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'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. joe dokes

    There's a reason people self-identify as "Recovering Catholics." For many of us, the thinking has been, "Christ's message – good. Church's actual practices – bad." When we see Rome telling people not to use condoms while at the same time caring little for helping poor people, we know they are simply hypocrites. Trashing American nuns for not towing the line in terms of Church policy has simply been the icing on the cake for us.

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

    In the years I've watched CNN, whenever issues related to the Catholic Church arise, they are quick and ready to pounce. Never has it talked about the millions who are helped by the church every day. In our own country, the church gives more to the poor and needy than any group other than the government. If Jesus talked about charity – there is no one on this planet who has given more than the church. The church has played a role in everything we do today – education, science, medicine, religion, immigration, civil rights and so much more. CNN needs to do a better job at being fair! I really wish I knew who was pulling the string at CNN.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • bob

      Finally someone who gets it!

      June 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Josh

      CNN is the left wing mouthpiece and has to counter anything the right wing (Fox News, the GOP) support. Religion, family, etc, are topics they must therefore counter. Anything they can find to trivialize Christianity, they will publish. It's just the unfortunate order of things. Society has become very partisan and pathetic.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Your dog is ma

      That is exactly what I was going to say.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • sam

      That same church is pushing back toward the dark ages. Civil rights my ass. Please.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Jesus

      The real Jesus would have nothing to do with this farce if he were here today.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  3. Willywomp

    It is easy to pick on anyone with whom we disagree and read articles showing their flaws. Remember it is not the Catholic Church committing these sins but some of the people associated with it. How many other persons of the religious, or social, legal, teaching, or any profession have been charged and found guilty of similar offenses?
    Atheist say there is not God and therefore they don't believe in religion. But isn't belief what religion is all about. If so believing there is no God doesn't that make it a religion in itself. Look what they have done to our system, no prayer in school, no God in the Pledge of Allegiance, no Nativity scenes on community property. This is the religion of they say unbelief taking over our country.
    Take it if you want it is not for me, not me.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  4. Russ

    Some people are made to be followers. The Church survives on them. Others choose to use the intelligence that they inherited and developed. I choose the latter.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  5. Lauren

    The scriptural basis for the Hail Mary comes from Luke 1:42. When expectant Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, the babe in her womb, John the Baptist "leapt for joy". And she spoke out with a loud voice and said "Blest art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."

    June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  6. Wanderer81

    CNN needs to step up and run a couple of negative articles about Islam. The "turn the other cheek" crowd are too easy a target. Seriously CNN...man up.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • bob

      They would never do that. They need all the minority followers to stay on board so they can push obama in 2012. Thats what this is all about.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  7. Still Healing

    I am an ex-Catholic but it is not because I "lost" faith, I think it's because I never really had much to begin with. I am a Native american who was put through Catholic School. I went to church never felling like I belonged there and very uncomfortable with my surroundings. It was not until my adult years that I quit going to church and began to learn about my own heritage and beliefs. Now I feel I have faith in myself and the Ojibwe beliefs. This may hold true for many Native Americans who were taken from their families and forced to go to mission schools where many were mistreated and abused. I am however, grateful that I have knowledge of the Catholic Church and the Religion. There are many life lessons to be learned from bible stories.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  8. Mike

    In the years I've watched CNN, whenever issues related to the Catholic Church arise, they are quick and ready to pounce. Never has it talked about the millions who are helped by the church every day. In our own country, the church gives more to the poor and needy than any group other than the government. If Jesus talked about charity – there is no one on this planet who has given more than the church. The church has played a role in everything we do today – education, science, medicine, religion, immigration, civil rights and so much more. CNN needs to do a better job at being fair! I really wish I knew who was pulling the string at CNN (Jews).

    June 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      "whenever issues related to the Catholic Church arise, they are quick and ready to pounce."

      Just like a Catholic Priest on confirmation day...

      June 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Josh

    CNN daily, futile attack on Christianity article. Too bad 75% of the U.S. declares themselves Christian. The number is increasing now with increasin latino immigration. Globally, religion is increasing, particularly with Islam. Keep trying, CNN 😉

    June 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Geraldo

      great job

      June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      That is a horribly depressing outlook. Not only are we getting fatter daily, but we are also getting less intelligent? Great. Idiocracy ... here we come.

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

      Nice try. Any other made up facts from your other orifices?

      June 19, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      Actually, a recent study said that a few years ago, 1 in 3 young people believed in God, and now I believe it's 1 in 5 young people believe in god. It's not that we don't care, but we have better things to worry about.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  10. JustaNormalPerson

    Organized religion is one of the strongest obstacles towards the true path to spirituality. God is not confined to one religion or one set of beliefs. The one truth about god is that god is truely incomprehensible. Everything else is man's projection of god.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  11. wazzugreg

    I gave up on religion years ago after being raised (forced) Catholic. Jesus probably did exist and was a good and kind man. Praying and believing in God, any God, makes people fell better psychologically and/or spiritually–good, no problem. But, how could a loving almighty God allow the people he supposedly 'loves' to bear such atrocities and injustices all over the world? If you had God's supposed power, would you let this happen? Would you not correct it and punish those responsible? And don't give me the eternal hell line. Prayer, has it really helped anything? Did it save your father from dying of cancer? Or did it get you that lottery ticket win? Did it bring your son out of a coma? Did it keep you from running out of gas in the middle of nowhere? Didn't think so. Unexplained 'miracles' usually have an explanation if your willing to listen.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • John_Galt

      Those are some great and normal questions. They sound like a great starting point for a dialog with your Heavenly Father. If you really listen, you will probably get the answers you are looking for.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • wazzugreg

      John-Really? He is going to talk to me directly? Or am I supposed to imagine he is talking to me through my mind? In which case I am supposed to rationalize the answers based upon unproven theology and faith spewed to me by 'Christians'? How sad. When God tells me directly why my wife, the most loving and kind person I know, has breast cancer, my son was born with a significant physical/mental disability that has altered his life, my wife's favorite special ed student died at 8 years of age, my good college friend was shot execution style in an armed robbery at his work place, or why so many other of the tragedies and afflictions experienced by myself and all others were allowed to happen-then I'll believe.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  12. bob

    So this article is written to save catholics right? What is the point? The catholic religion is not going anywhere. The guy who wrote this article is a hipster liberal who all he does is slam the catholic church in his articles. Sorry the church doesnt agree with your gay marriage ways. If it did you and the rest of the biased media would back off. Losers.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Interested48

      How Christian of you!!!

      June 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • sam

      Sounds christian.

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

      god bless you both

      June 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Automatic translator

      bob: "God bless you both."
      Translation: "Fuck you."

      June 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  13. sosume

    This is a very odd article. In every example of a person leaving the church, the person converts to a different christian sect. Were there no people at all who simply lost their faith or became atheists or agnostics or buddists or ??? You would think that christianity did not lose a single person. If they exist (and lets face it, they do) what transformation did they go through? What are their views? We are left to wonder.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      honey, we're right here.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
  14. Dexter

    Read the history of the Catholic church. People first of all do not understand except for the few as to discerning Gods will. Secondly women played an instrumental role in Christianity. There are many cases in the Bible where they prophesied, preached and teached, lovers of God, Read accounts such as Sarah, Mary, Naomi and numerous other who were faithful followers. People today have decided what is convienient for them, what suits their needs and requirements, what they believe is right verses wrong with total comphehensive disregard on how the Creator, Jehovah God feels about matters through his word the Bible.

    You only have to look at history. (a) Catholic churches and numerous others are bloodguilty the evidence is irrefutable. (b) The doctrines of the church are incorrect and false which the evidence again is irrefutable. (c) The church has blessed more wars and again are bloodguilty. (d) Christ did not die on the cross, the evidence is irrefutable and proven (e) Ask any Catholic what they know about the Vatican, they tell you not very much. Consider the weath and power they possess, is that in line with what our true God expects, hardly. (f) Matt 24:14 says Preach the Good News of the Kingdom........ What Catholic is doing that in fulfillment of Christs commands. (g) The trinity, one of the foremost teachings of the Catholic church is totally false, again the evidence is irrefutable and proven. (h) The understanding that everyone is going to heaven, hardly, God has a wonderful plan for the future for those who do his will. Read Isaiah chapter 65, Read Rev 21:4, Read Prov 22:4, Psalm 37:11. There are numerous scriptures in the Bible that fortell of a future when the earth will be a paradise again occupied by loving loyal respectful dedicated human subjects that will live forever as quoted in John 17:3. They will have free will, but will respect the creator and life which the Catholic church and its history has not demonstrated. The resurrection foretold by Christ is significant. Read John 5:28

    If you say you are a Catholic, you need to reexamine what your faith really teaches, its history and whether it truly is acceptable to our grand creator Jehovah God.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      You can't possibly be looking in THAT book for "truth" and "history" are you ?

      June 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Papi Mike

      don't you have a tv series on HBO? I really like it alot! as far as "your" views on Christ-my advice to you- stick with television-AND STOP KNOCKING ON MY DOOR! thanks!

      June 19, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  15. Libdumb

    What is so sad is that the people conveying all this stuff don't have a clue themselves. they are just sheep being led by the hierarchy. of the physical Church. It is all about control. I do believe in a Creator but can't just accept the words of some of these folks. Relate to today not some words of a thousand years ago, more or less.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Interested48

    Go. As fast as your legs can carry you. People, think for yourselves. Don't let any organization control your life. If you choose to believe in myth, that's fine but don't try and proclaim it as fact. All religions are based on myth. The sooner people understand this the better off we'll be.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Libdumb

      I have no issue with what you said but your final sentence says that 'the better off WE will be". That is your myth. You can't prove your belief either and on top of it you try to impose that belief on others to include those that do blieve.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  17. Russ

    I WAS a Catholic when I was a kid, but over the years changed to a non believer in God or anything after death. I believe man created God to fill the voids in his ability to understand things. All religions provide answers, but if you go back and reread the texts of any religion, they don't make sense in this day and age, but science, and academic study has shown much of it to be wrong. Here is but one example. The Star of Bethlehem moved across the sky and shown down on the manger. Really? Stars do not move. The world turns. At the time, they had no clue about space, astronomy, or anything sceintific, yet people persist in believing the myths. The question then occurs, which myths do I choose to believe and which ones not? With something so important, you shouldn't believe any of them. IMO

    June 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Rob

      To this day navigation by stars is done thru a geocentric point of view. i.e. the stars move and the earth stays still. Gallileo tried to change this but sailors kept getting lost at sea, so the geocentric view point remained.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  18. aFriend

    We are all missing the point!!!!! Why do we need religion? BECAUSE WE HAVE AN IMMORTAL SOUL, THERE IS A HEAVEN AND WE WANT TO GET THERE AFTER THIS LIFE, TO LOVE GOD FOREVER!
    The problem is among US for we can't decide who is right. Why are we doing this? God himself, personified in Jesus gave us the path, directions by founding ONE church. Regardless of many mistakes (made by man, always by man), problems, injustice, lack of work, sometimes mediocre preachers and scandals, The Catholic Church is and always will be the one founded by Christ and the depository of the Sacraments which are the way to God. There have been really bad people in the Church throughout 2000 years of history, but also real Saints at a million to one. Religion is not a buffet where I pick and choose what I like. Maybe there could be things in my Church that I dislike, starting with the idea of self sacrifice to earn grace, but to question the Holy teachings given by the ONE God (in any of His forms, inspirations or creations) is nothing but PRIDE, which is in this light a great sin and the beginning of all other separations. Can it be more clear?

    June 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      Where exectly is your immortal soul ?

      June 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @aFriend

      Actually, thinking that you have some divine insight to some amazing "truth" when your denomination is one of thousands is more prideful than anything else. Funny part is, replace Catholic church with any other denomation and it's believers will be indistinguishable from your drivel.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • colliemom

      I remember this preaching nonsense.....I remember asking a reasonable question of a priest as a child of about 10, and was told "either you believe everything or you believe nothing". To me, meant if there was anything I didn't believe in Church dogma, than everything was wrong. So.....I looked around and decided I didn't believe anything. At 60, still agree with this decision. The Catholic Church preaches it is the one truth faith; pounds in that all other religions are wrong. I didn't like the arrogance then and still don't. There is value if religion can bring warmth or comfort to your life; the Catholic Church brought meanness, arrogance, hostility, guilt and harshness. Gee...you think there's maybe a good reason people grow up and out of it? If we were gifted with a brain by God, then I'd think he/she expects us to use that brain and think things through, not to just blindly follow something someone else tells us.

      June 19, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  19. kevin3g

    Astonishing how so many people feel the need for dogma, rules, costumed clerics and preposterous myths in order to feel "close to god." Such little actual faith. Could we evolve past this?

    June 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • reality

      nice oxymoron 🙂

      June 19, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  20. Famous

    And the Jehovah's Witnesses are really competing with the Mormons for the most annoying people in the world. Stop knocking on my door!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Dexter

      You have a total misunderstanding as to Jehovah;s Witnesses preaching work. For one thing the apostle Paul, Timothy, Philip, Barnabas, John, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and numerous others had one thing in common, they loved their creator, respected their creator and fulfilled the creators will by proclaiming God's universal soverign government. Matt 6:33

      Furthermore Christ comissioned his followers in the Ist Century to go therefore and make disciples of all men. Matt 24:14 quotes preach the Good News Of the Kingdom to all Nations and then the end will come. Notice preaching and teaching is part of our responsibility as Christans. The challege for most they have minimal understanding of what that entails. Whether its informal witnessesing, knocking on doors, calling on the telephone, having a discussion with someone at a bus stop or just someone in a coffee shop. The responsibility of true Christians who have an accurate knowledge of the truth in the Bible will continue to fulfill Matt 24:14 with or without you in all due respect.

      For the record they ridiculed Noah when he built the Ark. They persecuted Paul, They spit on Jesus and the list goes on and on and on. They will continue in a respectful manner to knock on your door, for just as the days of Noah were so are the days today for a warning of the destruction of this old world, its evil, wickedness and people who have complete disregard and disrespect for Jehovah God's creation will face when God's day comes destruction. The bible is clear for it states in Dan 2:44 God will establish an everlasting kingdom (Government).

      If you hate someone calling you at your home, then with an open heart and open mind to the accurate truth, you do respect and like truth don't you? allow yourself at least one opportunity to fully get your questions answered satisfactorily, Allow yourself to at least explore the truth rather than profoundly saying something negative. The figurative heart in the scriptures identifies the true inner feelings of a person and your creator Jehovah God knows how you really feel. Kind Regards

      June 19, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
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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.