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Reese on why Catholics are leaving the church

April 20, 2011

Most of us have heard the statistic that ex-Catholics, if counted as a group, would make up the country’s third largest denomination. In the National Catholic Reporter, Father Tom Reese looks at this exodus (1 of every 10 American is an ex-Catholic) and explains where Catholics are going and why. (He also wonders why bishops don’t seem more alarmed.)

Reese writes that about half who leave Catholicism do not affiliate with another church or religion. The other half join Protestant churches. The reasons tend to have to do with spiritual needs rather than doctrinal disagreements, Reese says.

The principal reasons given by people who leave the church to become Protestant are that their “spiritual needs were not being met” in the Catholic church (71 percent) and they “found a religion they like more” (70 percent). Eighty-one percent of respondents say they joined their new church because they enjoy the religious service and style of worship of their new faith.

In other words, the Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service. And before conservatives blame the new liturgy, only 11 percent of those leaving complained that Catholicism had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.

Reese also describes how more ex-Catholics are drawn to evangelical churches rather than mainline denominations. And he argues strongly for more emphasis on the Bible in Catholic churches.

The church needs a massive Bible education program. The church needs to acknowledge that understanding the Bible is more important than memorizing the catechism. If we could get Catholics to read the Sunday scripture readings each week before they come to Mass, it would be revolutionary. If you do not read and pray the scriptures, you are not an adult Christian. Catholics who become evangelicals understand this.

Which makes a lot of sense. If you’re Catholic, you ought to know the catechism of the church certainly, but biblical literacy should be encouraged as well. Growing up, I hardly ever missed Mass, even went to daily Mass for a while as a teen. And I felt that I “got” Jesus in the sense that I appreciated his teachings and his suffering and all that. But I rarely picked up a Bible.  Don’t know how typical that is, but I’m guessing my experience was fairly common.

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