But at least one Catholic intellectual is interested in who the 1/3 of members the Catholic Church in the US has lost in recent years are, and why they have left (and the US situation is small beer compared to South America, where the formerly monolithically Roman Catholic nation of Brazil will become a majority Protestant nation in the next generation). He is Jesuit Fr Thomas Reese, and an article expressing his concern and findings has recently appeared in the US National Catholic Reporter. It makes for interesting reading. Here are some excerpts...
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...
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.
Make of Fr Reese's conclusions what you will (and I caution that nothing that emanates from the Roman Catholic sphere is as simple as it appears on the surface), but at least he acknowledges there's a problem. I for one find it curious that doctrine matters so little to those who leave, and apparently equally little to those who stay. For a church which is so rigorously doctrinal, that is surely a problem - there is evidently a failure to connect doctrine with life (surely a challenge to all confessional churches in late modernity, but particularly so when you have a doctrinal system as complex and irreformable as Romanism).
On a more positive note, those who leave for Protestantism report their "faith is stronger" as a result - I think that probably translates as they find greater assurance of salvation under Protestant preaching, surely a good thing!
Click on the post title to read the full article.