Lapsed Catholics Explain Why They Leave the Church

*Their reasons ranged from the personal (“the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all”) to the political (“eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”) to the doctrinal (“don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control”).

In addition, they said, they didn’t like the church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal and were upset that divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass.

The respondents also called for better homilies, better music and more accountability of the church staff.*
Story at USA Today

It seems no one left because they said it was untrue…

I realize it’s scandalous when a priest behaves imprudently, but really, if a person’s faith was founded on his pastor not being “arrogant” or some such, then they didn’t have much seed in the dirt to begin with, no?

Better music… hahaha. I’d bet real money that their taste in music is terrible (i.e. Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Brittany Spears, etc.).

Really. If you go to a church, any church, primarily for the music, you need a lobotomy.

I wonder if a lot of these are excuses for some deeper motive or hatred.
Prayers and fasting is in order I guess. :o

Being that the median age of the respondents was 51 years old, I don’t think those would be musicians they listen to. :o

But you make a good point that complaining about the music is missing the reason for being at Mass.

I am not sure if we should make too much of the survey results. The sampling method leaves a bit to be desired. First, it relies on Catholic based advertisements, which would require that the respondent either see the ad or else have someone close to them show them the ad. But more importantly, the sample depended on the respondents contacting the researchers, which introduces self-selection bias.

The researchers explained their method in an America article

We got in touch with registered parishioners who are no longer showing up by placing articles in the secular and diocesan press, as well as notices in parish bulletins and requests for contact information from pastors. The survey was also offered in Spanish, sent to all the parishes with Spanish-language populations and advertised in a Spanish-language newspaper.

(NB: the article discusses the results in a bit more detail than the USAToday article, but it doesn’t provide statistics or a link to the full results.)

Joke and look down on the respondents all you want, but some of the things they said are very valid and can have a major impact on a desire to continue in the faith. In particular the complain that when people would ask questions they would get a bunch of rules thrown back at them. This points to a certain illiteracy on the part of priests, not understanding why things are the way they are.

It occurs to me we have done a miserable job in religious education since the Second Vatican Council. As a convert, I became Catholic because I grew to love the Church, love her teachings, love the God who cared enough about us to direct her and nurture her and preserve her. Why are we not teaching our young people this love? Even when the people in the Church do things we can’t stand, or are offended by? The Church is more than the people (all sinners) who embrace her, more than the winds of political and social change which buffet her in every generation.

Lapsed “anythings” usually have very good justifications for what they do. I am a lapsed poster to numerous Internet forums because the other people posting there alienated me. I am a lapsed fan of several types of major sporting events, largely because of boredom. I am a lapsed collector of antique glassware because I finally completed my collection in the pattern I enjoy the most. However, read between the lines and see the people factor here. Andrew Greeley may have put it best. People stay Catholic because they like it, not because they love the Church. When they cease to like it, they’ll go elsewhere to be comfortable.

What is tragic is that ceasing to like being Catholic can have dire consequences. You lose the love of your life.

I do not think we can blame it all on bad catechists since Vatican II. My friends were raised and had sound catechism Pre- Vatican II but, they still lapsed and left for various reasons. Excepting one who remains a staunch anti-Catholic, the rest have returned to Catholicism.

It’s interesting that ads were placed in diocesan newspapers, right out there where lapsed Catholics would never look. That makes about as much sense as when the state of Ohio put the new traffic laws for buggies up on the Internet, right where the Amish would be sure to see them!

But at least someone did care enough to interview or at least distribute a questionnaire, get some data, and do a study on the reasons inactive Catholics left the Church. Maybe getting contact from a surveyor in itself might plant a few seeds or get a few wheels turning and some of them might start thinking about coming back.

I’ve talked to a couple of returnees/retreads who came back to my parish after a couple of decades away from the Church. The thing that got both of these people started on thinking about coming back were the Catholics Come Home ads on TV, on a couple of secular stations. I’ve seen these ads: They made me very conscious about being proud to be a Catholic.

Hey, if the Holy Spirit wants to use Madison Avenue to evangelize, who’s complaining?

On my phone so I can’t get to snip but the Catholics come home commercials have me the last kick I needed. Before I returned I was having a very hard time personally. I would look at my sister who has returned to another a entirely different church and how she found her peace and became a youth pastor. I contemplated joining her church but one morning at about 2 or 3 am after an especially rough episode of anxiety, a Catholics come home commerical aired. Next morning I called and. And made an appoint with our parish priest. So glad I did and thankful for those commericals.

Family circumstance led me away and no real connection with the church or what it was to be catholic kept me away.

Man I maybe shouldn’t post when relying on my phone. Sorry if it doesn’t make sense or is loaded with spelling errors and whatnot

*What you say is true and beautiful and I thank you for it. I left the Church for 27 years and then one day I felt the urge to come back… I have so many regrets because during those 27 years I had 4 children… It is VITAL to be fully and properly instructed in the Faith. Faith is never a matter of opinion.

We need to pray for these people.


*I left, drifted… married a wonderful atheist who today is a faithful daily communicant! Who knows? Maybe God will draw my children (one is not baptised even!). Anything is possible!


But you can get this in Protestant fellowships too where the pastor doesn’t seem to have a clue as how to answer a question so he accuses you of having a “demon of intelligence” or that “your brain is too big for your head!” or some such nonsense.

It takes a lot of compassionate love and discernment for a priest to be able to perfectly respond every time a parishioner comes and asks for advice. In my view, a priest is spread so thin that at times he is struggling to become more aware of what his priorities really are.

As far as spiritual direction goes, there are excellent classic books that can help one on the spiritual journey.
There are varied ways that people can be spiritually guided. Some benefit from prayer groups, others from meditative Scripture reading, Rosaries prayed alone, or with a group. Fellowship blossoms when a group of focused Catholics meet on a regular basis to share and pray together When we pray and seek, we find!

We need to be aware that the Body of Christ is holy, because Christ is holy! The members can be in various stages of sin, turmoil, or blessedness and saintliness. We are needed to invite back those who are estranged from the Church, lift up those who are down, and encourage those who have spiritual battles, as we all do…

Most of the lapsed I know left for secular pleasures. But in your above examples, aren’t those very different than leaving something you once believed to be eternal truth? I mean, either one believes the Church delivers the true Eucharist or speaks with the voice of the Spirit or not. I’ve run into plenty of ill-informed priests, but never thought I would abandon the Church entirely because of that other person. It’s basic leaving the Apostles because of Judas mentality.

No doubt I have sympathy for those who have had bad experiences with this or that person, but it’s not hard to learn what true Catholic teaching is anymore, and I don’t think people who leave have often thought it through very well.

That being said, the Church may be purer after some people leave who tried to mold the Church to themselves when they were in its visible boundaries. Even Paul said to hand people over to Satan to correct them.

In short, they left because they don’t like to be reminded that they are sinners called to repentance.

True enough. One finds pastors hardly worthy of the name in our Catholic churches, in Protestant churches, and in Evangelical churches, too.

People are called to repentance in all the Christian churches, not just ours. That couldn’t be the only reason for leaving. Some friends of mine went from Catholicism to agnosticism for intellectual reasons. Not everyone leaves because he or she is too great a sinner or because of birth control.

Yes, but many of the non-Catholic congregations have a “repent and you will be saved” (also called Once Saved, Always Saved) ministry. They don’t teach that salvation is an ongoing process that calls for continual reflection on one’s sinfulness, repentance of lapses, and an ongoing effort to live a pure life.

Yes, there are such churches, but the churches that argue against that simplistic notion are pretty much all other non-Catholic churches. When was the last time you heard your pastor argue against OSAS? OSAS has been debunked by many Evangelicals as well as by almost all of mainline Protestantism (some Baptists excepted), all using Scripture to prove their point. When I used to post on the Rapture Ready website, I found that almost all those Evangelicals rejected OSAS as insupportable by the Bible.

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