The second largest religious denomination in the United States is made up of 42.7 million non-practicing (recovering) Catholics. Being raised Catholic, working in the Church, and then making the decision myself to leave, the following is my professional and personal assessment of what makes Catholics leave.
- They no longer feel welcome. While we often hear from the Church, “all are welcome,” in reality, this is not entirely true. Whether it has been explicitly stated (“Only Catholics in good standing are welcome here”) or implied by specific Catholic teachings, many no longer feel welcome in the Catholic Church. Those most likely NOT to feel welcome include those who are: divorced, gay, transsexual, women or married men called to ordained ministry. Also included in this number are those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, who have suffered an abortion, who are poor, the mentally ill, those who are called to exercise primacy of conscience over Catholic doctrine, and those who have been sexually assaulted by members of the clergy.
- Their spiritual needs are not being met. The deepest longing in the human soul is to know the source and origin from whence we came and to where we will return. In theistic terms, we long to know God. In human terms, we long for peace, contentment, joy, to know that we are loved and that we belong. This longing can only be satisfied from within and while the Church has a rich tradition of resources and tools for supporting people in this search and in satisfying this longing, very few ever come to know these tools. If they cannot find these tools within their own church, they tend to search elsewhere. Many Catholics are now finding these tools within Buddhism, Yoga, Native American, and Pagan spirituality.
- Their need for psychological growth is not being met. In order to become spiritually, emotionally and psychologically mature, human beings need to search. We need to question and challenge the faith we grew up in. We need to explore beliefs and practices outside our faith. In my experience, the Church does nothing to support this exploration, even going so far as to discourage it. Those who question are condemned as being disobedient or blasphemous. If a safe place for questioning is not provided, people will simply leave for other spaces where their natural drive toward growth is supported.
- Their need for meaning and fulfillment (self-actualization) is not being met. The Catholic Church does a fantastic job of preaching about spiritual gifts and our responsibility to live out those gifts in service to God and in service to the world. Unfortunately, it does nothing to support people in the discovery, cultivation or empowerment of these gifts. Neither does it provide the resources for helping people move through the fears that might otherwise prevent them from realizing and sharing these gifts. I suspect the unacknowledged reason for the Church not providing these resources is because it takes psychological and spiritual maturity to fulfill our Soul’s purpose….which brings me back to #’s 2 and 3 above.
- Hypocrisy When the religious institution to which one belongs says one thing and then does another, it becomes difficult to remain. Sadly, the Catholic Church is woefully guilty in this regard. It says, “No sex before marriage,” while young children suffer sexual assault at the hands of an underdeveloped (and unaccountable) priesthood. It says, “live simply” while its bishops live like kings. It says feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick while it turns a blind eye to many of those in need. It says, “Love one another,” while it continually builds walls between those who are “saved” and those who “are not.” I could go on and on…..but I think you get the point.
If you are one among the second largest religious denomination in the U.S. of non-practicing (recovering) Catholics, I suspect none of what I mentioned above is new to you. My hope is that in sharing this, you know that you are not alone. In fact, you are one among a multitude and there is a home for you here.
If you are still feeling the pain of grief, guilt, anger, frustration or longing in making the decision to leave your Catholic faith, you might find comfort in my online course: Healing Our Religious Wounds. Click on the icon below to learn more.