Denominationalism, Cafeteria Catholicsm and Choice in the Modern Society

It is well known that the word “heresy” has its etymological roots in the idea of “choice”. It is interesting in this light to read in Fr Neuhaus’ last published essay in First Things “Secularisations”:

In this religio-cultural circumstance, Americans typically live at two levels of religious identity and affirmation. One is national (“In God We Trust”). The other, more deeply personal and communal, is lived in “the church of your choice.” This is an experienced choice, and is thus a facet of modernity that is difficult to avoid in the American situation.

In the sociological jargon, our religious connection is elective rather than ascribed. Even with those churches, such as the Catholic and Orthodox, that have a deep ecclesiology of being sacramentally incorporated into the Body of Christ and thus being more chosen than choosing, the need for choice and repeated choice is the norm. A tradition chosen is different from a tradition into which one is born and by which one is defined. A choice can always, at least hypothetically, be reversed. This is obviously in tension with the self-understanding of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, but it is the American religious circumstance.

H. Richard Niebuhr wrote that the American contribution to ecclesiology was to add, to the European religious types of church and sect, the phenomenon of the denomination. A denomination is an elective association that assumes the appurtenances of the (upper-case) Church. The Catholic and Orthodox churches do not understand themselves to be denominations but the Church of Jesus Christ rightly ordered through time. For Catholics and Orthodox, one understands oneself to be baptized, and not usually by choice, into that one expression of the one Church. It is true that people also say they were “baptized Episcopalian” or “baptized Methodist.” But that is a matter of institutional identity or even tribal loyalty rather than of a coherent ecclesiology, since other churches do not claim to be what the Catholic and Orthodox churches claim to be.

…Of course, in the real world there are no pure types. The connections between modernity and choice, in both Europe and America, result in a pick-and-mix approach to religion. The French sociologist Daniele Hervieu-Leger employs the term bricolage—which can be translated as “tinkering,” as when a child ­assembles and reassembles the pieces of a Tinker Toy set or a Lego game. Among Catholics, this is referred to pejoratively as “cafeteria Catholicism.” The American scholar Robert Wuthnow calls the phenomenon “patchwork religion.”

I have often said that my own “choice” to be Catholic was finally a recognition that I had “no choice”. If the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ as she claims to be (a hotly debated thesis on this blog) then the Christian who is aware of this and believes it has no choice but to belong to it. I was more “chosen” than “choosing” if you like!

In the end, I contend that this is not finally a question of whether I exercised personal judgment and choice (which is, I think, phenomenologically indisputable), as a question of ecclesiologies, as Fr Neuhaus points out. It is a question of whether one holds a “coherant” or, rather, an all-encompassing ecclesiology, or a denominational ecclesiology.

I am very aware – given that I once held quite firmly to a denominational ecclesiology until challenged by my good friends Adam Cooper and Fraser Pearce – how hard it is for non-Catholics or non-Orthodox to think their way out of denominationalism. Fr Neuhaus’ essay also made me aware of how much denominationalism – and the “choice” that goes with it – has made its way into the American religious psyche, even of Catholics. The result, of course, is what we have all come to know as “Cafeteria Catholicism”.

My small contribution to the discussion here (and the thesis to which I would invite reaction) is that it makes little sense in this schema for a Catholic who is offended by the phenomenon of “Cafeteria Catholicism”, to make a protest “choice” by opting out in order to belong to an ecclesial community among the denominations.

[Update: in the combox I refer to an essay by Dr Adam Cooper from 2006 which perfectly illustrates the difficulties of a denominationalist ecclesiology. The essay is called “The Church and the Churches”, and is, I should point out, not to be taken as the the author’s current view on the matter, which has, let us say, “developed”.]

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33 responses to “Denominationalism, Cafeteria Catholicsm and Choice in the Modern Society

  1. Bruce

    My late wife, Barbara, and I always felt that the more we understood of the Catholic Church and Faith, the less choice we had about whether we should be in it or not. It was hard, Barbara told me, to take off her Protestant glasses (a phrase we later heard others use), and see things from a Catholic perspective. As a former Presbyterian, I am glad we were chosen for this and didn’t have to choose.

    I wouldn’t opt out for anything.

    A great article by Fr. Neuhaus.

  2. matthias

    I was Baptised in the Churches of Christ at 13. I now attend a Baptist church ,and if i want to become a member i need to attend a full day session and sign a covenant of partnership. when i was preparing for Baptism ,i had to attend classes for about 5 weeks,but as i am a Baptised Christian,i wonder why i need to attend another session. Is this denominationalism as you allude to Schutz?

  3. Schütz

    Bruce, welcome to the combox of SCE! Please read regularly, and always feel welcome to post a comment!

  4. Schütz

    Matthias (BTW, I take it you chose this pseudonym because St Matthias was “chosen” by lot – no choice in the matter!),

    Fr Neuhaus mentions in his article that some people will speak of being “baptised Episcopalian” without that having much meaning other than “that’s where I started”. To be “baptised Catholic” or “baptised Orthodox” however, means (apart from a lot of other things) to be baptised into the Una Sancta Ecclesia.

    The Catholic Church accepts all baptisms performed with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as valid. (So do Lutherans, Anglicans, Uniting, Presbyterians etc.). Baptists and others who subscribe to believer’s baptism haven’t signed up to this!

    I have often wondered why baptism – the one sacrament that most of the “denominations” agree upon – couldn’t be celebrated communally between all Christians. We can’t come as one to the Lord’s Table yet, but surely we could all come as one to the font? I do know of some ecumenical church centre (such as Seaford in SA) which were built with separate protestant and Catholic liturgical gathering places that nevertheless have only one font in the centre – that’s a good idea, I think.

    I also know that there was some difficulty in my old Frankston parish when the local Lutheran and Uniting Churches in Karingal joined together as one working parish. The problem that immediately came up was what to do with those who were baptised in the new joint parish – should they be marked down as Uniting or Lutheran in the record books?

    But that wasn’t really what I was getting at with “denominationalism”, Matthias. I was getting more at the idea that Dr Adam Cooper once wrote about in an essay called: “The Church and the Churches”.

    I expect he now totally repudiates his thesis in that essay. I criticised it personally at the time he wrote it – I knew he knew that it wasn’t right. But if you are to be a Protestant, you must have an ecclesiology that in some way makes sense of the host of denominations that exist.

  5. Peregrinus

    . . . Fr Neuhaus’ essay also made me aware of how much denominationalism – and the “choice” that goes with it – has made its way into the American religious psyche, even of Catholics. The result, of course, is what we have all come to know as “Cafeteria Catholicism.”

    I disagree. Denominationalism does not cause Cafeteria Catholicism; on the contrary, denominationalism would have the opposite effect of encouraging people to select from among the supermarket selection of churches, denominations and congregations on offer the one that most closely corresponds to their personal beliefs.

    “Cafeteria Catholic” describes someone who, while doubting or disagreeing with certain beliefs (and doing so openly), nevertheless continues to be a Catholic, and to participate in Catholic sacramental and communal life.
    Why do they do this? Well, because they are Catholic. They are joined to the church by baptism and eucharist, and this does not cease to be true on account of doctrinal difficulties they have.

    It is those who pointedly ask them why they do not leave and become Anglican/set up their own church who have succumbed to denominationalism, surely?

    Wivellt!

    Peregrinus

  6. Joshua

    Touche, Peregrinus!

    I myself have often wondered why Catholics, even those who hold very dissenting views, somehow seem to demand that the structure change to suit them, whereas surely (on a rational level) they would be better off joining the local Anglicans, or Holy Rollers, or whatever, since their beliefs and practices would more nearly correspond to what passes for the norm among such.

    But here the notion of “cultural Catholic” comes in – they are Catholic in the same way they are Australian, or vote ALP, or have Irish ancestors, or barrack for Collingwood: these are fixed reference points, impossible to change or disavow. One finds the same with Serbs or Greeks: to be Serb or Greek is to be Orthodox (and in some cases, vice versa!).

    Furthermore, for many dissenting Catholics, they perceive (often rightly) that their heterodox views are in fact the numerical norm, the practical norm, among their local congregation or even throughout Australia and the West – e.g. the acceptance of contraception of course. They may or may not know what the “official” teaching is, but ignore it as “obviously” outdated and due to change to fit the “mainstream” some time or other: the parallels with slaveholding and duelling – both condemned by the Church, with little apparent result or adherence, long centuries before society at large came to reject them – are amusing. (I suspect that among the Orthodox there are parallels, such as how much fasting and when is done.) What often worries me is how Catholics are often so cut off from any understanding of or acceptance of the riches of right doctrine: the level of ignorance and acceptance of expediency is astonishing, and this in many cases applies to the local clergy also. It is almost as if a concerted effort was made to forget.

    PE’s arguments about the radical discontinuity implemented by the majority after Vatican II do look all too persuasive on this point!

  7. Peregrinus

    Joshua, I don’t think many people “demand that the structure change to suit them”. Structural change is not normally the issue, or at any rate is not normally the main issue.

    What they do is to assert their own beliefs, not necessarily insisting that all other Catholics must agree with them, but insisting (at least implicitly) that it is possible to believe what they believe, and still be Catholic.

    Insisting that they can’t strikes me, ironically, as a somewhat “Protestant” stance. It is Protestants who lay such emphasis on faith (in the sense of belief) and faith alone, and who tend to divide themselves into distinct denominations distinguished largely by relatively obscure points of faith, embodied frequently in this or that “confession” of faith.

    For Catholics, the bond which unite us are broader than this. They are first and foremost sacramental (baptism and eucharist) but they are also about a commitment to communion in the sense of shared worship and shared life, not just shared belief.

    Belief is important, of course, but it is one element of a broader whole. The historic creeds embody the core of belief which Catholics share. Is it possible to accept the creeds, while rejecting church teaching on (say) contraception or on the place of Judaism in the divine plan (not looking at anyone in particular, Bishop Williamson) and still remain a Catholic? Yes, it is. There are tensions involved, of course, but all real relationships involve tensions. It may not be an entirely satisfactory state of affairs, but it could still be more satisfactory than leaving the church.

    Hydroco!

    Peregrinus

  8. matthias

    I take your point peregrinus and it goes without saying that the sacraments are based around the Incarnation,Atonement and the Resurrection as cited in the creeds and which should unite all Christians .
    Schutz I chose Matthias ,as it is far better than the one I was given; because Matthias was chosen to do God’s work quietly and also to honour the German Catholic politician Matthias Erzberger,who signed the Armistice ending World War One,knowing that he would be the target of the Right Wing in germany -which he was,when he was assassinated by prototypes of the Nazis

  9. Past Elder

    ” surely we could all come as one to the font?”

    That illustrates what is fundamentally wrong with this whole approach.

    A font, some Christians would say, is completely at odds with Baptism; no Baptism after the institution of Christ can be done in a font, and anyone who could be baptised after the institution of Christ in a font cannot be capable of Baptism.

    Once again, you assume what you would prove. The “ecclesiology” that one would acknowledge on the back end is assumed on the front end.

    What sets the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox churches, apart is their longer historical institutional existence, with a longer ethnic and cultural identity than the “denominations” which either have no such identity or a much shorter one.

    Here, one generally hears “raised” for “baptised”, and one hears raised Baptist, A of G, Episcopalian, Catholic, whatever, in the same sense wherever.

    The “coherent ecclesiology” is simply part of the “institutional identity” and “tribal loyalty”, not something that exists before it. The claims made by the Catholic and Orthodox churches are not what other churches, including mine, claim, which does not change this phenomenon in the least, but does change the intensity of the impact and consequently the dynamic of changing it for those who do so.

    And that is the real reason for the cafeteria in Catholicism, pre Vatican II as well as post, though more visible post. It is a little harder to make a new tribal or institutional affiliation when the one in which one is raised is rather big on it being the “true” one. So one tends to stay, and wink at what doesn’t like in this bunch, much like a person may do with the family into which he was born.

    Ah, but that’s just it — we are a family, not a denomination, so exactly so, we have a familial bond, it’s bloody incarnational, don’t you see!

    Yes I see, but I do not see that.

    Kids may be raised Republican or Democrat (to use our two main political parties here in the US) but eventually they either do or don’t themselves accept that political stance no less than the person raised in one but now in the other. Oh but we’re not talking political philosophy here, this is different.

    No, it isn’t. Nor is a change in nationality, though since that involves a physical move, it is more apparent and also less common.

    The problem being then, ecclesiology assumes the role of family. One is Catholic, or Lutheran or anything else, so often in exactly the same sense one is Italian, or Irish, or Norwegian or whatever. First we are, then we define what we are. Enter the cafeteria, where a different definition does not remove one the group being defined, much as a political party or institution may reach a decision that not all members of the party or legislature may agree with.

    Communion is assumed, then proven from a supposed communion.

    The “broader whole” though is defined by its beliefs. Sooner or later, all members of the whole are converts, whether raised in the whole or not.

    Family is a possible metaphor for all this, though Scripture uses body. Even so, to understand it as family, one must not pursue the analogy of blood family. This is a family by adoption. IOW, you are trying to understand an adopted family by blood family analogies.

  10. Schütz

    Good grief, PE, you have a real nack for taking a stick and giving the pond a good stir so that all the waters become muddier than ever…

    I’m not really going to try to engage with your comment simply because it would take forever to untangle the different threads and treat each one as it deserves.

    So I will come back to Perry’s comment – that Cafeteria Catholicism is not a result of a “denominational ecclesiology”.

    I’m rather ready to be convinced on that front. But then I note Fr Neuhaus’ statement that:

    “Even with those churches, such as the Catholic and Orthodox, that have a deep ecclesiology of being sacramentally incorporated into the Body of Christ and thus being more chosen than choosing, the need for choice and repeated choice is the norm.”

    In other words, the abiding sociology has “got in” (“like liquid into this chalk”) to the Catholic and Orthodox Church as well. But I take your point, there exists in the Catholic Church what Neuhaus calls “the deep ecclesiology” of sacramental incorporation, or what, from a sociological point of view, could be interpreted as simply a strong “cultural” attachment to “family” (as PE puts it – which, BTW, is a scriptural image – the “Household of God/of faith” or “oikeios” or “family” as in Gal 6:10 and Eph 2:19; compare the use in 1 Tim 5:8), which does not exist in Protestantism in general. Protestants are (as you point out) more attached to particular beliefs than to a particular “family”.

    Nevertheless, the “choosiness” of “denominationalism” has found its way into the Catholic family. The cultural bonds keep the choosy Catholic attached to the Catholic family, but he finds at least three ways of expressing his post-modern option for choice:

    1) “Cafeteria Catholicism” as we have noted;
    2) “Parish Shopping”, where the choosy Catholic seeks out the parish/priest that matches his style of choice (eg. Traditionalist, Charismatic, Social Justice, whatever…).
    3) Attachment to an Order or Movement. This phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by our Protestant friends. The formation of particular orders and movements within the Church enable choosy Catholics to belong to, express and be nourished by the spirituality of their choice. So we get people attached to the Dominicans, or the Jesuits, or Opus Dei, Regnum Christi, Focalare, Communion and Liberation, etc etc.

    This is also noted in Fr Neuhaus’ essay:

    “They resist taking their religion as a package deal, so to speak, insisting that it be tailored to what they describe as their “spiritual needs.” This pattern is prominent among both Catholics and Protestants, as is evident in the increasing number of Catholics who church shop for a parish of their preference, and the growing number of renewal movements, such as Opus Dei, Regnum Christi, and the Neocatechumenal Way. It should be noted that these and other movements are also very much at the center of Catholic renewal in European countries, not least of all in France.”

  11. Schütz

    Okay, I’m just getting the running joke – I hadn’t caught up yet with the latest comments in the last combox.

    Unfortunately, as moderator of this ‘ere blog, I don’t get the joy of being offered a verification code to post. Drat. I can’t play this game.

  12. Peregrinus

    Hmm. I hadn’t thought of parish shopping as a manifestation of the spirit of denominationalism but, on reflection, this does make sense.

    I had, however, thought that parish shopping is an outcome of the times we live in, where (a) we are increasingly urbanised, and (b) we have cars, so more and more of us can engage in parish-shopping. Perhaps we would have done in the past, had our circumstances permitted. In other words, this may not be a new impulse; just an impulse the time of whose expression has come.

    And this ties in with the observation that the variety of spiritualities and charisms offered by the church is also a manifestation of denominationalism, because that certainly isn’t new. Church history is full of the development of new spiritualities – the desert fathers, Benedictine monasticism, the mendicant movement, the missionary orders . . . What’s changed, possibly, is increasing lay involvement in these various spiritualities, but that reflects an increasingly educated and involved laity engaging with the faith at a level on which previously only clerics and religious tended to engage.

    What hasn’t changed is the Catholic sense that, even as we pursue different spiritualities, different liturgical expressions, different theologies, we do so in communion with one another, and furthermore we recognise that we need to do so in communion with one another – communion is not just something we do because it is nice, or convenient, or consistent with our favoured spirituality or theology – it is essential.

    Terch: coarse fish, cross between a tench and a perch.

    Peregrinus

  13. Past Elder

    When you adopt an ecclesiology designed to point toward and validate a particular denomination, of course you will feel drawn to, even chosen by, that denomination.

    You know what? Strip malls and enclosed malls are both malls. The latter is no less a mall for being under one roof.

  14. Peregrinus

    When you adopt an ecclesiology designed to point toward and validate a particular denomination, of course you will feel drawn to, even chosen by, that denomination.

    Are you saying anything more than “all churches have an ecclesiology which reflects their self-understanding”?

    You know what? Strip malls and enclosed malls are both malls. The latter is no less a mall for being under one roof.

    I see the point you’re making – you can have diversity within communion as well as diversity without – and I don’t disagree with it (and I’m not embarrassed by it). But the implication – that communion is an irrelevant detail, like whether a mall is enclosed or not – does not appeal to me at all. Communion matters to me, and your analogy does not attempt to persuade me that it shouldn’t.

    No offence, but the mall analogy strikes me as a very [i]American[/i] one. It treats religious faith as something you select and consume, like clothing or groceries. While this is not completely false, it’s also not completely true. To flog the analogy long past the point where it is dead, it treats the end point of religion as the thing acquired – the clothing, the groceries, the belief. If we have to use a commercial analogy, I think the better analogy is that religion should be compared to the process of acquiring things; religion is about how we live; it is about our relationships with God and with one another. And, of course, the experience of buying the same produce in a corner shop, a department store or a mega-mall is quite different.

    Dizate: a corrosive chemical compound used to remove tar stains from the seat of men’s trousers

  15. Vicci

    “Belief is important, of course, but it is one element of a broader whole.”

    Scripture tends to disagree …

    This theme of ‘Catholic As Family’ is interesting:
    Early Church family: “see how they love one another
    Catholic Church Family: “see how they fight.
    It must be a bloke thing..

    foises vt.
    How moderators impart views.

  16. Past Elder

    Nearly impenetrable as Catholic triumphalism, in which I once shared, is, I’ll have another go.

    Mall was offered in place of cafeteria as another image of a venue where a variety of products are offered to make the point that if escape from a concumerist mentality is sought, the escape is not found by looking at the single roof under which one venue operates as opposed to the several roofs where other venues operate.

    To stick with cafeteria, there is little difference in approaching one’s choices under a single roof as opposed to an intersection where one finds several restaurants.

    Communion is not an irrelevant detail. It is precisely because it is not an irrelevant detail that I point out that communion is not something assumed a priori and certainly not to be inferred from operating under one roof rather than several.

    The roof in this case being an indentifiable earthly institution into which one is either born or to which one later joins oneself.

  17. Past Elder

    Consumerist. Judas. Maybe Windows 7 will finally have the “I know what you meant to type” feature.

  18. Christine

    I had, however, thought that parish shopping is an outcome of the times we live in,

    Not entirely. It’s partly because many Catholics (and converts in particular) discover that the church they thought they were joining no longer exists. The rate of recidivism among converts is high, unfortunately.

    I truly, truly wanted to believe that in becoming Catholic I had found the “truth” of the historic church. My cradle Catholic husband tried to tell me many times that after Vatican II the church became occupied by a foreign spirit, a foreign way of looking at the world.

    After ten years I have to conclude that he was right. The Catholic church that I had lurking in my memory was the one my dad took me to as a little girl. And it differed markedly from the Catholic church that now exists in American suburbia.

    I was already catholic as a Lutheran. I didn’t need to become Catholic.

  19. Schütz

    Welcome back, Christine. I thought you had gone. I was starting to fret.

    “The rate of recidivism among converts is high”

    Is it? I was wondering exactly this this morning (while fretting about where Christine had gone on the blog). I don’t know of many cases. Certainly never came across any when I was a Lutheran Pastor. I got cradle Catholics out of touch with their Church coming to me, but never someone who had converted to the Catholic Church and then went back again. I do have one friend who was received into the Catholic Church, but who continues to exist in both Lutheran and Catholic Churches (mainly because of her attachment to a particular Lutheran parish, but still goes to Catholic Churches when she is away from home).

    Anyone else know anyone who is a “recidivist”?

    (And PE and Christine: don’t forget to play the verification code game. I like the recent suggestions from Vicci and Perry).

  20. Christine

    No, I haven’t gone! Heavens!

    Actually, what I was referring to (and again, speaking only of the Catholic church in the U.S.) was Catholic converts who a year or two later leave, not necessarily to go back to their former denominations (some of them did not have any prior affiliation).

    There was a survey done about that, I’ll have to see if I can find it.

    And by no means am I suggesting it doesn’t happen in other denominational bodies, it does. But the Catholic church, being as large as she is, has higher traffic in both directions.

    As for having one’s feet in both the Catholic and Lutheran churches? That’s unusual, to say the least. Wouldn’t work for me.

  21. Peregrinus

    I do recall seeing an Australian survey – sorry, no recollection of the details – which followed up people received through the RCIA process, and found that a significant proportion of them were not actively practising within a couple of years of being received. I don’t know whether they would say that they had “left” the church, though. They might just consider themselves to be Catholics who were not very attentive to their obligations.

    I hesitate to suggest it, and I mean no disrespect, and I’m certainly not referring to you personally, Christine, but it occurs to me that people who enter the church in search of the church they remember from their childhood could actually be seeking to rejoin their childhood – a quest which is doomed to failure, obviously.

    A good discernment process would allow them to identify this before entering, of course, but in my experience the RCIA process leans strongly in favour of encouraging people to be received, and of allowing the Holy Spirit to do its work. The assumption is that any attraction towards the church is likely to be prompting of the Spirit, and we should build on this rather than critically interrogate it or psychologically analyse it.

    That’s not necessarily an unsound approach, but it will lead to a proportion of people being received for what are perhaps not the ideal reasons,

    Golatie: National drink of Azerbaijan, made from fermented goat’s milk flavoured with aniseed and caraway, and topped with stuff that looks like chocolate sprinkles but sadly isn’t.

  22. Peter

    David, funny you should ask this question. I recall sitting with you and a certain Catholic priest discussing the possibility of becoming Catholic and hearing him relate a past situation in England when hundreds of Anglican clergy asked to be recieved into the Church, but a small number later returned to various forms of Anglicanism after realising they had not converted TO Catholicism but AWAY from critically ill Anglicanism.

    The Church built certain checks and questions into their reception process as a result of this experience, we had to navigate these as part of our journey home.

    The few people I have encountered who were Catholics and are now in the religion of their ‘choice’ (heterodox) have all fled from horrid misrepresentation of the Catholic faith to a seemingly more complete alternative. They have not encountered or comprehended the fulness fo Catholic faith, let alone rejected it.

    On the other hand, I have encountered any number of new additions to the Catholic faith that have experienced the very best that their small group had to offer and yet found it lacking.

  23. Christine

    Hi Peregrinus,

    No offense taken whatsoever. No, I don’t think I was looking to reclaim my childhood. What I was looking for was the church in continuity with the preconciliar church. Yes, I know, “on the books” that is still the case.

    But growing up in very Catholic Bavaria, the Catholic church of my childhood was quite different from the Catholic church I experienced in the last ten years here in the U.S.

    And I had to finally face the fact that my conversion was never as full as it should have been. Oh, I don’t mean from an intellectual standpoint. I’m quite well informed about Catholic dogma and doctrine.

    But way in the back of my soul there’s always been the Lutheran me lurking. It never quite went away.

    I cannot be a Lutheran in Communion with Rome. I simply want to be a Lutheran again. It’s where my head — and heart — are at home.

  24. Joshua

    I have heard that the percentage of those received into the Catholic Church via the RCIA who fall away from practice (i.e. going to Sunday Mass) is quite high – up to half of those received – and that this fall-away occurs very quickly (as in within a few weeks of their reception into the Church at Easter).

    I would hazard a guess that, after being well-cared for and deeply involved in the RCIA programme (involving getting to know the priest &/or pastoral team in charge of the RCIA, and having fellowship with their fellow-travellers therein – no pun intended!), with small-group meetings, a big fuss made of them, etc., all of a sudden they are cut off from all that and are now just an anonymous newbie in a big parish. (The post-baptismal mystagogy that is meant to be undertaken by the parish for such neophytes is rarely in evidence.)

    Thus, uncared for, the sheep wander off…

    ******

    I might add that my own mother was received into the Church via the RCIA, and from what I can observe these many decades later it was not the fullest instruction into all things Catholic… Mum also found that she was called upon to be an Extraordinary Minister and so on in the parish of her reception, and found these pressures really unwelcome as a new Catholic – so she left that parish and we've worshipped elsewhere ever since!

  25. Pereginus

    We can’t have it both ways, though. If we attempt to maintain contact and involvement with neophytes, the reality of parish life is that this will usually involve invitations to consider committing to various ministries – that’s one of the primary ways in which people become involved in parish life. Obviously, nobody should feel pressurised to do this or that ministry, and there’s a line here that may have been crossed in your mother’s case, but there is a tension between not imposing on people, and not neglecting them.

    [Safijow: Silesian liqueur made from beetroots, traditionally given as a Michaelmas gift to in-laws you don’t get on with.]

  26. matthias

    Not just post RCIA that there are risks of people falling away.It can occur in any church if pastoral care stops once they have been received into membership. Thus the need for an effective pastoral care team across the spectrum of church involvement. Funny thing that,the pastoral care I get is
    fortnightly Bible study group
    weekly email newsletter from the church office
    email from the Bible Study group leader.

  27. Kiran

    I suppose one thing to be gained from all of this is that converts don’t really have this “simple faith” or magical wall against disbelief that cradle-catholics often believe we do. If we want to maintain our faith, we will have to fight for it, the same as anyone else.

    On the other hand, the older I grow in the faith (and I just turned 5 a couple of months ago), the more I realize that Catholicism is the price I pay for being rational. I could deny it (and on certain occasions, it is terribly tempting for a whole host of reasons to deny it), but if I did, I would be being irrational.

    decti: The fragrance of much beloved flowers

  28. William Tighe

    I am writing this from years-old memory, but in the years following the Church of England’s vote to “ordain” women to the priesthood, some 450 Anglican clergymen (active and retired) became Catholic (around 25 became Orthodox), and as of some years ago about 40 of them had returned to the Church of England. Reasons given ranged from the “dreadful worship” in Catholic parishes through the refusal of Catholic ordination to some of these clerical converts who sought it to bitterness at the “homophobia” that they claim to have experienced in the Catholic Church.

  29. Schütz

    Christine said: But way in the back of my soul there’s always been the Lutheran me lurking. It never quite went away.

    Hasn’t gone away in me, either, Christine. But I find it compatible with being in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

  30. Schütz

    Joshua said: I have heard that the percentage of those received into the Catholic Church via the RCIA who fall away from practice (i.e. going to Sunday Mass) is quite high – up to half of those received – and that this fall-away occurs very quickly (as in within a few weeks of their reception into the Church at Easter).

    I think this is true for all denominations with regard to conversions from the sphere of the “unchurched” or other religions.

    But – allowing for Anglicans et al who join the Catholic Church because they are are dissaffected with their own Church rather than convinced of the Catholic Church – I think that the proportion recidivists among those already deeply Christian who enter the Catholic Church because they are convinced by her claim to be what she would be very small.

  31. Schütz

    William: the refusal of Catholic ordination to some of these clerical converts

    I was told from the get-go that there could be no conditions placed upon reception into the Church. I accepted that then, and I accept it now.

  32. Peregrinus

    I think that the proportion recidivists among those already deeply Christian who enter the Catholic Church because they are convinced by her claim to be what she would be very small.

    My experience, FWIW, is that the fall-away rate for those who, prior to reception, were engaged with and practising in a different tradition, is very much lower than for those who were disengaged. This is true regardless of whether they express their reason for joining in terms of being “convinced by the Catholic church’s claim” or in other terms.

    A factor may possibly be that they have a more realistic understanding of what to expect from engagement with a religious community, and therefore they get less disappointed by the reality.

    [Mutet: musical setting of a religious text for liturgical use, composed in the style of John Cage.]

  33. Christine

    Hasn’t gone away in me, either, Christine. But I find it compatible with being in communion with the Bishop of Rome.

    Alas, for me that is no longer true. I felt a modicum of pity for a person who who stated that the recent emphasis on indulgences was necessary because after the Council there was a deemphasis on sin. Now, technically, I know that is not totally true but that’s the way it has played out. And is the reason so many Catholics no longer go to confession, maintaining that it’s “between me and God.”

    I think that the proportion recidivists among those already deeply Christian who enter the Catholic Church because they are convinced by her claim to be what she would be very small.

    I’m not so sure about that. I gave it a good ten years and had the advantage of having grown up with Catholic family. For those who grew up in other traditions or no church environment, until the Catholic church does a better job of catechesis, especially in the RCIA process, she will continue to lose those who were never well initiated.

    Of course, there’s the added factor in my case of having come to the conclusion that the post-conciliar church has indeed suffered a deep rupture with what existed prior to the council.

    And that I never really accepted purgatory and many other Catholic teachings.