US Catholic Faith in Real Life

It takes more than a newspaper ad to make Catholics leave the church

Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint |

The Freedom From Religion Foundation caused a stir on Friday with a full-page ad in The New York Times with the heading "It's time to consider quitting the Catholic Church." The ad contained an open letter "to 'liberal' and 'nominal' Catholics" who are unhappy with the leadership of the church, calling upon them to make a Mass exodus.

Writers at America and Vox-Nova, among others, have already commented on the absurdities of the ad's argument for why Catholics should abandon their church. And not surprisingly, Bill Donahue of The Catholic League was quick to call the ad the most "vicious anti-Catholic advertisement in a prominent American newspaper," adding that "not a single Catholic who reads this ad will be impelled to leave the church."

Donahue is probably correct--it is highly unlikely that any Catholic would come across this ad and make the decision to leave the church based solely on its contents. But Catholics who are feeling pushed to the limits have heard other arguments in recent weeks for why they may want to leave the church. Even church leaders like Cardinal Francis George of Chicago have sent strong messages that challenge any Catholic who disagrees with the bishops.

"There have always been those whose personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church," George recently wrote. "...Bishops don’t claim to speak for every baptized Catholic. Bishops speak, rather, for the Catholic and apostolic faith. Those who hold that faith gather with them; others go their own way. They are and should be free to do so, but they deceive themselves and others in calling their organizations Catholic."

George's comments echo those of many Catholic bloggers and commentators, who often tell others who hold different views that they don't belong in the church and should take their faith elsewhere. Whether the topic is politics, liturgy, sexuality, the role of women, or another hot button issue, it isn't uncommon to hear one Catholic tell another that if they don't agree they should find another church (though I side with Father Andrew Greeley, who wrote in his essay for the 1998 book "Why I Am Still A Catholic" that decisions on who is or is not a "good Catholic" should be left to God alone).

It is stunning to see how often a person of faith can tell someone they don't know, or a whole group of people they don't know, that they don't deserve to call themselves Catholic. These are exactly the types of divisions that the Freedom From Religion Foundation's ad plays upon. Catholics who already feel disenfranchised, who feel as if they've had their personal faith questioned one too many times, and who feel like they've been told their opinions mean they're no longer welcome in the church might be much more sympathetic to the New York Times ad.

It's time for church leaders, and all members of the faithful, to stop fostering these types of divisions. Catholics need a church where they can rely on one another to help them better understand their faith without being pointed towards the door. In a united church--one where all are truly welcome--arguments that try to persuade people to leave wouldn't carry nearly as much weight.