Yesterday I attended mass at the parish I grew up in for the first time in a long time.

This church is where I learned how to be a Catholic. I attended mass here at least twice a week as a kid–once with my classmates during the week and once on Sundays with my family.  I spent almost all of first grade singing the words “sun up in the highest” at the top of my little lungs. Eventually, I would realize that the words were in fact “Hosanna in the highest,” although I had no clue what that meant.  I served mass here as a very nervous and forgetful fifth grader.  I received my First Communion and was Confirmed here.  My parents and grandparents were married here.  Both of my grandparents’ funerals were held here.

But I don’t know if I can ever go back.

At least not for a while.

Yesterday, rather than preaching on this week’s readings, the priest announced he would explain “why you should be Catholic.”  Trading the truth of the gospel for cheap shots, half truths, and outright lies, he launched into uncharitable, untrue, and propagandistic attacks on our Protestant brothers and sisters.  I won’t dignify them by repeating them–you can probably imagine what they were.  Arrogant and mocking, his message can be summed up as follows: be Catholic because Protestants are disobedient, unserious, and silly.  Not just impostors, he reasoned, Protestants represent everything that’s wrong with Christianity today.

In the second part of his homily, he stridently insisted on Catholic innocence throughout history. Claims to the contrary, he continued, result from a stunningly effective and terrifyingly widespread smear campaign.  The church stands both innocent and victimized. Strangely, he cited the “media’s” claim that the Catholic church was responsible for the Holocaust as his only evidence for this claim.

In addition to being somewhat of a straw man, (while I have heard debates over Pope Pius XII’s relationship with Hitler, I have honestly never heard any credible authority “blame” the Catholic church for the Holocaust) such a framing distracts from the real fact of Catholic anti-semitism, which carries a very old and very ugly history.  While the Catholic church does not bear direct responsibility for the Holocaust, the Catholic church, like other Christian churches, does bear very real responsibility for the anti-semitism which made such evil even thinkable.  Could anti-semiitism have acquired the credibility it did with the German people if it weren’t for Christian anti-semitism, both Protestant and Catholic?  I doubt it.  Such a framing also dodges the hard question of why so many German Catholics were also “good Germans,” complicit with Nazi nationalism.

Even worse, he established Catholic innocence by pointing to the Catholic priests and nuns who died in the Holocaust.  If the Catholic church were to blame for the Holocaust, he reasoned, then why did Catholic priests and nuns die in it?  In so doing, he made Catholics seem less like perpetrators of anti-semitism and more like victims of the ultimate anti-semite.

All it takes to know the truth about the Catholic church, he kept saying, is a little research.  “Seriously,” he would say, “google it.”

Oh, the irony.

Hearing someone standing in persona christi speak in such an uncharitable and untrue fashion would always disturb me.  Hearing someone speak these untruths in order to deflect blame and protect our church’s institutional ego hurts even worse.  So many of our church leaders seem to want to blame everyone but ourselves for our problems.  Protestants, the media, uninformed Catholics, fill in the blank.   We are always innocent; someone else is always at fault.

Studies have shown that rather than the media or Protestants, we are the reason so many Catholics are leaving the church.  A CNN study Megan referenced in an early post identifies the top seven reasons Catholics leave the church:

1. The Sex Abuse Crisis

2. The Church’s stance on homosexuality

3. Dissatisfaction with the Priest

4. Uninspiring Homilies on Sundays

5. Perception that the Church is tied too closely to conservative politics

6. Church’s stance towards divorced and remarried Catholics

7. The status of women.

Notice: nowhere does it say that Catholics leave the church because they are attracted to other faith traditions.  Nowhere does it say that Catholics don’t know or understand what the church teaches: Catholics know that the church forbids women priests as well as divorce and remarriage.  As do they know that the church opposes both lesbian and gay ecclesial inclusion as well as lesbian and gay civil rights.  There is nothing to google here.

If church leaders want Catholics to “come home,” then perhaps they should consider why the church stopped feeling like home in the first place.   “Catholics come home” ought to serve not just as an invitation to “lapsed” Catholics, but also a promise to make the church more like home.  Homecoming requires return as well as accommodation.

Until that day, I, along with many other Catholics, will pray for the day that we can truly come home again.

29 thoughts

  1. Thanks for capturing all this, Katie. I have found the language of “expat” to be really useful in describing my own relationship with the RCC – it’s not that I don’t know what’s officially taught, it’s that the ways I learned to value people and justice while growing up in the RCC (& later formally studying theology as a college student) are not captured in my current experience of the organization. On the CNN list, chalk me up as 1, 2, 5, 6, an 7. Really: if they didn’t want adult me to question the official line about which people are worth more or less, then they shouldn’t have convinced child me that every person has dignity and worth. Expat indeed.

  2. Thanks for this post, Katie. It’s been really disheartening to me, as a Protestant fairly deeply involved in Catholic communities, to hear priests go so consistently triumphalistic and anti-Protestant in their attempts to get Catholics to ‘come home.’

    1. Whenever I hear a Catholic pointing out that Protestant’s are “heretics,” I like to also point out that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a “heretic.” I then ask them if they honestly think they have been a better disciple of Jesus than that “heretic” was.

  3. I am still a practicing and attached to a parish Catholic. I also work ecumenically with other churches in the area. My experience is personal and limited I know, nevertheless, that experience is that my church is able to make me feel inadequate and frustrated. As I have heard it said – if you were treated like that in any other relationship – what would you do? I wish it was that easy.

  4. Having just spent part of my Saturday morning at a diocesan workshop that was called “All Are Welcome,” this really caught my eye.

    First of all, I am sorry that you had this experience in a parish with so much family history for you and yours.

    Overall, I’m always sorry when I hear all the reasons that are based in arguments against, rather than why someone would want to be Catholic.

    The workshop that I attended was really well done. Three presenters were present, each taking a topic. One handled ministry and welcome to the disabled – mental, physical, emotional, adult and or children. The second is running a diocesan divorced/separated ministry – and as a now-ordained deacon who was divorced, he speaks from his heart as a wounded healer. The third was about a new diocesan LGBTQ ministry that is forming.

    It is always helpful to explore how we can offer people a home. It always concerns me, realistically not cynically, that we might not be able to do this on a wider scale. Your unfortunate experience points to why that might be. Very tragic.

  5. Anne
    To be fair I have heard equally unfair anti-catholic rants from Protestant Churches which I have attended and guess who is really laughing! As an Anglican in the Catholic tradition who learned and still learns to love Jesus from my RC friends and who is nourished by so much catholic spirituality I feel that my true home is in the universal catholic church which my friends share with me. So much seems right but I remain in exile because of 1,2 5,6 & 7. I am blessed to know priests and laity who would make me swim the Tiber tomorrow if it was all like them. And being a woman priest is probably an onstacle too…

  6. Thank you, Katie. I attended just such a Mass with my Protestant friend. The entire homily was centered on how the Protestants got it wrong and we got it right. I stood up and guided my friend out with me. How can our priests be so far off of Jesus’ message?

  7. I would add my own reason to the list: the sense that the leadership is being fundamentally dishonest and power hungry rather than guided by the desire to serve… which encompasses at least #1, 5, and 7 (possibly all but those are the most directly connected).

    I was raised in a social justice-oriented V-II household, parish, and even diocese, and then attended a similarly oriented Catholic institution (at least on the departmental level, I became increasingly aware of the administrations authoritarian nature) — and have had a very rude awakening over the past decade.

    I was constantly struggling with what I was hearing coming from the pulpit/bishop(s) not reflecting the attitude of Christ in the Gospels. Whether the actual teachings are accurate in another question but the attitude in conveying #1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 seems design to drive people away rather show them the error of their ways and bring them closer to Christ (not what I think needs to be done but supposing they are right).

    And “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Lk 17:2. I think it goes for institutions as well.

    And thus, I am an exile as well.

  8. Thanks for this article, Katie. As a Protestant, it pains me to hear the accusations come from my corner, too. Though I am an ELCA Lutheran, I attended K-8th grade at a LC-MS school. During my final years, the church attached to the school called a new pastor who was very anti-Roman Catholic. He blatantly accused Roman Catholics of being anti-Christian in class. As half of my family is Roman Catholic, I knew that to be untrue even at a young age.

    It is amazing what one can learn simply by talking. Joseph at The Lonely Pilgrim ( and I have great discussions back and forth about Roman Catholic and Protestant theology. I know I’ve been graced by his knowledge, and I hope I’ve been a grace, too.

  9. I am so tired of the Catholic superiority complex – and I’m afraid the recent efforts at evangelization are just one manifestation of this. At the parish where I work, every year we have a Protestant confirmation class that attends a Mass, followed by a Q&A session with one of the priests. I love the idea and wish that my Catholic confirmation class had been given a similar opportunity for ecumenical dialogue, but I doubt that most Catholic parishes would embrace it. This year, after the kids had left, I overheard the priest say that he purposefully made his answers to the Protestant kid’s questions vague so that it would pique their interest, and hopefully lead them to become members of the Catholic church. It made my blood boil – they did not come to be converted – they came to be welcomed as brothers and sisters in Christ, and to see our differences and our similarities.

  10. We lost Cardinal Martini–one of the last few progressive men in high places in the Church recently. And in its place we have conspicuously “pious” US Bishops who do not have a shred of shame for the crimes they facilitated through their shielding of predatory priests. It is unconscionable that any thinking woman would listen to what the Bishops tell them about voting in this election.
    I understand why so many have “fallen away”–because the Church has fallen from grace itself. But I refuse to let a bunch of misogynist old men with neanderthal views steal my church–so I will keep being present to them in every way I can. Someday we will get the church of Vatican II back. Thanks for what you do, Katie.

  11. I left the church more than 30 years ago, but never abandoned God… just took him for granted I guess. Until two Presbyterian pastors, came into my life and brought me back to prayer, service, and an ever-strengthening faith. I now go to church because I want to, not because I have to. I love my protestant friends, Catholic friends, Jewish friends, and all of my Eastern religion friends. And we often celebrate together. My faith is now one based on love of God and following Christ’s example of tolerance, charity, service, inclusiveness, and, above all, love. Your article was verly insightful and gave me a knowing smile. Thank you.

  12. And sometimes the hurt and the pain becomes too much to bear and some must step away from the RC church for awhile. I have learned through my own experience and that of others, to be gentle with all people, you never really know what hurts and struggles one carries with them.

  13. Katie, I am late to this post but wanted to thank you as it resonated quite deeply with me. I’ve been on a book tour much of this year talking about my own exile from and return to Catholicism. What has surprised me most is the volume of email and social media messages from fellow lapsed Catholics of my generation (X, roughly, and also from Y) who also left the church because it ceased to feel like home, because they’re LGBTQ, because they’ve divorced, and so on. And in these messages the longing and desire to return is clear. In my case surviving and staying in meant finding the right parish, and also finding the church within the church — sympathetic clergy and sisters, the members of the women’s group I helped found, and so on. And yet the number of exiled or lapsed younger Catholics who’ve reached out and said “I want to come back and don’t know how” is heartbreaking. Clearly there needs to be an alternative to Catholics Come Home, one not institutionally affiliated. What form that will take, what it might entail, how to do it… all unclear. Assuming I am not eaten alive by my own academic work come spring, however, this is something I want to explore and pursue. Thank you for writing this.

  14. Maybe because those people do not see the reason on those subjects. Maybe the bad homilies do come as consequences of not knowing the reasons, but only the consequences.

    Doubtlessly those people read any real argumentation on these, like did John Paul II on Love and Responsability. We are now very ignorant of our faith. And what is increasingly growing is the hatred against Church leaders because of that among the converts. Some blame the New Mass, others Vatican II (or its bad reception). We all feel betrayed and thrown away.

    Vatican II, by its documents, is a conservative reform. Its appliance was not. We are now getting it back, not to the old times themselves, but trying to see, from what we were, what we cannot be.

  15. I am encouraged by Pope Francis, but something seems ‘lost in translation’ on he local level, for what I see is ‘business as usual.’ Singing Pan de Vida, with the whole congregation singing “there is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no woman or man, only heirs to the promise of God.”…and policies/actions so seldom bear that out. It’s as if folks think that if they are ‘tolerant’ enough, and sympathetic, complete conversion will happen, and that is the complete agenda. Meanwhile, don’t touch that wine and water; that is for the ‘real’ children of God, and in the moment of Holy Communion, all others are mere stepchildren to the Faith. I grew up in a Presbyterian family, married into a Catholic family (interestingly, of his siblings, all 8 girls left the Catholic church and only the males have stayed with it), and converted to the RC faith.. When my children became fairly independent, I had more time to deeply contemplate my faith, and what it means to me. (The years approaching menopause are loaded with epiphanies of all sorts!). I have two churches now, because I do attend a Spanish Mass and sing in their choir. I attend an ELCA Lutheran church on a regular basis, sing in their choir, plus other activities/ministries, and I receive communion there. 400 years seems a long time for a church or anyone to hold onto a grudge, but hold it they do (Martin Luther), even though Luther never intended to create a new church. He wanted badly needed reforms. Reforms which eventually happened. There is a document of ‘justification’ (by baptism in Christ) which shows how very close ELCA belief is to RC, but differences in respect to your points 2, 6, and 7 seemingly renders my faith somehow ‘inferior’ to that of my husband. My husband was so busy in Catholic music ministry that he was always out the door before I got the kids ready for church, etc.He leads the Hispanic choir, and I started faithfully participating in that because I stupidly thought it might bring us closer. After a few years, with Spanish pronunciation improved, I asked if, once in a blue moon, there might be a relatively uncomplicated Psalm that i could lead. I was leading Psalms when I was in the English-speaking Catholic choir. He said “No. You are not a ‘practicing Catholic’. I suspect he is more picky than the archdiocese in regards to that. Because ELCA’s open communion is not ‘the Eucharist’ (man-made rules), the idea is that I am partaking of inferior wine and water, thus in a state of sin. There is no point in confessing to that, as I don’t regard it as such, and will continue to seek most of my spiritual nourishment from a place where it flows more freely. The RC church was blessed with a new priest who is fairly liberal, but after an honest sharing of my faith journey, he told me that my present status has me eligible for ‘blessings’, but not Holy Communion. Some weeks, I am OK with that, and other times, their ‘tude depresses me. I do appreciate so many things about the Hispanic community, so at this point, I continue to attend for them, and for myself, and because whenever I am on the verge of giving up entirely on the RC congregation,a Hispanic friend gives me a big hug. My sleep is disrupted and the Holy Spirit seems to be saying ‘don’t burn that bridge. BE a bridge.’ It is crazy-making. I buy and read books written by the Pope. I read Vatican Online. The ‘practicing Catholic’ in my life does not read the books, even when I leave them available on the desk. DOUBLY crazy-making. I think he could qualify as clinically Asperger’s; my son does. Many church leaders could also land in that category, if they took the same written tests. Many successful people are cut of that cloth, and they are vital in making the world go ’round. I rely heavily upon the grace of God to get me through, and lead me in ways that I sometimes only vaguely understand. Pray for me, as I am now praying for All of you!

    1. Postscript: Regarding the leading of Psalms, I asked the husband/choir leader if the Original composers and singers of Psalms were ‘good practicing Catholics’, and he got more than slightly cranky. Could not see the humor in the question. Could not feel the sincerity of it. Could not relate to it in any way, shape or form. The priest can fathom the sincerity and find the humor, and I suppose I gave him his chuckle for the day. He won’t intervene, nor would I want him to. As the cliche goes, “it’s Complicated.”

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