Why Catholics Are Leaving: New Study Released

A few days ago I posted my thoughts on What it Means to be a Catholic. It was based on the reflections of Archbishop Charles Chaput (Philadelphia) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin (Dublin, Ireland). Archbishop Chaput, by the way, just released a new book entitled “A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America.”

Recently Villanova University released the results of a study on Why Catholics Leave the Catholic Church. The study was a collaboration between Jesuit Fr. William J. Byron, a professor of business at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and Charles Zech, a Professor at Villanova. Now, when “The Hawks” and “The Wildcats,” Jesuits and Augustinians can agree and collaborate on anything, it is reason to celebrate — true ecumenism right here in Philadelphia! U.S. Route 1 meets Lancaster Avenue.

The study involved Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton. Their Bishop, David M. O’Connell, C.M. had invited the study. Byron’s interest was peaked when speaking with a leading Catholic businessman who commented that, when a company is loosing customers, it is standard procedure to begin a series of exit interviews and ask them “Why?” this led Byron to submit an article in America Magazine entitled, “On their Way Out, What Exit Interviews Could Teach us About Lapsed Catholics.” This eventually led to the Zech/Byron study in Trenton.

The reasons are not surprising:

  1. The sex abuse crisis
  2. The Church’s stance on homosexuality
  3. Dissatisfaction with the priest
  4. Uninspiring homilies on Sunday
  5. Perception that church hierarchy is too closely tied to conservative politics
  6. Church’s stance toward divorced and remarried couples
  7. The status of women

The Byron article and the release of the study has gotten some legs. Articles about this can be found in the Catholic, national and international media. Interest has cut across countries, religious denominations and liberal-conservative/left-right orientations. For example, I saw postings about both items at National Catholic Reporter (USA), CathNews, New Zealand, USA Today, and SHAFAQNA (The Shia International News Association). How’s that for journalistic ecumenism?

Here are my questions:

  • Why so much interest in this?
  • What do WE do about this?
  • What do I do about this?

Your responses would be most welcome.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mary Tietjen says:

    Yes, we see people leave the Catholic Church. I think that the younger people are more likely to leave than those of us who are 45+ years old. Reading some of the comments that followed the article, especially the one about the young man in the seminary, makes me wonder about what those in charge are really doing. I have seen first hand who and where a certain priest is impacting membership and attendance. I saw people leave my parish when a pastor changed. I saw people leave practicing the faith regularly when the pastor didn’t seem to listen to what was being advised. I know of a family that left the faith completely because of a pastor. What keeps going through my mind is that change happens. I can either embrace the change, grow with it, or choose to be elsewhere. While I agree that regular attendance at church functions and mass is important, growing in my faith, understanding my faith and the changes and getting educated in my faith and the changes in the church/mass are extremely important. These are things that weren’t always there in my lifetime. I am very glad that they are there now.

    I think the bottom line to seeing growth is remembering that it starts at home. If a person’s parents are not practicing, then the children aren’t going to practice. If we don’t do something to reach out to those who move into a neighborhood, then shame on us. I know that personally right now I am waiting to see what is going to happen in the Manayunk neighborhood before I make any long term decision about where I practice my faith. It’s a very difficult time for the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia right now. The archbishop has some difficult decisions to make. I hope his decisions help keep the church at least stable but hopefully grow.

    1. Fr. Charles Zlock says:

      I also think that the personal investment in your own faith, outside of Mass on Sunday, is something that was not encouraged (in the pulpit) or supported (programmatically by the parish). I also think that the parish cannot bear the entire brunt of what was lacking. Upon hearing complaints about “what is missing in our parish,” I have often encouraged or challenged the person to start something simple in their own home or in the parish if they wanted or somewhere! . I watch them recoil or back peddle. They want someone ELSE to do the work then simply come and attend (maybe… if it appeals to them). It’s a “fee-for-servcie model” of church. I give my money to you (in the collections basket), your provide me with what I want.

      I am seeing a change however. If you look at my site in the “Favorites Sites” section, you will see very fine organization (MOST of the local to Philadelphia) that were started by lay people with an idea and initiative. I have also recently Tweeted a number of local examples of young adults who are owning their own faith experiences and beginning initiatives themselves. Look up “Philadelphia Catholic League Alumni Corps” for example. It give me hope. Fr. Zlock

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