One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.
So observes Father Thomas Reese, summarizing new Pew Research Center data in an essay for the National Catholic Reporter. And to his credit, Reese dives into the data to honestly identify the root causes of the exodus: “Contrary to what conservatives say, ex-Catholics are not flocking to the evangelicals because they think the Catholic church is politically too liberal. They are leaving to get spiritual nourishment from worship services and the Bible.”
Because Omaha is a very Catholic city, and because many of Coram Deo’s members come from a Catholic heritage, I wanted to link to Reese’s essay for the benefit of all. Reese is writing as a Roman Catholic, identifying a problem within his tradition and attempting to propose a solution. Those who read his observations with a “gospel filter” will discern that the issue really comes down to the gospel. Here are a few of the most interesting excerpts:
The Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service… Dissatisfaction with how the church deals with spiritual needs and worship services dwarfs any disagreements over specific doctrines.
The people becoming Protestants [are not] lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic… As believers and as worshipers, Catholics who become Protestants are statistically better Christians than those who stay Catholic. We are losing the best, not the worst.
Almost two-thirds of former Catholics who join a Protestant church join an evangelical church… compared to those who became mainline Protestants, a higher percentage of those becoming evangelicals said they left because their spiritual needs were not being met (78 percent versus 57 percent) and that they had stopped believing in Catholic teaching (62 percent versus 20 percent). They also cited the church’s teaching on the Bible (55 percent versus 16 percent) more frequently as a reason for leaving. Forty-six percent of these new evangelicals felt the Catholic church did not view the Bible literally enough. Thus, for those leaving to become evangelicals, spiritual sustenance, worship services and the Bible were key.
That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace… Few Catholics read the Bible. The [Catholic] 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.