Why Young Catholics Are Leaving the Church

They leave for different reasons. Some saw hypocrisy. Others were hurt by those in authority. Still more disagree with a Church teaching. Sometimes, all they’re waiting for is an invitation back. And often, it’s not the Catholic Church itself that the “fallen away” have a beef with but their particular experience of it.

“Evangelize at all times; when necessary, use words,” St. Francis of Assisi is known to have said. Many people who no longer consider themselves Catholic experienced the reverse of this rule in their encounters with Catholics early in life.


There are no numbers on how many people have left the Church, how many are thinking about coming back, or how many have indeed returned. But people in the “business” of apologetics, like Patrick Madrid, editor of Envoy magazine, report that wherever they go, they see the same thing.

In his book Search and Rescue: How to Bring Your Family and Friends Into — or Back Into — the Catholic Church, Madrid writes:

I’ve given countless seminars throughout the country about Christ and the Catholic Church. In each seminar, I ask the same question: “How many of you have a family member or a friend who has abandoned the Catholic Church and gone into another religion?” Whether it’s fifty people or five thousand, the answer is always the same, always unanimous: everyone in the audience raises a hand.


Denominational Sabbatical

Conservative radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, who is author of The Embarrassed Believer: Reviving Christian Witness in an Age of Unbelief, says he’s “on leave” from the Catholic Church. He argues, “The American Church… needs a reformation.” But, he despairs, “none is even remotely close to occurring.” Hewitt points to the cathedral in Los Angeles as “the perfect expression of the American Church today — so sterile it could be an air conditioning plant and designed to please non-Catholics with the taste of the leadership.”

Hewitt describes his move from Roman Catholicism to Presbyterianism as partly positive and partly negative. He considers himself an “ex-pat, obliged to move to a Protestant expression of faith because I experience God’s presence more easily and more conclusively as a Presbyterian and began to do so over a dozen years ago.” Presbyterianism works for him in ways Catholicism no longer did. “The Presbyterian confessions and order of worship are very left-brain and made me into a much better Christian,” he says.

But some of the reasons for Hewitt’s move were direct reactions to problems he saw in the Catholic Church. Hewitt says, “The American bishops literally drove me out. I could not read the paper without muttering about their inanities. James Malone, the bishop of Youngstown, my bishop, who confirmed me, sputtering about nuclear weapons and poverty” — all this while Hewitt worked in the Reagan White House.

“These silly men,” Hewitt complains, “issued reams of nonsense and met and met and met even as the liturgy collapsed into incoherence and the preaching dissolved into eight-minute homilies on the need for love. There was also the problem of the Responsorial Antiphon. It would almost always cause me to either laugh or grind my teeth. Is there a worse collection of ‘music’ anywhere? And the Christian Rite of Initiation, and the revamped Sacrament of Reconciliation — all of it just another set of committee reports from priests and nuns bored with the old Church. I could go on, but my guess is that you have heard it all before.”

Hewitt concludes, “There is enormous energy and talent within the American Church which might over the years genuinely renew it and rebuild it. But I need God on a much more immediate basis.”

Hewitt’s complaints will not surprise many practicing Catholics. If the average American Catholic based his faith formation and spiritual growth on statements issued by subcommittees of the bishops’ conference — or limp parish homilies — people would be dropping out at a much greater rate. Happily, the average American Catholic looks beyond these things.

But there is a significant number of people unable to find a reason to stay.

Joe Loconte, William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank, was raised in an Italian Catholic family — the kind that takes its Catholicism very seriously. He served as an altar boy and had a full Catholic upbringing. But when he hit college — he was a journalism major at the University of Illinois at Urbana — he began reading C.S. Lewis and the Bible.

He says it was there that he made the choice to “become a Christian.” In the most loving, respectful way, Loconte left the Catholic Church, where he says he “could never be good enough.” It was on the issue of salvation — a debate as old as the Reformation — that Loconte left the Church of his youth.

Like Hewitt, Loconte felt he could get to God more directly outside of Catholicism. But for Loconte, the departure is more permanent. “There are many Catholics who are Christians,” he says, “but they are [Christians] despite Catholicism.” He believes that errant theology keeps Catholics from Christ.

Of course, Loconte’s isn’t the only college exit story, and his move away from the Church was much more intellectual than that of most young people. In Search and Rescue, Madrid tells a story familiar to many families he’s met across the country: Send your kid off to college and soon you are faced with his new understanding of the Faith, an understanding often riddled with anti-Catholic prejudices and other bits of ignorance he has picked up from mainstream culture:

Take, for example, your grown son, Rick. You raised him in a good Catholic home, took him to Mass every Sunday, taught him his prayers, drove him to altar-boy practice, and made sure he attended CCD classes. You scrimped and budgeted so you could send him to a Catholic high school. You assumed he’d remain Catholic. Then you found out that in college he became friendly with a large, dynamic group of Evangelical Protestant students who met every week for Bible study.

“At first,” Madrid writes, “you were happy to see him remaining interested in religious issues, so you didn’t give it much thought when he began quoting Bible verses when he came home on weekends.” But “eventually, you noticed his vocabulary changing.” He started saying things like “The Lord spoke to my heart about this” and “Praise God about that…. Before long, he broke the news to you that he’s no longer a Catholic. He left, he explained, because his Evangelical friends convinced him that the Catholic Church is unbiblical and that her traditions are manmade and her doctrines are false.”

There’s no reason for parents to despair, however. “Even though Rick may think he has already discovered the answers in his new church,” Madrid concludes, “he still wants, deep down, to grapple with what the Catholic Church claims to be true. Believe it or not, that makes it easier to bring him back to the Church.”

Of course, that brings us to another crucial problem: formation. As Rev. George W. Rutler says, the problem is fivefold and deep: First, “the current young generation has been reared by parents who are the first generation to have been spiritually malformed themselves.” Second, so many times “the schools have failed them.” Third, “the Liturgy has sunk to a level so contemptible that at best it serves to mortify the humble but generally denies anyone a vision of the kingdom of God.” And fourth, “preaching is largely reduced to inane moralizing.”

Finally, there’s the problem of confession. “Youth have been lost because of suppression of the sacrament of reconciliation,” Rutler explains. “While confession has declined in large measure through sloth and neglect… the sacrament has been discouraged intentionally… and impeded by people who hate the priesthood and the doctrine of personal sin. So young people are deprived of the most radical conversion of their souls.”

A great many Catholics who find out that their children have become Protestants at college simply don’t know how to argue against the charge that much of Catholic teaching and tradition is made up. In many families, unfortunately, no one from the baby boomers on down knows much about the Faith. Some forgot. Some never learned in the first place.

Theological Malpractice

Matthew’s experience is an example of the humanity of the Church and why Catholics must pray for the Church daily. He grew up in a practicing Catholic household and went to Catholic schools. “I was raised with the indoctrination of how the Church was infallible, perfect, the sole authority of God,” he says. As he grew older, he began to wonder whether this corresponded to the Church he saw.

“I was taught that the Bible was something for the priest to read and tell us what it meant,” he says. “Nobody ever told me to, but I always had this image that a priest was a good man, didn’t do bad things, someone you could trust. But then I would ask myself, ‘Why does Father So-and-So smoke and drink?’ Those always seemed like things that priests weren’t supposed to do. And again, I wasn’t taught that. I always wondered why the priests could have money and drive Cadillacs, but the nuns had to take a vow of poverty.

“Then also in high school,” he continues, “I saw firsthand the sex abuse with boys by priests. One was trying to recruit me into that stuff, and I knew boys who were being abused. This priest was arrested a year after I graduated, along with one of his buddies who was not a priest. This same priest was also the biology teacher, and when asked one day if he believed in Creation or evolution, he said evolution. I couldn’t believe it. Soon after, I saw an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about how Pope John Paul II believed in both Creation and evolution. This told me that he didn’t believe the book that was supposed to be the foundation of the religion.”

Matthew stopped attending Mass after high school — when his mother stopped making him go — and would later meet and marry the daughter of a Baptist preacher. Going to her father’s church, he says, “I wasn’t looking for God, but He was looking for me. After about six to nine months of going to her dad’s church, hearing the Word of God, He saved me, and I trusted Jesus as my Savior. I had heard things that I’d never heard before.”

Matthew, clearly, never had the chance to learn what the Catholic Church really teaches. He says, “I didn’t know Jesus when I was Catholic…. The Catholics do not know the God of the Bible…. They worship and practice things that are unbiblical, trusting in their religion to save them, instead of God.”

Though he was raised Catholic, his understanding of Catholicism comes remarkably close to the caricature of Jack Chick comics. His story suggests that this is largely the fault of the Catholics he encountered as he was growing up. Sometimes such a tragic misunderstanding is caused by what Boston College’s Rev. Matthew Lamb has referred to as “theological malpractice.” And sometimes, as in Matthew’s case, it’s caused by scandal. No Catholic ever introduced him to the true teachings of the Faith; no one addressed his doubts or dispelled his misconceptions.

A Painful Exit

While some abandon Catholicism enthusiastically, others leave the Church with great anguish and hesitation. Peter, a victim of sex abuse by a priest (which he does not blame for his later leaving), converted to Catholicism from Lutheranism when he was 17. Last year he left the Catholic Church in large part because of his homosexuality. But his decision should not be dismissed as a convenient act of self-justification.

Peter attended an orthodox Catholic college where he studied theology and philosophy. He spent time in an ex-gay counseling ministry. But after going off to Europe for graduate school, he says, he realized “it just wasn’t working.” He had been celibate (and still is) the whole time and was facing this as his lifetime status — he had no hope of ever living as anything but a single celibate. “I was lonely, sad, ashamed,” he says.

The more he studied, the more he developed other difficulties with his adoptive church: On women’s ordination, gay marriage, and infallibility. Ultimately, he found himself leaning toward the Anglican Church. “Where else does a gay Christian, with strong incarnational theological positions, who favors the ordination of women and a conciliar model of the Church, fit in the body of Christ?”

Peter formally became an Anglican in April 2001. “The Anglican Church is far from perfect,” he says. “But at least I feel I maintain my integrity there. I also do not feel the sense of shame that follows from repeated exposure to Roman Catholic sexual theology, in spite of my celibacy and in spite of [that theology's] many strong and valid points.”

Peter “still maintain[s] immense respect and even love” for the Roman Catholic Church. He says, “I am Catholic in spirit, in soul, and in spirituality. My deepest formation was that of Catholicism.” But the only circumstances under which he sees himself returning to the Roman Catholic Church would involve a change of teaching on gay marriage, ordained women, and papal infallibility.

“My faith is being nourished in my new home. I feel welcomed, valued, and affirmed,” he says. While attending the Catholic Church, Peter got conflicting advice in the confessional. “Many priests, perhaps the majority, told me to go out and find a steady partner. Some went the other direction and scolded me simply for having same-sex attractions.”

His Catholic friends — many of whom remain close — often frustrated him, as well.

“Many of my lay friends would take an approach toward me that seemed insincere and paternalistic,” he says. “They would promise support and friendship. But more often than not, I was simply ignored. Frequently, I would be asked if I was being celibate. I would greet someone, engage in some talk, and then they would pop this question, ‘So, are you behaving?’ It was not only rude, it also showed the obsession many of my Catholic friends have with sexuality in general. It was as if my celibacy was a public issue for the asking. I was held in suspicion for reason of my sexual orientation. Straight friends who were single do not report being asked if they remained celibate on a regular basis. It was as if, ‘As long as the homosexual behaves, we can all rest a little easier.'”

As for a reconciliation with the Church, Peter’s not holding his breath. “I think it seems pretty clear that I will remain Anglican,” Peter says. “But who knows what God has in store?”


Familiar Stories

Rev. Joseph Wilson, a priest at St. Luke’s Church in Queens, New York, has heard Matthew’s story more than once. Father Wilson says, “I’m sure people drift away for all kinds of reasons, but I think we ought to be especially concerned for people who are turned off by the anemic parish life one finds in so many places in our country. Here in New York City I know of a good number of couples who travel over parish and diocesan boundaries to a parish where they find good worship and teaching. They know something is missing and go out of their way to supply the need. How many more there must be whose faith was simply never nourished in their parishes, and how many there are who end up in ‘Bible churches’ because they find fellowship, scriptural preaching and teaching, and a sense of spirituality they had been lacking.

“As far as preaching goes,” Father Wilson says, “I hear a lot about the abysmal state of Catholic homilies. Part of the problem is that in this age a priest or deacon who teaches something clearly and forthrightly will catch flak for it. Early on in his ministry a homilist should be able to make a few mistakes, find his own gifts as a preacher, learn how to phrase an argument or an example and how to talk about sin. Today, however, in the age where everyone is an expert and all truth is subjective, many people do not want to hear uncomfortable teachings expounded. It becomes very easy to fall back on a feel-good approach to the homily, light on content, long on uplifting anecdotes and the power of positive thinking.”


‘Gettable’

Some lapsed Catholics seem much more “gettable” than others; that is, it’s easier to persuade them to return.

One young woman tells me, for example, “I want to go to Mass, I want to be part of the community, but [my attempts have been] a disaster.” She says she considers herself “a Catholic without a country” — a Catholic without a parish.

Many Catholics of all ages say they don’t get anything out of Mass. Father Wilson believes that this is the result of a deep misunderstanding of what the Mass is about, a misunderstanding perpetuated by certain liturgical trends. “In most places, the way the liturgy is celebrated sends clear signals out to everyone that liturgy is our self-expression, that it should be comfy and entertaining. Most Catholics never quite pick up the astounding truth that the Mass is not about what we do so much as about what God does, that the Mass is Calvary made present, that when we stand before the altar as Mass is offered we are standing at the foot of the Cross with Our Lady and St. John.”

Father Wilson worries that “we’re too busy tuning up the guitars and choosing the refrain of the responsorial psalm to think of those things anymore, let alone to teach them. Of course, poorly formed young Catholics drift away. They don’t even realize what they are rejecting.”

The Path Back to Rome

But Gen-Xers may be starting a trend — young people making their own way back to Rome, despite misguided teachers. After a generation or two of malformation, today’s young Catholics still have an appetite for what the Church offers. Colleen Carroll, author of The New Faithful: Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, spent several years interviewing young Christians. She says, “A fair number of the young adults I interviewed for my book labeled themselves ‘reverts’ — those who left the Church consciously, or simply fell away, then had powerful conversion experiences that led them back to the Church.” In many of their cases, they left as teenagers who were turned away by what they often cite as “spiritually dead worship.” Increasingly, though, they’re finding lively fellowship and community worship focused on the Eucharist — something very different from their childhood experience of the Faith.

Jana Novak, who cowrote Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter’s Questions About God with her father, Michael Novak, has a unique outlook on Catholics her age. The daughter of a world-renowned theologian, she has often struggled with her Catholicism — a struggle we read about in Tell Me Why. Jana has found that many Gen-X Catholics who leave the Church are somewhat cynical; they dislike pushy evangelism:

Many left because they did not feel resonance behind the words they were listening to, so having someone playing the ‘Pollyanna’ religious converter is just more of the same. They appreciate the emotion and the passion but find it questionable.

Twenty- and thirty-somethings do not need to be hoodwinked into returning to the Church; nor do they need Church teachings watered down by their elders. Indeed, in some cases it’s the watering down that gives them pause. “Basically,” Jana says, “I think Gen X truly understands and relates to the concept of free will — something that is usually so hard for believers to understand. For them, that is the most important — not in the sense that they can do or get away with anything, but in the sense that they can respect and understand a God that encourages them to think, question, doubt, research, struggle, and then come willingly to Him.”

Jana says that saccharine representations of the Christian life only exacerbate her generation’s general skepticism. Young people are more likely to respond to a vision of faith that includes its difficulties: “They do not want to hear platitudes, they want to hear that it is tough, but that God offers unconditional love, and isn’t that the best thing to have?”

So where does that leave the Church? Where it has always been. “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

Madrid, who’s reached out to hundreds of “lapsed Catholics,” reminds his readers that back in the 16th century, St. Francis de Sales managed to convert 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism. While that may seem impossible in today’s world, St. Francis took Christ at His word: “In all your affairs, rely entirely on the Providence of God through which alone all your plans succeed…. Strive very gently to cooperate with it. Then, believe that if you trust well in God, success will come to you.”


This article originally appeared in the December 2002 issue of Crisis Magazine.
 

By

An award-winning opinion journalist and editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online and an associate editor at National Review (a.k.a. National Review on Dead Tree). She is a graduate of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she studied philosophy and politics. Before standing athwart history at National Review, she worked at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank on Capitol Hill. Besides National Review and NRO, her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, The Women's Quarterly, The National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, American Outlook, New York Press, and The Human Life Review, among other publications. Lopez has appeared on CNN, the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, and oxygen and is a frequent guest on radio and TV shows internationally. She speaks frequently, often to high-school and college groups. She writes often on bioethics, religion, feminism, education, and politics, among other topics.

  • Adam Wood

    I think most of the insights here are off…

    Young Catholics aren’t leaving because of compelling arguments for Protestantism or because of a misunderstanding of the theology of the Mass. They aren’t leaving because the Responsorial Psalms are poorly written or because we’ve spent too much time tuning our guitars.

    The engaged young people leave for other churches because they find the Catholic Church to be:
    -sexist
    -hypocritical
    -in theological error
    -sexist
    -overly dogmatic
    -sexist (did I say that one already)

    The disengaged leave (for no church) because they find the Catholic Church to be:
    -boring

    To bring these people back into the fold, we must:
    -change what is wrong and bad
    -do a better job of transmitting what is right and good.

    The progressives have spent the last half century attempting to do the first. They have, mostly, failed.
    The traditionalists are doing a slightly better job of the second. They will be more successful, but not enough.

  • Steven

    As a Gen Xr I relate very strongly to the last part of the article, especially: “They do not want to hear platitudes, they want to hear that it is tough, but that God offers unconditional love…”. Gen Xrs now have young families and are discovering the meaning of sacrifice. Remember, we are generation who never had to go to war en masse. We follow a generation who created post world war ii society and in a way we were led to believe that sacrifice wasn’t necessary anymore. But sacrifice is just as necessary to avoid wars as it is to end them. I am mid 30s and at a transitional phase where pop music is becoming repulsive and at the same time the Ordinary Form of liturgy seems noisy. I am discovering high art forms like classical music and at the same time EF mass seems enchanting and peaceful. I want to connect more to nature by having a permaculture garden and spend time in the country but some things have to wait as supporting my family at this time is more important. Parents are getting old, grand-parents are dying and I’m pondering what we are losing now that those who have sacrificed are leaving us. These things remove the veil and we want the hard questions answered. Luckily, the internet took off and much of my formation has been internet based. The main thing missing for me in the Church in a community of Gen Xrs. Baby boomers have no interest in you and you are too old for the new generation of youth groups that have sprung up. Those of us who practice our faith mainly live our lives in the wider community and I don’t have too much of a problem with that.
    Maybe when Gen Y’s mature there will be a bigger community for us within the Church that we feel we belong to.

  • sibyl

    My own experience as a Gen-Xer is that Mass was fairly boring and the music fairly bad. But the thing that most turned me off was that so many people so obviously did not believe what they professed. Jesus’ body and blood, for our food and drink? God truly present? Scripture as the actual words of the almighty, for us to ponder, for us to conform our lives to? No way. It seemed to me, and still does, that if you believe what the Church professes, you will be ardent. Fiery. Overcome with a desire to please the God who loves you and comes to you intimately. Comporting yourself with every fiber of your being involved in worship, not just your mouth and your knees. If Jesus was really present to bring you the Gift of Immortality, would you slouch in late, wearing jeans, chewing gum, talking during the Consecration?

    Also, it seemed to me that even priests didn’t really believe. If they did, why would they preach so coldly? Why would every homily be like the Readers’ Digest? Where was the exhortation? More than anything, the direct, urgent language — the hunger for righteousness and the Kingdom? Did they really think that people might lose their salvation through sin? If so, where was the directness of fear for our souls?

    Now, I never did leave. But it created a lot of anger for me and was a temptation to arrogance and bitterness, which I unfortunately indulged many times. It is no surprise to me that so many have left, and continue to leave. I think we need a lot of what our ardent evangelical friends have. (And, of course, that they need what we, through no merit of our own, have.)

    I wish that more Catholics — especially priests and bishops! — realized that it is impossible to hide an anemic or non-existent faith. The world is dying for want of faith and the Lord who gives it; we can be the most decent of people, but if we don’t really love God we will instantly repel those who wish they could and are looking for the Church that is for them.

    For the record, that anger was healed, through His grace. My concentration now is simply on trying to grow closer to Him, trying to mean, with everything I’ve got, what I profess, and to give up every thing that keeps me from Him. Even if the Church were sexist and exclusive (which I deny) I’d stay. Because it’s where He wants me.

  • Jon

    I am a teacher of Catholicism at a Catholic school and from my experience there is a lack of formation in families these days. There is no sense of the domestic church anymore. Parents are not following their call to be the first educators of their children in the faith and life. They are taking for granted that their kids are going to a Catholic school and think that they will have all the formation they need at school. This is a huge error! From the moment a child is born, their formation in the faith should begin. A good Catholic teacher is only as good as the reinforcement from parents at home. If a child is taught something that a parent does not know or believe, he will be less likely to believe it. I think one reason parents are not forming their children is because they have not been formed. Consequently, they do not believe what their children should be learning. You can see by the lack of reverence before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that many parents are either ignorant or truly do not believe. Furthermore, families are not praying together anymore. The family that prays together stays together and the children stick to their faith. However, I think we are beginning to see a new springtime of our church and we can expect to see more fervent souls in love with their Lord in the Eucharist in the generation to come.

    I am expecting my first child in August and you better believe that my child will be raised and formed in this domestic church! I challenge other families to join me!

  • Dienekes

    I grew up Catholic in the 1950s when the Church was beginning to run on fumes; married Catholic, sent the kids to Catholic schools; Vietnam vet, law enforcement career, been there, done that.

    The last 40 years in the Church has not been good; the Church has let itself be steamrollered by the prevailing culture. Sometimes it seems that the only tradition that has been retained is the awful music. Catholics who themselves don’t know or practice their faith hand over their kids to preschool, daycare, and public school to indoctrinate. Their Catholicism is protective coloration, and both they and their children know that they will not be held to any standards of behavior or performance. Nor are they.

    I have taught 6th grade CCD for two years now, believing that everyone has a responsibility to grab an oar when the ship is foundering. NOT a good experience as the program is mostly eyewash and most kids know they don’t really have to make any effort; they don’t want to be there anyway. School sports are their priority and they are supported in this by their parents (!) and the CCD staff. Some kids have concerned parents, and frankly they would be better off if the parents attended to their religious education themselves.

    I have a hard enough time persuading my own kids, now into their 30s, to practice their religion in a Church that takes them for granted when it notices them at all. Does the Church even want them there?

    I will not leave the Church (“Where shall we go?”) but if I had not been raised in it, and were I not as stubborn as I am, I would not be in it now. It is a COLD Church filled with mostly COLD hard-hearted people. “Communication” is in one direction only, and some of us aren’t children anymore. Talk is cheap. Church talk about “love” without substance is not only cheap, it’s obscene.

    Like I say, it’s not surprising that so many go; the surprising thing is that anyone stays anymore.

  • Midwestern Trad

    Dear Adam Wood,

    You mentioned the Church being “sexist” three times in your comment. Please explain, I’m not sure what you mean.[smiley=think]

  • Greenman

    Let’s get on with it. We’ve kept our eyes open to the world and they are ready to fall out. Close our eyes and focus on Him who is able to do the things that need to be done. Let us put on the robe of Abraham as he bargains for the citizens of Sodom. Let us rise up as Gideon did, with the scant resources at hand. When all else fails, cry out to the Lord as the man did: Lord, help my unbelief.
    As Catholics, we are tough on others. When my own whining gets out of hand, nine times out of ten, it is my prayer life that is out of order. I must remember that I have an honorable duty to intercede for those that are in my life: my family, my friends, my place of work, my neighborhood, my priests, my CCD students, my bishop and so on. We need to be naming people in prayer on a daily basis. It would behoove us as a Church to be invested in the well being of others. At Mass, we always need to remember we are in the company of a heavenly throng.

  • R.C.

    I suppose what Adam Wood means is that the weak and fainting culture of Catholicism as commonly practiced is so emasculating as to explain why women predominantly run all the lay ministries and administrative functions at the average parish, and the female extraordinary ministers and altar servers outnumber the male.

    At least, that’s the only pronounced “sexism” of which I’m aware, though I wouldn’t have selected that term.

  • Robert

    I would agree with RC.

    I’m not female and I’m not gay so neither the priests nor the sanctimonious “inclusive” and “caring” (mostly female) lay leaders who dominate parishes in my area have any particle interest in “making space” for people such as me.

    “Boo hoo”, you might say but I’m sure some of you can relate. Week after week, it’s soul crushing.

    Having said that, you can’t win with either crowd. You can hang with the creative liturgy flakes or the Orthodox Catholics who seem to take a rather too keen interest in fraternal correction, less the fraternity part. (Pot calling the Kettle black you say, but then, I don’t regard myself as being in the same Church as the former crowd).

    If I had to sit through one more monologue about JPII’s Love and Responsibility I am going, with great prudence and chastity, to love smacking that person up the side of the head.

    Rant over. God bless.

    Robert

  • Sharon

    First of all, it is my opinion having speaking to some Catholics who have fallen away from the Church, that the main reason they have left is because they want to follow the Church Laws. Most of these are those that forbid contraception, fornication, and other laws of morality. I have found that many of the come up with other reasons – they complain about the Mass being boring or pass judgment on the priest – whatever they can find.
    But, one thing also to remember is that we do not go to Mass to be entertained. We go there to worship God – not to socialize with others. We go there to be with Jesus – to unite ourselves with Him. The “modern” churches have failed to instill that in the young people.

  • Greg

    I am presuming that when somone calls the church “sexist” that they are referring to the lack of ordination of women to the priesthood. In our modern society this is in line with “gender politics” as it is played out in the world. If within the church we look at the priesthood as a position of power then indeed the church is practicing a sexist policy. I think the problem is related to what others are saying about the lack of formation and understanding of church teaching. The position of priest is in actuality suppose to be a position of service. Unfortunately in many cases this idea of it being a position of power has been projected by either a priest or by others who want it to be a position of power. Indeed there are times in the history of the church when the priesthood has been all about power and not about love and service. Isn’t this some of what St. Francis was trying to combat in his day?
    I have heard several different arguments against the ordination of women, but in most cases it has been poorly explained or come across as just a twisted way to justify not giving women a position of leadership in the church.
    I find that when I get involved in anything in the church except the Knights I am usually working with women and not very many men. In fact about anywhere you go in the church it is normal to find women running about everything. I am not sure what the reason for this is, but it seems pretty universal and I think contributes to the perception that the church is pretty well feminized. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it does seem to effect how men contribute to the church. Obviously it does not, however, satisfy those who want women to be more prominent in the church. I remember when the main line protestant churches started appointing and ordaining women pastors. It seemed to some a good thing and that it would revitalize their congregations, but apparantly it has not done so as most of them have continued to disintegrate as they have evolved into more liberal institutions. I do not pretend to have any answers but just make these observations as someone who converted to Catholicism back in the 70’s. I could not be anything else. My wife and I are very involved in pro-life work and this takes us into other denominations churchs. I have enjoyed this meeting and mixing with other denominations and it is true that they have some really great music at times, but it has never proven to be a substitue for the Eucharist. It seems often to be about entertainment and not worship. A recent event we attended consisted of a 100 person choir singing praise music, a 30 minute sermon, and then another round of praise music. Nice, but no Eucharist, so to me somewhat empty. I could have gone to a Gaithers concert and achieved the same thing. So if the music at Mass is not of the hightest quality it probably has something to do with the fact that it is usually done by volunteers who just want to contribute something, but are not necessarily great musicians or singers. The music is suppose to be part of the litergy, not the focus of the Mass.

  • Ellen

    I get upset at times – who doesn’t? I had great teaching in grade school, but pablum in high school (I’m 59). But you know what – I went out and taught myself. I realized pretty early on that a diet of sugar (Jesus just luvs you) wasn’t going to satisfy me and so I read church history and doctrine and count myself a pretty intelligent Catholic. My study has only confirmed that the Catholic church with all its flaws is the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Then there’s the Eucharist. That’s the defining thing for me. I’d rather listen to a bad homily at any Catholic Church than listen to a dazzling sermon with beautiful music at The Church of All People where it’s all about me and they never recieve the Eucharist.

  • Ann

    People of the GenX generation have left because they don’t believe in God and don’t want to follow and accept the Church’s teachings on many things, including abortion, birth control and gay marriage.

    I say, who cares? Let them go.

    While I’m not doubting the truth to the many anecdotes in this article, I think they are the exception not the rule, at least in the Northeast part of the country.

    I can’t relate to any of these anecdotes in this article. I have 30+ first cousins, every single one of us was raised Catholic and I am the ONLY one raising my children Catholic. My cousins have not gone off to be Anglicans or Evangelicals. They are just nothing now….some of them believe in some sort of God, some of them claim to be “spiritual but not religious,” some are dabbling in things like Buddhism and yoga in search of enlightenment, some are outright atheists.

    We also have to keep history in mind. For first-gen Americans of immigrant parents from Europe, this is just the effects of American freedom. Remember, that in many of the countries where these ethnic immigrants came from, until relatively recently, you had to be Catholic. You had to be Catholic to be educated, to not be shunned, to not bring dishonor on your family, because it was the easiest route to go. There was ALWAYS a mix of believers and nonbelievers in the pews. They then came to America, and bundled themselves into ethnic parishes as a buffer to the new world of America. Again, still a mix of believers and nonbelievers in the pews. Now that that buffer is no longer needed, GenX is choosing whether to stay or to go.

  • georgie-ann

    amen,…Greg & Ellen,…

  • John in Dallas

    As a father, I know it is my duty to model for my children the value of attending Mass and being involved in the Catholic life, but it is a BEATING to pretend that the ugly and anemic liturgy that we attended was in any way inspiring.

    It makes me very angry when the Catholic Answers/”apologetics” crowd tells me that people leave the Church because they never really believed in the first place. It is an easy excuse – and one that looks right past the fact that the Mass is no longer beautiful and it can be soul crushing to sit through that thin, tasteless gruel week after week.

    Yes, the Eucharist is why we come and should be enough to sustain us, but as Dostoyevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.”

  • John in Dallas

    “I say, who cares? Let them go.”

    Ann, that is part of the problem. Men are asking to be challenged and that is the response they get from their priests and their parish.

  • Clinton

    As a revert who left the Catholic Church in his teens and recently returned, I completely identify with the article. In fact, I can sit down and wholeheartedly say, “some of those experiences were my own”. Some of the comments here though are completely off. I also knew many other young people who left the Catholic Church for the same reasons as me. It had nothing to do with the Church’s teaching on abortion, homosexuality, etc. In fact, those are the teachings that are bringing many of us back. But yeah, definitely it had a lot to do with hypocrisy, misinformation regarding Catholicism vs Protestantism, and the hypocrisy and theological illiteracy of priests!

  • Clinton

    Also I think the commentators give the people who left less credit than they deserve and make them appear stupid, doctrinally inferior, etc. Well in my case, I would sometimes be serving 3 masses a day (go for Mass everyday), say the rosary everyday and read the Bible pretty often. I was well-versed with all the priests and nuns in my parish and was a part of a number of groups. Unfortunately, I also had the miserable experience of being molested by a priest (although that was not the reason I left the Church). Eventually, when confronted by Protestants, and going to my local priests and bishops for answers, I got no answers, only condemnation. I was told I was stupid, biblically illiterate and the Protestants were crooks and so I would be if I listened to them. Well, that was enough. Instead of helping me theologically when I said “Father, I’m on the verge of leaving my faith. I need help”, I was made to feel stupid. Granted I was 15, but I was not dumb. I was the top A student in my school. When the Church closed the door, guess where I went next…

  • Daniel

    Greg said:

    >if the music at Mass is not of the highest quality it probably has something to do with the fact that it is usually done by volunteers who just want to contribute something, but are not necessarily great musicians or singers. The music is suppose to be part of the liturgy, not the focus of the Mass. <

    Ellen said:

    >But you know what – I went out and taught myself. … I’d rather listen to a bad homily at any Catholic Church than listen to a dazzling sermon with beautiful music at The Church of All People where it’s all about me and they never receive the Eucharist. <

    I strongly agree with them both. These are truths that needs to be said more often in Catholic circles. Unless people understand what the Mass and the sacraments are about, and that they need to assume responsibility for knowing and learning their own Faith (these are the same that would go to great lengths to learn about their favorite sport), they will be in danger of leaving because are “bored”.

    Why would it be legitimate to say: “nobody has taught me about Catholicism and therefore I am leaving”, when the same person would never say “I will not watch any sport unless someone explains the rules to me”.

    But I would dare to go further. If you get bored by being present at Calvary through the Eucharist, is not it by itself an indication that there is something terribly wrong with the state of your soul? Perhaps then what is needed is a good examination of conscience and making a good confession.

  • DWB

    What I am hearing is the frequent requests for money in some parishes turned people off.
    Another was priests who had more important things to do than find five minutes for a grieving wife, or cancellation of the one hour a week of confessions because of a golf tournament, or those who outwardly demonstrated they didn’t really believe what the Church has always taught.

  • Ender

    There were several related comments in this article that I believe point to a major problem with the Church in the US.

    … preaching is largely reduced to inane moralizing.

    … in this age a priest or deacon who teaches something clearly and forthrightly will catch flak for it.

    … saccharine representations of the Christian life only exacerbate her generation’s general skepticism. Young people are more likely to respond to a vision of faith that includes its difficulties

    It is hard to take ones faith seriously if it doesn’t appear to be taken seriously by the clergy. I assume the clergy still disapproves of contraception, but, since Catholics employ it about as much as non-Catholics and I can’t recall hearing anything about it from the pulpit, perhaps I am mistaken. I’m sure the clergy no longer believes that it is any big deal to receive the Eucharist unworthily, otherwise they would of necessity speak out about it.

    After Christ told his disciples that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, John’s Gospel relates: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Obviously the clergy doesn’t want that to happen again and have consequently decided to avoid the “hard teachings”.

  • Cody

    Obviously there’s an inherent bridge where children progress into adulthood, and they challenge their faith and ultimately retain or leave.

    I’m a “Peer Minister”, undergrad working at a Newman Center at a major university. We’re constantly growing, constantly. There are so many Catholics out there, and God’s been working in amazing ways to bring persons into a deeper personal identity of themselves, healing past pains and issues, and growing deeply in the faith.

    What’s required, most definitely, is generally a place or center where the young adult can feel integrated with their social circles and current generation … not like they’re still going to a parish that resembles where they grew up. The needs of families, children, and the elderly are quite different than the needs of soul seeking young adults.

    If anything, the younger generation is probably (myself included) tired of the older somewhat “jaded” Catholic generation that speaks of modern movements, not staying with the Pope, and tries to keep on pushing the problems they experienced in the 60’s and 70’s. We live the fruits of Vatican II, with the Magesterium, not jaded by the past.

  • John in Dallas

    “If you get bored by being present at Calvary through the Eucharist, is not it by itself an indication that there is something terribly wrong with the state of your soul? Perhaps then what is needed is a good examination of conscience and making a good confession.”

    Daniel, very nice.

    If people expect more of the Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself than horrid folk music, short “Be Nice” homilies, ugly Sams Club architecture, a clergy that won’t take time to speak to you, and programs only catered to people who do not work 9-5 jobs, clearly there is something wrong with the state of their soul.

    I don’t believe people leave the Catholic Church because they are “bored” – it is because they are ignored.

  • Mike in KC, MO

    I wonder what all the fuss is about:

    Boring preaching? Not where I am.

    Lack of the ‘hard truths’ told in an instructive manner? Nope, we’ve got lots of that.

    Lack of instruction? No, our catechism classes not only teach what the Church teaches, but takes the time to explain WHY She teaches what She does.

    Not getting anything out of the Mass? That thought never occured to me, honestly. Everything about the Mass, even movements and the quiet words emphasize that everything is about Christ and His sacrifice, not about if I am ‘getting enough’ out of it.

    There is always a long line for the confessional, ad our parish is FILLED with young people and young families.

    But then again, my parish says the Traditional Latin Mass and is directed by a priest from the Institute of Christ The King.

    (now comes the outraged people yelling “How dare you insinuate that the new Mass is not perfect!” “We don’t need Latin to be Catholic!” “You’re trying to tear apart Vatican II!” “You’re trying to bring back the dark ages!” blah blah blah… I never said any of that and i’ve heard it all before, so don’t bother.)

  • Aaron B.

    What I am hearing is the frequent requests for money in some parishes turned people off.

    I think in many cases, that’s the final straw. People may start drifting away in their hearts because of bad liturgy, bad priests, bad catechesis, and so on, but keep showing up out of habit or sociability. But when that collection plate comes around the second time…. The money may have only been one of several factors, but for a lot of people I talk to, it’s the one they can point to that decided it for them.

    Especially since the abuse scandals and all the “payoffs.” (It’s funny how often people call them payoffs instead of restitution, almost as if they think the abusers were being paid to shut up or something.) People have told me how they’d open the paper one day and read about another big settlement over an abuse case, and then they’d go to Mass on Sunday and hear about how they need to chip in more for the big renovation project. Back and forth, until they got fed up. Again, all the other reasons played into it, but it’s the image of the Church begging with one hand while shoveling money out with the other that finished them.

  • jacobus

    This isn’t so hard, the Church really only has two purposes in the world, and without one or the other, no one, young or old has a reason to stay.

    1. Culture. The Church has decided she doesn’t need it and has actively gotten rid of its distinct culture. This has been explained to death, horrible music, lack of no meat fridays etc. The Church claims to be so distinct from the world, but doesn’t really act like it, what’s the point?

    And secondly, and much more importantly.

    2. Holiness.

    Where is it? The Church’s whole point of existence is to be the pathway for Holy-making (sanctifying in latin) grace. Where the results? Where are the saints? Where are the miracles? Where are the people who are supernaturally, inexplicably joyful?

    We youngun’s don’t want hypocrites in Church, we don’t want to hear about how we’re sinners.

    We’re mired in darkness. Show us the light.

  • Ryan Haber

    John in Dallas,

    Ryan in Kensington, here. Lol. It strikes me as possible that both dynamics might be at work: (1) ignoring people is a good way to get them to go away, AND (2) there is a deep spiritual problem in our culture, and people more saturated in it will be more deeply affected. The two problems may be closely related.

    Boredom is, in fact, apathy projected outward. “It’s so boring,” really means, “I don’t care.” And not caring about a good thing is a very serious moral problem that is everywhere these days. I am thirty two years old – the tail end of GenX – and see it in many peers and moreso in our younger siblings, cousins, and neighbors.

    I sense that much apathy stems from unconscious preoccupation with deeper questions like, “Am I loved?” It’s not a cheesy question. It’s the one that God became flesh in order to answer. Our generation is the first to grow up primarily supervised by strangers and television sets. Many of our parents were more interested in buying BMWs or fighting each other than they were in raising us. The divorce rate among our parents makes my point. We have been raised our whole lives on a substanceless stew of Coca Cola, ritalin, afterschool activities instead of parenting, and glitzy entertainment as a substitute for an affectionate manifestation of abiding, self-sacrificial love. Many in our generation go to the Church laden with spiritual and emotional issues and do not find what they should there. Having no one to coach them through the process of maturing through obstacles, and being ignored by or left unwelcomed and unwanted, they mentally check out for reasons that seem spurious (bad music, contraception, whatever) but are really deeply sub-rational. When they are old enough, their feet follow their minds and walk out the door.

    So there is something terribly wrong with the soul of our generation; and the Church hasn’t done as much as we might like to address this problem seriously.

    This is part of growing up. John in Dallas, we can help our friends do it. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, to hear men whine (you didn’t) about how there’s no place for men in the Church. Well, dammit, let’s make one! We can help our friends grow up, we can be missionaries to them, first and foremost by setting a good example. A few months ago an old man yelled at me DURING THE “LAMB OF GOD” because I got up to go to the restroom. “This is the MOST SACRED part of the Mass! You can’t leave! Where the heck are you going!?”

    Boo-hoo. Poor me.

    Am I going to leave the Church? No. Clearly, it’s enough to “make” some folks leave. It is scandalous. He had no business doing so, but as a grown man, I can handle myself appropriately in spite of his rude disruption. I smiled and said, “I hope I haven’t interfered with your prayer,” and then continued to the bathroom with him shouting behind. What do I care? Why am I to let him interfere with me receiving the love of the Living God? How can he do what even death cannot?

    The incident did disturb me at first – it hit something inside of me that doesn’t like “to get in trouble,” and doesn’t quite feel old enough to make my own decisions about when I go to the bathroom. So I prayed for him. Offered my communion for him. Told a friend. Cooled down. Let it go. Grew up a bit more.

    The Church isn’t perfect. She’s still the Bride of Christ, and our friends need our example of how to treat a Lady.

    Let’s do it.

    When you and I live virtuously, and in sanctity without sanctimony, and our lives become as a result better-ordered and happier than our neighbors’ in spite of suffering and obstacles, they will sit up and take notice. For this, we need the instruction and grace, the opportunity for trial and error, the ups and downs, that we can only receive from the Church.

  • georgie-ann

    Ryan,…that was really cool,…i’m twice as old as you are, and am just learning some of the things you are describing,…maybe God is teaching us these things all together, in this hour,…

    thumbs up!

  • Kamilla

    Mr. Wood should win a prize for the most easily forseen and yet fatuous response.

    I think Hugh Hewitt should also win a prize for most convincing portrayal of a conservative talk show host. True conservatives don’t judge truth by their personal experience and they don’t do immitations of the “emeregent” evangelical lemmings whose battle cry is, “Church no longer worked for me”.

    Since when is the Church supposed to work *for* you. Silly me, I thought it was supposed to work *in* you and *on* you. It’s not your employee it, it’s your Mother.

    Kamilla

  • Aaron

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t think Adam Wood (comment #1) was saying the Church is sexist. I thought he was saying a lot of young people leave because they think the Church is sexist. I remember what it was like to be a young man and think I’d better have (or at least fake) all the right sensitive, Alan Alda-ish attitudes so women would like me, because that’s what we were taught mattered. It’s only more so now, twenty years later. I can only imagine the kind of abuse an openly devout Catholic would take on a college campus today.

    Kids today are taught by schools and media that any difference in the treatment of men and women is blatant sexism; so to the extent that they absorb that belief, they’re naturally going to see the priesthood as a shining example of that. I don’t know how many actually leave the Church because of it, but it’d certainly provide them with a progressive-sounding reason to pass around: “Ah yes, I was raised Catholic, but I just couldn’t put up with the patriarchy anymore; I respect women too much for that. So, you busy Saturday night?”

  • Christian

    I teach 6th grade Catechism, and my kids are getting a good, Bible-based framework on which to grow their Catholic faith. I agree, some of the Church’s problems stem from a poorly-catechized Vatican 2 baby-boom generation producing succeeding generations of poorly-catechized Catholics. What many of us catechists have done is re-catechize ourselves to an adult level of understanding, and thus prepared, enter the classroom to robustly catechize the current generation. In many ways that’s harder than fussing from the sidelines, but much more engaging.

  • Brandon

    “Boredom is Apathy projected outwards.” Kudos to Ryan Haber.

    Lack of Catechesis, Apathy and the like are old complaints that even the “Good Old Days” had. The difference between then and now is that Catholic Culture was much stronger. The “Domestic Church” is the most crucial and important aspect of all of this…it is irrelevant if you send your kids to Catholic Schools and the like if at home you are lukewarm. Love is the most important aspect here…Christ’s Love. The Church isn’t about “Thou Shalt Nots”…everything has a context, including the Rules and what is going on at Mass.

  • Robert

    Ryan, you presume rather too much (and so of course, do I).

    For myself, I have been on two parish councils, worked for our Archdiocesan Life Office, worked as a project officer for the Archdiocesan youth ministry, was its director and then worked, most recently, for a year and a half as a reporter for our Archdiocesan newspaper.

    I’m sure everyone appreciates your thoughts but the idea that the answer is simply to “man up” and “fight the power” strikes me as problematic (if that is, indeed, what you are saying).

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with recognising systemic problems and the unfortunate attitudes of some people in the Church (as you noted). Stoicism, however, is a heresy, not the answer.

    I’m glad you were able to forgive the man who senselessly affronted you in that way. Good for you. I am working on doing the same and praying for those I have injured as well.

    For me, it’s been liberating to simply walk away from fights which are a waste of time (‘am still going to church, but not working for the church). To be, perhaps, a little bit paranoid about it, society is going to hell in a hand basket and couldn’t care less about whether Sr Mary Comfortable Shoes has draped the altar in curtain material while teenage girls in leotards dance down the aisle.

    It’s been good to get back to basics. But then, perhaps that’s what you were saying anyway.

    God bless.

    Robert

  • Ryan Haber

    Robert,

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with recognising systemic problems and the unfortunate attitudes of some people in the Church (as you noted). Stoicism, however, is a heresy, not the answer.

    You’re quite right, of course. I believe I started off my comments by identifying some (of the many) systemic problems. I was getting at a generalized generation gap in society that breeds resentment and rebellion in the young. This gap and rebellion finds its way into the Church.

    I’m sure everyone appreciates your thoughts but the idea that the answer is simply to “man up” and “fight the power” strikes me as problematic (if that is, indeed, what you are saying).

    I think you misread me a bit here, brother. Rereading my post, I honestly cannot identify a part that might have been read as “fight the power.” Maybe you meant the bit about making a place for men in the Church? I didn’t intend that as a “fight the power” cheer, though – rather, I meant it as an alternative to the pandemic whining in our culture, the self-pity that saturates our national politics. So the cranky divorcee that runs my parish (there is, in my parish, in truth no such woman) won’t let my men’s group meet in the parish hall because we’re sexists? Fine. We can meet in my living room. All the better. I have no intention of fighting her, and certainly not the pastor in whose name she claims to rule. I have no intention of fighting him or my bishop. My only intention is to be a better Christian. (OK, actually, I would like a yacht one day, but I would share, promise!)

    Now, in my life, as I mentioned above, there is no such cranky divorcee running things. My parish is actually great. But there is such a “men’s group.” Except, it’s not a “men’s group” because nobody grouped us. We grouped ourselves. Some pals of mine and I were talking among each other, and over time the idea arose. We meet once monthly in living rooms to pray through the scriptures and let them speak to us. We pray over each other and between our meetings for each other. Then we go back to our wives and lives and things, and we chat on the phone occasionally and pray for each other frequently. And I have no reason to believe that our pastor has any clue it exists. None of us has hidden it. We’ve just done it. We’re all Catholic. We love our bishop and the Holy Father and Jesus. We’re in union. It’s a Catholic men’s group, and the Holy Spirit, or us, or some combination called us together. One of the perks of being a adults is that we’re allowed to do things. Which means the whining about not getting what we want or about life being so hard… well, it just stops making sense to me.

    I was responding to what you had written:

    I’m not female and I’m not gay so neither the priests nor the sanctimonious “inclusive” and “caring” (mostly female) lay leaders who dominate parishes in my area have any particle interest in “making space” for people such as me.

    Though, since I don’t know you, it really wasn’t personal. I guess my point is that I don’t want my pastor to make space for me. I don’t need a special group for me. I’m happy to find my own place. Incidentally, your caricature of parish life is unfortunately all too accurate in many, many parishes. I myself have worked in one such parish.

    Also incidentally, though I was addressing him, my remarks weren’t meant as any kind of rebuff to John in Dallas. I agree with everything he wrote.

    Lastly, Cody, your comments are spot on.

    I guess, to wrap up my late night ramblings, I’ll just make one overarching point. The world thinks in terms of programs and committees and five-year plans. That’s how the world “solves” problems, and I smell something of that in questions looking for systematic problems and (by implication) systematic solutions. But spiritual matters aren’t very susceptible to systems and programs and plans because the spiritual is the realm of freedom and decision. Attempts to categorize souls into systems and solve their problems with systems are doomed to failure. Those things are not of Christ, who admired the stupid shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep (to the wolves?) to find just one lost dummy. God’s love is that personal and that extravagant.

    I can’t blame the “cranky divorcee” that runs so many parishes, or whatever other systemic problem, for me not having fraternity. Blaming them won’t help anyway. We men are responsible for ourselves or we are not men.

    The Good News is that with Jesus, we can do it.

  • georgie-ann

    i’m a female, and a self-starter,…i can spot those committee–(“WE do it THIS way”)–people a mile away, and i very instinctively do a polite end run around all that stuff,…actually, coming up with my own idea–which i will give as a gift to the church through my own labor–has worked very well,…

    at first some of those “committee people” looked VERY suspicious, even wildly askance,…they might have feared that i was some kind of anti-St.Pick-a-name’s terrorist,…

    i had grandiose ideas–(which i never spoke out loud)–about eventually joining my little program to a larger one that never panned out, but that does not nullify the good that was done,…and quite a few years later, without kowtowing and personal compromise, i’ve become an accepted household word around there, and “on my own terms,”…with some exceptions,…but “that’s the way the cookie crumbles,”…

  • Phil

    All the studies show there has been a massive exodus from the Church of single people from college years onward–prime marriage and family building years. That leaves those of who stay with very limited marriage prospects. You go to a typical suburban parish or a big-city parish, but to paraphrase the young woman quoted in the article, they are equally disaster zones. Good luck going to a Catholic parish if you are a single Catholic man or woman seeking to get married and raise a Catholic family. There is nothing for you! Nothing, nothing, nothing! Theology on Tap is a nice effort, but it is twenty years too late. It also can’t make up for the total lack of other support for people with nice jobs, over age 25, and ready to settle down in a domestic church of their own. The price of being a single Catholic faithful to the Church and to Church teachings on marriage and the family to live alone with constant crushing loneliness for years and wrenching despair of ever having a true companion, a spouse, and children. I know plenty of people who left the Church–and for example I will cite my entire extended family except for me–simply because they married a non-Catholic and drifted away. When evangelicals find out I am single, they never fail to invite me to their Church because they have lots of Christian women looking for husbands. It’s embarrassing and awkward. No Catholic has ever done that for me. At Catholic churches we never pray for single people or do anything to support lonely single people who have been waiting for decades to find a Catholic spouse. Single Catholics don’t want 1970s folk music or happy hours just like the ones back in college. We don’t want online dating services. We want to get married in a parish community and start families. But we can’t get married at all, in most cases, unless we are prepared to take our chances and marry outside the Church.

  • Ann

    My point was that if people choose to leave the Church because they don’t believe in God and/or don’t accept the Church’s teachings on many things such as birth control etc., then let them go.

    For me, it is simple. If you believe in the Real Presence, then you will not leave. If you do not, then why should you stay?

    There have always been non-believers or non-accepters. The difference is now that they are choosing to leave, instead of continuing the sham of attending due to other reasons, some of which were coerced in the past. We are romanticizing the past.

    This is ok. What is important that the Church herself stay steadfast in her beliefs teachings.

  • Ann

    Another random thought, because someone mentioned the Domestic Church above.

    This is exactly the problem. Many people are looking to the Church to make them Catholic. Or even to provide them with a group of friends when they walk in the door.

    That is not what the Church is for. If you have access to a Mass and the sacraments, that is all you need to be Catholic and to raise a Catholic family. You don’t need Rel Ed, you don’t need youth groups, you don’t need fellowship, and it is not the Church’s job to provide you with friends.

    If you take yourself and your children to Mass each week, get them the sacraments and make everyone kneel and say a Rosary each night before bed, that is all you need.

  • Phil

    If you have access to a Mass and the sacraments, that is all you need to be Catholic and to raise a Catholic family. You don’t need Rel Ed, you don’t need youth groups, you don’t need fellowship, and it is not the Church’s job to provide you with friends.

    If you take yourself and your children to Mass each week, get them the sacraments and make everyone kneel and say a Rosary each night before bed, that is all you need.

    One tiny nuance here. If you have access to a Mass and the sacraments, that is all you need to be Catholic.

    To raise a Catholic family is different and ultimately less important to our individual salvation.

    But from an institutional Church and pastoral perspective, it is a huge problem when being Catholic and having a family are mutually exclusive, for so many single people, and so long.

    Marriage and family does bring lukewarm Catholics back into the Church, if there is another Catholic to marry. Otherwise marriage and raising a non-Catholic family means they are probably gone for good.

  • Ann

    To the man above who said that there are no Catholic marriage prospects…

    Seriously, and I don’t mean to sound flip, but if there are people inviting you to evangelical churches with lots of single Christian women looking for husbands, I can’t see why you would deny yourself the chance to at least meet them. There is nothing wrong with that. You never know, some of them might be open to becoming Catholic themselves.

  • Ann

    Hi Phil,

    I think I just replied to an earlier comment of yours.

    I understand what you are saying. I already wrote about the possibility of meeting Christian women, as you say, though evangelical churches. I don’t see anything wrong with that and you might be surprised, some of them might be open to becoming Catholic themselves. We are all Christians.

    Also, don’t give up on lapsed Catholics that you might meet out in the secular dating world. Even someone who only made it to First Communion, as long as they still believe in God, can have the spark of faith reignited again.

  • lisag

    I imagine that most people leave the church because they want to do what they want to do. I left for many years. I did not want to go mass, because it was not important to me. The Lord kept calling me back. Luckily, I came around and after going to confession I have been faithfully participating in the sacraments. I also educated myself like Ellen. I am still educating myself. The learning should never stop. I never went searching for another faith. I know the real church of Christ. I think that some people, including priests, are embarrassed by the church. They are embarrassed by the sacramentals, sacrifices, devotions,the scandals and the requirements that put a damper on “modern” life. Why else have many our churches been stripped of their beauty and traditions.

  • Phil

    And no one mentions marriage prospects or lack thereof as a problem?

    Hello?

    I think a lot more people would come back if there weren’t cut loose in secular society at age 16 and told to make their own way home at some indefinite time in the future.

    The relative dearth of young adults within the Church and the lack of venues in which young Catholic adults can find marriage partners reflects fundamental changes in society as well as the Church.

    In days of yore, you had a big parish and local Catholic society and marriage just took care of itself. That is not the case any more.

    We live in a “Friends” society. Just no Catholic friends.

  • Aaron B.

    There are lots of young adults at my Traditional Latin Mass parish. But being traditional, most of them are already married. :-) So Phil’s point stands that the Church isn’t a very friendly place for singles, whether that’s because it’s a modern parish where young people don’t show up, or a traditional one where everyone seems to have three kids by the age of 25. Not overtly friendly anyway, like a Protestant church might be with singles’ groups and activities. But I’ve noticed that at my traditional parish, since people are very much in favor of marriage and children, there’s a fair amount of matchmaking going on for the few single people (and a fair amount of “have you considered the seminary/convent?” too, which isn’t bad either).

    Also, it occurs to me that one reason other churches have more unmarried people walking around is they have more practicing members who are divorced. I remember when I was 25, it seemed like everyone my age was married. By 30, many of them were dating again. Catholics get divorced these days too, of course, but I’d guess the percentage is a lot lower among those who are regular attendees and involved in parish activities where you might meet them.

  • Phil

    Thanks, Ann, for you kind thoughts. I know they are well-intended.

    But there needs to be a better answer for searching Catholics than “go marry a Protestant.”

    It’s true, they are Christians too, and I came very close to marrying an Episcopalian once because she was very attached to her smells and bells. But ultimately, Catholic doctrine was a real problem and it became clear that it wouldn’t be welcome in our home. And I am not talking about birth control, either. It was everything connected with the Real Presence and a Catholic understanding of the sacraments.

    I also looked around at what happened to my family and friends who “married out,” so to speak.

    Many fine, happy marriages. Most practicing if not indeed deeply Christian. But no practicing Catholics anymore. We all need to pray for them while there is time for a “return trip” on their journey.

    I maintain the Evangelicals do a much better job at this than we do.

  • georgie-ann

    interesting to ponder,…

    why do evangelical churches seem to have the ability to get these groups together?,…do they believe in themselves as worthwhile people more?,…are they less afraid of interpersonal contact and caring and honesty?,…young people meeting young people is a completely natural thing,…

    it strikes me as being a very clear symptom of “something wrong” in the human part of the Catholic psyche,…to go along with the weird social justice stuff, the general problems contributing to and lingering with the abuse scandal, and the refusal to deal with a lot of these “issues” in other than tight little definitions,…

    perhaps leadership (as in the priesthood) is “old-fashioned,” skewed in ways that have been discussed on this web-site in other places, and that do not really have an out-going heart for the loving human family,…

    mental “ideals” that cannot be supported with heartfelt caring, love and enthusiasm for the blessings (and hardships) of family life–our precious “human gardens”–is insufficient to inspire this kind of spawning,…

    do we have an unnatural split going on between idealized “spiritual” and “human?”,…this really shouldn’t be so,…if latent homosexual influences are putting a damper on, or being a resistance to, “normalcy” for young people, this should also be seen “for what it is,”…

    i am old and i am deeply involved in a Spanish part (i.e., lots of vigorous families) of our parish, so for myself, i don’t experience this “human desert” being described,…but i believe it,…

    becoming fully “pro-active” on behalf of oneself in these human issues (i.e., finding a mate), is fully justified and probably the only thing that will work,…anyway, a prospective mate usually appreciates someone who can act independently and with creative ideas,…

    i would “see the hand-writing on the wall,”…old Father So-and-so, or Sister Such-and-such, may be wonderful, or tired, or over-worked, or sick, (remember, they minister to the sick and bury a lot of people, while no one else is looking, in addition to providing the Masses, and taking care of lots of important practical and business matters,…AND they are vowed celibates!),…or they may have been “victimized” by weirdness in themselves or their formation, and not be “inclined” to actively foster heterosexual endeavors,…

    if the church community isn’t doing it, instead, then pro-active individuals and groups need to pray and ask God how they can proceed,…there’s NOTHING wrong with that,…your personal life and your faith are very important,…don’t allow others (through attitude or inaction) relegate you to a useless-dying-on-the-vine status,…

    (our Very Sick modern culture, however, is probably a very huge overall contributing factor, as well,…sad to say,…and that’s a trip you certainly do not want to take!),…

    your Spiritual Life is very important and not to be diminished or neglected, but so is every other aspect of your being,…this is something that God Himself has designed, and it “should” all be a workable plan according to His guidelines and permission,…prayer, study, planning, and waiting-in-faith for His “Perfect Will,” has brought good things to pass in my own life,…there is NOTHING wrong with being honest about these matters,…

    you can trust God,…God has designed you,…listen closely to Him,…He may be trying to get some new and workable insights through to you,…very possible, since you are asking questions along this line,…

    as young adults, it is no longer appropriate to wait for “others” to DO your life FOR you,…best wishes for a great adventure obeying and trusting God, while you step out to “walk on some of your own water,”…

    XOXOX GOD BLESS YOU!

  • osusanna

    I love my traditional mass and priest of the FSSP. Great sermons, reverent and beautiful liturgy, confessions every Sunday, teaching…It’s not easy being single there, or a woman without children (!) But I figure it’s good for humility.
    (It’s a narrow road that leads to life….)Mt7:14

  • Don L

    After moving 20 years ago to a traditional parish with more silent community loving and caring than I’ve seen in a dozen other Churches, our new priest just got through lecturing us for watching EWTN, referred to the purpose for being at mass as being community (8 times in one homily), and is fond of laking up to the alter and calling the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass a “sharing of a meal,”

    I’m not suprised that young people chose to leave when the religion is reduced to being just another Elks club with guitar music, and singing of how wonderful we are without a word toward the meaning of suffering -the need for working out our salvation, confession, conversion, perseverence, charity (other than give to Caesar (government) for justice and peace.
    Our Christ is of course, risen, lent must no longer involve sacrifice, just joy.

    What a frustrating mess left over from the Spirit of Vatican two.

  • Phil

    Marriage is not a substitute for faith, but after the footloose days of youth, it is what brings you back and reunites you with the faith–for Don L’s sake I will resist saying faith community–of your forebears.

    We Catholics seem to think that marriage is irrelevant, or unimportant, or optional but un-preferred, a sort of step-child among the sacraments.

    Sure we have “Theology of the Body” on a theoretical level, but we do next to nothing on a practical level to single Catholics marry.

    Georgie-ann does have a point. With three decades or more of a vocations crisis behind us, I believe the median age of a parish priest is something over sixty. Its definitely the case that older priests and perhaps others in consecrated life don’t have the charism, interest, or proper formation to take an interest in promoting marriage. In the old days, it just kind of happened on its own. Not now.

    I have seen some priests who are deeply uncomfortable when the subject of marriage and dating comes up. Because they are celibates who live in challenging times, this is perfectly understandable. But I do know one who is an enthusiastic promoter of online dating as superior to the real thing because “you are not distracted by a having a live person–i.e., woman–in front of you.”

    I find that some but not all of the younger priests get it. Probably the priests with the best grasp on the situation are recent late vocations who had some dating experience before they went to the seminar. Some of them totally get it.

    And it’s wrong to single out the priests. I met the young adults director for a very large metropolitan diocese and told him it was very difficult for young Catholics to get married. He looked shocked, rolled his eyes, made an expression of mock horror and said, “we’re not in the marriage business–we’re in the JESUS business!” Others have told me he said exactly the same thing to them. I am pleased to report he is gone and his successor seems to have a much better attitude.

    Online dating is not a substitute for a normal human (apologies, Don) community with an interest in seeing its members married. In a lot cases it has become an excuse for doing nothing at all “because all the kids are doing that online thing,” which they’re not, and which doesn’t work in the vast majority of cases anyway.

    I am pleased to see the TLMer’s seem to have better luck than us Novus Ordo types. There may be a lesson in that too.

    We need to get this sorted out quickly, because wasting the span of another generation in which devout, practicing Catholics face huge obstacles to getting married and raising families within the Church could have profoundly negative consequences.

    Right now, the unspoken institutional message message of most parishes is that if you’re young and of marriageable age, there is no place for you in the Church. You should check out in college or as soon as your parents make you stop going in high school. Perhaps you will have a re-conversion later in life, but if you want a marriage and children, you can never come back until your non-Catholic family is established.

    Changing this message must be an urgent priority for the institutional Church and the laity alike.

  • Ryan Haber

    Phil, brother, I’ve got to say that I think you are barking up just one tree. It’s not entirely the wrong one, but it’s not the right one, either.

    The Church could and should be more hospitable to young adults and to single adults. That’s a no-brainer. It’s the main topic of this board.

    As I mentioned, I am thirty two years old. I am an ex-seminarian and never expected to be this (not that) old and still un-vowed to someone. I date periodically, but have never matched up with a woman that fit.

    I have a hard time seeing how that’s the Church’s responsibility.

    Modern economic structures and disaster families encourage young people to move far from home, kith, and kin without any support. This recipe is for disaster on many fronts. It is a breeding ground for isolation, loneliness, and spiritual attack. Many people who would have many friends if they had grown where they were planted have transplanted themselves and find themselves without regular companionship or nearby friendship. This problem is very serious. It is the context for the increase in marriagelessness, if I may coin a term.

    The Church hasn’t caused these things. Granted, our bishops had spent a long time prattling about nuclear weapons (who can do anything about that) without noticing the liquefaction of society. Still, they are not to blame. Neither are their vicars, priests, or lay workers. More importantly, they can’t fix these problems, and certainly not alone.

    If I have no friends, I need to make friends.

    There may be a number of obstacles. I may be (but happen not to be) shy. Shyness can be overcome. I may (and certainly do) have weird personality eccentricities that make it harder for others to like or want to be around me. I can learn not to pick my nose or speak so loudly or fart in public or whatever it is that makes others say, “Oh, him.” I may not know other young or single Catholics. I can introduce myself to them. There may not be any immediately visible in the parish. I can talk to the old folks – why on earth should I shun them. If I ignore old Auntie Marge because she isn’t marriageable (i.e., because she is not useful to me), then I deserve not to meet her beautiful young, devout niece who doesn’t know any Catholics her age either. I might feel lonely and disconnected. I can get out there and be useful to others instead of being so useless to myself – service at a shelter or reading to innner-city kids, whatever. Just do it, man.

    I do these things and see they work. They take initiative that I often do feel myself possessing. So I pray for grace to do the next right, good, enlivening thing. Then I do it. These things and others work.

    When we get outside of ourselves, others are more likely to get into us. If I assume that I am fine and don’t need to do anything concrete differently, and that the problem is the world or the Church or other things I can’t (and won’t even try to) change, one thing is sure.

    Nothing will change.

    Phil, check out my dumb website/blog, find the email link in my profile, and drop me a line. God bless!

  • Robin

    I entered the Catholic Church in 2007 after 40 years in various Protestant churches. Yes, there are a lot of Protestant churches that are warm and welcoming. Some of them have powerful preaching and great music. But as there are now 40,000 of them, according to the 2009 Gordon Conwell Status of Global Mission, to which of these may I go to find the “Pillar and Foundation of Truth?” 1 Tim. 3:15

    How can Protestants justify the tens of thousands of denominations, all claiming to teach truth, when Our Lord prayed that we would all be ONE? (John 17) St. Paul said that there should be NO divisions among us and that we should speak the SAME thing. He said that there is ONE Lord, ONE FAITH. Why is this chaos NOT scandalous? But as long as you’re being “fed” in your new Protestant church, then what Jesus and St. Paul had to say is irrelevant?

    I am so thankful every day to have the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church. The Bible now comes alive for me in a way that it never did before…because it finally makes sense.

  • Phil

    Phil, brother, I’ve got to say that I think you are barking up just one tree. It’s not entirely the wrong one, but it’s not the right one, either.

    The Church could and should be more hospitable to young adults and to single adults. That’s a no-brainer. It’s the main topic of this board.

    As I mentioned, I am thirty two years old. I am an ex-seminarian and never expected to be this (not that) old and still un-vowed to someone. I date periodically, but have never matched up with a woman that fit.

    I have a hard time seeing how that’s the Church’s responsibility.

    Modern economic structures and disaster families encourage young people to move far from home, kith, and kin without any support. This recipe is for disaster on many fronts. It is a breeding ground for isolation, loneliness, and spiritual attack. Many people who would have many friends if they had grown where they were planted have transplanted themselves and find themselves without regular companionship or nearby friendship. This problem is very serious. It is the context for the increase in marriagelessness, if I may coin a term.

    Ryan, there is the institutional Church and the Catholic lay community. Marriage has always been first and foremost the responsibility of the lay community. As the one sacrament that people administer to themselves, it has to be.

    However, the institutional Church does provide leadership and provide structures or appropriate encouragement for lay organizations. That’s where the Church as such is falling down.

    You correctly cite the atomization of society and parishes that might as well be Wal-Marts where people check in and check out on a transactional basis. It is the context for the non-marriageable society, in which many single Catholics live, especially those who work in demanding professional fields.

    There are Evangelical churches whose entire church mission is helping their members get married and stay married. I know someone who got married at a mega-Catholic Church in Texas that has borrowed some aspects of the evangelical Church. This Church also puts a big emphasis on helping young adults get married.

    We do indeed have to take the initiative ourselves. You sound a lot like I did when I was 32, surprised to be not married, and confident that if only I said hello to more people at coffee and donuts after mass, did the soup kitchen, and went to pro-life meetings I would be married before long.

    It doesn’t work that way, as you may soon discover.

    That’s why I believe there is a big institutional–and cultural problem–for Church and lay alike to overcome.

    I don’t think it is fixable on the parish level. We probably need a supra-diocesan, regional association like a bigger, more active version of a certain young professionals society in the Washington, DC area.

    But that’s only one step. The more I think about this, the more I think there is a cultural problem in American Catholicism that results from not adapting to the specific nature of today’s mobile, fast paced, and largely anonymous society, with the added problem of Catholic social mores that are radically at odds with society at large.

    Addressing this gap absolutely requires institutional leadership–from someone.

    Let’s begin the twelve-step process by admitting we have a problem. Then let’s have bishops and enterprising pastors start encouraging the laity by creating new social networks in which people who respect and honor Catholic teachings on marriage and the family can actually get married for a change.

    Encouraging pastors or bringing in specially trained priests to preach sermons about coping with singleness to the whole parish community every once in a while might help. Catholic singleness is not a problem that will be solved by hiding it in the Church basement or at young adults’ masses.

    As for my own marriage–I have no doubt I will get there someday, so no personal advice is needed. But I am sure that one thing all the unmarried 30-, 40-, and a couple of 50-something Catholics of my acquaintance can agree upon is that it should not be this hard.

    And if it is so hard for us, it is not surprising that according to Church statistics, a very substantial portion if not the majority of people in our generation have left by their early 20s.

  • Micha Elyi

    As a father, I know it is my duty to model for my children the value of attending Mass and being involved in the Catholic life, but it is a BEATING to pretend that the ugly and anemic liturgy that we attended was in any way inspiring.

    Stop pretending; you are unintentionally scandalizing your children. Millions of Catholic parents have done the same and were later shocked when their children declared Mom and Dad to be hypocrites and then left the faith.

    Consider, instead, sharing with your children examples of the liturgy practiced in beautiful, full-blooded, and deeply spiritual celebrations of the Eucharist. Even share with your children your grief that this is missing in your parish but also remind them that Catholics in horrible prison camps have valued the liturgy – however poorly they could conduct it – for they understoond that its importance is not earthly but godly and supernatural.

    It makes me very angry when the Catholic Answers/”apologetics” crowd tells me that people leave the Church because they never really believed in the first place. It is an easy excuse – and one that looks right past the fact that the Mass is no longer beautiful and it can be soul crushing to sit through that thin, tasteless gruel week after week.

    John, I think you and that “crowd” who anger you are both correct. Those of us in the Body of Christ who are weaker in our belief (“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”) profoundly need the aid of the rest of the Body to shore us up when we are weakest. Such aid comes in many forms including beautiful, reverently celebrated liturgies.

    Yes, the Eucharist is why we come and should be enough to sustain us, but as Dostoyevsky said, “Beauty will save the world.”

    I think one of the lessons of Sts. Martha and Mary is that the Eucharist is necessary but not always sufficient.

  • Fisher

    As far as young and single Catholics go I understand completely… In my 20’s I never would date a non-Catholic period – I considered it a mute point. So dating was sparce living in a rural area. Finally I dated a lapsed Catholic who didn’t make it to Confirmation. We have been married 5 years and it has been tough – I feel like St. Monica – living with a pagan. I wouldn’t recommend trying to convert somebody via marriage! When I go to Mass alone and see other couples there together with their children it breaks my heart not to have my wife and children with me (mommy says it’s ok to miss Mass)… I know it may be God’s will for me to get my wife back in the Church – but it is a cross to bear!

    I currently attend the LATIN MASS and there are PLENTY of YOUNG PEOPLE there… The Catholic identity is very important to them.

  • Christian

    “If you believe in the Real Presence, then you will not leave. If you do not, then why should you stay?”

    Yes. Reminds me of Flannery: “If it’s just a symbol, then to hell with it.”

  • Michael Healy

    The engaged young people leave for other churches because they find the Catholic Church to be:
    -sexist
    -hypocritical
    -in theological error
    -sexist
    -overly dogmatic
    -sexist (did I say that one already)

    The disengaged leave (for no church) because they find the Catholic Church to be:
    -boring

    Please. Sexism is in the eye of the beholder. One woman’s sexist is another woman’s hero.

    The same could be said about boringness and “excessive” dogmatism. When the critics can criticize themselves and their own presuppositions, then maybe I’ll take them seriously. If they cannot, I’ll have to assume that they are the real hypocrites.

  • Dymphna

    I read comments about Catholics leaving for various Protestant denominations, and it is true. But, I think a “new” problem is atheism and agnosticism. There is a concerted effort on the part of what I call “evangelical atheists” to show people how stupid “theists” are. This is more wide spread than many may believe, especially given modern technology.

    Also, this is very prevalent in the colleges where there are professors who truly believe that part of their job is to lead young people away from religion. I work in college classrooms (I am not a professor) and I have heard things within postsecondary classrooms that break my heart. Professors saying things like, “Thank God for graduate school” that lead this particular woman professor away from being a traditional type Catholic that she had been all her life. Another professor says over and over again how “we don’t buy that” particular religious belief. Professors mock the Church more and more openly. I have avoided going for my masters degree. If this is what these professors think their job is–to literally mold me into their specific political and non-religious point of view then the heck with it. I won’t give them my money so that they can take away my faith.

    Meanwhile, (some) parishes are, as others have said, unfriendly. (Some)priests are bitter or treat their priesthood as a “career” and not a vocation.

    My husband and I are involved in the music at our parish. He had a health scare not long ago. The priest treated us more as employees and not at all pastorally. I honestly don’t think he gave a second thought to the fact that I was afraid my husband was going to die. I never got a kind word about it at all–just questions as to whether he and I were going to be able to make it to sing or play at Mass on a given Sunday.

    I never in a million years thought I would become one of “those” Catholics who became angry and bitter because she wasn’t treated nicely by a priest, but here I am.

    We are not leaving the Church, but we have become angry and the fire in our hearts is gone. We are just drifting along.

  • Pat

    These are the reasons:

    1) Contraception – Families are leaving because of the Church’s teaching. They don’t like it, and want things their way. When Bishop’s diagree with the Pope in this regard (e.g., Winnepeg) when do we expect? Contracept and grace is cutoff.
    2) Poor formation – Children for many years have been taught how to cut, color, and draw @ CCD rather than understand their faith.
    3) Vatican II – while the Council was needed, the lack of Church control (due to weak or liberal Bishops – take your pick) afterward allowed for the over liberalization of the Mass. That which is sacred seemed to became ordinarly. The Church now looked like everyone else; it no longer seemed mysterious and special.
    4) The culture of “me” – Few in the west realize that it ain’t about them. We are steeped in materialism, greed, and pride. We are more interested in our iPods than the Rosary.
    5) Confession – we aren’t going anymore there is no flow of grace. Do we really think we don’t commt mortal sin?

  • Steve

    I think most of the insights here are off…

    Young Catholics aren’t leaving because of compelling arguments for Protestantism or because of a misunderstanding of the theology of the Mass. They aren’t leaving because the Responsorial Psalms are poorly written or because we’ve spent too much time tuning our guitars.

    The engaged young people leave for other churches because they find the Catholic Church to be:
    -sexist
    -hypocritical
    -in theological error
    -sexist
    -overly dogmatic
    -sexist (did I say that one already)

    The disengaged leave (for no church) because they find the Catholic Church to be:
    -boring

    To bring these people back into the fold, we must:
    -change what is wrong and bad
    -do a better job of transmitting what is right and good.

    The progressives have spent the last half century attempting to do the first. They have, mostly, failed.
    The traditionalists are doing a slightly better job of the second. They will be more successful, but not enough.

    Had someone taught you the Catholic faith as well as you learned political correctness, you would be shocked at anyone who posted such drivel.

  • Noelle S

    I have successfully completed my last high school Catholic retreat…and thanks be to God! They make Mass and adoration entertainment. The closer I got to God the more this became evident. So at a retreat I donned my chapel veil and was nearly knocked over during the opening song when the loud rock band had pumped up the beat enough that they’d inspired my fellow youth to rowdy dancing… during the Mass. The real joke is, the youth are tricked into thinking that their aerobics workout to mushy-gushy music is a spiritual experience. When the endorphins run out, so will they, because they never were given the courtesy of beauty and awe to actually hear God’s voice. The result is “Catholics” that throw dirty and vulgar language around, are pro-choice, and don’t believe in the Real Presence. Had God not reached out to me, and somehow I had listened, I would still be stuck in a world of sin and headed down the same road.

    Youth need your prayers! And most importantly, we need REAL education, and a Mass that worships God as seriously as He demands – out with the social event Masses and bad entertainment Masses.

  • Donna G

    There are lots of reasons and some of them should not be made light of.

    My sister left because she wanted to live her own way. She returned to Mass one Christmas but never returned because of her perception that it was sexist (to define her observation: no participation by women and exclusive language no longer generally accepted in the outside world).

    My brother left as soon as he was molested by a brother at his school.

    The saddest thing is that no one cared that they left. Except my parents – but then they hardly said a word to us about faith all through our childhood and adolescence.

  • Donny

    We need to focus more on Catholic truth, and less on the lofty songs and entertainment value of The Holy Liturgy. Adam I hope you aren’t suggesting that The Church go the way of Episcopalianism. The answer to our problem of lost brothers and sisters isn’t to conform to this worlds views on “fairness” or “equality”, they are to follow closer still to the call of Jesus Christ. And the One True Faith that he founded. Being a younger Catholic, and having the opportunity to evangelize to thousands of people my own age and younger for a year, I can attest to what is said in this article (about our youths being bored and unchallenged) . The Roman Catholic Church will never fade away, or die “nor will the gates of hell prevail against it”. It is led by The Holy Spirit. We need to pray for our young brothers and sisters in the Holy Faith! Every day.

  • Frank

    “A great many Catholics who find out that their children have become Protestants at college simply don’t know how to argue against the charge that much of Catholic teaching and tradition is made up. In many families, unfortunately, no one from the baby boomers on down knows much about the Faith. Some forgot. Some never learned in the first place.”

    So true… many protestants, especially evangelicals, brainwash Catholics to hate their faith (and when I discuss with evangelicals I see a fair amount of brain washing in themselves).

    Unfortunately the average Catholic is not well-informed enough to counter the protestant blurted out by protestants.

    DIENEKESS
    “I will not leave the Church (“Where shall we go?”) but if I had not been raised in it, and were I not as stubborn as I am, I would not be in it now. It is a COLD Church filled with mostly COLD hard-hearted people. “Communication” is in one direction only, and some of us aren’t children anymore. Talk is cheap. Church talk about “love” without substance is not only cheap, it’s obscene.”

    Perhaps then, instead of remaining in the Church just because ‘you were raised in it’ you should think more deeply about your faith.

    Perhaps you had bad experiences but not all Catholics are cold-hearted.

    —-

    PHIL
    “Ryan, there is the institutional Church and the Catholic lay community. Marriage has always been first and foremost the responsibility of the lay community. As the one sacrament that people administer to themselves, it has to be. ”

    Sorry but that is not true. I am 31 and not married and I have no problem at all with it. Certainly I do not see where the Church plays a role in me being single or married. That depends entirely on me. The Church is not a dating agency.

    “1) Contraception – Families are leaving because of the Church’s teaching. They don’t like it, and want things their way. When Bishop’s diagree with the Pope in this regard (e.g., Winnepeg) when do we expect? Contracept and grace is cutoff.
    “”

    If people disagree with the teachings of the Church it’s by no means the fault of the Church (perhaps it is partly the fault of liberal bishops…).

    If you accept the Church you accept the truth…. if someone prefers to accept half a truth then obviously will not be happy when confronted with the truth.

    Besides… Catholics are NOT the only Christians who advocate against contraception, pre-marital sex and abortion.

    —-

    ” This same priest was also the biology teacher, and when asked one day if he believed in Creation or evolution, he said evolution. I couldn’t believe it. ”

    Well evolution is accepted by the Church… Thank God we do not fall into literalism (St. Augustine did not 1600 years ago…).

    Really do we want to be part of a church who denies scientific evidence?

    —-

  • Ryan Haber

    Phil,

    I agree that in an age of increasing anonymity, our parishes need really to serve as community centers and second homes for folks – and not just for folks with kids in the school. That is an important ministry and apostolate that our parishes can be serving.

    But I just cannot bring myself to see, and I am sorry for it, how it is the responsibility of my diocese, my parish, or a lay organization to help me find a spouse.

    It is the context for the non-marriageable society, in which many single Catholics live, especially those who work in demanding professional fields.

    It may be the “demanding professional field” that obstructs the socialization required to find a spouse.

    We do indeed have to take the initiative ourselves. You sound a lot like I did when I was 32, surprised to be not married, and confident that if only I said hello to more people at coffee and donuts after mass, did the soup kitchen, and went to pro-life meetings I would be married before long.

    No, Phil. You may have misread me here. I don’t go to coffee our after Mass, or to the pro-Life meetings. All I do at my parish is go to Mass, confession, and a periodic holy hour. I’m not even looking for a spouse. Oh, I’d like to meet a nice girl and settle down. Great. But I’m not going to wait for that to happen to start being happy.

    Are you in the Wash, D.C. area? There’s a pretty vibrant young adult community here. Of course, it’s an oddity, but so is DC. My roommates and I are throwing a party – either in mid-June or the 4th of July weekend. Y’all are invited. We had a couple hundred guests last time. (Our neighbors love us.) I’m serious about this one. You don’t want to miss it.

    As for my own marriage–I have no doubt I will get there someday, so no personal advice is needed.

    Great! Then why all the fuss?

    But I am sure that one thing all the unmarried 30-, 40-, and a couple of 50-something Catholics of my acquaintance can agree upon is that it should not be this hard.

    Best quotation of all time:

    Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

    And if it is so hard for us, it is not surprising that according to Church statistics, a very substantial portion if not the majority of people in our generation have left by their early 20s.

    Again, I think you are taking your difficulty in life/with the Church and over-extrapolating from there. I just don’t see tons of young adults leaving the Church because they can’t find spouses there. I see many more leaving during college because it feels like a grown-up thing to do, a way to leave mom and dad behind; or worse, because they embrace sin and know that sinning merrily and life in Christ aren’t compatible.

    Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree. You’re still invited to the party though.

  • georgie-ann

    real faith is an invisible quantity that cannot be scientifically measured,…the effects of its presence are observable to a trained eye, although perhaps better discerned spiritually,…

    a person who operates from real faith is different from a natural person who is attempting to coordinate natural programmed behaviors, even if mentally “idealistically inspired,” into a semblance of “charity” and “kindness,” etc.,…ultimately other “politically corrected” values, like “fairness” and “rights,” will be noticeably blended in, in a pattern that not only elaborates on God’s expressed Will (His Word), but eventually purposely deviates from it in order to accommodate the pervasive human inclination to sin,…

    having mercy on the condition of sin itself, and nurturing this inclination, rather than on the sinner needing forgiveness, direction and restoration, is a misdirected, misunderstood, focus and tendency of the natural unenlightened mind/heart,…

    ultimately, the naturally inspired so-called “do-gooder” usurps God’s position, and blindly and pridefully moves far astray, whether in the (false) illusion of “in God’s name,” or by blatantly rejecting God as a consideration outright,…

    the person of real faith will, on the other hand, be extremely reluctant to deviate even a hair from “God’s Will,”…also often less boisterous, less grand-standing, and more inwardly prayerful, caution and consideration of the consequences of one’s actions and policies, will be a serious part of the equation,…

    unless we learn to recognize and appreciate people of real faith-in-action in our Catholic Church home, from a young age, the hollow noise and deceiving bluster of the ever-increasing world-wide frenzy, be it “religious” or political, is a dangerous trap laid to catch the “unaware,”…

    Lord have mercy,…

  • DC

    It’s interesting, most of the folks profiled in this story left because they church was too “liberal” for them. In my experience, however, most people leave the church for precisly the opposite reasons (Her sexual ethics being, by far, the biggest reason people leave). If you read the comments in the NY Times from today’s article on the Pope’s trip to Portugal, the folks there are trying to give the Church the opposite “advice” as the people profiled in this article. The point it–Which “side” is right? Everyone is critizing the church from all different angles like “sheep without a shepherd” and there is some valid criticism, the church is made of sinful men and can be large and beuraucratic at times. However, all these people on all these sides demonstrates what’s ultimately right about the church–Her teaching authority as led by the Holy Spirit, why would anyone want to leave that? The teachings come from God and are designed to make us happy, they are what true “Freedom” is all about, the freedome to do what’s good, whether you’re left or right, both sides have the same problem, they don’t like to be told “what to do” they think they know better, but I think history shows otherwise.

  • Ryan Haber

    Georgie-ann,

    I have only been following this thread loosely. Your last post – though I cannot see its immediate application to the thread – is particularly insight. Thanks for it.

  • Carson Weber

    The Reason They Leave is because we have failed to become saints. When sainthood is proposed and striven for, young people are drawn and captured.

  • georgie-ann

    …interruptions of life caused me to unobservantly lose an explanation i was making for you (blankety-blank, as they say),…i don’t know if can successfully reconstruct it, but perhaps i’ll manage a coherent synopsis–which might even end up being an improvement,…who knows?,…anyway,…the point i was trying to make was/is basically:

    that in this day and age we are surrounded by so much “input” and verbiage that claim to be “the right stuff,” that it becomes difficult for “the novice” (and i include myself in this category!) to sort it all out accurately and come to appropriate conclusions,…a little perspective on the overall situation may be helpful,…

    i’ve seen many discussions on this web-site, involving the “right” position for the Catholic Church, or us, to take regarding many issues,…and i feel that often the questions posed–(re: youth, political/moral/social/international issues, liturgy, etc.)–end up being in terms of a tension between “God’s Will” and “my will,”…which means that we have to try to understand how very different these two things can be,…

    there is “nothing new under the sun,”…the crying out of the “clanging cymbals,” now electronically amplified, of the world–which are hawking its fleeting and evasive satisfactions and distractions to our pervasive human inclination to sin, with its greed and appetites–still seek to overpower what has been traditionally known as “the still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11,12) in which God speaks to the serious seeker and adherent,…(also as in, “Be still and know that i am God,” Psalm 46:10),…

    the most excellent tangible representation of God’s Will is contained in the compendium of Catholic thought and teaching (which, of course, includes the Bible!),…as regarding Ultimate Truth, it is as awesome and inspirational as the impressive architectural bulwarks of the divinely inspired Cathedrals, which speak to us of our Sacred Inner Truth, the Ultimate Spiritual Drama (Christ’s Sacrifice), and the enduring Strength and Resistance of God vs the onslaughts of satan and the world,…

    so, my point above (post #65) has to do with seeing/discerning, where the words being spoken to us (or behavioral examples being set) are coming from, and through what kind of source,…youth can be easily led astray, become discouraged or disillusioned, when sinful humanness has usurped God’s Will, taken the reins, and unabashedly “run in the wrong direction,”…the hypocrisy of words of Truth being spoken and/or taught by those who blatantly or surreptitiously do not practice them in the fullness of their true intent, especially by the empowered “establishment” of the Church’s (and world’s) authority levels, is very difficult for the young (or anyone in a more passive position) to process,…

    suffice it to say, that it is entirely advisable to become personally more pro-active spiritually, (1) in seeking to better understand the teachings of the Church itself and the Bible (the Word of God), (2) in finding perhaps more satisfying and maturing relationships in the framework of the work of various orders (but BE careful/discerning!), or (3) becoming involved in, even to the point of initiating, church-community outreaches of social and/or charitable types, (4) being your own faithful, self-respecting person, even if/when surrounded by “gloom and doom” types, (5) i’m sure there are plenty of other good possible suggestions,…

    the Catholic Church is HUGE!!!,…so there is plenty of room for exploration,…sometimes a small, but new-to-you insight, gained by a little delving (reading) or visiting (a holy shrine), can change your perspective and your life,…

    “all that glitters isn’t gold,”…anywhere,…so, pray,…beware of any type of coercion that goes beyond a reasonable amount of expected cooperation,…if you are looking for “warmth,” don’t settle for cold,…if you’re not impressed with the credentials and practices of certain “charitable”/social justice organizations, don’t help them out,…if you have a gift or a talent, try to find a way to contribute it, as your own gift back to God,…

    it just could be that in this time of “shaking” or housecleaning–as it is being called–that the Church is/will be very much in need, as well as becoming “ready for,” the new input and ideas of the same youth who are asking these poignant questions,…

    i am optimistic that God, who is truly more awesome and influential than we can possibly imagine, is preparing a future that we can be very proud of,…but it will not come by/through compromise with these “fake” voices of the world which seek to co-opt, imitate or replace Him and His Truth in our lives,…

    be of good cheer,…be ready,…eyes wide open,…discernment antennas attuned to what you need to look for,…open your hearts,…and you’ll see/find what God has for you,…

    but since you can’t “put God in a box” (yours or anyone else’s),…don’t try!

    God Bless,…i wish you all the best! (-:

    Hebrews 12:1 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

    2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

  • Magickman

    The real reason people leave is that they non longer find the church to be credible. Mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus are poor substitute for a genuine and authentic belief system.

    I took my leave four decades ago, and never regretted departure.

    It was impossible to continue, when the church’s teachings lacked even basic verisimilitude

  • georgie-ann

    and then,…some just don’t “have ears to hear,”…

  • Yaya

    After reading many posts with regards to the state of the Church according to their opinion, I can’t help but recall that for me, it is quality over quantity. Of course, everyone has a right to express their thoughts and while I lack the ability to be as articulate as others herein, I see Christ at the center of all things Catholic. Scandal after scandal after scandal, has rocked the Church since the early days, beginning with the betrayal of Christ himself. When I see something that bothers me, I close my eyes and I pray. I will not be distracted from Him no matter how hard it is and how difficult. I want to be faithful and yes, it is hard when so much is going on in and out of the Church. Did he not entrust the Church to men who were of feeble and trembling hearts? Did he not entrust by word of mouth, all he taught them so that to this day, all has been preserved, with great care and to many, at the cost of their blood? Oh sure, we can see what the world sees. We can see for ourselves, what is found wanting and in many cases, scandalous, within our own parishes. But like many herein, Christ in the Eucharist, reigns; our Lady intercedes, and we her children, must pray, pray and pray some more.
    I understand many leave and they have their reasons for doing so…many in my family have done the same. I cannot and will not because the promise of Christ echoes in my ear to this very day and I believe it…
    “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me…And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

    That promise has sustained the Church in all ages…warts and all.

  • georgie-ann

    Amen, yaya,…(-:

  • Johnno

    “Well evolution is accepted by the Church… Thank God we do not fall into literalism (St. Augustine did not 1600 years ago…).

    Really do we want to be part of a church who denies scientific evidence?”

    Oh we wouldn’t want that… The problem is that evolution undermines the faith totally by attacking God’s character, making Him to be the creator of death, suffering, diseases, bloodshed, etc. etc. for millions of years through trial and error creation methods all before man and sin existed. So God is responsible for death, and Christ’s sacrifice becomes nonsensical. Besides which belief in evolution undermines Biblical authority and inerrancy.

    There is a difference between taking everything in the Bible literally, and reading that which is meant to be taken literally. The Gospels for example, are literal accounts. The Psalms are not. And Genesis as a historical record is literal history. And this can be demonstrated.

    Besides which the Church has not accepted evolution. In fact that are even defined dogmas that work against the consensus Scientific view. John Paul II may have liked it. Then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI has been gradually becoming more critical of evolution. and we need not worry anyway, because there is no scientific validity to evolution whatsoever. And by ‘evolution’ I mean the fanciful ideas that life can spring from non-life, and go from simple organisms to more complex organisms, from rocks and water to single celled organisms to fish to amphibians to mammals to apes to human beings. That is simple a fairy tale with no scientific evidence, no known mechanisms, no observations, nothing whatsoever. The whole thing is a sham and a hoax that doesn’t deserve to be classified anywhere under real science. It is simply the cornerstone of a naturalistic God-less religion.

    To sooner every wakes up to the fact that atheists are secular scientists are duping us, the easier it will be to get your children back on track to believing that there is a God and that he cares for them, and that they are not some meaningless product of evolution, and religion and Christianity isn’t some evolutionary development for people to cling to until they are enlightened enough to become gods themselves.

  • Perry Mason

    though many have made quite valid points, I argue that the decline in Catholic culture and orthodox observance in America is largely a result of the decline in American culture. Without restating in full the theories of others (if you are interested, see Hans Hermann Hoppe for a good start), America is essentially decivilizing and the average citizen’s time preferences are at all-time highs (i.e. they want something now, rather than later, they consume, rather than save).

    Two necessary conditions for this are (1) a large, instrusive democratic state in which neighbors have power over the rights and fruits of the labor of other neighbors, which discourages Catholic virtues like work and responsibility, and (2) institutions that incentivize high time preferences. American time preferences have become higher and higher with time, and the causes are largely common sense — a banking system that never ceases to inflate, encouraging short term financial consumption, a Soviet model government college and school system that does not have to survive by serving the needs of others, and thus promotes false doctrines with impunity, and a national political system that encourages externalizing ones costs on others (i.e. plunder). There is no subsidiarity anymore, everything has been federalized.

    Which is to say that all of the major institutions in an American’s life essentially work against traditional ethics and values that align with Catholicism, which makes Catholicism very unpalatable to the majority. When man’s institutions work against him, he is far more easily lost. Protestantism has doen better (but make no mistake it has declinend as well) because it is watered down Christianity, and thus has more easily made compromises with decivilization. The growth areas of Protestantism bear this out, being megachurches with virtually no concrete doctrine.

    The Catholic Church in America has not helped much, as it too has adopted, at least culturally, false doctrines like the use of marxist ideas and proffering the state as a solution to most societal ills (see most Catholic social teaching for an example).

    But take heart, decivilization is not sustainable as a matter of economic law and the human spirit, and it is times like this that the members of the Church, you and me, can be at our best with Christ as our guide. Those who see the crumbling around them will flock to true rigorous orthodoxy and see the liberation it provides. This is why the TLM has been so popular with the young, best and brightest. When current government structures go bankrupt and collapse, here, in Western Europe and similar places, we with the Church will have to be there to catch all those who have fallen into the darkness and despair over what the heck went wrong.

  • young adult catholic

    I agree with all those who have said the Church’s first priority is preaching the truth about Christ and His message. My parish unfortunately had a priest step down a year ago because he violated his celibacy vows and he was great at this. He did not water anything down and people flocked to hear him speak. I’ve never met the man but I miss him and his homilies very much. He really wanted us to draw closer to God and get more actively involved in the parish and he set up lots of opportunities for that to happen.

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