We have known for a long time that Catholica attracts a disproportionate readership from the sectors of the Catholic Church who have played a significant role in leadership initiatives in the Church over recent decades. This has been confirmed through an initiative that one of Catholica's publishers, Amanda McKenna, initiated earlier this year asking people to send in their stories explaining their disillusion or why they have left or dropped out of supporting the institution. Today's commentary from Amanda seeks to give an overview of the responses she received. Over coming Tuesdays we will publish a selection of the comments that people have written.
Series Navigation: Introduction | I: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Listening to the disenchanted and those who have left the Church...
Some months ago an article by William J. Byron titled "On Their Way Out" [LINK] appeared in the online journal "America" magazine's January 3rd edition. What I read came as no surprise to me or to any of us who are paying attention to the trends in the Catholic Church today. In fact, I felt very strongly that we should be doing a lot more listening to discover why people are making the decision to leave the practise of their faith. For this reason I put out a call through the pages of Catholica and other websites I frequent to learn more not just from those who had already left, but also from those still practicing their faith, albeit uncomfortably.
What I didn't expect was the sheer volume of replies I was to receive over the next few months. For many, it was the first time anyone had ever bothered to ask the question. So many of these people noted that they had left communities in which they had played a active role with no one even noticing they were gone, let alone asking if everything was all right. This apathy only served to confirm them in their decisions.
We have heard over and over again from the Vatican how things such as 'consumerism' and 'secularism' are drawing people out of the church, and while for some that may be true, it certainly wasn't reflected in the many heart-wrenching stories shared by the respondents. By and large the people who responded to my request for their stories are people who have been the heart and soul of their communities; often cradle Catholics who have been educated in the Catholic system and are theologically literate, who have become so disillusioned by the current state of a church in which they can barely, or no longer, in good conscience participate.
Rather than being apathetic, these people were highly involved in their parish and faith communities. They served as pastoral councilors, RCIA facilitators, liturgists, teachers, music ministers, catechists and youth leaders, as well as priests and religious of all stripes. Many of those who remain practicing Catholics say that if not for the life they find in their own local parish communities, they would be long gone.
A wide range of reasons...
There were a wide range of reasons people gave for leaving (or having one foot out the door), but one reason above all others appeared in almost every letter I received: sexual abuse and its cover-up in the church.
The extent of anger and disillusionment of the people continues to grow as more and more stories come to light of instances where pedophile and abusing priests and religious were moved on to unsuspecting parishes, schools, hospitals and other institutions to continue their nefarious activities. The argument that 'we didn't know any better back then' no longer holds sway in light of the fact that canon law has forbidden it for many hundreds of years with promises of dire consequences for the offending persons, as well as the fact that it continues to this very day. People are frankly disgusted with the hierarchy's adversarial response to victims in an effort to shore up both their finances and their reputations, rather than pastorally caring for the victims and their families.
Another of the main reasons people gave for leaving was the misogyny inherent in both the teachings and the organisation of the church. The lack of equality between women and men in the church is as unpalatable to modern western society as it was to Jesus and his followers. And given that among those who remain in the pews, women far outnumber men, it is a dire forecast for the future of Catholicism, particularly in the western world of the 21st century.
In fact, most of the objections about the church were centred around, or related to, sex. Humanae Vitae was a stillborn teaching if ever there was one. It has been largely ignored by women and men since its promulgation in 1968 and therefore not 'received' by the body of the faithful. And if, as many stated, the Vatican could get that so wrong, what else did they get wrong and what does that say about the teaching of 'infallibility'?
Personal experiences of hurt and injustice...
Many people spoke of their own experiences of hurt and injustice suffered at the hands of the church. Numerous stories of sexual abuse were told, as well as of situations where new priests came to already established and thriving parishes and literally emptied the pews in very short order by the insensitive imposition of their own brand of so-called 'traditional' liturgies, lack of respect for the laity (women in particular) and inability to pastorally care in any meaningful way for their communities.
The majority of the respondents also cited their dislike of the way the church is currently governed; the increasing centralisation of the church paying lip-service to notions of 'collegiality', the lack of transparency at all levels, the treatment of theologians who dare to question 'the party line' ... and the list goes on.
How can the 'sensus fidelium' be heard when there is no one to listen? I have said before that Vatican II woke up the People of God, and the Roman Curia has been trying to put us all to sleep ever since! Today, the claim to be a Vatican II Catholic is met with derision by those currently influencing and controlling the agenda in the Catholic church. Labeled '70's hippies' and worse, it now seems to be a criminal offense to have been born a 'baby boomer' and to have maintained an active church affiliation since Vatican II. We are now told that we didn't understand what the documents 'really' said, as if we were a theologically uneducated laity not capable of reading the documents for ourselves. Even though conservative popes, Paul VI, JPII and Benedict XVI have been at the helm throughout this period, apparently all the rest of us are to blame for the state the church finds itself in today, as the bishops of Ireland and the people of Cloyne have been told in recent times.
People are tired of beating their heads against a brick wall and are now finding other ways to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ outside of the church. Only two respondents stated that they went on to worship at other churches, while most of the rest found nourishment in a myriad of other ways outside the confines of any church. While some respondents state that they have lost faith in God altogether as a result of their experiences, the vast majority went to great lengths to explain that their faith in God remains strong; that, in fact, it was their faith in God that led them out of the Catholic church in the first place!
In my view the New Evangelisation and initiatives like Catholics Come Home are doomed to failure while ever the very serious reasons people left in the first place go unaddressed. And until those in authority right up to the 'servant of the servants of God' are prepared to actually listen to the People of God, nothing will — or can — change.
Over the coming Tuesday's we will publish a selection of the views I received. Although some respondents gave us permission to publish their names others, for understandable reasons, work in sensitive positions or disclosure of their names may harm other people close to them. On consideration of the sensititities we are choosing to publish all opinions we received anonymously.
Series Navigation: Introduction | I: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Amanda McKenna, Linden, NSW. 06Sep2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?