'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.”

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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.

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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. yahmez

    Go. No one should support a church that maintains an ongoing criminal enterprise that shelters child abusers.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Church is nothing else but temple, dungeon of hinduism, illegality, to hind fool humanity.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Kevin

    I was raised Catholic but about ten years ago left the Catholic church because it was nothing but the same old thing and I got nothing out of it. They didn't teach the bible enough and they certainly didn't practice what the bible teaches. The Catholic church is just a tired, cranky, organized religion that's time has come to an end. I am a non-denominational Christian now, attending a non-denominational Christian church and I get a lot more out of that than I ever did in the Catholic church – for example, the fact I have to go before a priest to confess my sins and be forgiven...utter nonsense!

    June 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  3. 2/8

    It is reasonable to believe that human knowledge is limited. Therefor it is logical to assume that we don't know what is after death. We can't prove it either way, so both sides could be wrong, who knows. Stephen Hawking, although brilliant, says there is nothing after death, my question is how does he know that? Did he die and come back to life with proof there's nothing? Nope, he's just giving an opinion. Skeptics don't know any more than believers. And a lot of people who have CLINICALLY died, no brain activity at all (and proven by medical personnel) and have been brought back by doctors, say that there is something. It may sound silly, but in actuality they HAVE been there and when they say that they experienced something, we just laugh and tell them they're either demented, or lying. Or we throw some theories around that it was brain activity....but again.....no brain activity was present. So who the hell knows? Nobody really. No point in arguing something which, even though we have some evidence, people just don't believe.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      Pascal's Wager .. stop yanking on that one armed bandit.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  4. To Each Their Own

    I do not understand the point of this article. Who cares what people believe or if they left one church and found another, or if some do not find (or want to find) a God at all. I would like to think that everyone has fundamental moral beliefs – some take the inspiration from their deity, others from society and innate knowledge. So let us move on from bashing one person’s beliefs and move forward for the betterment of our society – do what is right and do not do what is not. Take your inspiration from God or take it from your family and your neighbor – just be better people.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • bob

      its to slam the catholic church. look at all the articles on this cnn belief blog. The point of this blog is to get weak minded people who believe everything they hear to breakaway from the catholic church. I don't think for once second these stats are right. Why not report this in 2008 when the stats came out? Its 2012 now.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Bob – here's a clue. The weak minded are those that STAY, despite having to put up with the politicking and the hypocrisy. Those that leave, leave in disgust because of those like YOU – and there isn't anything weak minded about that.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  5. tyler

    From my earlier post. Im not saying Catholics dont donate their time. Im just saying most dont. Im also saying that, there are more good people outside of the church than in it. The people mowing the grass outside of the church on a sunday are most likely better people than most of the people inside. When church is out, the moms point to them and say "Look at those poor people mowing the grass. Son, if you stay with Christ, you will not end up like these peasants when you grow up". When in all actuality, Jesus would have been one of the people on the lawnmower cutting the grass.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Nick

      At least we're not generalizing. I'm not sure what Catholics you've affiliated your experiences with. I think your perception can be seen across any denomination of religion. People have different degrees of piety and generosity. People everywhere have different perceptions of class structure. I find it extremely offensive to generalize an entire denomination of Christianity based on your personal opinions.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  6. Anne Woods

    I am Catholic and Jesus has always been central to the Church's teachings as I've experienced it. I don't get the people who say it's all a Mary focus. Yes, we hold Mary in great esteem as the mother of Jesus. But God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are who I was taught to worship. My personal relationship with Jesus thrives as a Catholic.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Omar

      Mary is dead in the ground. The apostles are dead in the ground. All waiting for that great day of the Lord. So then, who is it exactly that you pray too. "Come out of her my people" The harlot in Rome as taught the world to disobey Gods command and they willing obey the commands of Rome rather than those of their Creator. Sunday is the MArk of the Beast. look into it or suffer the plagues which will befall the uibelievers.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • OOO

      Explain your personal relationship with Jesus. You think to him silently, right? How does he communicate back?

      June 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • BobZemko

      Tell me, Anne. Would your friend Jesus condone misogyny, discrimination and his clergy abusing children?

      June 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      You forgot one. Jesus is dead in the ground.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  7. 8th E ist

    I left and it certainly wasn't for another set of fairy tales. With a little thought anybody can break the chains of indoctrination.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  8. Kevin

    I appreciate CNN's attempt to eradicate religion. Once it was made part of the mission statement, I thought it was weird that a news organization would take such a strong position because it is quite bizarre. But with the way "news" organizations have evolved into agenda-driven organizations, we have to face the facts that it's much more entertaining to have the CNN's and Fox News' do combat.

    We'll always have the BBC for when we need to know what is really going on without an agenda.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  9. pozin

    I was brought up Catholic and have not gone to church since I was 16 and am now 56. I am still Catholic at heart and met a lot of good priests and nuns and a few that were probably better at being grumpy then religious. I respect the Catholic church but think they lost everyone's respect and loyalty when they did not clean house and rid themselves of the pedophiles. If I were Pope I would have ex-communicated every priest, bishop, cardinal, and nun involved either directly or shuffling these low lifes around so they could prey on other kids. I would have then turned them over to the police. The church missed its chance to redeem itself and doubt they are serious to do so.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  10. Rick

    I am a Catholic, but it gets tougher every day. The pedifile situation will remain in my mind forever. The Bishops have become more political yet won't even support Catholics; the Bishops have no clue what is going on for people and their beliefs are going in a different direction than us Catholics. In our Diocese (NC) they spent $100,000 to support an anti-gay marriage proposal. Wouldn't that money have been used better to feed some of our hungry children? Now they want to build a palace of a church in Raleigh for ~$80 million. They are clueless. Old men who promote unwanted children by condemning contraception, yet they are against abortion. It's amazing that more Catholics haven't left the church.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • well said

      well said

      June 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Rick – I'm right there with you.. the bishop only has to put his name on an initiative for me to feel viscerally repulsed by it, these days. Check out Catholics United on Facebook, or Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good – you'll find many that you are not alone. Also, try a Franciscan parish near you – there are still those that stand up to the idiocy of the bishops these days.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  11. Susan

    I'm just tired of all the dead baby pictures, those billboards are littered all over the place around here. It spoils what should be a nice view, a nice cemetery, etc.... the church is just so single issue. There is more important stuff than what a woman does with her body, if the church would actually go out and try to do some good rather than try to regain control and FIXATE on this one issue, they would be a lot better off, imo. Every time I have to look at one of those billboards though, I just think, UGH... Catholic church. And roll my eyes. I hope they realize that is what they are accomplishing with that whole thing.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Kevin

      Why – what could be wrong with the baby pictures? Those pictures are just the trash after a medical procedure. Every pro-choicer will tell you it's no different than a fingernail clipping.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • pozin

      Susan – that is the one thing I respect about the Catholic church, there tenacity against abortion. I respect their stance that life believes at conception. I assume you are willing to abort children until the final trimester so why not up until high school – it could be they do not get a soul (if you believe in such things) until they turn 18. So why should we involve ourselves in anything that happens to a kid until they become an adult. I do not believe in such a thing but just making a point that your willingness to kill in the womb, some see as not much different as when outside the womb.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      Kevin & pozin – here's a clue: no one "supports" abortions. When you pro-life contradictions stop acting like life begins at conception and ENDS AT BIRTH, when you stop using abortion as a political wedge issue to shore up votes and show that you actually understand and act on ALL the complex issues at work, you might actually find others more sympathetic to your alleged cause.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Kevin

      Stereotyping bad (I know it's complex and so do many pro-lifers; life continues after birth...duh).

      Why would those pictures represent something more complex than medical waste? Rather than avoid the question, try answering it.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  12. George

    Bob – Your reply to this article is a perfect example of why I dislike republicans and would vote for Charles Manson over any republican running for any office. Have a blessed day.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      I second that.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  13. Bob D Iowa

    If Jews, Muslims and Christians all believe in the same God when that only tells me there isn’t a God but an economic development plan for each.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  14. QS

    "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."

    Translation – the indoctrination forced upon many of us as children leaves an impression akin to PTSD which can sometimes never be gotten rid of.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  15. Horus

    I have to admit, I did benefit a number of times from the Catholic Church. In high school the girls that attended Catholic schools always showed up at our parties ready to go ;-} And boy were they ready!

    June 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • mayflowerancestry

      You are probably one of those guys that forces yourself on women and will never have any idea how to please a woman in bed.
      Are you still taking advantage of young girls?

      June 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Horus

      Mayflower – you can't force the willing ;-}

      June 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  16. Mohammad A Dar

    Christianity is hinduism, paganism, denial of truth absolute, installed with fundamentals of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, 360* in to two parts, hindu filthy Pharaoh 50 % and his hindu filthy sanatan, goon priest other half, known as hindu pagan trinity, , also known as King as god and his hindu, filthy sanatan, goon prophet, fortune teller as god. Nothing but hinduism absurdity of hindu's. criminals to fool humanity.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      Yeah, well, equal opportunity here. You guys got yourselves a moon-god cult. Ilah, (Allah) was a phase of the moon-god. The Kabah was the Temple of the Moon God.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, ignorant, spewing his hinduism absurdities as truth absolute, Ellah, Ellohim or Allah have the same meanings , not a moon but, AL, The, LA, limit, H, most high or absolute, meaning The truth absolute 360*, un divide able. Foundation of existence, known to humen, HU, "HIS", Man, Mann to be correct, Desire since the time of Adam.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • ObammySucks

      Sorry CNN, Catholics still aren't voting for Barry 🙂

      June 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      Islam developed from the moon-god cult. It's just as ridiculous as Yahweh. Why was Allah never defined in the Qu'ran ? Becasue they all knew him as the moon god. You just never studied history. We can't help your ignorance.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      On the contrary – Catholics voted for Barry in large numbers in 08, and they'll continue to do so in '12 – because they aren't voting based on Catholicism alone. If they had, we wouldn't have had Mitt Romney beating Santorum (a Catholic) by large margins during the primaries.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  17. madonfan

    This is truth. If you believe in the bible this is for you and nobody else. If you take the Holy Bible, and read it, you see that denominations were not created by God, but by man. The bible does not mention sacraments, and Mary called God "her Savior". Only a sinful woman needs a savior. Peter was crucified on a cross and did not profess himself as the first pope. Christ is our hope. Not an organization. We are saved by grace through faith. If we believe that we have to sit in a box and confess to a priest in condemnation then what did Christ die for? We might as well let the priests atone for our sins. It really is plain as day to those who don't have scales on their eyes.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Bible is hinduism absurdity of hindu's, pagans of Egypt and Persia, full of hinduism, contradictions and twisted truth to promote fundamentals of hinduism with stolen personalities from Hebrew times. Way of hindu Magi Jews, filthy self centered, secular s to fool humanity, to be their gentile, slaves.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Mohammad A Dar your goats are calling you. Don't you have a sheep to sc re w in your 3rd world he ll?


      June 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Way of hindu', ignorant s like you, not of mine hindu, absurd.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  18. bob

    According to a 2008 poll a lot of you idiots thought obama was your savior. How about a story on way more that a 8% drop off in his followers. Everytime you liberals talk you put your fuking foot in your mouth.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Sad Truth

      And everytime you conservative evangelicals talk you put our fuking freedoms in the grave.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • bob

      you mean freedom like the freedom we have now as one nation under god? dont forget what our great nation was founded on

      June 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • OnlyOne

      No, it was YOU conservative idiots that called him a savior – because it made you feel superior with your barely adequate IQs to castigate others as naive. Don't be surprised that your polls and other various and sundry Faux News koolaid doesn't fly around here.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Dan

      Go away Bob, you troll. This article isn't even about politics and here comes one of you tea baggers to inject it anyways. By the way, Obama 2012!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      June 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • bob

      troll? what because I speak the truth. you all are brainwashed. liberals ruin everything they get their hands on. Cokc suckers

      June 19, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  19. 5thApe

    Go.... Its nothing but delusion anyway – like all religions are.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  20. Shermdog

    I have heard of many reasons for leaving, have faced the scorn of people that deride Catholics. Although I don't always agree with the church, I still use my upbringing as Catholic to practice my faith. Brick and mortar do not make a church, nor does a priest or anything else here on earth other than you. Read the bible yourslef...let it speak to you...take the whole thing, man's fallacies, struggles, sins, and punishment, redemption. Its about hope. I cannot get that from a church, or another person, I must dig deep for my faith and relationship with God. A Church and its teachings are only a path. We each must do the heavy lifting and must walk on the path.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
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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.