I’ve been waiting for this to happen and a few weeks ago, it did.
Self-identifying Catholics in the USA have slipped from second to third most numerous religious group in our country, with Evangelical Christians first. In second place now are the “Nones”. It’s not that the Nones have come exclusively or predominantly from the Catholic Church, but a good number have.
I was with some of them over the last few weeks, during hospital visits and anniversary celebrations. These good young people were the children of practicing- I would go so far as to say ardent Catholics – men and women who are not Catholic because they were raised that way, but Catholics because they found the person and message of Christ compelling for them. They have found companionship in ministry and friendship in the faith community. Theirs is a commitment to Christ through the community of believers that we call the Catholic Church. Their faith and practice has affected their lives deeply. But their children have made other choices, among them to be “None.”
These are not the only Nones I have met over the years, nor are all the Nones young people.
Some became Nones because they simply drifted away and found no cause to come back. Others had a demeaning , ugly, inappropriate experience once in the person of a church worker. That experience, coupled with unprocessed doubt, was enough to take them away. Some Nones arrive at that position because they went searching and found that no religion was satisfying in the way that being spiritual but uncommitted did. Beyond these reasons are a plethora more.
Do practicing Catholics just let Nones with Catholic roots be, in the hope that the doors between them and us stay open? Do we lecture or proselytize? Do we express disappointment or anger? What?
How about staying the course in faithfulness and love of God and them, and wait for God to provide an opening? How about encouraging them to take a deeper look into their Catholic heritage before throwing it away definitively , since so much of what we internalized as children and youth doesn’t fit our adult minds, hearts and spirits. What if God never provides the opening we seek? With all due respect, that’s up to God and the None. We might not be needed, strange as that might seem.
And for those who are on the brink of becoming Nones, here is an excerpt from an article Hans Kung wrote in America (March 20, 1971 )at a time when this priest scholar was a center of controversy. Eventually he would be stripped of the title “Roman Catholic Theologian”. He has remained active in ecumenism and interfaith dialogue and has continued to be an important unofficial voice in the Church.
“Why am I staying Catholic?” Kung writes.” Because in critical loyalty, there is so much in this community and its history that I can affirm, so much in this community from which I can draw life. I am staying in the Church because, along with the other members of this community of faith, we are the Church…I am staying in the Church because, with all the strong objections against it, here I am at home.”
~Sister Joan Sobala