Wednesday, January 05, 2011

this way out?

The current issue of America has a thought-provoking article on the idea of crafting "exit interviews" with people who are leaving the Church. Actually, this article is a follow-up to an earlier one on the same subject, which has been raised in other places as well. Interestingly, many fallen-away Catholics were eager to weigh in, even though it is hard to know how they found out that the conversation was being proposed.
Judging from the comments cited in the article, it would appear that the principal reason formerly established, "pillar of the Church" people leave the active practice of the faith has less to do with faith than with frustration over the most human aspects of the Church: the pastor is a control freak; the bishops don't know how to lead; the pedophiles got away with it for so long; and (that dogma that gets trotted out on so many occasions) "the Church treats women as second class citizens."
Apart from the pedophile crisis, which is a tragedy beyond measure (all the more because it could have been dealt with so differently), it is sad that many of the most-named "reasons" people would leave the Church are so fixable. (Some, to my mind, are just an issue of ignorance or attitude.) But it is also sad that in so many cases, these very circumstances are the kinds of things that could be a personally purifying "dark night of the senses" (the first of the "dark nights" in the spiritual life), if they were dealt with in a spirit of faith. Instead, the article seemed to demonstrate that people are addressing those problems in a kind of political or even consumerist spirit.
How can we name and address these human, institutional problem spots in a spirit of prayer? Not to "reduce" the solution to prayer, but to include actual prayer and actual faith in the approach to a solution? To what extent does an examination of each problem also imply an examination of conscience on both sides, with a willingness to change attitudes and criteria that do not conform to the mind of Christ? With a willingness to accept that not everything will be or can be "fixed"?
It seemed that the article only addressed the issue of people who made a declared decision to "leave the Church," not those who have fallen away through a kind of neglect.
Maybe instead of exit interviews, we should be doing more interviews of those who are returning to the Church, or staying engaged despite the human aggravations that are part and parcel of being the body of Christ made up of many members.


Michelle said...

I remember reading an article a few years back that mentioned that one of (if not the) biggest reasons students dropped out of school was because they were not engaged, meaning they were in no way connecting to any aspect of their schooling, either academically or socially. The article was about students dropping out of high school, which was of interest to me as I began my career teaching.

I wonder the same thing for folks who fall away from church through neglect or some other reason. Many folks I know who have fallen away either were never raised to take their faith seriously (their own parents may have gone to Mass twice a year, for example), or they had serious enough issues with one or more aspects of the church to cause them to want to leave - but didn't try talking to a priest or other church member.

Having gone through a crisis of faith myself in college, I learned two things: The more I became involved in whichever parish I was a member of, the closer I felt to the community and therefore the closer I felt to God.

Secondly, I had also come across another article that stated that when one is a child, one has the faith of a child, and that child's faith is akin to a glass of water; it's comparatively small and needs less filling. The older one gets, the larger that glass gets, and the more effort one needs to put into it to make one's faith fulfilling. I realized I needed to work at my faith in order to become closer to God. I think it's a point many folks don't consider.


Don Kolenda said...

Very nicely written! Thanks for sharing your insights.

Sr Anne said...

Thanks, Michelle, for the "glass of water" image: it's very helpful! Although the article seemed to focus more on people past middle age who had previously seemed very involved in Church life, it could be that they were still going at it with a "small glass"--engaged in terms of activity, but lacking something in the interior. At least, the remarks that were quoted were not, for the most part, as profound as one might hope for in a matter that is so weighty.
I suspect that with younger people, there are probably whole other sets of issues at work: lack of catechesis being a major player.

K T Cat said...

"Maybe instead of exit interviews, we should be doing more interviews of those who are returning to the Church, or staying engaged despite the human aggravations that are part and parcel of being the body of Christ made up of many members."

That's a crucial point. No system, whether it's water going into a bucket with a hole in it, your household budget or the population of the Church can be analyzed from just one side of the flow.

Our parish in San Diego has consistently large turnouts for ordinary Sunday Mass. If there's a big outflow of people from the Church, we've yet to see it. There's no doubt that the pedophilia scandal has driven people away, but what accounts for the releative stability of the population?

Kristen said...


It's one thing when people who came to church a couple times a year stop coming to church those couple times a year.

It's one thing when the editorial page of the New York Times says that "the church denigrates women."

But when people who have been significantly engaged in the Church as adults, when they are dropping off something else is going on.

And when adult women who have been involved in the Church for decades think that the Church denigrates women, what is happening there? It may well be a mistaken impression but what is giving rise to that mistake?

We need to hear these stories. And we need to listen to them with a careful and pastoral ear, which usually means listening to more than what people are saying. I cannot imagine that these people are making such choices lightly.

It does not mean saying "well those reasons you cite aren't nearly important enough" or "clearly you just weren't trying hard enough at this church thing." It does not mean saying "your perceptions and the wounds that you feel, those are groundless."

And I'm absolutely sure that nobody is trying to say this -- but a lot in this thread feels like a brush-off. And that won't help.

Kristen said...

And another thing -- often (and I'm not saying this is happening here, but often) -- such things are dismissed because "we're called to be faithful, not popular. We can't just change everything so we will be inoffensive and people will like us better."

True. Absolutely true.

But listening and hearing and trying to understand -- that doesn't mean kowtowing. It means, well, listening.

Anonymous said...

Things to contemplate
The concept of it is just war
The concept of the leaders living in luxury