It is often said “the church is bleeding young people.” The Church is bleeding people of all ages, although mostly those under 30 years of age. In order to stop the bleeding of a wound one must understand the cause of the wound and how deep it goes. That is also true for the Church.
Let’s face it, if we think the Church will continue to be a social and political powerhouse without going through a loss of strength and membership then we are just wrong. Jesus began with only 12 Apostles, grew a following of thousands, yet most left him when teaching about the Eucharist. “As a result of this (teaching on the Eucharist), many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (John 6:66) In this passage, and the verses prior, we see in verse 60 where “many of his disciples were listening” and just six short verses later, after preaching the Eucharist, they left. The only ones that were left were the 12 Apostles, as we see in verse 67, “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’
So, the question I have to start this article is the same one Jesus asked his apostles. Do you want to leave? Let’s address some primary reasons Catholics leave the Church and then look at what we can do about those issues.
Church Teaching: A 2018 study showed that before a child reaches the teenage years they have already stopped identifying themselves as Catholic and seeing themselves as Catholic – even if they still attend Mass with their family. The study from St. Mary’s Press, titled “Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Catholic Disaffiliation” shows that about one third of those who participated in the study said it was a problem with the Church’s teaching that caused them to leave. The primary issue those who left had with the Church is its teaching on homosexuality and same sex marriage. The culture these youth are being raised in is teaching them it is a social justice and human dignity issue with homosexuality so therefore it has nothing to do with their sexual preference.
The reason the devil is able to convince so many people, particularly the youth, of this lie is there is a severe lack of understanding the gravity of sin. The Church is not against homosexuals. The Church does not hate those individuals. The Church is here to offer them a life of serving and loving God. The Church is here to be the love of Christ to them. However, that does not mean the Church has to agree with them living in sin. The Church’s teaching is against the action and lifestyle of homosexuality, not the individual. Jesus loved everyone and died for everyone, but yet he called sin what it was and held back no punches. He turned tables over and called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” We must make an effort as individuals to ensure when we speak about sins such as homosexuality, we do it from a place of love for the individual. If we love that person as Christ does then, just like Christ, we will love them too much to let them stay in that lifestyle without speaking truth to them. Homosexuality can still be a social justice and human dignity issue while being a sin issue. It can be both and it is both.
Bad Experience With A Priest: Let’s face it, the longer a person is Catholic the higher the probability they have or will suffer through a bad experience with a priest. Whether it be from sexual abuse or some other incident. I am not minimizing their experiences and truly am heartbroken that the Church our Lord started would harm any of its followers. But, it has happened and will happen again since we are sinful humans. In 2014 a study showed that approximately 12 million people in the United States, coming to a total of about 1 in 20 adults, are misdiagnosed by outpatient medical clinics each year. I would consider receiving a misdiagnosis to be a bad experience with a doctor or medical clinic. The same study claimed that it presented a “substantial patient safety risk.” Does that sound like a “bad experience”? How many people have you heard say they are never going to any medical clinic or any doctor for the rest of their life because of a bad experience with one doctor and one clinic? The chances someone stops receiving medical care for the rest of their life because of one bad experience is slim to none. So, why would we be willing to stop receiving spiritual care for our eternal soul because of one bad priest or a bad experience?
Dissatisfaction with the pope: For many, a dislike of Pope Francis is the underlying and motivating factor for their departure from the Church. One must understand and remember that just because he is the pope does not make him sinless or does not guarantee he will be perfect. It does not even guarantee he will not be a heretic. The only guarantee Jesus gave Peter when he formed the Church was that the gates of Hades will never prevail over the Church. Saint Peter the Apostle denied Jesus three times at the very same time Jesus was facing his last hours on earth because he was sacrificing himself for the sins of the world. Peter, the first pope, denied Jesus and one of the original Twelve betrayed Jesus and sold him out. The Church has faced problems with leadership from the beginning with the original Twelve, but it has always survived and it always will. For those who are uncomfortable with or dislike Pope Francis, we should encourage them to pray for the Holy Father and to do whatever they can to support their parish and the Church, despite their disagreement with the Pope.
One must remember we are not Catholic because of the pope. We have a pope because we are Catholic. We are not Catholic because of the Cardinals. We have Cardinals because we are Catholic. We are Catholic because of Jesus Christ. We have Jesus Christ in the Sacraments and in our lives because we are Catholic.