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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.

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.



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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...

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:

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. ( - 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.

Just to clarify. I do not think a great number of Catholics are leaving the church because they read Bart Ehrman. Rather, I think there is more of a link between ecclesiology and Christology than Fr. Imbelli's post above might suggest. For a variety of reasons, the status of church authorities has diminished in the eyes of many. I think historical awareness contributes to this erosion of authority. Add to that a genuine difficulty in articulating a clear salvific message, and one has a recipe for flight.One final thought. IF church leaders could clearly articulate and powerfully preach a salvific message, their authority difficulties would largely go away. The gospel would be authority enough. However, so long as too much of what is preached as gospel itself appeals to church authority for validity, it is the gospel, and not just the authorities, that suffers.

Barbara,I just typed the above without seeing your second post. I agree with it, and I think what some people really want in a Christ centered church (I am one such newer Protestant) is a God-centered church, and Jesus Christ is the way Christians talk about God. Of course, other Protestants and Catholics want a Christ-centered church just to be on the right side, but that is a longer and different discussion.

IF church leaders could clearly articulate and powerfully preach a salvific message, their authority difficulties would largely go away. The gospel would be authority enough. However, so long as too much of what is preached as gospel itself appeals to church authority for validity, it is the gospel, and not just the authorities, that suffers.The first part of this point seems much more compelling than the second. Preach salvation: this would change everything. However, there are appeals to authority and appeals to authority! Saying, "The Pope says this, so you better believe it, or you're going to be in big trouble" is not normally effective preaching. But preaching from the Fathers and the Councils and the lives of the saints--the uniquely Catholic treasury--can be very effective to a wide range of hearers. As, of course, is preaching from the Scriptures.

I have not had the opportunity to read the pew study -- I hope to get to it this evening -- but I must say in advance that I do not understand how the study of pews can confirm or deny Fr. Komonchak's assertion that the reason Catholics leave the Church is that they have not read 1,500 theology books. I can only think of two aspects of pews that would be relevant: are they empty or full, and (perhaps more important) are they comfortable? The relevance of the latter is that -- all other things being equal -- parishioners would be willing to spend more time in comfortable pews than in uncomfortable ones. I do have a personal story to relate here, but it depends on whether the kneeler is construed as part of the pew or as a separate item of furniture. This question has apparently vexed some of the greatest minds of the Church to the degree that the Online Catholic Encyclopedia of 1912, normally the authority on such questions, has chosen to remain silent on the topic. In any case, assuming that the kneeler, if not actually a part of the pew, is at least not overly tangential in a pew study, I will forge ahead.While attending Assumption School, in the 8th grade I contracted prepatellar bursitis from kneeling at morning Mass five days a week with my classmates and an additional day at Sunday Mass with my family. The physical pain of this condition was bearable, but to a 12-year-old boy struggling with issues of masculinity, the knowledge imparted to me by our family physician that prepatellar bursitis is also known as "Housemaid's knee" was, quite honestly, devastating. I will have more to say after I read the study, but I honestly don't know how it will have any bearing on whether reading $1,500 theology tomes -- which many Catholics cannot, of course, afford -- is a significant factor in people's decisions to leave the Church.

On the feast of St Athanasius we heard a homily from Fr. X. He explained that how Athanasius defended the church against the Arians. As he went on it became clear that he did not have a clue about the Arians but he did have some fairly clear notions about the Gnostics. He may have simply confused Athansius with Irenaeus. But still.Also last week Fr. Y, a recent graduate of a certain institution, said with great emphasis that the "essence of Jesus was that he was God and that he did not have a human essence." He advised us all to remember this. It would be kinder to have forgotten it, I suppose. What is wrong with this picture?

I too have had problems with faith over the decades, but that always had to do with the encounter of faith with "the world" and never with "the clergy." Except for a few exceptions, the priests (and nuns) I have known over the years -- from a big Catholic parish in Philadelphia, to a big Catholic university, and lots of other places in between in Germany (student communities in Heidelberg and Leipzig), Austria (a bit parish in Vienna) and Poland, to my present Newman Hall -- have been self-sacrificing, deeply caring persons, struggling for faith, doing their best to keep it alight. I am reminded of an interview with Volker Schlndorff (on the DVD if his film "The Ninth Day") who said that despite all his problems with the church (he went to Jesuit schools and is agnostic), he always found priests a fascinating, unusual and inspiring group. People who would freely devote themselves to a life of (mostly) sacrifice and service tended to be substantial and interesting and unusual and simply worth getting to know. That is why he made a film about priests -- priests incarcertated by the Nazis at Dachau ( in the notorious Pfarrerblock), focusing on a young priest who is given "leave" to go back to Luxemburg and try to weaken the resolve of his bishop, or else be returned to that living hell.

Wow--So many posts in such a short amount of time. And it's not even about Obama and Notre Dame!I appreciate Fr. Komonchak's concern about the sorry state of adult religious education. It is, or at least it should be, a source of great embarrassment to the hierarchy in this country. At the same time, I resonate with Bill M. and Joe P.'s comments about conversion and the affective dimension of faith. I am uncomfortable drawing a line between the two--the classic distinction between the head and the heart. To use an analogy coined by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, giving adult education courses to people who have not had some kind of conversion experience (sudden or gradual) is not unlike dressing a young child in an alb and a chasuble. We are catechizing when we should be evangelizing.It is through evangelization that people come to encounter Jesus on a personal level--the One who reveals the Father's love and mercy, the One who lifts the burdens of sin and guilt, the One who affirms us and gives us a vision for the kind of people we can become. If that happens in the context of a vibrant, encouraging Catholic community, there should be no problem. You tend to want to stick with the place and the people with whom you have a positive experience--especially something as profound as this. But it's a rare thing in our parishes, and that's the real problem.So those who experience Christ in other places (mega churches, etc.) tend to place their allegiance there. "This is the place where I met the Lord. This is the place where I met people who cared about me and who want to help build me up on a more personal level. Why should I go back to that other place, where I was disconnected, bored, or frustrated?"Once you've got someone's heart, you can help form their mind. But without the heart, it's a much different picture. St. Paul told the Romans "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Yes, the formation of the mind does bring about transformation. So there is a place for education in the call to holiness. But I find it instructive that before he goes after this element of transformation, Paul tells the Romans to live "according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4). A more affective, subjective thing, it seems. And even before that, he talks about the peace, hope, and love that are available to those who have accepted the gospel message about salvation in Christ (Rom 5:1-5).Perhaps this is a tad fanciful as far as biblical exegesis is concerned, but it is helpful in identifying what should be conveyed first, and what should come afterwards.

1) "The Ninth Day," both as book and movie, is extraordinarily impressive and thoughtful.2) The topic title, "Limping Catholics," may hint a bias in the present good conversation.3) I wonder whether many bishops really want lay people to learn much about the Christian life and our Church. Unless I am mistaken, U.S. seminaries were recently chastised for having lay people in their courses. Unless I am mistaken, there was recently a dismissal of some non-ordained teaching staff from Dunwoodie and Huntington. Unless I am mistaken, the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not mention that there is a difference between dogma and episcopal (authoritative, non-infallible) teaching. As far as "Christian life" is concerned, too often I hear about baptism that the person is being baptized a Roman Catholic, when the speaker should give primary note to being baptized a Christian.4) Many thanks to Fr. Komonchak and all who have raised good points in this topic.Joe McMahon

Midwestmind wrote: I realize Mr. Komanchak wasnt 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.I would settle for good theology training; it wouldnt necessarily have to be intensive. And, it seems to me that most commentators on this thread arent interested in the matter of theological training, but prefer to look elsewhere to describe the problem and to find a solution.I agree with Joe Pettit when he writes: 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. As also when he writes: IF church leaders could clearly articulate and powerfully preach a salvific message, their authority difficulties would largely go away. The gospel would be authority enough. However, so long as too much of what is preached as gospel itself appeals to church authority for validity, it is the gospel, and not just the authorities, that suffers. Two comments that confirm what I was trying to say.Mark Jameson writes: I appreciate Fr. Komonchaks concern about the sorry state of adult religious education. It is, or at least it should be, a source of great embarrassment to the hierarchy in this country. I agree, only I dont think its only the hierarchy who should be embarrassed, but all of us, including our schools and our colleges and universities. Joe McMahon suggests that my metaphor of limping Catholics might indicate a bias, but doesnt say what it might be. I used it because I think it is apt for someone who is educated up to the standards and expectations of the day in other areas but not in the area of religion. Such persons limp, I think. (By the way, I limp with regard to modern physics, chemistry, and biology, which were not very well taught when I took them fifty-plus years ago and which have advanced to the point that I dont think I could ever catch up.) I also remembered St. Augustines use of the metaphor when he said that the Church limps, one leg strong, the other weak. He meant it in terms of the presence of saints and sinners in the Church. I brought the metaphor into another aspect of Church life. Im glad that the metaphor is striking enough to have attracted so much attention so quickly, although the majority seem not to think that the limp is as severe as I think it is.

There is a book that has been on the best seller fiction list for about 50 weeks. The title is The Shack It is about a man and his meeting God. Its fiction. Perhaps one could call it a parable. It has sold over a million copies. Why? Why is its message being received so well? However, we do know that Jesus had great success with parables. Are people leaving the church because we insist on theology, which I would define as about about faith Most people are not interested in learning about faith but rather about living a faithful life with God and each other. Im sure most of you have not read the book, but I think it would be a good academic exercise to try to discover what makes it so appealing. I realize it theology isnt perfect, but it does get people interest in a relationship with God through the Word made flesh. Below is part of a review. By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAYPORTLAND, Ore. By rights, William Young, 53, should be a mess.Emotionally distant from his missionary parents. Sexually abused by the New Guinea tribe they lived among. Grief-stricken for loved ones who died too young, too suddenly. Frantic to earn God's love, yet cheating on his wife, Kim. Young functioned by stuffing all the evil done to him and by him into a "shack" his metaphor for an ugly, dark place hidden so deeply within him that it seemed beyond God's healing reach. His adultery, 15 years ago, finally blew the doors off that shack, forcing him to confront his past. "Kim made it clear," he says. "I had to face every awful thing." Now, his first novel, The Shack centered on dialogues between a miserable main character, Mack, and three unorthodox characterizations of the Holy Trinity telescopes Young's transformation to a man spiritually reborn and aware every moment of God's love. It slams "legalistic" religions, denominations and doctrines. It barely even mentions the Bible

Faith is a gift. Likewise, piety is a gift. It is possible to prepare people to receive these gifts and welcome them, which is what education in theology should do. Unfortunately that can go awry, when people identify the theology as faith or the Gospel. This appears in different ways in this discussion, as when catechetical education is criticized. Perhaps children were not taught the difference between theological and natural virtues, but learned that a loving God created the world for them. Perhaps they are not so ignorant of faith as they seem.This shows in many of the descriptions of people leaving the Church. Their motives are very Catholic. Corruption and injustice are recognized only by those who have a sense of what is good. They want to recognize Christ in the preacher, and feel the emptiness when they cannot. Sometimes a very real faith is there, but the theology does not nurture it as it should.There are some who leave for other reasons. I await David's analysis of the pew study for some of those. (seriously, one family left our parish when the pew they always sat in was removed to make way for a piano; pews can motivate)

Joe Pettit,I had a hunch I might rouse you from "your dogmatic slumbers" :-).Actually here we may be on the same page. I do not want to dissociate Christ and church, Christology and ecclesiology. Indeed, I want to keep them intimately united, as my reference to the vine and branches saying shows. But I want to insist on the proper order: Christ the head, we the body (to switch to Pauline terms).In this regard I would suggest that we all ought to re-read the first chapter of Lumen gentium once a month. It really makes for splendid spiritual and theological reading.An example that I think may be symptomatic. A few years back Commonweal devoted an issue to the "crisis" in the sacrament of reconciliation. Three different articles explored it from different vantages. However, as I remarked in a letter that Commonweal published, never was the name of Jesus in whom God "reconciles" the world even mentioned, much less what it means to say he reconciles us to God.So, though I would qualify by adding "not always", still I agree with Joe P. when he writes:"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

My impression, as someone under 30, is that most people in my generation simply don't feel that the Church has anything to tell them about life. Either they perceive the Church to be outdated; they believe that it is in direct conflict with "reason"; they reject out of hand the notion of any institutional authority (because all evil is caused by institutions, or so the argument goes); or they reject most of the Church's teachings on sexual issues (birth control, homosexuality, etc). That said, both my wife and I are pretty well read on Catholic thinking (as she noted above, she is a graduate student of theology) and are continually amazed by how little people seem to know about the real Catholicism. In fact, before she went to seminary, everything we "learned" about Catholicism was self-taught through our own wide reading. Neither of us had much formal catechesis growing up.I think that many of the commentators have pointed to very important points, reflecting a broad range of perspectives. To add one more to the fire: it's important to remember that our lives are supposed to be understood as a faith journey. With that in mind, it makes sense for people to ebb and flow from the Church. For everyone who leaves, there seems to be another person who just can't stay away, because like it or not, the Church offers them something that they can't get anywhere else (which speaks to Cathleen's point about the experiential quality of the mass). This is true for my father, who still knows the mass in Latin, disdains the Church's teaching on birth control and some of the other social issues, and yet considers the mass to be a vital, private, defining piece of his personhood.I think that many, many, many people would come back to the Church if it stood "for" something, rather than (as they seem, unwittingly, to do) against everything. Most of my friends are socially conscious - they would participate actively in a Church that stood for "absolute, unwavering support for the poor & downtrodden." The more broadly that were defined, the better. Welcome gays, immigrants, outcasts, sinners, all. A fairly unbiased "reading" of Vatican II would seem to have opened us up to the possibility really to be that Church, but as most of you know (far better than I, without a doubt) the Church's contraction in the wake of the council has seemed to shutter some of those windows before they had a chance to let the light in. It's a shame, and I only hope that those of us like my wife & I, the young and change-committed, can live to see the day that the promise of Vatican II is lived in the Church in the world.

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 have mentioned this previously, but it seems pertinent here. There's a book Fr. Imbelli recommended by Gerard OCollins, and the title is Jesus our Redeemer: A Christian Approach to Salvation.The back cover copy begins, Jesus Our Redeemer opens with three basic questions: How can redemptive events in the past bring about effects in the present? Why do human beings need redemption, both collectively and individually? What images of God are implied by the saving action of Christ and by human need?I haven't read it yet, but when I do, I hope it will at least begin to answer some of the questions that appeared to make sense when I was a kid memorizing answers from the Baltimore Catechism about how a perfect sacrifice was needed to "open the gates of heaven," a phrase that also appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.Pop Quiz

Which of the following is true?1. Christ descended into Gehenna to give those imprisoned there a second chance for salvation.Descending into the realm of the dead, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for the just who had died before him.2. The inhabitants of the realm of the dead were only the saved who were waiting for the Redeemer to open the gates of heaven.3. Jesus descended into the realm of the dead to deliver all there since none were condemned before the time of faith in Christ had arrived.4. None of the above.

I have a very vivid mental picture of what the gates of heaven look like.

"They want to recognize Christ in the preacher."I hate to be a pest, but many do not, and do not expect to recognize Christ in the preacher any more than they expect to recognize Christ in *themselves.* They are looking for a church that enables their own "inner Christ" to emerge and they are dissatisfied when the Church makes such a sharp distinction between priests and lay people, and "conditions" access to Christ on priestly intervention (exact words of an ex-Catholic) and, unfortunately, this practical distinction between lay and clergy seems to have hardened in the last 20 years or so, even as the language of the Church has softened considerably on the point.

I'll add a few thoughts to the many excellent points raised here.When we tried to introduce "Our Hearts Are Burning" in this highly educated community, the feeling afterwards were the joke, "our hearts are tepid."It struck me that a stronger commitment to formation that all would feel involved in, not shut down in that was really about formation and not regimentation would move that process -especially since the centarlity of the Eucharist to the process would be a good anchor.But the process needed two things menbtioned here - love and community- to give it what I think Cathy hit on that was critical - that it would resonate experientuially.So, instead, i offer the big problem to me in disaffection - division and the division undermines community and makes love all the harder,And many well educated do depart and I think others, still grounded in the Eucharist, soldier on, keeping their heads down, trusting in the Master that binds them but little in the leaders who divide them (often with 'muscular" catholicism, perhaps known as by the book.)Then there's this: the paradigm of parish and its ministry is changing even as we speak -see Tom Roiberts reflection at NCR today.As parish ministry becomes more and more lay led, will community become more a part of everyone's responsibility?The problem is with diminishing parishes, how will the central Eucharist be maintained? And for the clergy, one last point: the many challenges Cardinal Mahony offered the National Federation of Priests Council. How well are they being met, since we're asking questions? And, how well will they be able to be met in the changing landscape?

Dare I say this? What would the Church look like if the average parishioner could debate the priest or the bishop on theology? I honestly don't think the Church wants to enable the kind of formation that allows reasoned assent based on deep understanding (as opposed to faithful following). This is indeed a conundrum, isn't it? It's like the parent who demands their child behave like a grown up but takes away every opportunity to let him act independently as a grown up. Surely, we all know this kind of parent, don't we?

Fr. Imbelli and Joe Petit say that "the central message of Christianity is the salvific action of Jesus Christ.I think we all get that, but what's the central message of CATHOLIC Christianity? How is it different from the salvific action of your personal Lord and Savior that my fundie-gelical in-laws believe in?Bob Nunz notes that divisions make it hard to love. But divisions must occur when there are continuing serious and unresolved conflicts? Would a marriage survive that kind of pressure? Can the Church?I personally find it much easier to be a friend of Catholicism rather than a Catholic--someone who appreciates the Church's tradition of the saints, its effect on Western civilization and thought, and even the general emphasis on the dignity of human life, but feel it would be presumptuous of me to start agitating for "rules" that would make my life easier and hypocritical to stay in when I've prayed and read, and just don't buy all those rules.I have made the faith "smaller and more pure," by my leaving it--just as Bill Donohue had hoped! Midwestmind, what is it about our Midwest parishes? Inbred, frozen, and in my area, still ethnically isolated (mostly Germans and Czechs). I'll think of you when I'm eating my donut and waiting to stop feeling like a newcomer nine years after reception into the Church!

A very interesting thread about a complex yet very important topic.And thanks to Kathy for the link to the recent Pew Forum study. While that study overlaps to a degree with what is being discussed here, the study also explores matters beyond this thread, and discussion of the study here might derail the thread. I hope, however, that one of the contributors will introduce the study as a topic for discussion in and of itself.I'll mention just one area of overlap. Among the former Catholics surveyed who left the Church and did not become affiliated with another religion, each of the following reasons was identified by almost 50% of the sample as a reason for leaving the Church:--Many religions are partly true, no one religion is completely true.--Catholicism is too focused on rules, not on spirituality.--Catholic religious leaders want money and power, not truth and spirituality.I see problems with some of the terms used in the study (e.g., truth, spirituality), but even with those limitations, the study raises serious issues that I hope will be addressed in this forum.

Jean: When I said that the central claim of Christianity is the salvific action of Jesus Christ, I did not mean to suggest that I was adding to anyone's knowledge of Christianity. Rather, I only meant to say that I do not think Catholic Christians, or any other kind of Christians, do a very good job of explaining what that means.I enjoyed your phrase, "I personally find it much easier to be a friend of Catholicism rather than a Catholic." I think that identifies my feelings, as well.David: I have purchased the book, and will likely use it for an adult study group at my church. However, I'd better read it first.

Trying to blend some thoughts - picking up from Ms. Steinfels.....we are moving from a Pre-Vatican II closed Catholic parish mentality (tribe; sub-culture) to a different church. Add in Vatican II and the significant changes over the last 40 years and as the poet, Wm Butler Yeats wrote in The Second Coming: "The Centre Can Not Hold!"Have heard some theology teachers remark that it takes a hundred years for a church council to be assimilated into the life of the church. We have 50 years to go.It appears that this paradigm change (at least in the northern hemisphere) was not completely forseen and technology has only amplified the problem; and the response/reaction to this shift creates tension, fear, antipathy, etc.Complex issues are involved and it will require responses on many different levels. Here are some snippets from talks I have heard on this shift - Fr. Massingale:"The Laity also groan: There are groans: for relevant homilies that speak to the unexpressed yearnings of their spirit; for a real voice within the Church and genuinely collaborative relationships with priests and bishops; for voices that speak courageously about the real axis of evil in the world ( not Iraq, Iran an North Korea, but the unholy trinity of racism, poverty and war); for an honest account of the relevance of faith in a world of military consumerism (e.g., what does it mean to be a person of faith while living on an island of affluence surrounded by an ocean of misery?) The deep groans of the laity also announce that All is not well in the Church. All of these groans the prophet listens to, these inarticulate cries of distress, and arrives at an obvious yet too often avoided conclusion: Things are coming to an end. For the prophet this conclusion soon becomes a judgment: These things must end! The prophet, in fact, dares to proclaim that God is bringing these things to an end, for our collective groans are indisputable evidence that the current state of the Church is not the will of God. The collapse of what was deemed sacred, the prophet declares, is a demise brought about by non other than God. Things are ending. That statement expresses the stark reality which is often masked by the word transition. To put it bluntly, a particular way of being Church is dying. The decline of the all-male, mostly celibate priesthood is but the most obvious symptom of this dying. The transition in which we find ourselves is irreversible; our groans point to a larger picture of seismic shifts and epochal changes occurring in the Church and Western society. Richard Schoenherr lists them thus: 1. A shift from dogmatism to pluralism in worldview; 2. The change from a transcendentalist to a personalist construction of human sexuality; 3. A shift from a Eurocentric to a truly global Church; 4. The shift from male superiority to female equality; 5. A decline in clerical control and increase in lay participation; and 6. The decline in sacramentalism and rise in Bible-based worship, even in the Catholic Church. Each of these shifts taken singly is a major development. But occurring simultaneously and taken together, they become momentous. They are unleashing an unstoppable wave of seismic changes that will take the Church (in other words, us) to places unknown and for that reason, scary and terrifying. Things are ending. And the prophet dares to proclaim that this demise is aided and abetted by Gods own self. Recall, however, that the prophets not only announce to the people an end that the community cannot admit; they also proclaim a hope that the people can hardly believe. There are two dangers or temptations that arise in times of transition. The first is nostalgia, which essentially is a state of denial. The strategy of nostalgia denies that the loss has happened or is happening: with increasing desperation it attempts to cling to a way of life and faith that are no more. The second danger or temptation is that of despair, a stance which says that faith is no longer possible in this new situation, that all is lost, that no future possibilities are to be found here. Despair inevitably leads to resignation, apathy and spiritual death. Both the strategy of nostalgia and the stance of despair are present in the priesthood and Church today. Against desperate denial and fatalistic despair, the prophet announces: Look! Pay attention! God is doing something NEW! Against both denial and despair, the prophet announces hope, that is, the advent of a new future that is neither a simple rearranging of the old furniture nor a continuation of former ways in different configurations. As Jeremiah proclaims, God will make a new covenant, but it will not be like that of old. Hope is the belief that things can-and will- be radically other than how they are now. Hope is the expectation of a new beginning that is as yet but dimly perceived. As Isaiah declares, Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? "For I believe that a new Church is coming. It will be browner and poorer, more sensuous and feminine, less clerical and more collegial, less concerned about charity and more conscious of justice and more multilingual and polycentric than the one we know now. That Church will better reflect the diversity of Gods Trinitarian life. It will be a new Church . . .yet it can only come with the passing of this one. I dare to suggest that it is our task to facilitate the present Churchs passing in order to assist in the birthing of the new.

Here is a purely business consultant viewpoint on the "crisis in the catholic church" from McKinsey Consultants. "Unpleasant and challenging as the recent sexual abuse scandal, this is not the crisis that I am referring. I have in mind rather a long-term decline in the relevance, or at least perceived relevance, of the Catholic Church to the lives and spiritual well-being of its members, the concomitant decline in the Church capability to serve them and the resulting loss in the Churchs influence and standing in the greater population and in our society. This decline has been in progress for at least 30 years and has now reached the stage where there are very serious questions about the very future of the Church in the United States. The reasons for this situation are many and complex, but I do not believe that there can be any question about the seriousness of the situation. On the positive side, there seems to be a very large number among the laity who, while embarrassed, upset and enormously frustrated by the current state of affairs, remain deeply committed to their faith and he Church, are willing and able to help and are thirsting for direction and leadership from the clergy.

Jean Raber writes:Fr. Imbelli and Joe Petit say that the central message of Christianity is the salvific action of Jesus Christ. I think we all get that, but whats the central message of CATHOLIC Christianity? How is it different from the salvific action of your personal Lord and Savior that my fundie-gelical in-laws believe in?Mark Jameson replies:The central message of CATHOLIC Christianity is the exact same thing: the salvific action of Jesus Christ. If we can't agree on this, then there is no hope for the ecumenical movement.How is it different from the salvific action of your personal Lord and Savior? Not very. The difference you're alluding to, probably, is the way in which this salvific action is lived out and celebrated. Sure, a fundamentalist will have a more Calvinistic view of the salvation he has received (i.e., "total depravity"). But whether we think we're totally depraved or deprived of original justice, we all agree:That Jesus Christ is our salvation--and that his salvation is something we are meant to experience, not just theorize about;That Jesus has reconciled us to the Father--and in that reconciliation made it possible for us to know the love of God being poured into our hearts (Rom 5:5); And that Jesus brings us the hope of eternal life--a hope that is confident, not unsure.The problem is that these very basic (dare I say fundamental) truths are being left out of the conversation, either because they are considered too "elementary" to bother with or because they are considered unimportant. And for that reason (and many others, I am sure) adult education programs suffer. They simply aren't offering the life-giving message of the gospel, and what they do offer is rarely taught in relation to that message. All the other "stuff" about Christianity and Catholicism is really great and well worth learning--especially if, like most of the posters here at dotCommonweal, you have an intellectual bent. But that's only a small slice of any parish's pie. Most people are looking for something that touches them at a far more personal, visceral level. As I said earlier, if you can reach them there, you've got them, and they'll keep coming back for more.

A fascinating and very important conversation and with so many thoughtful responses that illuminate different aspects of this issue! Wonderful. I thought I'd contribute a quick summary of our (Catherine of Siena Institute) experience in this area. (insert all the usual caveats about broad brush strokes and many exceptions here.)This is based upon our work with 50,000 plus Catholics, 90% of whom have been ordinary lay men and women in hundreds of average parishes across the entire political spectrum in 95 dioceses. The majority in the US but also in Australia, New Zealand, Rome, Indonesia, Singapore, Canada, Germany, and Kenya. And drawing from our unique experience of having directly worked with over 30,000 Catholics, helping them in the discernment of charisms. This is especially drawn from having done thousands of personal, one-on-one "interviews" with lay Catholics about their lived relationship with God and their experience of being used by God in the lives of others. While our experience is hardly definitive, it is, I think, potentially illuminating - especially around this issue which has concerned us since the beginning of our work 16 years ago.I think both Fr. K and Fr. I and others have raised important points that correlate with our own findings:As Fr. I put it:Let me conclude by reference to yesterdays 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? Bingo. To put it very simply: discipleship, experiencing the love of God and loving God changes everything. People's priorities - time, treasure, talent - change radically and from within. Fundamentally, people leave because most of our parishes are not characterized by culture of discipleship and all that presumes and all that flows out of that.One of the things that reliably happens when already baptized Christians have a life-changing encounter with Christ is they start to want to learn about the faith. Where parishes and dioceses evangelize, their people fill available courses and ask, urgently, for more formation. This dynamic has certainly affected our work. One of the charisms we cover in our Called & Gifted discernment process is the charism of Knowledge - inspired intellectual activity that attends to the big truths of the universe for the sake of others. We have to spend a great deal of time helping those we train to facilitate the discernment of others recognize the difference between this charism and a) just liking to read; b) the very normal desire of a disciple to study their faith. In a sense, we have lost a sense of what "normal" in this area looks like and so it makes discernment of the fruits of discipleship more difficult.2) In reference to Fr. K's original question, it is our experience that we only honor and call forth certain charisms in our parishes - and neither evangelism or teaching are among them. In parishes, we tend to honor and foster the gifts related to taking care of people and keeping those ecclesial trains running on time. We do not tend to foster the gifls related to evangelizing and forming our own, starting new initiatives, and prophetic change. Those charisms have traditionally been associated with religious orders/communities but not the diocesan parish. And what happens as a result, is that unconsciously, without any bad intention, we are repelling many of the charisms that God has given us. Because people tend to walk when they don't sense there is "a place" for them in our communities.One consequence is that very few people with charisms of teaching are in leadership or on staff in our parishes and those who have the gift are often not encouraged to exercise it. (How many conversations have I had with people who went into ministry at either the parish or diocesan level in order to teach and find themselves doing nothing but administration.) And that has had a real effect on our parish life. In the presence of a charism of teaching, people, mysteriously, want to learn. Even about things that they always thought excruciatingly boring or pointless.But point #2 is related to #1 above, because charisms, although bestowed through baptism, don't manifest until your faith become personal and you start - however falteringly - to ask "what does God want of me?" Parishes that don't evangelize, see fewer fewer charisms manifesting in their midst.When the two converge, the Holy Spirit inspired longing to learn more and the Holy Spirit inspired gift of facilitating learning, hold on to your hats and start looking for a bigger room. Cause word is going to get out and many will come and ask you for what you have been given to give. 3) The community issue is huge and very much related to #1 and 2 above. Not just the sort of community formed by going through the liturgy with a thousand other local Catholics or the sort of often strained socializing that goes on in so many parish halls during coffee and donuts but a community of disciples together. We were meant to walk with God and we were meant to walk with God together.

Wow. Reading these posts greatly saddens me. There is a lot of frustration and despair, and -- to borrow from Ratzinger --"[t]here is no theory in existence that could compellingly refute such ideas by mere reason . . . ." I for one -- and lots of people I know -- don't share this massive disaffection that seems to electrify most of the above reflections, and I don't feel constricted by rules or regulations. To me, the Church's rules and regulations enlarge my freedom, not restrict it. They help me live a virtuous life that anticipates that happiness and "orderedness" of the divine life in which I dare hope to some day share. Is it a challenge? Yes. Do I wish sometimes the rules were not so? Yes. But it's not supposed to be easy. We are called to lose our live to save it -- we are asked to die to ourselves to a new life. Moral heroism is not easy -- nothing done well is. To me, Catholicism is life-giving and rejuvenating, and I'm strengthened by the strength of the Bishops and priests--and the countless professors, intellectuals, and other lay men and women who carry their crosses daily, and thereby give witness to Christ crucified. I certainly have had struggles with my faith and with the Church, but it seems to me that there can NEVER be a Church where such struggles don't occur. Was there any decade or century of Christianity where great numbers of people did not feel disaffected? In the wake of the Reformation, wasn't it probably the case that thousands and thousands of Catholics felt discouraged or despondent with the leadership of the Church? What if St. Ignatius and the early Jesuits had said, "Ah, forget this. We'll take our shop elsewhere"? Isn't it our task as Catholics to stay with the Church even during moments of great frustration, and in spite of the Church's deficiencies? Doesn't our belief AS CATHOLICS require that? And isn't it our task to ensure that WE are not the reason for our own disaffection? There is a tendency above to blame the Bishops as power-hungry or as mean-spirited or as out of touch -- to blame structures and "isms." Perhaps there is a great deal of truth in all of that, and I won't deny it. But is it not fair to lay some blame upon ourselves? A child, or a teenager, thinks his or her parents are ruthless, mean-spirited and totally incapable of perceiving their lives. They feel constricted by "rules and regulations" (curfew, homework, limited TV time, etc). But obviously, as we mature, we realize how necessary and life-giving those rules are and how they proceed from love, not from sheer thirst for power. While we consider how the Church hierarchy may need to respond to the new things, it seems to me we are far too soft on our own selves and underappreciate the need for our growth and maturity in the process of better understanding the wisdom of the Church.

I suppose that a contribution this late in the postings may not get much attention, but I post nonetheless just to sort out in my head several of the points. [I start with a reproach: those who despise bishops should buy themselves mirrors]. Much of the discussion does sound like a bunch of professors examining "ordinary" Catholics as though they are bugs under a microscope. Yet were not most saints "ordinary". Consider the Cure d'Ars. No Jesuit he. There has certainly been a suburbanization [a middle-classification? a comfortibilization?] of the Church in the U.S. in the past 50 years. [But "every true Church has the stench of the poor": M.Baring]. The decline [abandonment?] of pious practices is certainly a major cause of the shrinkage of Catholics. None of us are so great that such practices do not reinforce our faith, and on a daily basis. There is much to be said for meatless Fridays. For the Miraculous Medal. For scapulars. For Sodalities. "Perhaps when we stopped bothering saints about lost railway tickets that we came over so spiritual about them and our religion went all "other worldly" and "spiritual" too". She also wrote to C.S. Lewis: "You religious people have so little trust in God". And then there is the abandonment of Confession. Was it more difficult than a weekly bath? It seems to me that little attention was paid to a common experience [noted by Belloc about Napoleon] of the decrease, if not abandonment, of faith just after adolescence.And it also seems to me that apart Catholicity of teachings on sexual matters, there is plain common sense [natural law, anyone?] about sexual behavior. Same sex activities merely make mock of the structure of the body. Contraception is the philosophy of the bordello. And [curiously in this time of the equality of the sexes], it works always to the advantage of the male. Slam bang, thank you, ma'am. And in the matter of divorce and remarriage: what is one to think of a man who gives his word and then breaks it? ["Such a man is not to be trusted": H. Truman].

I agree that for many people the desire to read deeply in theology, biblical studies, etc. arises out of a conversion-experience. As the present Pope puts it somewhere, this is a case of "love seeking understanding," a very Augustinian idea: With Whom do I find myself in love?But there's another side that's been largely ignored in most of the responses to my original post, and that's the poor job the various instiutions within the Church--from CCD and grammar school to our colleges and universities--are doing by way of providing an age-appropriate knowledge of the faith. At certain stages this may indeed be only Newman's notional assent, awaiting fulfilment as real assent; but that doesn't make it superfluous to provide the information and knowledge that fill out "the Catholic thing"? Could not a future crisis of faith be avoided if students were given a proper understanding of the Atonement? or an introduction to biblical criticism? or a consideration of the relationship between creation and evolution, or more generally, between faith and science? Etc. Yet how many Catholics are getting these things? A very small percentage, I suspect.Rosemary Haughton wrote a lovely book, "The Transformation of Man," in which she sets out the dialectic between formation and transformation. No formation, she correctly points out, can guarantee transformation. But she thinks that the likelihood of transformation itself and the likelihood of its enduring may be a function of formation: in the first case, because a proper formation may teach one even to expect transformation and to recognize it when it occurs, and in the second case, because it will be crucial that someone who undergoes a transforming experience encounter some community which has a language in which such an experience can be spoken of, acknowledged, and fostered. Nothing the Church does guarantees transformation, but we can at least be better at formation.

Mr. Emerson - would suggest that you may have read my two posts and missed the points of the speakers.Basically, both speakers note that there are many faith-filled and committed catholics. But, we live with a tension - the old institutional, sub-culture church is gone or is dying. What will replace it? In this shift and change, folks experience a myriad of emotions from a recommitment; life-fulfilling faith community to antipathy, anger, fear, or just boredom and departure.Would suggest that the people of God must be responsible for their faith; for nourishing and building this faith. But, we also are responsible to build up the community and what is described are the tectonic plates are pulling apart and people feel adrift (title of Mr. Steinfels excellent book). Whether we like it or not, leadership must play a part in this community - that is part of our history and tradition.Would agree that "formation" is a key - not sure we know what that needs to look like, feel like as the paradigm shifts and changes. T. Radcliffe decribes the current American church as made up of kingdom and community catholics - a tension between needs, concepts, prayer styles, etc. His resolution is to combine the two rather than continue to polarize internally.

the central message of Christianity is the salvific action of Jesus Christ...whats the central message of CATHOLIC Christianity?"Catholic Christianity is about the PRESENCE of the salvific action of Christ. "When a man[sic] baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present..." SC 7People believe in this presence, and when that belief wanes, it is the beginning of moving away from the Church. If reading scripture is about what happened 2,000 + years ago, and not about God speaking to us as a loving father, the reasons for being present in church diminish.This is one of the dangers of religious education, since people can more easily move to thinking understanding or knowing about Christ is more important than His Presence. Education has to be directed toward experiencing Christ in our midst, Christ with us. This does not mean abandoning the laws and structures, but discovering in them a closer way to Christ. That is part of why I see much good in some who leave the Church; they are moving past the laws to an appreciation of Christ's presence, but are puzzled when ungodly certainties are offered in place of Him. "What do you mean my atheist father will have no part in the communion of perfect love? It is not the love I know and believe in if it leaves him out."(and Barb, if you want to change 'preacher' to 'preaching' in my earlier remark, you may. I still think the physical presence of the person is the vehicle for the presence of Christ, but I can understand why you understand what I wrote as you do.)

Geez, Father K., I do nothing BUT gripe about the poor to horrendous catechesis in my area that arises out of from an ugly stew of apathy and rigid piety. I can't find a sponsor for my kid for Confirmation, and neither can the other kids in his class who don't already have Catholic relatives. Doesn't that say something about the sad pass we've come to?As for Matt Emerson and that tired schtick about about the freedom that comes with living within the boundaries of the faith--I suggest he find some still-fertile middle-aged women for whom pregnancy is high risk and for whom NFP is a crap shoot and then try to find a faith-based option she can sell to her husband. OK, now I'm gettin' testy, so I'm off before I get cut off.

Bill,Thank you, thank you for the McKinsey report and the words about prophets and laity. A new day MUST be coming. The groans are loud and clear. But why wait for the clergy to act? We are baptized, and growing up. Lets create community ourselves, invite them to participate, and there find oxygen circulating --- instead of packaged faith prescriptions that nullify encounter with Being. All,Thank you for an outstanding thread. May the conversation continue, as Bill Collier hopes.

It is quite interesting to be a member of a smallish parish (400 active parishioners) that consists mainly of people who are returnees. This, of course, applies mainly to my age group (60+). We do have a steady trickle of converts. However, because of the nature of the membership of the parish, we dont get the usual number of spouses joining after their marriage to a Catholic. We are starting to see a small influx of younger families with children but not all that many. What has brought most of us back is as varied as there are people coming back. We have a self-created program called Reconnecting that meets people where they are and gives them a chance to explore the idea of coming back (not initially joining) after a few or many years away. The weakness of the program is that it doesnt usually deal with the issues of the under 50 crowd, but our Young Adult Group exists to work through their issues in a socializing and studying environment. Each of us has differing degrees of formal training in Catholicism, from the pre-Vat II catechism crowd to the post V2 CCD group and even less than that. The people that I talk with echo much of what has been said in this thread: its not the information (although getting questions answered is important) but, rather, the community that supports each of us in our various struggles, doubts and journeys that we recognize as being Christianity being lived out in a very specific Catholic context.Papal pronouncements, episcopal appointments, controversies such as ESCR and abortion all of these may be of interest to individuals but, in the main, irrelevant to our parish communal activities and lives.Most of us freely admit to believing that all church is local and have little interest in the sturm und drang of the usual Catholic issues that seem to be talked and retalked to death on blogsites such as this. Time away from Catholicism clarifies in the mind the matters most important to each of us and that is why we sought out and ultimately found our very particular parish community. If it went away tomorrow would we seek out another Catholic community? Many would; I wouldnt. I dont consider myself a Roman Catholic or an American Catholic. Rather, I am a Most Holy Redeemer Catholic. This is what keeps me coming back when I dont live in the parish neighborhood, San Francisco or even the Archdiocese of San Francisco: suspect that there are more Catholics like me than are those constantly agonizing over the things that we talk about herein. Theres obviously room for all, but the church tends to underfeed the needs of the many and do a poor job of answering the more academic questions of the relative few.

And it also seems to me that apart Catholicity of teachings on sexual matters, there is plain common sense [natural law, anyone?] about sexual behavior.Same sex activities merely make mock of the structure of the body.Contraception is the philosophy of the bordello.And [curiously in this time of the equality of the sexes], it works always to the advantage of the male. Slam bang, thank you, maam.Catholic morality in a nutshell. See, folks? It's all so clear when properly explained.

No, Jean, we need your voice. You point out vividly the contrast between abstractions and the reality of life on the ground. I believe the chasm is wide and deep, no matter the subject. Please help eliminate cluelessness.

Bill, I cannot speak for Matt, but i found some of what you presented problematic. For instance, it includes a list of "groans" (= symptoms of dying) that apply just as well to the time of Christ as they do to today. And perhaps to every era between. So the transition to something new has been happening for a long time, and we do not need to act like we are totally ignorant of its consequences. All creation is groaning as it waits for a new heaven and a new earth, a heaven and earth ever ancient and ever new. And I do not think hoping for a decline in sacramentalism and rise in Bible based religion is a good thing, since abandoning the ancient and embracing the new does not work so well when you are dealing with something that is both ancient and new.There is much that is good in the analysis you offered, but there is so much more. All the people here may be suburban catholics, but our church has a huge number of ethnic religious groups within it that have not made that transition yet.

"As for Matt Emerson and that tired schtick about about the freedom that comes with living within the boundaries of the faithI suggest he find some still-fertile middle-aged women for whom pregnancy is high risk and for whom NFP is a crap shoot and then try to find a faith-based option she can sell to her husband."Ms. Raber: "Tired schtick"? Brutal. I'd like to think that everything I say has a lapidary Shakespearean freshness to it. Oh well. More importantly: what, precisely, is the schtick? When I say that my own freedom is enlarged by the ethical norms of the Church, what do you mean by calling that a "tired schtick"? Is my claim false? Am I deluding myself? Or do you mean that regardless of what works for me, it does not, or cannot, apply to others, particularly the middle-aged women you reference below? Does following particular rules enable freedom, but not others?

meant "above," not below.

As for Matt Emerson and that tired schtick about about the freedom that comes with living within the boundaries of the faithI suggest he find some still-fertile middle-aged women for whom pregnancy is high risk and for whom NFP is a crap shoot and then try to find a faith-based option she can sell to her husband.Now, now, Jean. Matt is obviously a saint, and the rest of us are not. And you know, God never sends us a burden that is heavier than we can bear. Also, we are stronger in the broken places. And remember that God answers every prayer; sometimes he says No. So let us agree to hate the sin and love the sinner. Now, say along with me:

"Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,the Courage to change the things I cannot accept, andthe Wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill today because they p*ss*d me off.

Jean: I am really sorry about the state of things in your parish (diocese? state?). Things aren't so bleak everywhere. In any case, couldn't something be started if a few people who see things as you do decided to get together and try to do something about it? How long should people be expected to wait until others take care of the situation?I know some people who have decided to home-school their children in religious education because of the poverty of what is offered in a parish, and they weren't troglodytes. It's not necessarily a new problem. I remember one of my older sisters complaining every year that in her CCD courses they were just going over what she had had to endure in each of the earlier years of her religious education.

Bill deHaas,I thought your post was positive and hopeful to the point that I looked up what you had quoted and found a commentary by Abbot John Klassen OSB, on a past conference at St. John's Abbey - "See, I Am Doing Something New!" Prophetic Ministry for a Church (and a Monastery) in Transition. Interesting stuff - thanks :)

Im in favor of intensive religious education but I also recognize that theological sophistication can have perverse consequences, the kind in evidence in James Joyces Ulysses. There Buck Mulligan taunted Stephen Dedalus as aflicted with the cursed Jesuit strain ... injected the wrong way, His doctrinal facility allowed him to expound upon Sabellianism but to little spiritual gain.It may be that theology amplifies either belief or disbelief. Joyce himself by his exposure to Thomism seemed to be inoculated against thinner forms of religiosity, though not against skepticism.According to one poll 10% or so of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noahs wife. If they believe that they are unlikely to be skeptics but theyll believe almost anything else.

"I know some people who have decided to home-school their children in religious education because of the poverty of what is offered in a parish, and they werent troglodytes."Fr. K., I tried to help start a knitting ministry, a Bible study, and have provided cupcakes and car rides to more Catholic kiddies than I can count. And all this without even being a communicatin' Catholic. I have urged Raber to home school the boy or change parishes.My catechizing anybody in the Catholic faith, as a non-practicing Catholic, would be an even sorrier statement about how bad things had become in the local parish.I am glad things are better elsewhere.Matt, your schtick isn't tired to you because you're not even 30, are probably not married to a woman in her late 40s, or been through any number of obstetrical Catch-22s. I truly pray that you never have to go through them.There are wonderful things about the faith, and I hope I have inculcated them. Its preoccupation with openness to life past the point when it is healthy for some women strikes me as irresponsible. OK, now I really am wham, bam, thank-you-ma'am done.

Hello All,Now that NFP has entered into the discussion I have a comment that I think is relevant. (This coming from a philosophy professor who is practicing NFP rigorously. And unlike Matt I am most definitely not a saint.)I think that Church teaching on NFP and contraception illustrates Fr. Ks original point especially well. I think every Catholic knows that the Church condemns the use of contraception and that most Catholics know that the Church permits married to practice NFP within limits. Beyond that I think most Catholics know very little about these teachings. My bride, who converted to the Roman Catholic faith ten years ago, complains that she has never heard a homily in defense of these Church teachings. We were both surprised at our required pre-marriage classes how little we heard about NFP or the Church ban on contraception. We happen to know about these teachings in considerable depth, but we have had to learn this on our own. My brides primary source of information has been EWTN and organizations like Catholic Answers, where they discuss contraception and NFP incessantly. She was quite surprised when we were first engaged to learn that I had studied the arguments in defense of Church teaching one hears on EWTN and Catholic Answers for years and had concluded they are unsound. For my part I was quite surprised to learn that she had never read Humanae Vitae or any of John Paul IIs lectures on the theology of the body. She sang the praises of these documents because she took EWTNs word for it that the arguments in these documents are sound.My bride thinks that most Catholics are unaware of the reasoning behind these Church teachings because the clergy are too afraid to proclaim unpopular teachings from the pulpit. She might be right, but I suspect that part of the problem is that most priests dont understand or dont agree with the arguments in Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body. Why teach to adult Catholics a teaching one does not understand or does not agree with?In any event, I think this may be an instance of the sort of rethinking of natural law that I think we Catholics badly need that I referred to in my first post on this thread. I think there is little prospect that the old arguments for the ban on contraception are going to make much of an impression on Catholics today. For that reason I dont think that EWTN, Catholic Answers and their allied organizations are really that helpful. As Cathy Kaveny might put it, I think they are preaching to the already converted. I think the way the Church should be defending these teachings is on the grounds of justice. NFP is miserable, but at least couples who practice NFP share the pain together. On the other hand, sustained use of contraception means one partner suffers most of the costs, and these costs include not only health risks but some loss of libido. So I am willing to follow NFP to make sure I do not exploit my partner over the long run. But I have never seen this kind of defense of Church teaching on contraception and NFP presented anywhere I could not even find out which theologians first proposed this defense, though I know it is not original to me.Fr. K suggested that part of the relative illiteracy of limping Catholics is lack of effort. I think Fr. K may well be right, but perhaps part of the problem is that adult Catholics dont know where to look for explanations of Church teaching that will make sense to them.

Jean: why not go and find your own parish where you can fit in? Let your spouse continue going to his own; if you go to a different, but still Catholic church, no harm to that consistent perspective that you want for your son.I am grateful every day that a year ago I left a parish where I was unwanted (by the other parishioners) and started going to a parish where I am welcome. I highly recommend it!

Hello Patrick (and All),"According to one poll 10% or so of Americans believe that Joan of Arc was Noahs wife."That one gave me a really good laugh!

IMHO those who leave the Catholic Church and drop religious practice completely do so not because of a poor theological education but because they never had faith to begin with. Theology is faith seeking understanding and so faith necessarily preceeds theological educatation. Now our faith is in a Person and not in a list of postulates and is "caught" rather than "taught" and so it seems that what these poor drop-outs have missed is someone who knows the Lord and can introduce them. On the other hand those who leave in disgust and join another faith tradition do so simply because they are disgusted, or should I say scandalized. As to where the scandal comes from that is THE question...

Jim McK - actually agree with your comments. You have highlighted a part of a quote from one of the talks I linked to.In fact, what makes Fr. K's original question so difficult to answer even in the United States is that church is so very different from region to region and state to state. So, any one solution does not fit everyone.One of points was to say that the concept of an institutional church; a church focused on "mortar and bricks" is dying. Would suggest that many of us were raised on a foundation that consisted of rules, dogmas, a liturgical & sacramental structure - that was our sub-culture. That is now completely changing and we never really did the hard work of faith building - we overidentified with an institution not a community or we associated community with buildings or we have mixed up "belief" with "faith". Again, we are a sacramental church gathered around the eucharist - word and body/blood of Christ. This is our primary relational building block but, depending upon your sub-culture, family of origin, ways you came to catholic faith you may have been "formed" (borrowing from Fr. K's formation) as an institution/building/parish and never been forced to grow your faith - some of you mentioned the two aspects - notional and real assent. Many of the personal stories speak to relationships - some life-giving; others non-existent. As one of you said - it is a complex answer that involves mature conversion, affective, emotional, learning knowledge, etc.Thanks, Carolyn....glad you enjoyed that link.

Obviously, there are many reasons why people leave the Church, but I think a major one is that this culture/society does not honor the Lord's Day, Sunday.It is much easier to be Catholic in a country where shops are closed on Sunday. Speaking from experience, my own childhood and as the father of six, all of my siblings and children have had to work on Sunday -- a thing which I have never done out of principle -- and Mass becomes less important or of no importance at all, just a memory.Besides the obvious things that should be on the episcopal agenda: fixing the liturgy, fixing catechesis, fixing Catholic schools at every level, demanding equal rights for Catholic schools and Catholic parents, there really should be a nationwide campaign to restore Sunday as a day of rest. In an economic climate such as our own today, it makes sense.There is a great 19th century catechism, Fr. K., called The Catechism of Perseverence, by Abbe Gaume, that explains all the reasons to keep the Lord's Day. Gaume also points out that countries that do not honor the Lord's day suffer economic ruin.Someone should tell Obama.

Paul: in France shops are closed on Sunday by law (with a gradually increasing number of exceptions), and the main holy days are national holidays (Ascension Thursday, Assumption, for example), yet the percentage of the population who go to church on Sunday or on those holidays is in the low single digits. My guess is that in the US, not closing shops on Sundays is not among the top 100 reasons why people leave the church.

I grew up at Notre Dame and went there. The reason that so many Notre Dame students lose their faith in my experience is this: These kids have been told all their lives what a privilege it will be to go there (and it is). How lucky they will be. how selective it is (and it is).So they get there, idolize this professor or that (ever more scarce) priest, and have classes that aspire to be like Princeton's, rather than like the University of Paris in the Thirteenth Century. Finally, upon leaving (and this year especially), they look around them and say, "these people whom I have been told I should admire and emulate do not take their faith seriously. Why should I?"In terms of the totality of humanity, these kids are given more than 99.9999% of their fellow men. In material ways, at least. But, as Jacques Maritain once said, "I used to pray for the faith of a Breton peasant. Now I realize that I should have prayed for the faith of a Breton peasant **woman**.Those days are gone at Notre Dame. Who knows what is to come -- besides Obama, of course.

"My bride thinks that most Catholics are unaware of the reasoning behind these Church teachings because the clergy are too afraid to proclaim unpopular teachings from the pulpit. She might be right, but I suspect that part of the problem is that most priests dont understand or dont agree with the arguments in Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body. Why teach to adult Catholics a teaching one does not understand or does not agree with?"Hi, Peter, and congratulations on your marriage.I think your wife is being insightful. Certainly, in my case, as I've mentioned before, I went into marriage unaware of what the church taught about birth control. It seems so obvious, what's the problem with it? (That was my thinking).Although I've subsequently learned and practiced church teaching on this topic, I've never preached about contraception or Humanae Vitae. I'm not particularly allergic to controversial topics; in fact, I strongly believe that preachers need to talk about things that are real and important in the lives of the people in the parish. I also believe that part of the preacher's art is being able to talk about difficult topics in ways that don't needlessly alienate the listeners.So why not talk about birth control? My main reasons are kind of pedestrian: like most Catholic preachers, my homilies are rooted in the readings for the day - usually, but not always, the Gospel reading. And for whatever reason, I haven't had a set of readings that "led me" toward birth control. So I think that Lectionary-based preaching is one limitation that makes it difficult (at least for me) to make the leap to birth control.Also, to be frank - I don't like talking about sex in my homilies. Usually there are quite a few families with young children in the pews when I preach. I don't want to put their parents in the position of having to talk about awkward topics if, in the parents' judgment, the kids aren't ready yet for that kind of talk. Maybe I'm being overly squeamish; there are definitely preachers who disagree with me, and believe that they should say what needs to be said, and if the parents are left with an uncomfortable conversation thereafter, so be it.I think Theology of the Body is sort of a different animal. My understanding is that it's a relatively new theological framework - I don't know if JPII is credited with originally pulling it all together, or if its been around for years and he simply promoted and popularized it (to the extent that it's popular at all). I just don't think there are many priests or deacons that know much about it.I've never had an extended and systematic exposure to Theology of the Body, but to be honest, what I do know of it leaves me unexcited. I don't think it's the key to transforming people's acceptance of what is taught in Humanae Vitae, and I also think that it's not an apt topic for a homily. The homilist only has a few minutes to pull the listener in and proclaim some Good News. Springing an entirely new anthropology on a congregation and then trying to draw some not-particularly-intuitive conclusions from it doesn't seem like a successful project for the preacher. At least not one, like me, who only preaches once a month and so can't do "homily series". And at any rate, Lectionary-based preaching discourages extended teaching programs during the homily, so even pastors who preach weekly shouldn't be doing mult-part seminars during the homily.I do talk about birth control in non-Sunday-homily settings (as I have written about it here in the past). Not the homily, though, at least so far.

Jim: "my homilies are rooted in the readings for the day - usually, but not always, the Gospel reading. And for whatever reason, I havent had a set of readings that led me toward birth control."Well, there you go. The reason is clear from my perspective: the readings lead you to consider and discuss topics that are important for our Christian faith. Birth control is not an important topic.

Christopher: sorry you lost your faith after UND. May I refer you to this bit of folk wisdom: "I am the Lord thy God. Thou shall not have strange gods before me."My nephew went there and is one of the better Catholics who is totally serious about his faith that I know.

"One of points was to say that the concept of an institutional church; a church focused on mortar and bricks is dying."Bill, my point was that In the time of Jesus, the concept of an institutional church, a church of stone, was dying. Tear down the temple and in three days a new temple will rise in spirit and in truth. In the days of St Benedict, people were leaving the churches of stone for spiritual gathering places. In the days of St Francis, the Church needed to be rebuilt, and not neccesarily in the stone form. At the Reformation, the ornate buildings needed to give way to the simple faith of the individual. etc.IOW, for 2000 years the institutional brick and mortar church has been collapsing. This is nothing new. And the response to that collapse is going to still include institutional, brick and mortar churches, as it has in every other age. That we are living stones, raised up as children of Abraham, does not mean that mortar and brick will not be needed. That an institution dies does does not mean it will remain buried and not be raised up like the body of the Lord.So maybe my position is that the death you predict is inevitable, but it will not be final. Brick and mortar institutions will continue like the body of Christ.Late have I loved you Lord, great beauty so ancient and so new.

Thanks, Jim McK. We needed that :-)

Good points, Jim McK - I agree. Poor emphasis on my part but was trying to say that many of us for various reasons - education, training, comfort level, family reasons - over identified the brick and mortar church with the church of faith. So, when the Jesus Triduum experience faces us (and it always does), we go through suffering, dying, death, and eventually rising?) My point - if you overidentify faith with an institituion of family parish/church, you mix up a whole lot of things. It gets to Fr. K's point about faith formation - if we do not focus on the essential elements - the sacramental cyle of Christ in our own lives - but rather focus on buildings, parish, secondary pieties we face dissolusionment, discouragement, etc.

Agreed, Bill deH.Sometimes I wonder whether a fundamental problem for those who do not know the basics of the Faith is that they have never learned how to pray, or just simply what prayer is. I guess I mainly mean the sort of one-to-one contemplative prayer that we got a bit of instruction in when I was in Catholic schools. If you don't know what prayer is experientially, then I can see how for many people the Mass is reduced to listening to a not-very-good sermon, singing a couple of songs (of greater or lesser relevance and beauty), and perhaps smiling at one's neighbors and shaking several hands. True, if one is scared off by that long word "transubstantiation" one is probably not going to have any curiosity about what "the real presence" can possibly mean, nor any notion that He is in our midst listening to us in our hearts and hoping we'll respond. (Please, please, theologians, invent a new word!)

Ann and Jimmy McK - here is a much better and articulated expression of what I am trying to get at: from National Catholic Reporter -, she resonates with the birthing, living, suffering, dying, rising cycly of life, sacramental life, the life of a church. Her prediction is that the catholic church is facing again a paradigm shift (that seems to occur about every 500 years). Her conclusion is that the central "glue" of catholicism is what Jesus brought us - relationship and community.

Bill, I think I understand your position already, and in part I reject it. I am more sympathetic to Matt's position as expressed in his note ending "While we consider how the Church hierarchy may need to respond to the new things, it seems to me we are far too soft on our own selves and underappreciate the need for our growth and maturity in the process of better understanding the wisdom of the Church."The difference is not that I do not believe in a Great Emergence, but that I think the Great Emergence has been happening for 2000 years and will continue to the end of time. Putting it into time spans within the Church, as Ms Tickle appears to have done, is like trying to build our faith out of mortar and bricks. It can be helpful, but the real faith is in our hearts.I am not saying you have to agree with me about this. But neither should you expect that your position will just be adopted by me, or ME(Matt Emerson), just because you quote some who agree with you. There is much that we do agree on, and that lets us work together. But there can be profound differences in how we approach the Great Emergence if we accept it as a new utopian vision, or as an occasion for internal transformation, or as a chance for us to join Christ's mission to save the world. I am not sure which is the best choice, but I have a great deal of sympathy for what Matt has said. (that uncertainty makes me wonder why I am pressing this so hard. my apologies if it is too much, but I am trying to work out some of this for myself as parishes around me are slated to close.)

JoeK, do you know that this is the 110th comment to your initial reflection?Do you also know that if you copy the whole thread and put it into a word document that all the comments are numbered? So no, I didn't count them.I've been away so I am just catching up but I must say the quality of this discussion is first rate. I am going to use Joe's first comment to draw Catholic educators to this thread at my Catholic education blog.I think it can be used in a number of places in Catholic education. Catholic practicing teachers in P.D. Teachers in training in their courses. In high school, students in religious education. And finally, yes, in adult education in parishes which have the luxury of such programs.As for me, with my four years of Catholic high school religious education, it is really my over four decades of reading Commonweal that has educated me...plain and simple.I will conclude with one other thought: being very involved in reading and reflecting on the Church, doesn't make it any easier; in fact in many ways it makes it much harder, often much much harder.

I used Joe's comments to bring this thread to the readers of my (actually the Spiritans) blog Tomorrow's Trust. ( Cooper, one of the authors who has published at asked me to share this piece which is on Joe's topic:Finding the Good News message: a response to Teens lose faith in droves - see

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