Part II – Causes


There are many, many reasons given by various people and groups for the Church’s problems in the US.  Many of these are not unique to the Catholic Church. Many other religions suffer from the same causes.  All anyone has to do is Google the issue and you will get an eye full. There are literally dozens of web sites detailing Reasons for People Leaving the Church. Most of these are related to protestant churches, but they are not significantly different from surveys of Catholics.

The overly simple and fundamental cause is the Devil and his evil forces and helpers. However, we will describe the causes in more tangible and modern terms below.

In 2009 The PEW Research Center Survey[1], in 2014 the Springfield Diocese[2] and in 2016 the PRRI[3] found the following percentages of former Catholics who said these reasons played a role in their leaving the Church:

Just gradually drifted away from the religion71%67% 
Stopped believing in the religion’s teachings65%48%60%
Too many money requests 56% 
Spiritual needs not being met43%69% 
Too formal & ritualistic 38% 
Music not enjoyable 36% 
Family not religious growing up  32%
Unhappy with teachings about Bible29%  
Dissatisfaction with atmosphere at worship26%47% 
Negative treatment of Gays & Lesbians 29% 
Clergy sex abuse scandal  19%
Traumatic life event  18%
Dissatisfaction with clergy at congregation18%  
Church/congregation too focused on politics  16%
Found religion they liked more10%  

Following are a few comments from various clerical sources that may be representative of others with similar backgrounds. These are taken from the Sunday Visitor.

  • Father Robert Barron[4]Why Catholics drift away from the Church: The mainstream Protestant churches have kind of acquiesced to the culture too much and stopped being a distinctive voice, and so they just became dull and uninteresting to people. … too many Catholic churches and pulpits play the same game. They are trying to be as like the culture as possible, but what that leads to is a strong boredom, where people just kind of drifted away because there was nothing there that was compelling for them.
  • H. Richard McCord[5]What…about the Church’s ability to pass on its moral traditions: I guess the obvious conclusion may be that the teachings have not been particularly well passed on or presented in such a way that people can not only understand them competently and intellectually but also see their value and their relevance to some of the more core beliefs of the Gospel message.
  • Father Kevin P. Joyce[6]What spiritual needs do people feel are not being met: People don’t hear the message of the Gospel on repentance and the need for a deep prayer of meditation. Most people I find are not going to confession and they don’t hear much about repentance and examination of conscience. Almost nobody practices meditation and yet almost every Catholic saint practiced it.

Combining these and other sources we have authored the following underlying causes which are by no means necessarily complete and are ranked in what the authors consider their approximate order of importance. We have been unable find any USCCB sourced causes from their web site or direct inquiry. We would welcome further input on what the causes are from the USCCB and the many other very talented, educated and informed members of the clergy and laity.

[1] PEW Research Center Survey-“Faith in Flux”-2009

[2] Springfield Diocese exit interviews-2014

[3] 2016 Public Religion Research Institute

[4] Francis Cardinal George Chair of Faith and Culture at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, Ill., and founder of Word on Fire Ministries.

[5] Executive Director, U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.

[6] Founder of SpiritSite, The Catholic Spirituality Center, in Santa Clara, Calif.