RADNOR, Pennsylvania (CathNews) — In an unusual study whose main results were released at a Catholic University of America conference at the end of March, Villanova University in Philadelphia asked former Catholics in the Trenton, New Jersey, diocese why they left the Church, reports NCR Online.
Although the results were not surprising, the researchers said, the study suggests new ways the Church can approach Catholics who are dissatisfied with what the Church teaches or how it acts — including those so dissatisfied that they have decided to leave.
One of their key recommendations was for pastors, bishops and other Church officials to respond consistently to questioning or angry Catholics with constructive dialogue rather than a simple reiteration of Church rules or policies.
Jesuit Fr William Byron, a professor of business at St Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — who collaborated in the study with Charles Zech, founder and director of the Center for the Study of Church Management of Villanova’s School of Business — several times cited a response of one disaffiliated Catholic who complained, “Ask a question of any priest and you get a rule; you don’t get a ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it’ response”.
Byron and Zech told conference participants at the Catholic University of America that many of the responses from lapsed or disaffiliated Catholics in the Trenton diocese matched what researchers have known from other surveys:
They object to what they see as the Church’s unwelcoming attitude toward homosexuals or towards the divorced and remarried, they find homilies uninspiring, the parish unwelcoming, the pastor arrogant or parish staff uncaring, or they have suffered bad personal experiences with a priest or other Church official, such as rejection for being divorced.
Some of the former Catholics complained of priests being too liberal, while others cited “the extreme conservative haranguing” they heard in homilies — reflecting the intra-Catholic political divisions that reflect similar divisions in broader society.