(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The idea of a special issue devoted to essays by converts, practicing cradle Catholics, and lapsed or ex-Catholics was first proposed at one of our editorial meetings almost two years ago. Since then, much has happened in the country and in the church. This past summer brought a spate of new revelations about sexual abuse and cover-up—and with them, stories of Catholics so scandalized or discouraged by the crisis that they’ve decided to leave the church. Even before this latest season of scandal, however, many conservative Catholics were expressing misgivings about whether the current pope could be trusted to defend Catholic doctrine. Meanwhile, the number of young people who were raised Catholic but now call themselves “Nones” continues to grow, while others have discovered in some other religious community what they did not find in the Catholic Church. And yet every year people young and old decide to enter the church, in at least partial awareness of its faults. In truth, the reasons people join the church and remain in it are as complicated and various as the reasons others leave it. We hope the following essays reflect at least some of that variety and complexity. There are stories of sudden personal disillusionment next to lofty ecclesiological arguments with practical consequences. There are stories of believers who feel wounded by the disciplines of faith next to stories of unbelievers who still feel some trace of the faith they’ve lost, as if it were a missing limb. What all of our contributors agree on, if nothing else, is that the question of whether to belong to the church and believe in its claims is not a trivial one. The Catholic faith cannot survive as a mere cultural accessory or tribal marker, nor should it. If it is first of all a gift, it is one a person must choose to keep. The days of Catholicism by default are behind us.

—The Editors

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