Keeping the Faith?

I wonder, how is the scandal affecting Catholics’ church-going?

A faithful Pray Tell reader writes: “My husband (an adult convert to Catholicism) can’t go to church anymore. He just feels utterly betrayed. I continue to go, but it hasn’t been the same. Not that I was ever dewey-eyed, but the things we’ve seen would shock even the most cynical.”

On the other hand, a confrere reports this from an AA meeting. A woman shares that she’s been away from the Catholic Church for decades. With the Church so much in the news lately, it got her to thinking about things. She misses the old liturgy as she remembers it, but  she’s still glad to be back!

What’s it like out there? What are people saying about their Catholic practice through all this? We welcome your reports.


  1. My parents sound much like the woman at that AA meeting. They miss the old liturgy; but they do not miss the old clerical attitudes. The dramatic changes to the liturgy in the 1970’s made them feel that the whole institution is man made: they feel the changes were made to downplay reverence for the Real Presence. They feel very angry and betrayed by the church due to these scandals. Thus, they do not regularly go to Mass. When they do go, my mother greatly appreciates being able to receive under either species as she is celiac (gluten intolerant). And yet they say they cannot wait to visit us later this year so that they can attend the “old liturgy” (as the AA lady put it) with us. It’s a very complex set of emotions. If I were to try to boil it down – they love the liturgy: they certainly do not want even greater lay participation on the Altar. They have, however, suffered a loss of faith in the clergy as a whole. Perhaps not a complete loss of faith, but a very grievous one nonetheless. If we were younger, I suspect they would not actively pass it on to us as they did.

  2. The scandal hasn’t affected my attendance…due to circumstances beyond my control, I seldom have transportation, so I go when I am able (probably once, maybe twice a month)…I find so many churches are being built on the outskirts of cities that there is no way to get oneself there if you don’t own a car…it’s more a matter of the physical church plant leaving the people in town without any way of participation. The “church” is leaving us, we’re not leaving it!

    As far as clergy go, I’ve know for decades they have clay feet…and after a stint working in the seminary I see where we get our “bad” clergy…their own bishops are so desparate for a body in the sanctuary, they just send anyone, qualified or not, to the seminary. As faculty we voted against many continuing in training, but we were always “advisory”…the bishop & the rector let them proceed & the church is worse off for their decisions. Now only priests can vote on seminarians…the old boy network alive…

    1. When I was teaching at a seminary in the southwest USA back in the 1990s, we frequently had situations where the clergy seminary faculty would vote to ordain a student while the lay faculty, who could see through the candidate, voted against. In every instance the clergy faculty closed ranks and held the day. The result, down the road, is that nearly all of these candidates have since left the priesthood or have been involved in problems or scandals of one kind or another.

      Occasionally both clergy and lay faculty would unite to say “Don’t ordain this guy” and his bishop would say “I’m going to ordain him anyway, no matter what you say”. Hmmm. Go figure.

      There used to be a joke in California: if it breathes, ordain it. How far have we moved from there?

  3. The scandal hasn’t had an effect on my going to Mass. I know well from my own faults and my interaction with other members of the Church that She is made up of sinners. I don’t expect bishops, priests, or nuns to be any holier than we laypeople – ALL are called to holiness (though most people don’t get that… hence, the scandal). Therefore, I am disappointed, but not shocked, and I’ll keep going to Mass and still place full trust in the Magisterium. In all honesty, I am more scandalized by those things that have a more direct impact on my relationship with God – especially the poor way in which the OF is celebrated in nearly every Church within reasonable driving distance for me. Just over a year ago, I was able to attend an EF High Mass for the first time in my life. For me, it was like coming home. I was born in 1976, and I felt I’d been robbed of my heritage all these years. I firmly believe the OF celebrated well, with solemn dignity, can heal our ills. Source and…

  4. Mark
    I am 12 years older than you but feel likewise. I can’t help but think the desacralising of the sacred helped contribute to the awful mess we’re in: if what was sacred is yesterday is no longer sacred today, then everything else can be relative too. Other changes – greater lay participation in administration etc have no doubt helped, but still – I don’t go to church because of the landscaping committee.
    The liturgy is quite like a craftsman bungalow – the folks in the 1960s and 1970s found those old houses uncomfortable and cold so ripped out fireplaces, wooden floors and old windows: everything that made for character. In went: central heating, shag pile carpets and plastic replacement windows: a machine for living. Our generation has no wish to go back to the old house as it first was – we want heating, and, now, high speed internet, etc. But we also want to restore valuable period features that made the craftsman bungalow a, well, craftsman bungalow. So, we upgrade the plumbing further, and the high speed internet, but we rue the attempt to turn the house into something it wasn’t and end up spending a fortune restoring the house’s “character”. We do indeed want our heritage back. I think that goes equally well for the liturgy.

    1. Well, against that one must put the nearly God-like authority the laity were once expected to concede to clerics in the name of docility and obedience, which is one of the chief ingredients that led to the covering-up of things and the vile intimidation of victims by clerics and chanceries and their minions.

  5. I wonder if clericalism has not got worse within the liturgy rather than better. Sure, there are lay readers, cantors, administrators but in the liturgy itself, we are now at the mercy of the priest in deciding what permissible or even impermissible variations will be made to the Mass- of course, the excuse is that he’s being “pastoral”. But it shouldn’t matter who the priest is: there shouldn’t be a “Fr Bob” Mass and a “Fr Billy” Mass, with the laity as captive audience for the innovations of each. Think of the Church as McDonalds. The laity go for the brand – we went in because we saw the golden arches. We don’t want the local manager deciding for himself he can improve the Big Mac formula or refuse to serve it. Sure, head office allows some local variation, but it watches out for the brand as a whole. We now have a terrible perfect storm of both dreary uninspiring liturgy and remote hierarchy – the Church as a whole will have to solve this mess. Blame to go around on all sides here folks.

  6. People are going to stop going to Mass because a few priests are pederasts/criminals/not faithful to their promise of celibacy?
    Give me a break!
    If that is the case, then faith is not very deep; sorry for sounding like such a crab, but, c’mon folks!
    Read Church history; do you think this is the only time there has been this kind of crisis?
    I entered the Catholic Church under all kinds of duress and unfavorable situations; I entered the religious life under all kinds of duress and unfavorable situations; I went to the seminary and was ordained a priest under all kinds of duress and unfavorable situations…and I’m no saint, nor am I any kind of “poster child” for the “gifted”.
    Get some “cojanes”, folks, if you want to be Catholic, and get on with the program.
    Read about the English Martyrs…now THERE’S a situation to complain about, if ya know whatta I mean!

    1. Dear Fr. John Mary – you raise a good point, and when I look at my own sins, I’m hardly one to point fingers at other sinners. I’m sure we could all say the same. But: some (I don’t claim to speak for all) victims say that they are more bothered by the HIERARCHY coverup than they even are by the sinful cleric who horribly hurt them. I’m careful to call this a “hierarchy scandal” and not just a “clergy abuse scandal.” It does appear to some people that our hierarchical system is particularly bad at accountability and honesty and transparency.
      Fr. Anthony

  7. Despite some good comments, I think we are losing the thread here, folks. This is about the abuse crisis demoralizing the faithful (or drawing the faithful back to church?), not about all the usual hobbyhorses of “what’s wrong with the liturgy.”

    I guess nobody here knows anybody who is affected by the crisis. Personally, I do know people who have stopped going to Mass. I know people who have stopped tithing. I know a pastor in Boston who tells me there was a big drop off in church weddings when the scandal hit there. A friend in Vienna tells me they are expecting 70,000 to leave the church this year. There is a website in Ireland with instructions on how to officially un-register yourself as Catholic, and it is receiving a lot of hits.

    Other people tell me they are hardened to it. They just don’t listen anymore; they expect people to lie to them in the church.

    I don’t know which outcome saddens me more. I now tell people “Thank you for being scandalized; at least you care!”

    1. Rita,

      I know of one religious who is leaving community life after 17 years because of the scandal.

      I know of plenty of Catholics who are worshiping in local Episcopal congregations because our liturgy feels “close to home” for them. One clergy friend reported the comment of one such person to me just today: “I don’t know if this is permanent or temporary, but right now it’s necessary.”

      Some consider themselves dissidents; others feel that they have been exiled by structures of duplicity.

      For my part, I am humbly grateful to be a student and not a parish pastor at present. I’m just not sure what the right response would be.

  8. Rita – I rarely agree with anything you post but your last post is intriguing. While a major part of my coming back to the Church was Summorum Pontificum, another major part was the attacks on the Church. Many I made myself when younger, when it seemed safe to rebel since the Church was so strong anyway. Now, maybe I’ve mellowed, but I’ve realised these attacks really threaten the Church – and freedom of religion – in a way not seen since the Soviet era. If the Church is suppressed, all forms of liturgy would go away and I’d prefer to keep any of our current types than have none left. I grew up in Ireland – most people there don’t care about the current liturgical debate. That’s because so many already despise the Church, largely because of this crisis (as well as tales in the 1990’s and 2000’s of priests having secret wives, mistresses, boyfriends, children, etc). Catholicism in Ireland today is sadly comparable to Communism in Russia today: once all powerful, now a minority hobby. I know 2 people who still go most Sundays: 2. 20 years ago that was most people I knew.

  9. “If those at the top–people who studied philosophy and theology for years–feel free to disobey Church teaching on morality, does that make me a sucker for having trusted them when they taught me stuff that made no sense? If they don’t believe it, then why should I believe it? I’m outta here. I’m free.”

    I wonder if similar reasoning is behind people missing their Sunday obligation, rather than something like Donatism or a failure to distinguish impeccability from infallibility. Effective teaching authority depends on perceptions regarding character. You believe on their authority that Christ established or at least laid the foundations for their authority, and that without receiving their authoritative construal of doctrine, you’ll mess it all up and burn in Hell.

    Once their credibility is gone, by what means could you possibly discover that their teaching authority obliges you. To know that in the first place, you’d have to trust them. But you don’t.

  10. Concerned & worried – yes, feeling helpless -yes, ready to act, no.

    Personal knowledge of the hierarchy crisis escapes me. This too will pass & I hope my faith will prevail for me.
    I pray for those who have aspired for higher office and at times are not up to the task. Bishops, mine included, possess faults and need our prayers.

  11. I’ve been very forthright in my Holy Week and Easter homilies and my blog about this whole mess and that has enabled me to enter into dialogue with parishioners who are struggling with this. People’s participation is so fluid today, it’s hard to tell why they stop coming for periods of time. If all they get is what the mainline media is giving them, they should be rocked. But thank God for the internet and alternative media and blogs that give other perspectives. But the best indicator I guess is collections and Holy Week and Easter were door busters and our collection this fiscal year to date is $22,000 higher than last year at this time. Our Bishop’s annual appeal is on target to go way over our goal. But no, I haven’t had any active members tell me they are quitting the Church and our new Catholics from Protestant communions know it happens in there too, just no authority figure to blame. Go figure! They blame sin.

  12. I think we need to clarify which scandal we’re talking about…the scandal of child sexual abuse by clergy (which is in proportion to most any other profession) or the scandal of the hierarchy in failing to deal with child molesters, keeping it secret, moving the molesters around, & not telling the laity…

    The first scandal is to be expected…it’s a common occurrence in which the percentages of molesters follow that of other “helping” professions.

    However, the second scandal is ongoing…bishops are NOT taking responsibility for their actions. Yes, in many cases they are now removing known molesters, but what about all those decades where they secretly cooperated with the molesters in not telling anyone in law enforcement about them, nor warning parents what was happening to their children? Again, one would have to wonder if a fetus is more important than a real live child?? These bishops have certainly acted this way.

    1. Yes, some current bishops have acted in this way. But most of the current bishops have not. Yes, perhaps it can be said there is collective guilt by the order of bishops. But the personal attacks on good faithful men who have had nothing to do with this problem needs to stop. Open the pages of NYT, and even worse, supposedly Catholic publications, and you would think that every priest was an abuser and every bishop a criminal. Many have an agenda to pass, and the bishops (the ones faithful to the Christ and His Church) are often standing in the way and need to be moved. I have found what, at least to me, is a good measuring stick of whether an author is authentic or using the crisis to advance an agenda. If the author mentions bishops both on the “left” and “right” there is a good chance it is at least a moderate story. If they are aiming at bishops on the right while always leaving out those on the left, I wonder.

      1. For example, if Law is mentioned along with Weakland it may be reasonable. If John XXIII and Paul VI are mentioned along with John Paul II and Benedict XVI there is a change it is fair. If everything is the fault of Ratzinger and Law and somehow the others skate by, it is very suspect.

      2. Fr. Costigan,
        I have never in my life seen a MSM or “supposedly Catholic” publication which made me think every priest was an abuser and every bishop a criminal. Can you cite what publication or author ever made you think this?

      3. Law is the only cardinal I know of who had to resign his see, but then sat (and sits) on multiple curial congregations including the one involved in bishops’ appointments. How is that like Weakland? I don’t see the parallel. I hope people on all sides can see what is scandalous here, which has nothing to do with Law’s theological views.There really aren’t hardly any bishops on the left any more, are there? Even if you say Weakland was, every publication I know of, MSM and “supposedly Catholic,” reported amply on him. I don’t see the bias you do – can you cite evidence?

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