Skip to comments.The Hidden Exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants
Posted on 04/20/2011 12:07:28 PM PDT by AnalogReigns
Apr. 18, 2011
The number of people who have left the Catholic church is huge.
We all have heard stories about why people leave. Parents share stories about their children. Academics talk about their students. Everyone has a friend who has left.
While personal experience can be helpful, social science research forces us to look beyond our circle of acquaintances to see what is going on in the whole church.
The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Centers Forum on Religion & Public Life has put hard numbers on the anecdotal evidence: 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.
Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why. But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus. Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening.
Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have left the church, the Pew Center has.
Pews data shows that those leaving the church are not homogenous. They can be divided into two major groups: those who become unaffiliated and those who become Protestant. Almost half of those leaving the church become unaffiliated and almost half become Protestant. Only about 10 percent of ex-Catholics join non-Christian religions. This article will focus on Catholics who have become Protestant. I am not saying that those who become unaffiliated are not important; I am leaving that discussion to another time.
Why do people leave the Catholic church to become Protestant? Liberal Catholics will tell you that Catholics are leaving because they disagree with the churchs teaching on birth control, women priests, divorce, the bishops interference in American politics, etc. Conservatives blame Vatican II, liberal priests and nuns, a permissive culture and the churchs social justice agenda.
One of the reasons there is such disagreement is that we tend to think that everyone leaves for the same reason our friends, relatives and acquaintances have left. We fail to recognize that different people leave for different reasons. People who leave to join Protestant churches do so for different reasons than those who become unaffiliated. People who become evangelicals are different from Catholics who become members of mainline churches.
The principal reasons given by people who leave the church to become Protestant are that their spiritual needs were not being met in the Catholic church (71 percent) and they found a religion they like more (70 percent). Eighty-one percent of respondents say they joined their new church because they enjoy the religious service and style of worship of their new faith.
In other words, the Catholic church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service. And before conservatives blame the new liturgy, only 11 percent of those leaving complained that Catholicism had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.
Dissatisfaction with how the church deals with spiritual needs and worship services dwarfs any disagreements over specific doctrines. While half of those who became Protestants say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teaching, specific questions get much lower responses. Only 23 percent said they left because of the churchs teaching on abortion and homosexuality; only 23 percent because of the churchs teaching on divorce; only 21 percent because of the rule that priests cannot marry; only 16 percent because of the churchs teaching on birth control; only 16 percent because of the way the church treats women; only 11 percent because they were unhappy with the teachings on poverty, war and the death penalty.
The data shows that disagreement over specific doctrines is not the main reason Catholics become Protestants. We also have lots of survey data showing that many Catholics who stay disagree with specific church teachings. Despite what theologians and bishops think, doctrine is not that important either to those who become Protestant or to those who stay Catholic.
People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.
Nor are the people becoming Protestants lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic. While 42 percent of Catholics who stay attend services weekly, 63 percent of Catholics who become Protestants go to church every week. That is a 21 percentage-point difference.
Catholics who became Protestant also claim to have a stronger faith now than when they were children or teenagers. Seventy-one percent say their faith is very strong, while only 35 percent and 22 percent reported that their faith was very strong when they were children and teenagers, respectively. On the other hand, only 46 percent of those who are still Catholic report their faith as very strong today as an adult.
Thus, both 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.
Some of the common explanations of why people leave do not pan out in the data. For example, only 21 percent of those becoming Protestant mention the sex abuse scandal as a reason for leaving. Only 3 percent say they left because they became separated or divorced.
If you believed liberals, most Catholics who leave the church would be joining mainline churches, like the Episcopal church. In fact, almost two-thirds of former Catholics who join a Protestant church join an evangelical church. Catholics who become evangelicals and Catholics who join mainline churches are two very distinct groups. We need to take a closer look at why each leaves the church.
Fifty-four percent of both groups say that they just gradually drifted away from Catholicism. Both groups also had almost equal numbers (82 percent evangelicals, 80 percent mainline) saying they joined their new church because they enjoyed the worship service. But 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 churchs 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. Only 11 percent were unhappy with the churchs teachings on poverty, war, and the death penalty Ñ the same percentage as said they were unhappy with the churchs treatment of women. 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.
Looking at the responses of those who join mainline churches also provides some surprising results. For example, few (20 percent) say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teachings. However, when specific issues were mentioned in the questionnaire, more of those joining mainline churches agreed that these issues influenced their decision to leave the Catholic church. Thirty-one percent cited unhappiness with the churchs teaching on abortion and homosexuality, women, and divorce and remarriage, and 26 percent mentioned birth control as a reason for leaving. Although these numbers are higher than for Catholics who become evangelicals, they are still dwarfed by the number (57 percent) who said their spiritual needs were not met in the Catholic church.
Thus, those becoming evangelicals were more generically unhappy than specifically unhappy with church teaching, while those who became mainline Protestant tended to be more specifically unhappy than generically unhappy with church teaching. The unhappiness with the churchs teaching on poverty, war and the death penalty was equally low for both groups (11 percent for evangelicals; 10 percent for mainline).
What stands out in the data on Catholics who join mainline churches is that they tend to cite personal or familiar reasons for leaving more frequently than do those who become evangelicals. Forty-four percent of the Catholics who join mainline churches say that they married someone of the faith they joined, a number that trumps all doctrinal issues. Only 22 percent of those who join the evangelicals cite this reason.
Perhaps after marrying a mainline Christian and attending his or her churchs services, the Catholic found the mainline services more fulfilling than the Catholic service. And even if they were equally attractive, perhaps the exclusion of the Protestant spouse from Catholic Communion makes the more welcoming mainline church attractive to an ecumenical couple.
Those joining mainline communities also were more likely to cite dissatisfaction of the Catholic clergy (39 percent) than were those who became evangelical (23 percent). Those who join mainline churches are looking for a less clerically dominated church.
Lessons from the data
There are many lessons that we can learn from the Pew data, but I will focus on only three.
First, those who are leaving the church for Protestant churches are more interested in spiritual nourishment than doctrinal issues. Tinkering with the wording of the creed at Mass is not going to help. No one except the Vatican and the bishops cares whether Jesus is one in being with the Father or consubstantial with the Father. That the hierarchy thinks this is important shows how out of it they are.
While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions. More creativity with the liturgy is needed, and that means more flexibility must be allowed. If you build it, they will come; if you do not, they will find it elsewhere. The changes that will go into effect this Advent will make matters worse, not better.
Second, thanks to Pope Pius XII, Catholic scripture scholars have had decades to produce the best thinking on scripture in the world. That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explain the scriptures to their people. Few Catholics read the Bible.
The 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.
Finally, the Pew data shows that two-thirds of Catholics who become Protestants do so before they reach the age of 24. The church must make a preferential option for teenagers and young adults or it will continue to bleed. Programs and liturgies that cater to their needs must take precedence over the complaints of fuddy-duddies and rubrical purists.
Current religious education programs and teen groups appear to have little effect on keeping these folks Catholic, according to the Pew data, although those who attend a Catholic high school do appear to stay at a higher rate. More research is needed to find out what works and what does not.
The Catholic church is hemorrhaging members. It needs to acknowledge this and do more to understand why. Only if we acknowledge the exodus and understand it will we be in a position to do something about it.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, former editor in chief of America, is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington. He is working on a new book: Survival Guide for Thinking Catholics.]
As a practicing Catholic, I really dont understand how Catholics can be happy switching to a Protestant church. I’ve been to 100’s of Protestant services and they just dont compare to what is experienced at Catholic Mass. I know it’s just me and my experience but I’ve logically tried to compare and I just dont understand it. I can better understand those who leave the Church and dont join any Christian affiliated church.
I would say the number one reason is poor catechesis.
Number two is the execrable state of liturgy in 99% of catholic parishes today.
These two form deadly duo together; without understanding the faith, the laity are left with a protestant-like service (the Novus Ordo), only with bad music and bad preaching.
Who, under these circumstances, wouldn’t leave for better preaching and better music?
“Thus, both 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.”
Uh oh. I know nothing about this author. What I do know is that he’ll be smeared somehow in just a few short minutes. lol.
We don't need more dumbed-down liturgies catering to teenagers or doctrinally mushier church. We need beautiful, reverent liturgies celebrated according to the mind of the church (not the whims of liturgists) punctuated by solid, content-filled orthodox sermons.
“The number of people who have left the Catholic church is huge.”
Ya don’t say?
Pings to cauci...
And let us KEEP IT CHARITABLE FOLKS....IT IS HOLY WEEK!!!
Don't pay attention much, hmm? He's quoted frequently by the MSM needing a priest of their liking, when they're not quoting MacBrien.
It's not a smear to say that he's liberal, and well-known to be such.
Hmmmm, somehow I don’t think the Latin Mass will bring ‘em back.
This author speaks to BOTH the liberal and the conservative Roman Catholic explanations...finding them BOTH inadequate, when people who’ve left are actually asked.
The article treats Protestant as one large umbrella. There is a huge difference between leaving Catholicism to join the Southern Baptists or orthodox evangelical churches and leaving to join say ELCA.
The TLM and "a reverent liturgy celebrated according to the mind of the church" aren't synonymous in my mind. (You can have the second without the first, and sometimes even the first without the second.)
What isn't going to bring people or hold on to them is a faith dumbed-down to the 8th grade level, both liturgically and doctrinally. And that's what we've got in most parishes today. (Not mine, thanks be to God)
More like seconds Inv.....just seconds.
“You realize this is a liberal, writing in a toxic liberal mag, proposing (except for his comment on Scripture study, which is fine), that the solution to the problems caused by liberalism over the last 40 years is ... [drum roll] ... even more liberalism?”
Reese is a Jesuit, what do you expect? He taught at the Jesuit high school that I graduated from. We called him Peewee.
The author is liberal. National Catholic Reporter is a liberal, dissident publication. And the Pew Foundation is also notoriously liberal.
There certainly has been some drift away from the Catholic Church, but the reason is the opposite of what this author pretends.
The reason is liberal dissidents, who have seriously damaged the Church in America in numerous ways.
It’s still the true Church, however bad some of its bishops and pastors and catechists may have been over the years of the Countercultural Revolution of the late 60s, which has undermined everything in the West, including many Catholics.
If "massive Bible education" is a "liberal" position to traditional Roman Catholics....I guess that makes me a communist....
Exhibit A: Notre Dame right to invite Obama, per Reese
He’s a liberal Jesuit priest writing for a heretical rag that has the temerity to call itself “Catholic”.
Religion meets consumerism.
IOW, "the product" was more appealing, attractive, enjoyable.
Implicit in this concept, is the idea that we ought to somehow "tailor" or modify the product which we provide to meet customer demand.
I'd argue that this is at the very heart of our spiritual problems, today. When I say "our" I don't just mean Catholic. I mean the entire western world.
It's all about me.
As an aside, Phil Lawler has a nice little response to perpetual naysayer Reese. While Reese engages in some faux handwriniging over the number of Catholics who've left the Church, Phil wonders if he's similarly concerned with the drastic drop in members of Reese's own order, the Jesuits, who have declined in numbers by two-thirds since the '60s.
What's Resse's explanation for that, I wonder.
I already said that was the part with which I agreed.
Well, yes. The purpose of this author, who pretends to be shocked by the damage he and his friends have done to the Church over the years, is to weaken it further.
A Kabuki Theater church show(RCC) is just not enough for some folks..
All the masks, face-paint, costumes, and strange noises for some get them desireing a real church..
SOoo, they go thru a few protestant churchs that are the same thing..
Until they find one that is not just playing church like children..
Well..... God bless them...
IMHO, the Catholic Church is getting the best end of the "trade", receiving highly informed non-Catholic intellectuals while losing 'cafeteria' Catholics.
Best wishes for a spiritually enriched Holy Week.
“People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.”
This too can have various meanings. It can mean they want a more self centered worship service something that pulls the emotional strings and gives them a spiritual lift. You know the type “I’m not religious I’m spiritual.” The liturgy of Catholic and mainline Protestant churches is not spiritual enough for them since it does not focus on their needs but on the Almighty and what we owe Him in worship.
It can also mean that they want better attention paid to the whys of belief. Deeper Bible studies. Deeper devotions. More time spent on doing the work of Christ. A clearer commitment to the Gospel. I hope they find it where ever they go.
The latter I wish all the best and know they will add to whatever church home they find. The former will never be happy anywhere and will probably drift from church to church since orthodox teaching will continue to be about Him and not them.
The one thing we do know is that the Pew research has an agenda. I can’t contradict what was said but....
That is a bogus quote, if they were really the best then they’d have understood that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ our Savior and they couldn’t have been pulled away by a team of horses.
The issue is the same in most places. People don’t know what of why they believe.
As a former Catholic who went Evangelical about 15 years ago, I would say an analogy might be like the difference between watching baseball on TV versus playing it. The first time you read or hear scripture that you know is meant for you is like that ball hitting YOUR glove. It’s a bit of jolt, and unexpected.
I'm not so sure I agree with this. I attend a large evangelical church that has a significant percentage of its members who are former Catholics (including, for what it's worth, my wife). I've spoken with a number of people about this, and I've not heard one person say that he left the Catholic church for political reasons. This is anecdotal, of course, but I don't think that your position is necessarily representative of all the ex-Catholics out there. The study presented in the article backs that up.
The article is good but the his conclusion of what the Church must do in response to the exodus is laughable. His solution to people being tired of being fed pablum is to give them gruel.
Those who leave for evangelical churches are not leaving because the gruel tastes better over there. They are leaving because they think it is where they will find real meat and real drink.
As a now understanding Christian of Penal Substitutionary Atonement and non Mary worshiper, former Catholic, I can say it’s because after 12 years of Catholic school education, I didn’t know anything about Jesus or what He did for me. My Christian Biblical church preaches the truth from the Bible and believes in the Bible.
I am certainaly not a liberal. I sought the truth and the truth has set me free.
I'm not concerned about the ones that become protestant. (I'm Southern Baptist)
If you can figure out how to meet the spiritual needs of those dropping out altogether, you'll probably meet the needs of the second group too.
As an aside, I once told a close Catholic friend about a lady who had switched from being Baptist to being Catholic, because she felt less guilty about sleeping with people than when she was Baptist. My Catholic friend retorted, "If she didn't make a good Baptist, what makes you think she'd make a good Catholic?" LOL Touche'
Growing up in Louisiana, I saw a number of youth defect from Protestant churches to Catholic, but the reason was because the Catholics drank and thus had more fun. So bad reasons go both ways.
Sounds like if it's "theater church shows" that are involved, it's what they left to search for, not what they left.
Mass is worship, not entertainment. A generation raised in front of the television set wants entertainment on Sunday morning just like they want it the rest of the week.
And it just happens to come during Easter week, if I remember Satan was trying to run things during the original Easter week.
We know who triumphed then and we know who will triumph in the end.
i am one of those former Catholics who has become Protestant... and my experience in the Catholic church did not compare to my experience in the Protestant churches... now i've been to numerous Protestant churches... they are not all the same... i've belonged to a mega church, a large church... and now a small church (all in the last 25 years)... in the last ten years as a homeschooling mother, i have been giving my kids a classical Christian education... we are doing Latin and Greek, Roman history and literature... and from this, i have come to appreciate the Catholic church more than when i was a practicing Catholic...
i just didn't come across a lot of Catholics who practiced their faith to the extent that the Protestants i met did... i know not all Protestants practice their faith... but in my experience, more of them seemed to have a personal relationship with Christ than the Catholics i knew... but i have since gotten to know Catholics who do have that personal relationship... i don't know that i will ever come back to the Catholic faith, but i am finding myself more drawn to a liturgical church...
i am grateful for my Catholic upbringing... i have always known of God's existence because of it...
Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have left the church, the Pew Center has.
Pews data shows that those leaving the church are not homogenous. They can be divided into two major groups: those who become unaffiliated and those who become Protestant. Almost half of those leaving the church become unaffiliated and almost half become Protestant. Only about 10 percent of ex-Catholics join non-Christian religions....
....People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better....Nor are the people becoming Protestants lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic. While 42 percent of Catholics who stay attend services weekly, 63 percent of Catholics who become Protestants go to church every week....both 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.....
That Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explain the scriptures to their people. Few Catholics read the Bible. The 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.
Summarizing the results given in the article, here are the reasons why, of the 1/3 of all members who leave the Catholic Church, 50% of those will join a Protestant/Evangelical Church --
as a former Catholic, i have to “ditto” your post...
I'm speaking not of political liberalism, but of religious liberalism. And yes, that's what's done the damage over the last 40 years.
The people who invented "clown masses" weren't religious conservatives.
This statement seems counter-intuitive. Many evangelical Protestant churches have deeply conservative undertones and beliefs. Perhaps it's not the Catholic Church being liberal but rather the Protestant churches selected being more conservative.
This has been my experience as well. Sadly the Liberal USSCB does not realize this and at this time I don't think they would care if they did realize it.
The lack of vibrant spirituality and study of scripture as a foundation of faith are among the reasons they say they left the Catholic Church, so this survey rings true. At least for those who are willing to discuss it, doctrinal differences (abortion, gays, celibate clergy, etc.) had little or nothing to do with it.
In the case of the Disciples of Christ practice, that anyone who accepts Christ as his or her savior is acceptable to commune with us is what attracted me and, I think, also attracts Catholics who just want to be Christian and not separate themselves on the basis of doctrine from other believers. And it certainly leads to some lively give and take in the adult Sunday School classes.
This article was discussed a while back. Nothing new. 81% of those Catholics who left enjoyed the worship or style of worship at their new Protestant group, which means they want to find a Liturgy or worship service that they emotoinally like are is one that fits the culture of the age. Most modern evangelical churches have worship services that look like Political rallys or rock concerts with microphones and big plasma tv screens. Looks nothing like ancient worship of the early Church, that can be historically documented.
As the author of the article stated [the liberal Jesuit Reese], in his view, the Catholic Church needs to be “more creative in its Liturgy”. Sorry, I don’t by that a bit. Creativity in worship comes from a marxist paradigm and is always a sign that worship is being made or created by groups of people or individuals to conform to “their image of worship” In other words, worship from that perspective is something that “people create on their own.”
No, Liturgy and Worship is something that we receive and participate in, not the other way around.
And while 1 in 10 americans are former Catholics, that means about 30 million, about 1 in 10 of those who leave join non-Christian faiths [3 million] and the other 90% who leave, almost hafl are unaffiliated so that means there are approximately 13.5 million former Catholics in some Protestant group. According to the article, about 9 million join evangelical churches and the others mainline [ELCA, Espicopalian, Methodist, PCUSA], which would be a move to more liberal Christianity which is probably the people who left over abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.
Of those who go to evangelical churches, that is a broad brush. Do they go because they like Rock band music and worship services that meet in what looks like basketball arenas and have the Preacher man on a big plasma TV screen. How many of these evangelicals are in groups like Joel Osteen, or maybe Mike Bells brand of Evangelicalism or maybe Brian Mcaren’s emergent church brand. How many go to the more fundamentalist branches.
I read evangelical blogs [never comment on them] but there is a growing gulf in the evangelical world that is about to split again and this is coming from many evangelicals themselves as even a few years ago, there was an evangelical Southern baptist who went by internet monk [he has since passed away] who predicted what he called the coming evangelical collapse.
I disagree with Reese as the type of Catholics were are loosing is because they want to worship the way they see fit, not as the Church has worshiped for years and once you start to mess with Liturgy [you pray as you believe and you believe as you pray], doctrinal chaos ensues.
The Catholic Church this year will have thousands coming in and these will be people like the Traditional Anglicans in England and the host of clergy, academics, scholars from american protestantism who have come to Rome in the last 20 years.
Even the leading Evangelical Reformed pastor named Piper was quoted as saying, Protestantism is getting people from the Catholic Church who most of which are those who don’t embrace Protestantism for the doctrinal arguments of Protestantism whereas the Catholics are getting many of the leading protestants from Universities and other scholars who embrace what Catholicism teaches.
Nothing new here, Protestantism will continue to fragment and many who go to it from Catholicism will change to another form of Protestantism than the one they intitially went to. Protestantism is incapable of challenging the secular culture and will always be fragmented into thousands of competing sects and groups.
There is no doubt that negligence of Scripture is shameful. But the Church has never done so. THe role of Scripture in the life and teaching of the Church has always been emphasized by the Popes and by scholars.
The problem is how to bring this down to the person in the pews. I believe Bishops should set up a study to find out just how many Parishes in their diocese offer adult Bible study classes. How many CCD programs focus on Scripture and how it relates to Church teaching.
If we lose members because they conclude Scripture is against Catholicism that means they have not been taught decent apologetics. Apologetics begin with Scripture.
If once they have been shown why we believe what we do and they still decide to leave I wish them Godspeed and all good things.
To quote a friend of mine when his pastor told him the liturgy needed "Spicing up": "Father your job is to say the black and do the red, the liturgy needs you to follow the rules."
I know many many ex RC’s that would list their religion as protestant.. and I agree with the observation that they did not leave because they wanted to sleep in on Sundays or have to go without mean on fridays during lent.. :)
All the ex’s I know are at church every Sunday .. and usually the have also attended an hour of Sunday school before the hour service... many also have small bible studies they attend during the week ..
So they made it up??