th grade. If they did, it might well improve their spiritual lives. But I think it would affect the exodus issue only at the margin.

How theologically educated were most Catholics ever? Maybe the pre-Vatican II and Vatican II generations were well-catechised, or at least they had most of the answers by memory. There may have been a flourishing of theological reading and thinking just before, during, and just after Vatican II, but I wonder if that wasn't exceptional. More than theology, I suspect what kept Catholics Catholic was the flourishing Catholic sub-culture, which gradually disappared with suburbanization and assimilation.Without that somewhat tight and closed community, something like an adult faith has to be nourished and practiced. Many people do have an adult faith, but that makes it all the more important that Catholic leaders understand how to teach, to lead, to listen in ever changing circumstances. Authority of the kind Catholics once saluted is no longer credible. Community is tenuous. What exactly can we say that Catholics belong to when we say they are Catholic? There are certainly theological answers, but I don't think that's sufficient--as Crystal suggests.

Mary writes: "But obviously we lay people are a bunch of stupid."If this is thought to be an implication of what I wrote, I reject it utterly. I didn't say that lay people are stupid. I deplored the common lack of adult education in the faith. This is not a matter of stupidity. I didn't try to explain all departures from the Church in terms of lack of adult education in the faith. I said that this was one of the factors that need to be taken into account. I stand by that statement.

Matt writes on the other thread:"Its probably a mix of emotive, affective, and intellectual reasons, mixed with instinct and something ineffable." This is very different from his original point.Crystal gets it that we do theology after conversion which Peggy gives her assent. Then Kwn puts it all together. Joe seems to backtrack to say that education is only "one of the factors."Conversion like love happens because we are drawn by the love and affection others show us. We stay if that love and affection is sustaining. Surely, some do not appreciate such love and fall by the wayside as Jesus tells it. But it is overwhemingly the case that the little ones are scandalized as Jesus also warns. Lack of example is more powerful than reason. As the Greek saying goes: "What you are speaks to me so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."This is not rocket science.

These initial responses are interesting. May I repeat what I said in the last paragraph of my post: "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." i meant that statement, but I am led to wonder whether some read that far in my post. By implying that I claimed more than I did claim, one can safely set my point aside, unconsidered. I should also say that I didn't make any comparisons with earlier generations. I was simply drawing attention to what I think is a serious lack. It was prompted in part by recent conversations with people who are having a crisis of faith, and one which has nothing to do with clerical malfeasance, authoritarianism, abortion politics, etc., etc., but which had to do with an understanding of the faith, and with the fact that, as one of the inquirers somewhat sheepishly admitted, she, a professional woman, had never made any effort to extend her acquaintance with the Catholic theological tradition beyond what she had learned in high school. I don't think she is alone in this.

Bill Mazzella: If you had read my original post all the way through, you'd have discovered that I alread said in it that poor education in the faith is only one factor. There's no backtracking here.

Hello Steven (and All),"I think, for example, that those bothered by the Churchs stance on sexual orientation or male clergy would be even more bothered the more they understood the Vaticans rationale. The Vaticans justification for its position on birth control is probably not well understood."I'm afraid my own case illustrates your point here, thought I cannot say if you would be right in general. My impression is that most Catholics know what the Church's stances are on these issues but have little if any idea what the Vatican's rationale for these stances might be. In my own case I obey Church teaching on matters like birth control, but after years of study and reflection I have simply given up trying to convince myself that the arguments presented by the Vatican representatives and their various apologists are sound. That in no way means I reject Church teaching, only that I think the arguments I have seen in defense of these teachings are defective.Now I'll make a comment as a professional philosopher: In my opinion the classical natural law tradition that has been the backbone of Church teaching on morality and politics for centuries is starting to show signs of real strain, and without some seriously new thinking in this tradition Church teaching will become even less credible than it already is to most people. For instance, Robert George (now at Princeton) and John Finnis (now at Notre Dame), for my money the best active representatives of the Natural Law tradition, have done their best to give sound arguments in defense of the traditional Church teaching that homosexual acts are always immoral. I studied their exchanges with other philosophers who oppose their position, in sincere hope I would be convinced by Finnis and George, and frankly I never saw two philosophers' arguments so thoroughly demolished.

Thank you for this thought provoking post. As someone who left... and then came back, quite unexpectedly - then has become immersed, I find this topic of great interest. And I might add I was quite at odds with what I understood (there is an operative word) teachings to be and what they really are. That said - before I take another step, I remain at odds with some teachings and in the words of Hans Kung, I remain critically loyal. I stay, struggle, submit to some things, agitate for change for others. Even if it is to never happen in my lifetime.And I love what Bill Mazzella says - "Conversion like love happens because we are drawn by the love and affection others show us. We stay if that love and affection is sustaining. Surely, some do not appreciate such love and fall by the wayside as Jesus tells it. But it is overwhelmingly the case that the little ones are scandalized as Jesus also warns."There are so many reasons why people leave and why they stay away. I do think that some people make a good choice to go. Many others are limping, adrift. Those who stay half-heartedly are not so far from those who drift away either, at least in my opinion. As someone who works in Adult Faith Formation, this topic is particularly dear to me.I think of my own long, slow and ongoing conversion that began with my return... It was never being hit over the head and falling into line. I am far too recalcitrant for that! No it was love, purely love - made manifest in listening ears, open hearts, challenging words offered up with great reverence and care, but challenging me nonetheless. It was invitation extended, over and over again - through catechesis, example, story, witness and it was ultimately invitation that I somehow had the grace to receive.Ultimately I respect those who leave with their conscience clear. My heart breaks when people leave because they just don't see, hear, understand. That may sound patronizing and I can promise you it is not. In the end we all bear some of the weight of the departed, those who go because they have not felt the pull enough to stay and be present.P.S. Some day I will find the courage and the words to write about the portion of the conversion that was the slowest, longest hardest - around life issues. I think a lot of people go on this matter alone and that is very sad to me. It is also why I get my rear kicked on a lot of blogs as I plead for the patient hearts and listening ears that helped me to see the light and not just the shock and awe that is always on the surface.

I have maintained for years that most Catholics are a bunch of pious agnostics (myself included for longer than I care to admit.) They have been sacramentalized and enculturated , but way too few have been (If I can revert to my old non-denomination days lingo) converted. The idea that a few years of parochial school education (my generation) in which rote memorization and rule, rules, rules were the extent of our introduction to Catholicism, and that would turn out observant, adherent Catholics was nave at best. We were cultural Catholics, pure and simple. Once we got away from the grips of the culture and the rules, and encountered other ideas, most of us had (and I maintain this to be true to this day) no faith on which to fall back. It was so easy for me to walk away without the slightest bit of guilt, even after 3 years of minor seminary. I know that I was not alone and this was before I started to wrestle with my sexual identity and the official Catholic attitudes thereon.Until this church learns how to facilitate education in the essentials of the faith and stop dwelling on accidentals, incidentals and pelvic issues, it will continue to drive away a lot of people, most of whom are allowed to go without any attempt to find out why and what can be done to reverse that move. Most urban parishes are way too big for anyone to even notice the back door exits or to care. So long as there are significant numbers and the collections are passable (is that true these days?), who gives a damn?My parish is having a listening session with our Archbishop in a couple of weeks. A cross-section of members (30 in total) will spend 2 hours with him and whoever he brings along for protection. It will be an interesting interplay of thoughts, and, knowing my parish, the ecclesiastical deference will be left at the front door. I give him credit for agreeing to jump into the lions den and hope that his cast-iron garb will withstand the heat.

I confess it sounded to me like Fr. Komonchak was calling for some type of common curriculum or course of study for Catholics here: --Anecdotal evidence points to an astonishing ignorance of their religion on the part of Catholics entering collegeso 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!--I would be interested, if I'm not co-opting the thread in doing so, to know what every Catholic needs to know about or have read in order to be considered sufficiently informed about his faith in order to make informed decisions for life--or for leaving the Church.

I also confess that I hope a well-informed Catholic need not be smart enough to follow the discussion over on the "Living into" thread (though, of course, he should aspire to be that smart!).

As if I have not been long-winded enough, after leaving here I found a link to this older article, which is somewhat on-topic, I think... http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=10803

Hello All,I suppose I would have to count myself as one of those Father Komonchak calls limping Catholics, though I hope my limp has become less pronounced with time. Im one of the majority of Catholics who was public school educated and whose only catechesis was CCD. I think that like nearly all Catholics I have had to self-educate myself in the Roman Catholic faith once I reached adulthood. At the risk of being immodest I think Ive done a better job of it than most adult Catholics I know. Certainly I have put more effort into teaching myself elements of the faith than have most I know. Even so, I am a very long way from where I ought to be. To give only one example, after years of study and struggle I still dont have a proper understanding of indulgences. I realize I am not free to deny them but Ive always found the idea so revolting that I dont try to obtain any (and the Church does not require us to receive them).I agree with Father Komonchak. I think most of we adult Catholics are inadequately educated in our faith and I agree this is a serious problem. (My problem with indulgences contributed to my leaving the Catholic faith for a time, so maybe I illustrate Marks claim.) I wonder if part of the problem is the sheer complexity of the Catholic faith. The CCC is the official summary of Church teaching. It has over 2800 paragraphs and even with all that I have found I have not been able to get answers to some rather elementary questions regarding what the Roman Catholic Church actually teaches. I think most Catholics dont know where to turn to for reliable answers to their questions. I also think that like it or not, EWTN and Internet organizations like Catholic Answers have become the de facto source of information about the Catholic faith for most adult Catholics. (I admit I do not like this, in part because these outfits frequently present bad or one-sides arguments and even sometimes make false claims about Church teaching. But I can understand why some Catholics like these resources. Despite their faults they are user friendly in the sense that one gets a fast answer to ones questions.)

If I were designing my dream remedial adult ed curriculum, it would include such classes as these:You're Not Going Straight to Hell! The Catholic View of Sin and Salvation in the American Calvinist ContextWho's Church Is This, Anyway? Lumen Gentium RevisitedThe Gospel According to Saint Paul: Galations, Romans, and Second CorinthiansO God, Come to My Assistance! Cries for Help in the Psalms and the Propers of the Mass

Jean: I didn't have a common curriculum or course of study in mind. That implies a solution. I was trying, rather unsuccessfully, it would appear, to point to a problem.

Well, why not? Here's more fuel for the fire:What percentage of US Catholics subscribe to "Commonweal," to "America," to any Catholic journal? Let's seek the sales-records for the hundreds of serious works in Catholic theology, history, spirituality, etc. reviewed over, say, the last five years in "Commonweal" by Larry Cunningham. What might they have to say to us?How many US Catholics have read the New Testament all the way through? How many of them have read a serious work of biblical commentary? How many of them have read a work on Church history? How many of them have read a serious biography of a saint, canonized or not, ancient or modern? It should hardly be necessary to say so, but after reading the intiial responses to this topic, I feel I must hasten to add: It is possible to be a good Catholic without reading any of these. It is possible to love God and neighbor without reading any of these. It is possible to get to heaven without reading any of these.

Fr. K - my personal experiences confirm your analysis and comment: "..... 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." This idea is enhanced by Ms. Steinfels who talks about internal church changes ".....More than theology, I suspect what kept Catholics Catholic was the flourishing Catholic sub-culture, which gradually disappared with suburbanization and assimilation. Without that somewhat tight and closed community, something like an adult faith has to be nourished and practiced. Many people do have an adult faith, but that makes it all the more important that Catholic leaders understand how to teach, to lead, to listen in ever changing circumstances."My experience is that too many Catholic families define catholic education as elementary school marked by 1st communion, reconciliation, and confirmation; followed by catholic high school (if possible); and then they are on their own - some develop that adult faith; some make it to a marriage and then family that re-engages them in this "catholic sub-culture" to borrow from Ms. Steinfels.My experience with Vatican II was a few brief years that introduced new ways of looking and experiencing church - focus on the sacramental/relational church; new theologies. Humanae Vitae and then JPII introduced a counter-reaction so much so that I would say that Vatican II did not fail; it was never tried. What I mean - most parishes continue to revolve around the school; there is little adult education; even catholic colleges (as some of you illustrated) do not focus on "church" or "faith". Even excellent homilies can not provide adult education to the same extent as a college education in some field or area of study.Vatican II requires an adult education - not sure we ever figured out how to develop and build on this idea; we sure never focused resources, finances, personnel to the same degree as families that focused on a business, teaching, other degree. Instead, adult education became defined as "issues" - you are a catholic if you believed e.g. pro-life; anti-gay; etc. These redirected the church from its primary goal - building sacramental relationships from cradle to grave. We talk about "pro-life" from cradle to grave but we really do not frame this as relational; a journey of faith.In the midst of these paradigm shifts, the church also has had to wrestle with declining # of priests; closing/merging parishes; sex abuse crisis; financial crises; lack of leadership that inspires and understands the faith journey as more than "pray, pay, and obey".

Tom's wife writing. I am leading a Vatican II discussion group at my NY parish this summer (I'm is a theology grad student). My goal is to share some of the text and history, and then just converse: simply talk about what these texts mean in our lives and community. However, after talking to a few people I realized parishioners were so nervous about Latin and assignments and being required to memorize things, that I almost added: No Latin, No Homework, Just Fun! as a tag line. I would agree that there is a problem: few people have been exposed to many the beautiful, challenging and affirming aspects of Catholic tradition and theology. It seems that the real problem is that so many people expect Catholicism to be one thing, and then miss the real thing entirely. (The latest episode of This American Life has a story from Dan Savage with just this going on). This breaks my heart, as Catholicism has given me so much. It seems like a real revitalization of parish leadership is needed to take this on. -Brianne Jacobs

I think Father K makes a reasonable point in suggesting that some of the posters (including me) did not pay adequate attention to the last paragraph of his post: "All these factors [Ed. comment, referring to factors involving education, quality of preaching, but not moral positions or immoral actions of the Church] must surely enter into any discussion of why people leave the Church. I do not say that they are the only, and perhaps [Ed.comment, this is the key word] they are not the most important ones, but Matt Emerson has raised a point that surely needs attention and discussion." I think the word "perhaps" suggests at a minimum that the education factors might well be the most important. The claim of many posters is that this is very unlikely. I do not think we were off base in reacting this way, but we should have given the last paragraph its due. At the same time, the suggestion that posters did not read Father K's post all the way through seems unlikely.

Fr. Komonchak,I subscribe to The Way, a Jesuit spirituality journal, and I've read the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, have have done so-so on the NT, have read stuff by Rahner, Hans Urs von Balthasar, etc. There's also a lot of worthwhile theological stuff that's not Catholic ..... anyone can use the internet and the library to improve their knowledge, but a serious question might be what would make them want to do so. Like Bill said, I think it's love, and maybe that goes beyong being a well educated Catholic?

My small parish is filled with retired adults who are, for the most part, lifelong Catholics. Many of them have told me about their children now between the ages of 35 and 50 who either do not practice as a Catholic or do not practice much of a faith life at all. I am grateful for their openness. I pray that their souls are at peace. Many of these people have expressed deep anxiety concerning their own final judgment due to the lack of faith practice by their children. In some cases, people told me that they take responsibility now for not being responsible for catechesis in past years. I present as an example one of the earliest lines that I say as part of the Rite of Baptism: "You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?" Because more baptisms occur during Masses here than in past years, people have told me that such a directive never truly sunk in for one reason or another. It is as if people have heard it for the first time even if they have been involved with many other baptisms, even for their own children.I know people who begin Baptism Prep classes by mentioning that part of the rite. I am glad that I was coached into doing so because it makes parents think about their responsibility. That is much different that what I have heard from older parishioners who said to me things such as, "I thought that my responsibility was to send them to Catholic school."As for the younger people, how many of us have heard, "I was Catholic, but now I know Jesus." That is such a loaded statement. I fear that it is an accurate indictment more against methods than content. Such a statement has not been to me only by people my age, but by people who would have been taught before oft-maligned post-Vatiican II catechetical methods were introduced.As a priest who is turning 40 this summer, I cannot say that I have lived the history that others have lived, but I seek to listen to them, to encourage them, and to console them. I can help older people learn that it is never too late to learn and I can tell young people that learning about God and the Church and living in God and with the Church is not as simple as an easy school subject. I am very thankful, too, for the parents and the parishioners who tell people being confirmed that the reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation is not graduation. I would truly love to see the cessation of the mindset that reception of the Sacraments equals graduation, rather, than they only deepen a relationship that we have as individual believers and as the Body of Christ.

Joe, it isn't just, in my experience, the knowledge. I know several well-educated Catholics who are leaving, or who have left. They are leaving because the reality of the Church doesn't match the advertising. Why ruin the one and only spiritual life you've got trying to reform it--why not just walk away? If you think that the Church in this time and this place is fundamentally failing to live up to the richness and complexity of the Gospel message of its own message--if there is no good news, here and now, then why not leave? Let the dead bury their dead.Now, this presupposes that you think that God would rather you have a peaceful and good relationship with Him than one full of misery and anger. Better a peaceful seeker than an angry, bitter Catholic.

Perhaps what is needed now are more and better simple texts on complex subjects. But, and this is a big but, istm that to be truly helpful the texts would have to be polemic-free. I suppose the old Frank Sheedy texts are the kind of thing that might be helpful.

My "perhaps" reflected more my ignorance. I do not know whether the sorts of inquiries that Ann Olivier on another thread suggested were necessary have been done, and what role poor education in the faith might play as a factor.

Cathy: Once again, I never said that it was "just the knowledge." I'm beginning to think that reading me as if I were saying that isn't serving the role of avoiding what I did say and thought might make for an interesting discussion--namely, that it is a factor that needs to be taken into account.

I read your post. I disagree with you. What I'm saying is that I don't think knowledge is a major factor. I think it makes Catholics better Catholics. I think people leave the Church not because they can't deal with the contraception issue, or the women priests issue, either by ignoring, finessing, or acquiescing. It's because they think, existentially, the effort to acquire knowledge isn't worth it. The Church isn't providing any Good News.

What if the Good News is theological? "The Gentiles are now co-heirs with the Jews," that sort of thing? "The Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory." "You are all one in Christ Jesus."

Kathy, I don't think it's knowledge--I think it's a sense of connection to God. I think it's experiential. In our culture, we need to feel connected to something to believe it's true.

Surveying the above comments, I was tempted to respond, but I was reminded of something I recently read that seems, in part, to speak to numerous concerns raised above and which is far more profound than anything I would add. I don't think it ends the questioning, but it's a perspective that may assist us. It follows here, after the break (sorry, don't know how to bold it or italicize in html). It's long, but well worth it:........................[F]or so many people today, the Church has become the main obstacle to belief. They can no longer see in her anything but the human struggle for power, the petty spectacle of those who, with their claim to administer official Christianity, seem to stand most in the way of the true spirit of Christianity. There is no theory in existence that could compellingly refute such ideas by mere reason, just as, inversely, these ideas themselves do not proceed from mere reason but from the bitterness of the heart that may perhaps have been disappointed in its high hopes, and now, in the main of wronged love, can see only the destruction of its hopes. How, then, are we to reply? Ultimately, one can only acknowledge why one can still love this Church in faith, why one still dares to recognize in the distorted features the countenance of the Holy Church. Nevertheless, let us start from the objective elements. As we have already seen, in all these statements of faith the word "holy" does not apply in the first place to the holiness of human persons but refers to the divine gift that bestows holiness in the midst of human unholiness. The Church is not called "holy" in the Creed because her members, collectively and individually, are holy, sinless men -- this dream, which appears afresh in every century, has no place in the waking world of our text, however movingly it may express a human longing that man will never abandon until a new heaven and a new earth really grant him what this age will never give him. Even at this point, we can say that the sharpest critics of the Church in our time secretly live on this dream, and when they find it disappointed, bang the door of the house shut again and denounce it as a deceit. But to return to our argument: the holiness of the Church consists in that power of sanctification which God exerts in her in spite of human sinfulness. We come up here against the real mark of the "New Covenant"; in Christ, God has bound himself to men, has let himself be bound by them. The New Covenant no longer rests on the reciprocal keeping of the agreement; it is granted by God as grace that abides even in the face of man's faithlessness. It is the expression of God's love, which will not let itself be defeated by man's incapacity but always remains well disposed toward him, welcomes him again and again precisely because he is sinful, turns to him, sanctifies him, and loves him. Because of the Lord's devotion, never more to be revoked, the Church is the institution sanctified by him forever, an institution in which the holiness of the Lord becomes present among men. But it is really and truly the holiness of the Lord that becomes present in her and that chooses again and again as the vessel of its presence--with a paradoxical love--the dirty hands of men. It is holiness that radiates as the holiness of Christ from the midst of the Church's sin. So the paradoxical figure of the Church, in which the divine so often presents itself in such unworthy hands, in which the divine is only ever present in the form of a 'nevertheless', is to the faithful the sign of the 'nevertheless' of the ever greater love shown by God. The thrilling interplay of God's loyalty and man's disloyalty that characterizes the structure of the Church is the dramatic form of grace, so to speak, through which the reality of grace as the pardoning of those who are in themselves unworthy continually becomes visibly present in history. -Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity

I am one of those limping Catholics. Almost everything I know comes from Mass, and I have learned a great deal by just trying to pay attention to the prayers, the readings, the homilies. (My latest discovery: if I say the words of the celebrant in my head at the same time as he says them aloud, I won't tune out and old worn-out phrases suddenly take on new meaning!). I really think that the preacher, with his captive audience during the homily, is in a privileged position to help us deepen our faith.Adult education will only reach a tiny minority (one percent, two percent of the members of a parish will attend an adult education event?), but homilies reach everyone who goes to Mass. There is so much potential there!

Someone said something like "theology is something that is done after conversion".This point needs to be emphasized. Some people learn "theology" as children, and think it has nothing to do with conversion. It is a system of ideas to which they may or may not subscribe, not knowledge of loving God who accompanies them through life. There is one attitude before conversion, and one after, and it can be hard to make the transition from one to the other. This is the purpose of adult education or adult faith formation, to help people to understand what we say about God so that they can understand what God is saying to them, with them, and through them.Adult education that simply adds more preconversion information is not always helpful. Simple theology that actually addresses the movements of the heart and mind is better. Catechesis, which allows my story to illuminate yours, yours to illuminate mine, is still better. All has to be directed toward God's loving presence. (and while I heartily concur with Bill M that a virtuous presentation is best, sometimes the lesson we need to present is that God forgives everyone.)Most of the examples of leaving the Church show people who have been deeply formed by the Church. In the earlier thread, Claire described several of her daughter's objections, all of which encapsulated a desire for something better. 'The Church is corrupt" as a complaint implies it should be holy. While the Church should be holy, it also needs to be recognized as a place where sinners learn to be better, those hurt are healed, the lame walk, the blind see... We are not just the healed, we are the hurt seeking and hoping for healing. (This is my objection to muscular christianity and certainty and all those might imply.)

Tangentally, an excellent scholarly book on the interplay of intellect and will in the salvation process is By Knowledge and by Love, by Michael Sherwin, OP (CUA Press).

Cathleen's comments lead me to ask why those (like me) who are angry with the American Bishops and the Vatican stay in the Church. Some may stay because of a stubborn refusal to be driven out. Some think of the Church as a tribe to which they forever belong (I doubt the strength of this as an argument, but I think it is widely held). Others feel a connection to the Catholic tradition. Still others may feel a strong connection to the People of God. Hans Kung (somewhere) says that the Catholic connection to the Church is to the local parish, not to the Vatican. I subscribe to the last three perspectives, but I think it is hard to be a peaceful seeker. The leaders of the Church are often an unwelcome elephant in the room. And it is a nuisance to have to say, I am a Catholic, but . . .

I would like to add the word 'formation to this disscussio. Formed lay, religious, clergy automatically read, take instruction and learn faith essentials so as not to appear as a dolt while doing praxis. Movements are how most people are formed. Sorry academics , books don't 'form' .. no praxis requiered with books, lectures etc. Movements require praxis . As Cathy said , we suburbanized the church 1950? I say we lost the built in formation that the ethnic, same class parishes had with sodalities, societies etc.In the 50s lay movements both progressive and traditional formed a new group of lay Catholics who are the basis of the pre-VatII 'better formed' Catholics. The progressive movement atrophied after VatII , expecting the new Jerusalem in the parishes, The traditional movements C&L Opus Dei, foculare and the now stumbling Legionaries held on much better as they did not expect that parishes would deliver the New jerusalem. I think the anwer to catholic staying, Catholics in praxis, Catholic learning their faith is to have new progressive movements where people can be formed

Also John Paul II loved movements... no so American bishops Why? . hard to control

When teaching a class on Buddhism, Hinduism, World Religions, et. al., at at Catholic university, I've noticed that the students tend to take the class because 1) they feel they have studied enough Catholic theology and yet 2) their level of Catholic knowledge tends to be quite, quite low. It's truly an issue, and it is one of many factors which explains why our youth are leaving the faith. But I also think, unlike other eras, they leave and don't come back.Part of the problem is the way the faith is taught to children -- the quality of catechetical material tends to be several years "behind" everything else a student is engaging, and so that tends to give the simplified opinion that "there is nothing to it; Catholicism is simple-minded." I think catechetical material should feel free to challenge our children (in high school) and not just talk down to them. But I fear that won't happen. In this way, as Fr. Komonchak points out, Catholic youth are going into the world with a rather poor comprehension of their faith, and I think it affects how they deal with challenges to their faith, challenges which come to all of us. Catholicism seems weak to them, so they see no reason to push on in their faith when they come to such a crisis. They feel they "know it all" and have "tried it" but it "failed." And in a consumeristic world, with so many "options to try," they just decide it's best to try something else.

JAK --You made an important point which I think is being overlooked. It is the possibility that people with less education (or less intelligence) leave the Church for different reasons than those with more education or brains leave. For instance, it seems to me that the less-educated, and intelligent, often do not see that changing the rule of Friday fast is not a matter of changing dogma (a point of particular importance for them), while those with college education often come to think that the teaching on contraceptives is just, well -- read Peter's post. (Spinster that I am, I have no axe to grind about that teaching, but, frankly, I think the Church's position is philosophically simply nonsense. Bad, bad, bad scholasticism.) Like many, I think the contraceptive teaching is the single most disastrous teaching of the Church in the 20th century. It is not simply because it has caused many to not-take-the=hierarchy-seriously. The ignoring of that teaching began with my generation when the pill appeared. My friends, after 6 or even 8 or 10 children saw the irrationality of the teaching and gave up on it, though they did not leave the Church. Their children, however, saw their parents reject *part* of the teachings of the Church, and later, when they had difficulties with other teachings (e.g., about other sexual matters) simply have given up on the Church entirely. There are other reasons, of course, including especially the hypocrisy of the bishops in the sex scandal, which has affected both the not so smart and the smart equally. To put it bluntly, we all despise them for it.The less educated or less bright, on the other hand, tend to leave and join the churches whose appeals are more to their emotions, e.g., the fundamentalists. I have never known or even heard of an educated Catholic who became a fundamentalist Protestant, But I fear that many have turned into fundamentalist Catholics, And that's the root of the trouble at Notre Dame.Another factor to consider: these days a poor not very bright kid has little chance of affording a Catholic high school. They are now enclaves of the middle class. This has been going on for a very long time now. I remember Fr. Screen, our brilliant assistant pastor, decrying the fact as early as the late 40's, after WW II. Yes, the very smart poor kid has a chance, but what about the not so smart or dull ones? The Church has little concern for them, I think. And that includes us middle class, educated, kinda smart Catholics Church who can afford the high tuition.

Here's a link to the Pew study: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=411

Kahy --Thanks very much for the Pew link. Very, very interesting, especially the fact that such a huge per cent left the Church before the age o 23. Also the 'just gradually" lost faith in the teachings of the Church. I wonder what that means. i wonder how much they *knew* of the teachings, as does Fr. Komonchak. Another large category of those who left are those who are dissatisfied with the spiritual help from the Church. Hmmm. I wonder exactly what that means. The finding about dissatisfaction with the liturgy (not very great) is also highly relevant to some of the criticisms of the Church these days. most of those who leave apparently just don't care about the new/old liturgy.The study deserves a great deal of study, and, i think, more inquiry into the specifics.

Cathy: You wrote: "I think people leave the Church not because they cant deal with the contraception issue, or the women priests issue, either by ignoring, finessing, or acquiescing. Its because they think, existentially, the effort to acquire knowledge isnt worth it. The Church isnt providing any Good News."If you had put a "some" before "people" in your blanket sentence, I could agree with you. My post said that the Church is doing a poor job in communicating the faith and in inviting people to an adult appropriation of it; although we may be giving the word "Church" a different referent. Perhaps we can agree that the Good News includes knowledge?

Peter wrote (about birth control): "My impression is that most Catholics know what the Churchs stances are on these issues but have little if any idea what the Vaticans rationale for these stances might be. In my own case I obey Church teaching on matters like birth control, but after years of study and reflection I have simply given up trying to convince myself that the arguments presented by the Vatican representatives and their various apologists are sound. That in no way means I reject Church teaching, only that I think the arguments I have seen in defense of these teachings are defective."Maybe he simply has a fidelity gene that prevents him from dissenting from the Church, even when the teaching doesn't make sense to him. (http://blog-to-nowhere.blogspot.com/2009/02/fidelity-gene.html) - no, I'm not entirely serious, but am intrigued by the idea that there might be a genetic basis to our level of commitment to the religion we grew up in.

The topic is huge and hugely important. And so many good perspectives and insights have been expressed on this thread.I lift out a few that resonate with me. The importance and challenge of "formation" in a way appropriate to different ages and circumstances, including theological formation.The importance of "conversion" and the many ways that it is fostered; and the acknowledgment that it is not a once and for all occurrence, but a continuing call and responsibility.I always find helpful Newman's distinction between "notional" assent and "real" assent. As I understand him both are necessary. We need to be informed about the great Tradition of the Church; but if this does not lead to our becoming transformed, on a daily basis, it avails little.Let me conclude by reference to yesterday's gospel: "I am the vine, you are the branches ... without me you can do nothing." Have we "learned Christ," made his saying our own conviction? Do we seek to live this life-giving relationship fully so that it is not merely notional, but the very heart of the real? And in this commitment do we find the rock upon which we build and our lasting joy? Is part of the difficulty we face the fact that so much of our discourse remains ecclesiocentric and insufficiently Christocentric?

"Imperfect catechesis" is the oft-cited reason for both the hyper-orthodox and the more sceptical liberals who think of this question. But then again, those who are interested in mulling over this question tend to be people who enjoy/ find easy the intellectual process of being catechized. I would guess this doesn't actually reflect the general population of catholics. I realize Mr. Komanchak wasn't saying that intensive theology training was the only answer, but I find on blogs like this one, most commenters flock to that answer over all others. But I'd guess the one overriding reason is complete lack of community. I could go to mass at my parish 7 days a week, and not know anyone there at all, much less talk about my faith or pray with other people outside of mass. Much much much less share a meal. I'm guessing that makes for a situation where it is very easy for Catholics to leave. If your friends are in the church, it's harder to walk away. I have almost no friends in my parish. And the reason for this lack of a social life is oddly interwoven with my discomfort about church teachings on homosexuality (which I can't accept despite having read widely in Catholic thought on the issue), birth control (which I've also made a point of becoming educated about from the church's viewpoint) and abortion (again -- this isn't a matter of being improperly catechized -- this is a matter of rejecting an overly simplistic approach). I go to coffee and donuts (the one social event at our parish) and make small talk with my fellow mass-goers and many of them feel that because I am at coffee and donuts, their homophobia is fine by me, and of course I vote Republican, right? And I'm hardly going to change their point of view over coffee and I don't feel like having people back away from me in horror at my blasphemous views. So I just make small talk and don't feel inclined to get to know people in my parish any better, and certainly don't feel like it would be appropriate to have them know me. To have them know me would feel like I was fighting with them, rather than joined to them in community.

Interesting bit from the Pew Study that the number of former Catholics who remain unaffiliated is about the same as the number who move to other denominations.My sense is that Catholic parents have an easier time dealing with a hiatus from the Church, i.e., "Maybe they'll come back some day" (event hough we have elderly members of the local parish STILL waiting for middle-aged "kids" to return).My observation among Catholics in the local parish is that they tend to get much more upset when their kids join another denomination or marry outside the faith because it's a complete break with the Church.In my uneasy religious detente with Raber, the agreement is that I do not attend another denomination (I was formerly an Anglican), until The Boy completes the confirmation training so as not to send him mixed signals at a critical time in his indoctrination. I'd like to see the Pew study broken down by gender. To what extent do men stay in because, for them, the "pelvic issues" are largely theoretical? In talking with Catholic friends about this, it's pretty clear husbands leave wives to deal with the Catch-22s presented by such teachings. I don't know any Catholic women who haven't "cheated" on these teachings. They don't feel good about it, but they also don't feel compelled to leave, and they truly don't get why I do.

I think there are a lot of strands that can be hard to separate:1. The Church is subject to the same trends as mainline Protestantism (loss to evangelical or mega church; loss to no church), but it seems not to have seen this, with the influx of immigrants and, at least for a while, the effect of larger Catholic families. It is not well-equipped to deal with it because of the shortage of priests, which is not only a manpower issue that leads to anonymous parishes, but a loss of influx of people who have more empathy for the peer group and culture that "ought" to be sitting in the pews. This just simply can't be overstated. Even if you were to decide that formation is necessary, who will come up with the curriculum that is targeted to the generation of adherents who most need it? 2. Different groups do different things when they leave. Because my husband is a Protestant, I meet quite a few ex-Catholics through his church. They are uniformly turned off by the "distinctive" Church doctrines that they don't like being "required" to adhere to and believe and that they see as ancillary to their faith (immaculate conception is the one most frequently cited, but transubstantiation isn't far behind). They also, of course, don't like HV (though they are reticent about it). These people are enthusiastic about church in general, definitely literate in Church doctrine, and know what they are leaving. 3. I would say, based on my friends when I was around college age, kids whose parents are divorced are at high risk of leaving, IMHO. Like it or not, they feel alienated from Church culture, and stigmatized. 4. And then there are people like my mother, who probably could have made a nice living giving tours of the Vatican museums. Raised to be Catholic in a very tight German Catholic community that gradually vanished (the church she got married in has been closed for more than 35 years) she couldn't be anything else, so she just stopped going to church altogether, and the anomie of the new suburbs gave her all the permission she needed. I think Charming Billy gives an incredibly acute portrayal of the Catholic subculture that existed through the 1950s, along with the seeds of its demise. Although her portrayal is of Irish Catholics, in reality, it was true for most Catholics living east of the Mississippi and north of the Mason Dixon line, and probably in places like Baltimore and Minneapolis as well. Some of the events and people in that book bear such a remarkable resemblance to events in my own family that I wondered a bit whether she actually knew them. I think not -- there was a commonality of distinctive culture and experience that died in the post-war suburbs. It was destined to die, because it was also bound up in the experience of European immigration. In my mind, I think that's why the "new" Church is so happy with the "new" immigrants, because it allows it to replay a role that it fulfilled very well in previous generations.

They say that when you only have a hammer in your tool belt everything looks like a nail. Maybe my interest in historical-critical scholarship and its impact on authority and Christology can seem like just one hammer, but I am surprised that no one has mentioned the potential fallout over historical critical scholarship. Instead, we get the usual suspects of birth control, women's ordination, etc. (although, I grant that the sex abuse scandal/cover up is a clear reason for, as Ann says, despising some church leaders).A case can be made that a religion is in trouble when it cannot articulate clearly its central message. The central message of Christianity is the salvific action of Jesus Christ. I think the meaning of this claim has not been well taught, nor even well clarified.

Hi Joe, you put things in theological perspective, but in my treatise posted just prior to your post, I mentione the people who have joined my husband's Protestant church, and indeed, they talk a lot about wanting a more "Christ" centered church, and not one that forces them to adhere to a bunch of collateral stuff having nothing to do with the central message of Jesus. But what you might be missing is that disputes over ordination, HV, etc. are what led them to conclude that the Church's mission is not Christ-centered -- a Church that spends as much energy defending the status quo on those things must be doing so only because it believes them to be centeral. This is why the so-called culture wars are even more damaging than people realize.

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.