The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has come out with a new survey on how many Americans change their religion affiliation and why. It contains some interesting data for Catholics to think about:
1. While 15% of Catholics leave to become Protestants (primarily Evangelicals), only 3% of Protestants leave their faiths to join the Catholic Church. An additional 14% of Catholics leave and remain unaffiliated to any religion.
2. There is a net outflow of Catholics. "Overall, one-in-ten American adults (10.1%) have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic, while only 2.6% of adults have become Catholic after having been raised something other than Catholic."
3. There are fundamental differences between the Catholics who leave for the Protestant denominations and those who leave organized religion completely. For those who become unaffiliated, their primary reasons for leaving center on unahppiness with the Church's moral teachings: on abortion/homosexuality (56% -- and, for the record, I wish Pew had not lumped those two issues together), on birth control (48% -- and the vast majority of those are people who are convinced the Church's teachings are too restrictive), on the way women are treated (39%) and on divorce/remarriage (33%).
For those going over to a Protestant denomination, the issues are unhappiness with the teachings about the Bible (43% - a majority believing that Catholics do not take the Bible literally enough) and disatisfaction with the worship atmosphere (32%). In both cases these differences are magnified for those who change to evangelical Protestant churches.
All other issues were not significant reasons for faith change. 21% (now Protestant) -27% (now unaffiliated) cited the Church sex abuse scandals. The celibacy requirement was cited by 21-24% of respondents. Only around 8-11% of Catholics left because they felt the Church had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.
5. Rather than an abrupt rupture, unaffiliated former Catholics are tending to drift away from their faith (71%) whereas Catholics who have gone over to Protestant denominations say that their spiritual needs were not being met. It should be noted that in both cases, former Catholics have stopped believing in aspects of the teachings of the Church, not stopped believing in God or Jesus.
Why is this relevant?
The main conclusion we can draw from this survey is that the way to grow the Catholic Church is not to return to the past. People are not leaving because they are pining for the Tridentine Mass, a Sunday dress code, communion in the mouth rather than in the hand, or more Gregorian chanting.
Bringing in a warmer, more charismatic worship style may help retain some of the Catholics who are going over to the evangelical Protestant churches -- those who have not left for doctrinal reasons.
More entrenched conservative moral teachings are definitely alienating American Catholics in droves. In some cases, such as the Church's teachings on birth control, communion and confession, the majority of American Catholics no longer adhere to the Catechism. Many stay and "disobey", others get tired of the Sunday morning pretense and just leave. I don't know how we should deal with this as a Church, but I think we have to start thinking about it.