Catholicism: Staying or Leaving?
The reasons for remaining faithful or leaving Catholicism are many. For the devout, like Armida, the church provides strength. "As we get older, we really don't have a lot to hold on to except our faith, which gives us hope," she says. More than 97 percent of devout Catholics value going to Mass and being part of their family's Catholic tradition. More than nine out of 10 of the faithful value praying to the Virgin Mary, saying the rosary, and taking weekly Holy Communion.
Those who have left have many reasons too. Disagreements with the church's political activities; rules about divorce, marriage, and birth control; and the lack of a sense of community were frequently cited. But that doesn't mean the defectors won't come back. Nearly four out of 10 who didn't join another religion have considered returning. Some do.
My cousin Christine Hodgdon, 57, left the church in anger after a bitter divorce. "I went to the altar and said straight to God's face, 'I'll never return.' " she recalls. In the next 14 years, she remarried, found the Holy Spirit in an Episcopal church, learned about the Bible in a Methodist church and, at the end of what she calls a "beautiful journey," had her first marriage annulled and then remarried in the Catholic Church. "I would never leave the Catholic Church again," says Christine.
But some leave, never to return. Christine's brother, Al Saucedo, 56, left because, he says, "in my heart I wanted to know more about God." Raised Catholic, he was married and received into the Episcopal Church, briefly attended a Methodist church, and now attends Baptist services. "What I really like about the Baptists is their emphasis on the Bible," he says. Still, he misses the Catholic Church's daily Holy Communion; Baptists offer it monthly. And when he attends Mass with his mother, he listens carefully. "Now I know what the prayers and the sermons are all about," he says.
My Argentine-born sister-in-law Griselda Domínguez Asayama, 58, left the church and became a Mormon well before moving to the United States. In fact, the study found that more than a third of immigrants who convert do so before immigrating. "I was raised a Catholic with strong Christian values," she says. She left the church at age 16, she says, because when she had questions about her faith, the church wouldn't answer them. She no longer attends any services.
I can still envision my maternal grandmother on her knees reciting the rosary in her bedroom, where the glow of tiny oil lamps reflected off the crown of the Virgen de Guadalupe, for whom she was named. And I remember her discussing the Bible with Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons who stopped by. That's what faith is about, she'd say, respecting and valuing all beliefs—even if they weren't your own.
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