The American Catholic exodus is speeding up…Currently four people leave the American Catholic Church for every one who joins it. No other other religious group in the United States has a similar ratio. Baptists, for example, also have more people leaving than joining, but their ratio of 2-1……much better than Catholics.
Roughly 10% of all Americans are now former Catholics. Among these former U.S. Catholics, 65 percent say they just stopped believing their religion’s teachings … 58 percent say they are unhappy with church teaching on issues like abortion and homosexuality, and 48 percent are unhappy with their bishops’ teaching on birth control. Even more say they simply lost interest in the church and gradually drifted away.
In American Grace their study of American religious polarization and pluralism, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell quote a member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Acton, Massachusetts, where it is estimated that former Catholics make up nearly half the congregation. “If it weren’t for people leaving the Catholic Church,” he said, “the Episcopal Church would have died a long time ago in America.”
American Catholic customer service is slipping and customers are increasingly unhappy. There is a great hunger for more effective worship, better responses to spiritual needs, and greater pastoral creativity.
American Catholics are looking for bread and their bishops are handing them ornately decorated old stones.
If I were to write a consumers’ report for the USCCB, I would underline these issues: The shortage of priests. The fatigue and pessimism of older priests. The arrogant and oldfashioned Catholicism of far too many younger priests. Celibacy. The role of women in the church and their ordination. Transparency and consultation in church governance at every level, from the parish to the Vatican. Continuing revelations of sexual abuse and its coverup by more than a few bishops. The strong arm role of the hierarchy in Catholic higher education and health care. Monitoring of Catholic theology. Abortion, same-sex relations, and now once again birth control…. and the even more combustible demand that Catholic citizens and civic leaders be answerable to episcopal judgments about laws regarding these matters.
With a new red hat and fancy shoes and robes, Cardinal Timothy Dolan will soon return to his USCCB presidential desk. Perhaps one of the first things the Cardinal Archbishop should do, when he gets back to America, is talk to a few Catholic Martha Stewarts and learn how to make Catholic bread.