The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Mislaid: 26 million Catholics Print E-mail
By Bevil Bramwell. OMI   
Thursday, 12 May 2011

A recent Pew Report claims that the number of ex-Catholics in the United States now stands at over 26 million. We have all heard the stories blaming secularism and materialism – and the scandals. But let’s consider the problem from another direction. What preparation would these people – some of whom probably did drift away because of secularism or the scandal – need to have had in order to live in the modern world as active and responsible Catholics?

The fundamentals of that preparation were expressed in the words of John Paul II: “The voice of the Lord clearly resounds in the depths of each of Christ's followers, who through faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation is made like to Jesus Christ, is incorporated as a living member in the Church and has an active part in her mission of salvation.”(Christifideles laici, 3) His exhortation came after the Synod on the Laity in 1987, but there are similar quotations going back as far as we want.

So what teaching apparatus does the Church actually need to lead each Catholic to grasp the full range of what John Paul was saying – and apply it in daily life? The institutional parts of the Church have to be seen as fitting together into a kind of production-line, giving lay persons at each phase of their lives the specific things necessary to live out what John Paul said. This is the only reason for the existence of those institutions – in broad terms, conversion of the world.

So, to continue the metaphor a little further, the various stations on the production line need to be able to serve infants and children and teenagers and young adults and parents and the elderly in the ways that will lead them to holiness. Holiness is actually a good umbrella term for all of the different aspects of the functioning Catholic.

John Paul II again: “The vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities.” Some of this involves detailed instruction. Some, guided discussion or helping people to know where to go to find reliable answers for themselves, Catholic answers, because otherwise people will take whatever answers the culture has to offer. And we already know where that leads.


           26,000,000 have left the Church. That's a lot of empty pews.

Now, we do have some of the tools in place – catechetics programs, programs for specific groups by age, for example. Then there is guided discussion: some organizations like Young Christian Workers (See – Judge – Act), bereavement groups, or Newman Centers, for example, help people to apply Christian principles. Catholic doctors have banded together, as have even – if you can believe it – Catholic lawyers!  The point is that lay life is extraordinarily diverse, which is why every level of the hierarchy has ultimately to be part of the production line if everyone is going to be served at their pace and their level. Subsidiarity comes into its own if the holiness of the greatest number is the goal.

Discussion plays a crucial role in helping people personal and professional life through the lens of a communion of grace and truth. Communion, a term emphasized by Vatican II, describes the Church in ways that reframe the meaning of many of the other terms that we are familiar with, such as parish, diocese, and conference. Thinking of them in terms of communion makes a difference because the Church is “called to relive the very communion of God and to manifest it and communicate it in history (mission).” (CL, 9)

The purpose of the communion is to “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.” (Vatican II) But this means coming to see, quite concretely, how dogmatic and moral teaching applies in actual cases. What we all learned up to Confirmation – which is where most people finish any formal learning about the faith – probably does not give you what you need to face salient issues such as relating to the opposite sex, voting, and the Catholic view of politics and economics. Almost by chance, some engaged couples do get instruction on marriage and married life. But how often is that really sufficient to order one’s marriage “to the plan of God”?

There are any number of gaps in the ongoing process of personal formation. So people have plenty of opportunity to drift – mostly, I believe, because they have never been seriously told that faith is a lifelong work. Unless you are a rare genius or very great saint, you should always be learning more about how the Church (which is the presence of Jesus Christ) understands things on both large and small scales. You not only develop in the act of faith but in grasping its content.

This is certainly the responsibility of the individual baptized person – the mature Christian we keep hearing about. But it is also the responsibility of the bishops and others in authority who are “to hallow men in the truth, and to feed them.” (Christus Dominus, 2)

Twenty-six million lapsed Catholics is a number equal to the population of Texas. Would the United States casually write off Texas?


Bevil Bramwell
, priest of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, teaches theology at Catholic Distance University. He holds a Ph.D from Boston College and works in the area of ecclesiology.

© 2011 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

The Catholic Thing
is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (24)Add Comment
0
...
written by Manfred, May 12, 2011
Which of the competing "Catholicisms" today would you recommend?
0
...
written by Fr. Bramwell, May 12, 2011
I would go to the only authentic source and that would be the councils and the teaching of the popes. If people learned Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes with all of their implications (Which you see spelled out by John Paul II and Benedict XVI) we could make enormous steps forward. As Karol Wojtyla, John Paul started over a hundred groups in the Diocese of Krakow to get the council to the people. Today about 50 are still running.
0
...
written by Louise, May 12, 2011
My mother was the world's most ardent procrastinator. She always intended to go to church on Sunday (her denomination was what ever was nearest. In this case, it was a small Methodist church a little more than w half mile away--although she liked the Baptists because they sang with such enthusiasm), but, alas, I'm not sure she ever got there. However, when I was a child, she used to tell me quite often, "God loves you, and He is with you every moment of the day and night. He is always watching over you."

I, on the other hand, with my husband, took our children to church and Sunday School every Sunday, where ever we lived--to the Community Baptist Church in Barrington, IL, to the First Methodist and then to St. Steven Episcopal in Olean, NY, then to the Episcopal Church in Wakefield, RI, then to Seattle, to St. Paul's Episcopal and then to Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church. Every Sunday, without fail, even on vacation. Of our four children, all now grown, all leading fine, upstanding adult lives, only one is still Catholic--and a very committed one. The other three show no outward signs of religious faith. However, I'm not sure that I ever said to them, "God loves you, and He is with you every moment of the day and night. He is always watching over you."

I wonder to which of us--my mother or me--our Lord will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
0
...
written by Grump, May 12, 2011
Count me among the 26 million. That's a lot of prodigal sons that likely will never return. "By their fruits ye shall know them."
0
...
written by Sandra, May 12, 2011
As a lay-woman, may I give my opinion? INCOMPLETE and INACCURATE Faith Formation, both in the parochial schools and for those children that attended public schools.

When I was a teen, I saw and read the books that my parents (dad - parochial and Catholic High School in the 1940s; and mom, public schools and attended Catechism classes in the 1940s) had used in their formal faith formation, my books (1960s) were "kiddie" books in comparison.

They were taught about things like "spiritual warfare" and "eternity," where I got "Jesus loves me" and lyrics from Godspell, not the Gospels.
0
...
written by Alan, May 12, 2011
Ditto Sandra's comments on faith formation.

Most people who drift away do so in young adulthood. Well, back when I was growing up the 1960s and 70s, the only faith formation I got was "Be Good."

And a whole generation said, "I am good. I don't need the Church for that." And they never looked back.
0
...
written by senex, May 12, 2011
Dissent in the pews has been one harbinger of 'fallen away'. But in my opinion dissent among the bishops, priests and nuns has had a magnifying effect on people rejecting the Church. Enough of them have lost our confidence so that those who don't fall away hang on in spite of them, not because of them. The USCCB is a glaring example of the source of confusion in the American Church.
0
...
written by Yezhov, May 12, 2011
I usually beat up on the post Vatican II liturgical deformers for stripping the mystery out of our Sacred Mysteries and thereby drivng untold numbers of laity to malls on Sundays rather than suffer through the Fr. X's unsubstantial it's-about-me homilies. But I think next to that circle of Hell (or Purgatory if we want mercy for the SOB's) reserved for the dumbed down liturgists will be one (either higher or lower -- can't decide) for the post Vat II catechists who decided that little kids should learn to be Carl Rogers/Norman Brown idiots rather than learn their Faith.
0
...
written by Other Joe, May 12, 2011
To Grump - I wish I had the eloquence to pierce your well-fortified bunker of words. The things you say often contain a bit of truth mixed with exaggeration and what seems like sleight of hand to make your points. But do consider that conversion is an individual matter. 26 million individuals could have a change of heart in moments. Such an instantaneous return of the prodigals is unlikely unless there is an event of sufficient importance to change basic perceptions. While we are spending our inheritance times are good and there is not much reason to rise above distraction. But when we have spent our earthly resources and drought is on the land (Tsunami? Run-away reactor? Terror attack? Economic miscalculation? Political oppression? Or just the end of a long life?) we might look with nostalgia on our childhood memories of our Father’s house. Religion offers its comforts to the sinner, the lost, the poor, the downtrodden or any who have found their own pride to be a thin garment for windy days.
0
...
written by Achilles, May 12, 2011
Dear Grump, it is like what Fulton Sheen said, something like "there are about 100 people who hate the Catholic Church, but millions who think they do. What they hate is their misunderstanding of what the Church is." (I wasn't close on the words, but you get the idea.) Those who claim to have left the Chruch, for the most part, were never really there in a meaningful sense.
0
...
written by Liz, May 12, 2011
Yezhov is correct. Those Catholics who have left, in my experience, are seeking "something" that the RC Church has failed to teach. In talking with many of them they seek spirituality yet fail to read and study the Roman Church. The likes of Joyce Meyer has captured many as have books like The Secret. We have such a rich heritage yet it is slipping by these people. I do put a lot of the blame on the post-VatII people who have failed to catechize our congregants appropriately as well as priests and nuns who dumb down the RC religion.
0
...
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., May 12, 2011
Yezhov is absolutely right. I hope you all don't mind my again asserting that this state of affairs did not come about by accident. Those who turned catchesis into "I'm-okay-you're-okay and all relgions are true" were acting to create what has been called a "paralell, counterfeit church" that would replace the One True Church with an organization focused on materialistic social justice instead of Salvation. Even though that is impossiblbe, those trying to undermine the churruch have done much damage in the trying. Back to the Baltimore Catechism, and right now! How bad has it gotten? I know a Catholic with a doctorate in Theology who had never heard of either Abp Sheen or Dietrich Von Hildebrand!
0
...
written by Manfred, May 12, 2011
It is interesting to read the comments from the respondents as they watch the wolves snatch their fellow sheep. They cry out for the Good Shepherd who does not bring Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium, but rather the Gospels.
0
...
written by Grump, May 12, 2011
As Emerson said, "Once we had wooden chalices and golden priests; now we have golden chalices and wooden priests."

So many people long for immortality but they don't know what to do with themselves on a rainy afternoon.
0
...
written by Fr. Bramwell, May 13, 2011
Wow So many great comments. I will defend Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes because they are expressions of the Gospels and they come from Christ the Teacher in the Church. I also want to reemphasize the need for discussion groups. So many issues are so intricate that they do need to be thrashed out in such a setting. The community dimension is the only format for so much of the learning process that we need.
0
...
written by Louise, May 13, 2011
"I also want to reemphasize the need for discussion groups."

Father, What kind of discussion groups are you promoting? I, myself, avoid them like the plague. I also avoid adult religious ed. classes unless they are conducted by someone who can speak with authority and can separate the wheat from the chaff among opinions. Unfortunately, the opinion that will stay in the minds of most attendees is the opinion expressed with the most confidence and in the loudest voice, whether it bears any resemblance to truth or not. That old phrase "pooling ignorance" is too true in most such gatherings. One sound lecture by one faithful priest or bishop is more valuable than a whole season of discussion groups in my humble opinion.
0
...
written by Jill, May 14, 2011
Father, do you hear the hunger in our voices? We have 4 priests in my parish, all very good men. But one of them tells it like it is, challenges us, truly teaches us. We never know which one will be there to celebrate any Mass, but if the schedule were known, Fr. David would have "groupies"!
0
...
written by Fr. Bramwell, May 14, 2011
Louise, these are not free flowing discussion groups but groups getting to grips with a text such as the text of Vatican II. There has to be someone trained to lead because we are not seeking private interpretations but public commitment to the public teaching of the Church. So your caution is highly justified.
Catholicism has become so privatized in the US that we have to break out of that and get back into the corporate concept that is expressed in Vatican II.
0
...
written by Fr. Bramwell, May 14, 2011
Jill, yes I do hear the hunger and it really saddens me. At this stage one has to look around and find parishes where teaching is done, find groups that get to grips with the truth of Catholicism. There is no short cut until the Bishops Conference tackles the problem nationally and individual bishops tackle it at a diocesan level.
0
...
written by debby, May 14, 2011
"He loves each one of us as if there were only one of us." St. Augustine, the Great sinner, Great Teacher, Great Saint.
i understand this post and comments, but i wonder if we aren't missing the point a bit with regards to how intensely personal is the union of God to each of us.

i found that quote on a mug 31 years ago at a protestant Bible book store. i had grown up with all the preaching and teaching that is so desperately lacking in too many of our Catholic churches, the personal conversion stories shared monthly at evening Sunday services,(Sunday church was 2 hrs in AM, 2 hrs in PM) Wednesday night was Bible study, Friday/Saturday nights were a youth activity. hours and hours spent every week of my childhood in church as well as going to a protestant school from K thru 7th grades. i had lots and lots of memorized facts and verses and stories, but i was alone in a crowd of souls. all that information but for some reason i didn't know IN MY HEART that God MY FATHER, God-Man Jesus MY LOVER, God MY ADVOCATE-PARACLETE loved me alone. just me. i mattered. it was if there was a block somewhere. a bunch of words: "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" true, yes, but they were in black and white played on a tin can, when i ached for color and Mozart and Vivaldi. i felt like a freak. several times i was asked the question, "what do you want? you expect too much out of life."
my parents eventually divorced when i was 21 (about 20 1/2 years too late). my family was both devoutly religious and crazy 1960'2 dysfunctional. BUT my mother prayed. like Louise's mom, not a perfect Christian for sure, but as faithful as she knew to be. Not one of my mother's children have left the Christian faith: my one brother has his doctorate and is a Pastor (but he doesn't speak to me, his Catholic sister) and the other brother is an elder in his Christian and Missionary Alliance church. that said, my CONVERSION was and still is a life-long process of discovering the ONE LOVE, Who has made me for no other purpose than as an expression of His Love, and in that discovering, He so Gently, Graciously, Miraculously drew me to Himself in the ONE TRUE FAITH, the Roman Catholic Church. isn't that true to some extent for each one of us? the discovering of the "you are My one and only" whispered to us in the dark by Him?
so, 26 million people are but one for Him, and should any single one of them have the smallest mustard seed size desire to look for Truth, He will be the Faithful One.
that said, i know everyone is only one Faith in Heaven.... but then, wasn't Purgatory invented for all who didn't complete RCIA and CCD here?
and p.s.
grump, go read The Emperor's New Clothes again.
i'll be the little boy in the story. i think you know who you are. we are not fooled. go put the Wedding Garment He has paid the price for on already, will you? (all in love my dear ole grump. you've been on my prayer list for a long time...)
0
...
written by Graham Combs, May 14, 2011
I have been admonised by a fellow Catholic not to refer to myself as "Catholic;" in RCIA, a fellow catechist, declared proudly that she and her husband were work for the Obama campaign; another fellow Catholic warned me that I was too pro-life... Bluntly, this is what you have to put up with to be a Catholic today. But, not always. But it takes courage and leadership and orthodoxy. Two weeks ago, monsignor was compelled to write in the Sunday bulletin that parents should not allow their children to splash about in the St. Therese chapel's Baptismal pool. Also that children shouldn't be eating and leaving "goldfish" crackers in the pews ("please don't force me to put up a NO FOOD AND DRINK IN THE CHURCH sign...") A whole generation, my "babyboomer" generation, believed that rules, etiquette, ceremony, tradition etc. should come "naturally" from within. Very little comes naturally to human beings. Not morality, not law, not even decency. Our Salvation could not be more unnatural. When one looks at the megachurches, the "emerging churches" etc, one is reminded just why the Church is necessary, essential, truly the Body of Christ. Too many schools and parishes and other institutions have become "re-education" rather than education. The late comedian Flip Wilson used to do a routine about The Church of What's Happenin' Now back in the 1970s. Well, it's still going on. I suspect not a few converts finish RCIA either confused or deluded that they're doing just fine and no major adjustments are required. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus's words come to mind, "fidelity, fidelity, fidelity."
0
...
written by Louise, May 14, 2011
Dear Fr. Bramwell,

The one thing that has been left out of these discussions about Catholics who come, Catholics who go, Catholics who stay "in spite of", that I realize now that I tried to hint at and that Debbie also, I believe, hinted at, is Mystery. All of the classes, the discussions, the homilies, lectures, etc. etc., by bishops,, priests, and religious ed. teachers, discussion leaders, seldom mention the great Mystery of the Spirit. "The Spirit blows where He will." Why do some people hear and respond and others hear and turn away, when surely God has the key that will unlock each heart--even Mr. Grump's. We can analyze it to death, but, in the end, it is a Mystery. Yes, we know about the rocky soil and the fertile soil into which the seed falls, and we know that "without a teacher, how will they hear?", but, in the end it remains a Mystery. (Some people hear without a teacher.) We can only do the little that we are given to do and then bow humbly before the Mystery.
0
...
written by debby, May 16, 2011
AMEN, Louise!
Mystery, and i would add a RADICAL TRUST that the One Who is Judge is LOVE.
Love knows. each and every one of us, what we are made of, what we have lived, what our heart is.
so Louise's mom, my mom, even my very sick-in-the-soul father, will be judged and their eternal destination determined by Love Who came to rescue the lost.....
do we really believe that?
let us love Him with all we are, where we are, and our neighbor as our self, and i do believe the net will have so very many "fish" in it.
(p.s. what do those in love look like? they GLOW IN THE DARK. that is us you know. St. Paul said we are "stars that shine in the darkness." perfect. when it gets dark enough, most will be drawn to the Light.)
0
...
written by Fr. Bramwell, May 16, 2011
Agreed Louise one hundred percent. I am just dealing with the aspect of understanding Church teaching which is a big gap in itself. One should be teaching in a community where other things are going on including proper celebration of the sacraments and so on.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 
CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner