You Can Go Home Again: Former Catholics and Faith

In The Everlasting Man, Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton famously wrote, “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” I definitely chose the latter. In fact, if the Pew Research Center is any indicator, the path I took – leaving the Church, only to return to it later – seems to be how many of us “former Catholics” are determined to circuitously make our way back into the Church.

One-third of Americans raised as Catholic no longer consider themselves to be Catholic. This equates to a staggering 10% of all Americans who are now “former Catholics.” In fact, without the steady stream of Latino immigrants entering the country, more than half of whom are Catholic, the Catholic Church in America would be in an even more significant decline.

outside catholic church

That Catholics are leaving the faith is clear. Officially, the blame for this exodus (and the shortage of priests…and child sexual abuse) is placed squarely on the shoulders of a concept called “secularism.” The argument goes something like this: Society places excessive value on material things, ego development, and instant gratification; therefore, spirituality and the inner life are pushed out. God is perceived to be irrelevant, society becomes indifferent or hostile toward religion, and religious affiliation suffers. I do not believe this to be so. This was not what drew me away. I would wager this is not what drives others away, either.

What drove me away is what I imagine drives many away: disagreement with the Church’s stated positions on contraception and sexuality; its treatment of women, gays, and the divorced; the myopic focus on abortion that is borderline psychotic; scandals; abuse; a politicized pulpit; hypocrisy. In any other human relationship, the combination of all (or any) of these things would certainly be grounds for claiming irreconcilable differences. And yet here I am.

A portrait of the author as a young man.

As a child, I attended mass with my family every Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation, and significant feast days. Since I was educated by Catholic schools, I also attended mass with my classmates every week during the school year. I went to Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, et cetera. I received my first Communion in the second grade; Confirmation in the fifth. Without fail, I preferred to play “Church”, thrilled in dressing in clerical garb for Halloween, and secretly “borrowed” missals and song books from church so that I could practice at home.

Then came high school. Although I attended a Catholic high school, my faith began to dissipate. I reached what I liked to think of as “the age of reason” (a type of egotistical self-assurance, not to be confused with the Church’s “age of reason” — which has its own problems). I opted out of mass on weekends. My prayer life became silent. Even saying grace with my family seemed like an embarrassing, unnecessary burden. Like most high school-aged individuals, I knew it all, and “it” was either outside of the Catholic faith, or outside of faith itself. I became very interested in Hinduism in general, and Vedanta specifically. Its egalitarian philosophy, and its “foreignness” appealed to me.

In college (and after a brief stint at a Vedantic monastery in Hollywood, CA…long story) I abandoned all religion entirely. Although I still maintained an irrepressible urge to study religion, it was to learn about “them” and “those people” — an academic exercise. I was disgusted by the hypocrisy, and completely opposed to certain Church teachings that seemed way off the mark, based on what I understood to be the message of Christianity. I appreciated Christianity, and even aspects of Catholicism, but I discarded it. You could even say I threw out the baby Jesus with the bath water. Scandal, hypocrisy, and general “meanness” drove me away. Secularism did not.

But a strange thing happens when you leave home. After years of yearning for independence, you finally leave, and then you miss its comfort. (For my personality, it helped that I moved to the South, where there are only smatterings of Catholics to be found. Suddenly, what had been mainstream all my life became esoteric, dangerous. This appealed to me.) I began to pray again. I went back to the old routine of fingering the rosary. This both helped cure my insomnia, and mysteriously developed in me a deep admiration for the Virgin Mary. Before I knew it, I was making rosaries. I was reading Mariology. I participated in the Total Consecration exercises of St. Louis de Montfort. I was, quite suddenly, an überCatholic. Before anyone knew it, I was learning the Liturgy of the Hours, wearing a scapular, and reading encyclicals for “fun”.

But all things in moderation.

As it stands today, I am proud to call myself Catholic. I am excited by papal elections. I smile when I read about Catholic opposition to the death penalty, or support for immigration reform and care for the poor. I think to myself, I belong here. But then sometimes I read about opposition to gay marriage and contraception, or about denying Communion to politicians, and I cringe. I think, Those people are insane. But I’m here. A wise man (my dad) once told me, “You can create change much more easily from the inside, then from the outside.” So I’m here.

I’m very much looking forward to the experience of working for Catholic Majority. I am proud to be a part of something that aims to bring people together, respectfully, and with an eye toward the future of the Church. I pray that former Catholics, lapsed Catholics, “Cafeteria” Catholics, and “recovering” Catholics find in this website a home. I look forward to hearing from you, engaging with you, and learning from you. We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ. We still belong.

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2 Replies to “You Can Go Home Again: Former Catholics and Faith”

  1. Well said Tim. You make me proud and give me a great deal of hope for those who misunderstand what it means to be Catholic.It’s not about rules and regulations. Its about a personal
    relationship with God.

  2. Keep your balance, Tim. Gradual, not radical, will get us to a good place that we all seek deeply in our hearts. Don’t fall off the seesaw, it smarts. Thanks for your article.