home
RSS
'Recovering Catholics' reveal spiritual journeys
According to a 2008 poll, 31% of Americans were raised Catholic, but only 24% describe themselves as Catholic.
June 19th, 2012
09:36 AM ET

'Recovering Catholics' reveal spiritual journeys

By Jim Spellman, CNN

Denver (CNN) - Kristen Kelly was raised Roman Catholic, attended Catholic elementary school and considered herself a good Catholic, but when she was 21-years-old that changed.

“A coworker asked me if I believe in Jesus Christ,” she says.

Despite spending her entire life in the Roman Catholic Church she couldn’t answer the question.

“I never really got exposed to Christ," she says. "It was more about Mary and the Church and a condemnation of everything I was doing wrong.”

She looked at her coworker and saw someone who appeared to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and decided that was what she wanted. She said this prayer:

“Jesus I accept that you are my lord and savior, and I ask you to come into my life.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

And from that moment Kelly, now 41 and living in Florida, considered herself born-again, and an ex-Catholic.

“I like to call us recovering Catholics,” she says with a laugh.

According to a 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religious Life and Public Life, 31% of Americans were raised Catholic, but only 24% now describe themselves as Catholic. Read the study (PDF).

That means about 1 in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a denomination they would be bigger than Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians.

The total U.S. Catholic population has remained at about 24%, as immigrants have filled the pews the ex-Catholics have left behind.

Video: Why do some Catholic outsiders remain inside the flock?  

Kathleen Cummings , associate director at the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at Notre Dame, says that some people leave the Catholic Church after a defining event like the priest abuse scandals or because of a disagreement with the Church over social issues, but most leave because they feel their needs are not being met.

“They are not experiencing something that fulfills them spiritually,” Cummings says.

Church supporters are urging wayward Catholics to return to the fold. For example, Catholics Come Home, a nonprofit lay organization formed in 1997, has been putting out the welcome mat via the media.

The group has an interactive website www.Catholicscomehome.org and airs what it calls “evangomercials” on radio and television. The group says that since 2008 more than 350,000 people have “come home” to the Catholic Church through their campaign.

Tom Peterson, president of Catholics Come Home, says some worshipers who've returned to the Catholic Church report leaving because they had disagreements with church officials or had divorced and feared they wouldn’t be welcome. But, he says, the majority never really gave up on the Church.

“They just drifted away and life got too busy," Peterson says. "Most say they didn’t dislike the Church, nor were they opposed to the Church teachings.

“An overwhelming majority of returnees tell our diocesan partners that they came home to the Catholic Church, 'because you invited me,'" he says.

But it may not be so simple to lure back ex-Catholics like Matt Rowe, a 35-year-old married father of two living in Denver. Rowe attended 16 years of Catholic School in Illinois and attended a Catholic university.

But by the end of college, Rowe was adrift. He found himself disagreeing with the Church on everything from the role of women to the concept of original sin and what he saw as the Catholic Church’s dependence on guilt as a motivating factor.

Rowe gave up on religion for most of his 20s but never stopped believing in God. When he got married and had kids, he started feeling a void in his life.

“I wanted my kids to grow up in a religion, but not Catholicism,” he says.

After “church-hopping” for a few years, Rowe ended up at Pathways Wash Park, a multidenominational Christian church in Denver.

After years of feeling disconnected in the Catholic Church where he says sermons rarely connected to his life, he has finally found the connection he has been looking for at Pathways.

“I wanted spirituality. I wanted God. I wanted all those points to go back to what I’m dealing with today,” Rowe says.

Fred Viarrial, 59, grew up as an altar boy at St. Leo’s in Denver. Six days a week he donned his cassock and worked the 6 a.m. Mass.

“Books or bells. You are ringing the bells or moving the books for the priests,” Viarrial says.

But as he grew up he began questioning elements of Catholicism. One day, when Viarrial was somewhere between age 10 and 12, he had something especially embarrassing to confess, so he trekked over to a Spanish language parish where he was unknown.

“The priest pulled me out and spanked me on the spot,” Viarrial says with a laugh. “That got me to question this whole thing of confession.”

When he was just 14 the precocious teenager went so far as to schedule an appointment with Denver ‘s then-Archbishop James Casey to discuss his doubts.

“I took a two-page list of questions starting with the Hail Mary. I wanted to find them in the Bible, their origin … where is that in the Bible?”

Viarrial says the archbishop humored him but ultimately did not answer his questions.

He still believed in God, but was losing faith in the Church.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

By his 20s he was searching for a new church and ended up at Arvada Covenant Church, an evangelical congregation in a Denver suburb.

At Arvada Covenant he says the focus is on a personal relationship with Jesus and that his questions about his faith and the Bible are not met with derision, but with a search for answers through Bible study.

He has found a home at Arvada Covenant, but says he holds no grudge against the Catholic Church and still feels echoes of his Catholic upbringing in his faith today.

“It’s like a spiritual tattoo that you receive as a kid," Viarrial says. "Those roots don’t ever disappear, you just better try to understand them.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Colorado • Faith

soundoff (2,511 Responses)
  1. jp

    When I was in the worst period of my life, due to my own bad choices, I returned to the Catholic Church after a years long absence. I had never experienced so much compassion and generosity. Many great people came alongside and helped me during my arduous path to recovery while not asking me for anything in return. It's not a perfect place but, for me, better that any other option, including psychologists (yes, i saw some). It was a long and painful journey but I finally found true peace and true happiness because of the selfless staff and parishioners. It appears that this website is dedicated to ridiculing the Church but everyone can be treated like that if you dedicated all you efforts at looking at what they did wrong.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      My experience mirrors yours jp. God bless.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Dana

      It sounds like a good place for people with mental problems.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Horus

      Of course they did. You are exactly the type of person they want – easily manipulated.....

      June 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      on the other hand you may have a completely one-sided view

      June 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  2. Mik

    The only recovering Catholic is one who returns to Holy Mother Church. Those who leave Her are known as fallen away Catholics.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      it's called an Oedipus Complex folks .. as you can see, it's alive and well.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  3. John Simmons

    Here is a similar comparison.

    Going to college makes you an intellectual superior person. Like the church the majority of college's should have their non-profit status stripped as they have become a shill for the democratic party. A college education is one of the most divisive things in our culture – it perpetuates the belief that it makes you better than your fellow man. Good luck and keep drinking the cool aid.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • saopaco

      " A college education is one of the most divisive things in our culture – it perpetuates the belief that it makes you better than your fellow man. Good luck and keep drinking the cool aid."

      Heaven forbid that I get an education. I might become better educated than the common man. That used to be respected- educated people are the captains of industry, the innovators, the inventors.

      Your comment just makes you sound bitter "They aren't better than me! They AREN'T!!"

      June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      sao paco. You missed his point completely.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Jen

      John, people go to college to gain the knowledge they need for their careers. But by all means, if you think that a doctor is not 'better' than a garbageman than by all means go to a garbageman next time you have an accident. Good luck with that.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  4. Norm

    I used to go to a Catholic church, but I can no longer abide Vatican rule. Birth control is a sin but pediphelia is swept under the rug? I also will not tolerate the rulings of the Catholic bishops that all employees of all secular operations like hospitals and schools must be forced to bend to religious rule. Catholic employees who don't want to use birth control don't have to. But not providing birth control for employees forces an unwanted religion on the employees. The employee's religion is NOT being forced onto a souless corporation.

    Yes, Catholic hospitals do not have souls. Neither does money.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Pat

      Realize that it is the Catholic Church that started those hospitals...they are not secular organizations, they are Catholic. If you want a job from the Catholic Church, you shouldn't expect a non-Catholic workplace. Beggars can't be choosers. Every company has a set of core values to abide by, why should Catholic organizations be different?

      June 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  5. Mohamd

    It's nice to have the choice of whether to leave or not. In Islam, it's considered apostasy

    June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  6. HB

    I get it! Obama attacks the Catholic church with his birth control mandate, and CNN happily jumps on the bandwagon...

    June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  7. Mike Stone

    What really amazes me is that some intelligent people believe in God and all that other hocus pocus that all religions push. Where's the proof...and don't tell me it's in the bible, which was written by humans and based on nothing more than hogwash.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • closet atheist

      amazing when "smart" people are religious. blows my mind.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Dana

      Their only proof is that "you have to have faith".

      June 19, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • broncofanssuck

      Eugenics the racist pseudo science created by atheists

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics

      June 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Greg

      Look up theology studies, you will find your proof.

      Tell you what, show me proof we have air. And dont tell me "cause we breath it". I want to see the visual proof that you want from Churches.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Ted

      Just the fact that we exist should be proof alone. If nothing always existed, would we be here?

      June 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • UncleM

      Greg – your scientific ignorance is stunning.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Primewonk

      Greg – I can use a couple sensors and show you the partial pressure of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc. in the "air". I can show you Brownian motion. I can show you oxidative reactions caused by the air. I could list hundreds of others as well.

      The fact that you personally choose to be purposefully ignorant about science, doesn't mean that everyone else does.

      Now, about that evidence for your version of a god ...

      June 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Tony, Boise ID

    I parted ways with the Catholic Church in the 1960's over things like Purgatory (the best fund raising scheme ever invented), intercession with God by Mary and a pantheon of saints, Vatican supremacy, original sin, overly ritualized worship, confession, communion. In short, everything. The scandals of the past 20 years have only strengthened my resolve that one does not need a religion, any religion, to believe in and respect God.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Greg

      Wheres the scandal in the school systems?

      Oh yea, still being covered up.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  9. papawnick

    Most people are like the media. Just ask questions. If they say they are Christians, ask them what they believe. When I hear the media talk about religion it is quickly clear they don't know what people believe and why they believe it. They rehash all the assumptions they have heard from other media talking heads.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Ted

      Amen

      June 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  10. NAncy

    "Let em go let em go God. Bless em"
    Pope Benedict said we would become a smaller church. Just remember. "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
    The Catholic church is the first Christian church started by Christ at the last supper. All others were started by those who didn't like the rules. Case in point Henry the 8th.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      You keep telling youeself that Nanc...just like they taught ya. Good girl. Gold star. A+.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Lucifer

      Right NAncy, and especially if they did not like the practice of selling salvation (martin luther) or dared to state that the earth was not the center of the universe (galileo galilei) or perhaps did not like killing people for eating meat during lent (spanish inquisition). So much for your lame church "founded by Peter."

      June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Paul

      I think the orthodox church is in fact older. it maintains the original apostolic beliefs, while through the centuries the catholic church made some modifications. also, jesus never used the word christian – he did not intend to create a new religion, he intended only to modify judaism. jesus was a jew. it was only peter and the apostles who distinguished themselves as christians after the death of jesus.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Wes Thompson

      Dear Ms. Nancy,
      Please tell us or me where in the world you found that passage that you quoted that indicated that the Holy Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of a Pope was the church that Jesus is the scriptures was talking about? Church in the Greek Language of the New Testament was called the "ecclesia" is the Greek word "ecclesia" is correctly defined as: "The called-out (ones)" [ECC = out; KALEO = call]. According to most Protestant and the Catholic Bibles, actually it is God himself that calls persons, not preachers like Billy Graham or the Pope or even anyone else, but the Holy Spirit indwelling in every man and woman and person. I fault all religions and denominations who would usurp the glory of God and give the glory to a man or man's theology. We,(meaning everyone on earth) will spend eternity with God, not in a religion, church or group of people designating themselves as such. God lives in your heart and is all power and all knowing, so knowing him will certainly assist us in our transition through the earth into eternity and what to us is unknown.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Martin

      You're right Nancy, they didn't like the rules made by corrupt Church leaders, in particular the selling of Indulgences. Just give the church some money and Presto!, your sins are forgiven. Maybe you should learn a little more about the history of the Reformation and the reasons behind it.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  11. Clive

    Talk about the elephant in the room. Here is yet another example of poor journalism. While the reasons these folks have left the church may be real, the greater reasons like child abuse and the subsequent cover ups, I would argue are the largest reason why I and so many others left the church. What a glossed over sorry excuse of an article. Great topic, poor, poor execution. Shame on you. I guess Kim Kardashian didn't do something stupid to cpature the headline and as a result you need a filler! For shame.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  12. Silly Baggers!

    You could have easily inserted my name into this story. I was brought up Catholic and will never go back. In fact I will not go back to any church of any religion. I maintain my personal relationship with God, consider myself Christian, and do not trust a single "leader" of any religion. God has way to many false representatives on Earth.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Does your hospital have to provide birth control?

      June 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  13. Carmeliggy

    SIN= Self-inflicted nonsense.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  14. UglyTruth

    do you have a close personal relationship with your make-believe-imaginary-magical-friend?

    the socially accepted insanity of religion has too long influenced humanity.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • closet atheist

      in any other context, they'd be put in a straightjacket

      June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  15. Bill Daly

    Good riddance to bad rubbish.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  16. Victor

    I don't know but the Catholic church I attend has 3,000 people on Sundays, up from 2,000 2 years ago.. How is that a sign it's getting smaller?? Catholics in our communities have an average of 5 kids who are being raised Catholic.. Sects out there promoting "modern" ideas only have less than 2 kids per family if not zero kids. (because money comes first, blah, blah, blah) and they're allowing their children to persue whatever "makes them happy".. We true Catholics are not swayed by the wrong and inmoral ideas from the "modern" world. My family is100% Catholic and we will remain that way until we leave this earth.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      5 kids, Jesus Christ that is a lot!

      June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      It's because the RCC is closing churches left and right and consolidating.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      It's called consolidation deary. Fewer parishes, fewer priests...

      June 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • chefdugan

      It's just a sign that stupid people are on the rise. Anyone belonging to that obscene organization has got to be stupid and certainly an expert at self-delusion.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      they're allowing their children to pursue whatever "makes them happy" – so you are having lots of kids and brainwashing them into your belief system? sounds like you do not have much faith in your own religion. if you did then your kids would find it them selves. but brainwashing is a better idea. i think Jesus did say brainwash when they are young and they are sheep forever. its people like you is why progress is so hard to achieve

      June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • closet atheist

      i was raised catholic, but never once in my memory do i ever recall believing in a god

      don't be so certain your children will be sheep like you

      i sincerely hope they can battle through the brainwashing and learn to think on their own

      June 19, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Walter

      The reason people in other religions are not having 5 kids is not because of money but because (like me) they would like for humankind to still exist in a few hundred years. If everyone had 5 kids the world would be so overpopulated in a very short amount of time, that this likely wouldn't be the case.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      i was thinking you might want to home school your kids and remove the internet and TV, you wouldn't want them exposed to free thinking society

      June 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  17. Real Patriot

    Its annoying how the Catholics try to push their religion into our politics and hold us back from evolving like the vatican. The Pope even condones child abuse, and the same people call Muslims scary.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Greg

      Its astonishing how ignorant some of these replies are. Just to clear a few things up, and these are FACTS...

      1. The Catholic Church was one of the MAIN reasons that literature survived the dark ages. They didnt send us into the dark ages as many "anti Catholics" say they did.

      2. You should be thanking the Catholic Church for public healthcare and public education. Do you guys know that Jesus was the first person who offered "public healthcare" and the church carried it forward? Non believers and believers of other gods, pushed their loved ones in the streets to die. And at one point in time, you had to be a "noble" to even receive education. However that horrid church, made it available to everyone, including women

      3. Priests molesting kids? I do hope you hate teachers as much. 11k cases reported in the Catholic church since 1950. 290k cases reported in the past 13 years in schools.

      If you dont like the church, thats your choice. However you should try educating yourself and not believeing some random joe blow on the internet when he says something just because HE dislikes the church.

      Thats why we, as a whole, are so stupid. Too lazy to learn the facts.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      greg yes the church did a few good things in the past, excluding the witch trials, the inquisition, and the crusades, and try to stop science. but we are at a time when we do not need fairy tales to explain things. its time to move on

      June 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Real Patriot

      Greg your..facts...are all just rhetoric, theres other facts that contradict yours, so educate yourself, and stop preaching BS

      June 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  18. UglyTruth

    the RCC is like Hinduism: multiple gods.
    Holy mother mary,
    100s of saints to pray to
    various church officials to pray through and pay

    since the reformation the RCC has not been a christian religion

    June 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Tina

      @ Ugly Truth...sorry but you are terribly misinformed.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The Church does not teach that Mary or the saints are gods. Just thought you'd appreciate not being ignorant any longer

      June 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • Pat

      A saint is merely a soul in heaven. Have you ever lost a loved one? Do you ever talk to them? If so, you are (gasp) praying to a saint!

      June 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  19. Daveo

    Religion. Just a fancy name for brainwashing.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Victor

      So, who brainwashed you?? Your boss? Your professor at College? Your partner? Your rich dad?? What do you live for??? Money? Money for what? to make you happy?? Happiness has been reduced to nothing.. that's why people like you or your children end up hanging themselves. There is only one source of happinness.. it's not your money, your material possessions, neither your spouse or kids.. not everyone understands this... but once you do, that love is apparent and then and only then can you feel and provide true love.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • broncofanssuck

      Eugenics the racist pseudo science created by atheists is that brain washing?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics

      June 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      religion a fancy word for ignorance and ignorance is bliss
      its a shame that i find happiness in the little day to day things like learning other wise maybe i could be as happy as others. but for a bunch of happy people they really seem to have a bunch of hate

      June 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
    • NOT MY CHAIR

      Eugenics the racist pseudo science created by atheists is that brain washing?- explain to me why that is an atheist ideal? or is all science's considered an atheist brainwashing tool?

      June 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Eugenics is atheist brainwashing?
      That's like saying colonics are 7th Day Adventist brainwashing...

      June 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  20. Snake-Eyes

    As I read the comments here I notice a particular theme. It seems the "unhappy" ex-Catholics are the ones that "grew up" in the church. that is; they weere told to go from an early age. However; it seems that when they got older they wanted to try something different.

    Another theme I have noticed here is the people reporting they have converted to Catholcism after they got of age to decide a different avenue to pursue. That is; these people left another religion of some type to begin to go to Cathiolic chruch.

    I think you see my point; changing religions is kind of like changing careers; people tend to do it over a period of time. However, some people will stay in the same career field their entire lives. It is much the same with religion. See, people are people & the posts here prove just that concept.

    I have attended Protsetant churches all my life. In my opinion I find nothing there. it seems the modern Protestant churches are more into marketing schemes, bigger is Better, We have God all figured out, lavish production & music via "American Idol" etc. I just don't get it. Again, this is just my opinion. Some people that have attended Catholic churches all their life might feel the same way about their experience as i do about mine with the Protestant Church. To be honest I could see my self trying the Catholic church for the same reasoning Catholics try Protestan Churches: Not getting what we need.

    Religion is so perswonal, to each his/her own. Live 7 let Live.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Why do you still go to Protestant churches then?

      June 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Snake-Eyes

      Jacques I don't attend church anymore. Sorry, I should have made that clear in my original post. However it appears I was too busy making typos LOL.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Snake eyes, I would invite you to investigate a retreat or monastery rather than a mass. Some time in study and reflection will give you the information you need and prepare you for attending mass should you decide to try it. To be uninformed about what is actually happening during the mass could lead to confusion and the kind of ill-informed ideas we see here on this blog.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Snake-Eyes

      Bill, thank you very much! i greatly appreciate it. Lots of misinformation out there for sure.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.