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Limping Catholics?

Matt Emerson ended a post to the thread below on the interview with Archbishop Dolan that prompted a discussion why people are leaving the Church: The point of all this is to say that I think people are prone to dismiss something without really appreciating why or investigating whether their reasons for doing so are consistent or valid. I think a lot of Catholics have left the faith or find it unconvincing because they have never been introduced to, or considered, the deeper elements that sustain it.I think this is a very important point. I wish there were data onat what level most Catholics ended their education in the faith, grade school? high school? college? after Confirmation. Id like to know how many of them have an education in the faith equivalent in quality to their education in other areas, and not just in the area, say, of their college major. Thus they leave their education limping, one leg well developed, the other weak, atrophied. Most Catholics do not attend Catholic schools or colleges. Most Catholic colleges require only two or three courses in religion; some of them dont require that they be in theology as distinct from religious studies, so that you could come out of a Catholic college having satisfied your religion-requirement by taking one course on Meso-American Creation Myths and the other on The Marxist Critique of Religion. Anecdotal evidence points to an astonishing ignorance of their religion on the part of Catholics entering collegeso much so that at Catholic University we had a mandatory introductory course that the faculty, among themselves, called Remedial Catholicism. And, again, most Catholics do not go to Catholic schools or colleges! So that when people say that this is the best-educated generation of Catholics in history, I want to make some distinctions: In other areas, perhaps yes; in their faith, I have my doubts.Again, I would love to see data on what effort adult Catholics have made to make up for the deficiencies of their education in the faith or, if they got a decent one, what they have done to make progress in their adult appropriation of the faith. Id love to know how many of them have ever read a serious work in contemporary Catholic theology, or any of the great classics of Catholic thought, How many Catholics are there in the USA60 or 70 million? Publishers regard a book in theology as a great success if they can sell 1,500 copies of it! How many parishes offer programs or courses in adult education in the faith? How many people ever take part in those that are available? One may often justly criticize the quality of preaching, and wonder about the level of education that priests have received, but at some point do not Catholics have to take some responsibility for their own appropriation of the faith?All these factors must surely enter into any discussion of why people leave the Church. I do not say that they are the only, and perhaps they are not the most important ones, but Matt Emerson has raised a point that surely needs attention and discussion.

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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.http://www.elephantsinthelivingroom.com/Crisis_Management_in_the_Church.... "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: http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=99244078097&h=90_tq&u=JrnIM&re... 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.

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About the Author

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