By Fr. Max Oliva, SJ
A note from Fr. Max Oliva, SJ: The amount of responses I received from the September Issue on why some have left the Church and why others have stayed was amazing. So, the next two issues are their responses. Thank you to all of you who sent your reflections to me.
"What you wrote is very interesting. I am often reminded of mythologist Joseph Campbell's statement that we, in North America, have lost the connection to our 'great story.' Our faith unifies us and gives order, and makes sensical the realms of our life that cannot be understood any other way. Our 'great story' is challenged by materialism and pluralism. My faith provides me with comfort and the opportunity to understand things from a much richer perspective."
- Jim, mediator and employee and family assistant program counselor (Canada)
"To the first part of your article, I would add apathy. People sometimes get into the habit of NOT going to church. It is easier, easier not to bother; and sometimes safer, not to become involved. The prevailing culture encourages an 'It's all about me' attitude; we forget the relationship we are invited into by our loving God who established a covenant with us at the moment of creation. We need to move beyond the ME to the WE of life."
- Beth, parish religious education coordinator (U.S.)
"Why people leave: I would add a repulsion to a sense of intolerance by the Church, however doctrinally justified it may be. I think Pope Francis' impact on his trip to the U.S. was a counterpoint to this….Why some return to the Church: for me it has been exposure to theology and an appreciation of the intellectual expansiveness of Christian thought and tradition."
- Anon, business executive (U.S.)
"In our parish, I think the biggest reason people have left is a lack of integrity and a lack of transparency by Church leaders (mostly the priests, but sometimes deacons and administrators, as well). One example: five years ago we had a convicted child sex abuser doing ministry involving children in our parish. When I blew the whistle on this, I was shunned by the priest and by some of the lay leaders in the parish. My husband and I were told by the priest that we were influenced by Satan. Every effort was made to keep the situation quiet (by the bishop, as well). I was deeply wounded by that experience but continue to go to church for the reasons you mention in your newsletter."
- Anon (Canada)
"I would like to add one more reason why people do not go to church: indifference. Many people, especially under the age of 50, see no reason to belong to or attend church and the reasons we put forth don't seem to change their minds. This is frustrating for me as I have children in that age bracket; my only hope is that someday they will investigate why church was so important for me and find it for themselves."
- Anne, retired prison chaplain (Canada)
"I was away from the Church for 20 years, not because of scandals or any misconduct on anyone's part, but because I was afraid that if someone knew I was divorced and re-married, without an annulment, I would be excommunicated. When I finally did return, my overwhelming feeling was, "I am home."
- Mamie, medical technologist (U.S.)
"You touched one of my 'hot buttons' on this subject. As I was converting to the Catholic faith many years ago, one of my reservations was that I was committing to a vibrant parish rather than to the greater Church. Living one's faith in an 'alive' parish community is relatively easy. A vibrant parish nurtures the growth of our faith to the point where we can begin to see beyond the obstacles and 'warts' of the Church. However, as a mother who raised four children in our faith, one of my heartbreaks is that none of them today are practicing Catholics. I pray they will eventually find their way back."
- Wendy, Catholic school administrator (U.S.)
"I am inclined to wonder if the reasons some give for walking away from their church are really just making excuses on externals. They had already decided in their hearts that they didn't want to put their ultimate trust in God and then claim they left because of a scandal or some such. It is interesting to see that your reflections on why others stay are not simply corrections to the "problems" section. Rather, they are clearly the work of the Holy Spirit in peoples' hearts."
- Tim, pharmacist (Canada)
"I printed a copy of your newsletter to use as part of the next CWL (Catholic Women's League) meeting in our farming community. I am also preparing to teach five children their first three sacraments. Their parents go to church once or twice a year. I will share your article at the classes as the parents attend. Perhaps it will help them."
- Nancy-Jean, catechist and CWL secretary (Canada)
"Many lifelong Catholic women I know feel that the church's treatment of women is tantamount to being in an abusive relationship. This is a huge issue, driving some women and men away from the Church. Take language, for example. Language shapes thought. Jesus did not become 'man.' He became human; that's how I say that line in the Nicene Creed. He is both human and divine, not male and divine. Secondly, male-only images of the divine can be problematic for women who have had abusive fathers or spouses. God is both mother and father, and ultimately beyond gender... Nonetheless, this is my worshipping community. I am not going anywhere else, but I will not defend those teachings that are contrary to my lived experience."
- Rosemary, retired director of an interfaith shelter network (U.S.)