In 2007, a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study reported that one-third of Americans were raised Catholic but slightly less than one-third of those (~11% of all Catholics) stopped practicing their faith in the sense of “stopped attending Mass.”
That raises the question, “Why are those people not attending Mass?”
A USA Today article discussed a recent study of 298 people—67% of whom were women—who stopped attending Mass in the Diocese of Trenton (NJ). The study indicates they did so for three reasons:
- personal reasons: “the pastor who crowned himself king and looks down on all,” “the Church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse scandal,” “divorced and remarried Catholics are unwelcome at Mass”;
- political reasons: “eliminate the extreme conservative haranguing”; and,
- doctrinal reasons: “don’t spend so much time on issues like homosexuality and birth control.”
Nearly 50% of the respondents offered negative comments about their parish priests, whom they described as “arrogant,” “distant” and “insensitive.” Some also called for better homilies, better music, and greater accountability on the part of parish staff. And, despite the fact they no longer attend Mass, nearly 25% of the respondents still consider themselves Catholic which, in fact, they are. They’re just “lapsed” Catholics.
One of the study’s co-authors, Villanova University professor Charles Zech, believes the responses aren’t local but have broader implications that “affect the whole Church.” Zech divided the responses into two categories: “the things that can’t change but that we can do a better job explaining” and the “things that aren’t difficult to fix.”
The Motley Monk would note that the phenomenon of lapsed Catholics isn’t anything new in Church history, especially during times of persecution. Given that history, whether the fact that ~11% of Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton didn’t attend Mass in 2011 is high or low, The Motley Monk doesn’t know, and whether or not that statistic should raise “red flags” is open to debate. It would seem there will always be a certain percentage of “lapsed” members for any religious tradition.
If lapsed Catholics can’t accept the Church teaching and it’s political or personal implications, what The Motley Monk doesn’t “get” is why they don’t find a religious denomination that will provide them exactly what they want? After all, although the Church should never give up explaining those “things that can’t change but that we can do a better job explaining,” The Motley Monk doesn’t think many lapsed Catholics are really that much interested in having those things explained all over to them yet another time. They’ve made up their minds and have decided they don’t agree with Church teaching. That’s why they’ve lapsed.
However, with nearly 13% of respondents in the Trenton study indicating they would welcome a call from a Church official—they even provided their names and contact information for that purpose—and with many more respondents indicating they were pleased to be asked for their input, it would be important for them, their parish, and the diocese if the bishop, the pastor, or a priest did contact them in an effort to see if those “things that aren’t difficult to fix” can be fixed.
But that’s where Zech’s analysis sends up a red flag for The Motley Monk. He notes:
The fact that they took the time to respond gives us a chance. If some things change, or we do a better job of representing the church’s position, we might woo some of them back.
It’s the “If some things change…” clause.
When it comes to Church doctrine—for example, the sanctity of marriage, the male priesthood, the sanctity of life, artificial birth control—The Motley Monk would guess none of that’s going to change any time soon, if ever. Reiterating that fact to lapsed Catholics, The Motley Monk thinks, there’d quite likely be very little chance to “woo” those respondents back.
What’s The Motley Monk to tell them, “Come on back. [wink] All of that stuff is the creation of man and doesn’t have anything to do with God”?
To read the USA Today article, click on the following link:
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