Church leaders should take seriously reasons why Catholics have left the church, advises a priest who conducted an exit poll\ of former Catholics.
Their departure highlights how the church must offer a “fresh explanation of the Eucharist,” said Jesuit Father William Byron, professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
“This calls for a creative liturgical, pastoral, doctrinal and practical response,” he said, to help Catholics understand what the Sunday Mass obligation is really about and what they’re missing when they leave.
The number of Catholics who have left the church represents one-third of those raised Catholic.
Respondents cited disagreements with the church’s stance on women’s ordination, married priests, contraception and same-sex marriage.
Other issues included dissatisfaction with homilies and negative clergy image. Some wanted their bishop to apologize for the clergy abuse scandal; others said they wanted to hear fewer appeals for money and more about care for the poor.
Overall, most said they left the parish and the Catholic Church and were ambivalent if their departure was a conscious decision or not. Many had positive reactions about their parish, saying the staff was welcoming and the pastor approachable for the most part. They also considered themselves members of the parish, but some were disheartened that they had not been missed when they left. Most did not have a bad experience with the church and did not join another faith community.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, between 70 percent to 80 percent of Catholics attended Sunday Mass; now that figure is about 31 percent. The trend in recent years of young people leaving the church has been coupled with the idea that they would return once they had families of their own. “That’s not necessarily so anymore,” researchers said.