Those people who leave the Church over little things

People leave the Church for all kinds of reasons. Usually it’s more than one reason; but sometimes people will be able to point to the one thing that tipped them over the edge. Very often, it’s the sex abuse scandal. But also fairly often, it’s something that sounds less serious. It sounds like something that people should be able to get past:

“I was going through a rough time in my marriage and a priest gave a jerky sermon about divorce, so I walked out and never came back.”

“I was trying to organize my grandmother’s funeral, and the parish secretary was so rude, and even mocked the music I chose. That was the last time I set foot in a church.”

“I was in the back with my crying baby, and an usher angrily told me to control my kid. I decided if they didn’t want me, I didn’t want them either, and that was that.”

These things are upsetting and demoralizing, and can legitimately make us angry. But are they worth leaving the Church over?

When someone tells stories like these, other Catholics will often respond: Well, if you’d leave Jesus and the sacraments for something small like that, it shows that your faith was weak and shallow to begin with. If you leave the Church because of sinners, your faith was in man, not God.

I used to believe this. I no longer do. Or at least, I see a bigger picture of why humans — including me — do what they do.

Don’t get me wrong. When someone decides to leave the Faith, there couldn’t be more at stake. It’s one thing if someone decides they’re quitting their tech job and taking up weaving, or they’re tired of Twitter and they’re giving up social media. I may think they’re making a mistake, but they can live with the consequences.

But when you hear that someone has had enough of the Church, it’s so hard not to say, “Yes, but . . . don’t you want Jesus? I know that one Catholic you met was so cruel and awful, and I’m so sorry that happened, but are you really prepared to give up Jesus, just because of that? This is your immortal soul we’re talking about! Eyes on the prize! Get over it!”

But it occurs to me that everyone’s priorities are skewed — people who leave the Church because of the sins of other humans, but also people who stay in the Church because of the goodness of other humans.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

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7 thoughts on “Those people who leave the Church over little things”

  1. I agree with you. There is a lot of pain right now that I see and also feel personally. I have had many good experiences but also some seriously painful ones and encountering that pain every time I go to church is tough…very very tough. I sometimes find it physically painful, it can’t be great for my kids to see. I can’t really change it right now though. We could theoretically change parishes but in reality that would probably create more problems and anyway same diocese, same group of people and attitudes just in a larger area. I frequently ask the lord what does forgiveness mean, really? Because I think I have offered forgiveness and yet the pain is still very tough or me to deal with, it hasn’t gone away, and each new difficulty seems to reignite it.

  2. My father has always had one foot in and one foot out. Never really asked him why.

    We were raised as Catholics because of my Maronite mother, with the support and approval of my Orthodox father. My dad wouldn’t have taken us to Orthodox Church weekly as it was a fair distance and figured the Catholic Church is just as good. We are all Christian after all, he would say and still says.

    We were baptised Orthodox (as per Lebanese tradition to follow the fathers religion), but all the other sacraments were received in the Catholic Church. My 2 siblings and I are committed Catholics as are our spouses and children.

    But let me tell you this ignorance exists everywhere- One Maronite Priest refused my brother, a young boy, confession in the confessional, when he was at school because he was baptised in the Orthodox Church- my brother was so upset my parents had to invite the Priest over and prove to him we practise the Catholic Faith and have made the Sacraments. Im sure it traumatised him as a child. And a Catholic priest at my school tried to convince me I had to officiate my Catholicism in a formal ceremony when I was a teenager. I didn’t want to go home and tell my parents. I ignored his advice. Rightly so because another priest at school had the opinion it didn’t matter. Quite silly really. On the other hand the Orthodox Priest who baptised us reprimanded my father many years ago when my same brother didn’t do the sign of the cross with three fingers, (symbolising the Trinity), as per the Orthodox way. It’s All mad.

    But you know what? Nobody owns the Church. We the Faithful own the Church because we ARE the Church, and God has claimed us as His. Go for the sacraments and for His Holy Word, because you need the Grace to survive this world. It’s very difficult to try and do it away from the Church and by yourself. Too many obstacle. That’s how I see it.

  3. I have one foot in the Church and one foot out the door. My wife and my son have definitively left the Catholic Church. It was not over just one thing, but the financial and sexual scandals have taken their toll. True, every church and denomination has such scandals, but an objective observer would note that these exist in the Catholic Church on an industrial scale.

    I can tell you right now that if anyone would try to talk me out of leaving because “WE HAVE JESUS!” I would find their argument repulsive. The Orthodox Church has an equally valid claim on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Anglican churches also claim the Real Presence and a valid priesthood. (Granted, the Catholic Church denies their claim on obscure technical grounds that even some Catholic theologians hold may no longer apply.) My point is that other churches believe that they receive the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Catholic Church does not own the patent on the Jesus!

    I have not decided to leave. But I would be offended if my reasons to leave were simply dismissed because “one bad apple…” or because “we can’t let bad Catholics affect us” or “you’ve gotta have more faith.” If I leave, it will be because I can no longer identify as a Catholic in good conscience. And I suspect many others feel the same way.

  4. I enjoyed your column. I would hope if I encounter someone who left the church that I would have the grace to say, “Don t let your relationship with Christ be tarnished by an earthly distraction. Pray for the grace to feel in your heart that you are attending church to be with Christ, and if you leave He will miss you.”

  5. “Everybody’s faith is shallow, ladies and gentlemen. None of us is bound to Christ solely because of our own profound personal efforts of faith. All of us are here, and lucky to be here, because of grace, and that grace almost always reaches us through small, seemingly superficial points of contact.”


    – R for Reboot. Not the rude R

  6. The priest who built a roadblock for the family that had just lost the husband/father to suicide by saying he couldn’t do a funeral Mass unless they got specific approval from the bishop. So they didn’t have one, because navigating that bureaucracy was more than they could handle. And, God forbid, they mention the man’s name in a petition and profane the Church.
    Yeah, damn close to throwing in the towel here, if not for our kids. If we happen to mess up and attend a Mass this priest is offering I won’t recieve, I just can’t.

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