'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. TG

    The Catholic church began with Constantine, but was fully implemented with Emperor Theodosius I in 381 C.E. The hot subject was concerning Jesus being equal to the Father, and those who believed that Jesus was not equal to God even came back into favor for a time after Constantine. But later Emperor Theodosius (Emperor 379-95) decided against them. He established the creed of the Council of Nicaea as the standard for his realm and convened the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E. to clarify the formula.

    Emperor Theodosius I banned paganism and imposed Trinitarian “Christianity” as the State religion of the Roman Empire. With adroit precision, French historian Henri Marrou wrote: “By the end of the reign of Theodosius, Christianity, or to be more precise, orthodox Catholicism, became the official religion of the entire Roman world.” Orthodox Catholicism had replaced true Christianity and had become a “part of the world.” This State religion was vastly different from the religion of Jesus’ early followers, to whom he said: “You are no part of the world.”(John 15:19)

    The Catholic church is built on man-made traditions, not the Bible. It is as Jesus told the Jewish religious leaders: "It is in vain that they keep worshiping, because they teach commands of men as doctrines." (Matt 15:9) It has created a clergy-laity class or hierarchical system, whereby positions range from priest to pope, as well as teaching religious falsehoods, such as the trinity, immortality of the soul, hellfire, plus the massive corruption and blood guilt that it has accrued over the centuries of its existence, such as Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia, pope 1492-1503)

    The Catholic church is as Jesus gave in an illustration of "Lazarus and the Rich man", whereby Lazarus pictured the common people or am-haarets (Hebrew meaning "people of the land") and the rich man pictured the Jewish religious leaders who fed the Lazarus class spiritual "crumbs".(Luke 16:19-21)

    June 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • TC

      Not quite historically accurate and your post is way too long

      June 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      A little too historically accurate for some it seems.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      They were all hindu's, deniers of truth absolute and followers of hindu Mithraism, pagan savior ism, hinduism, absurdity called Christianity is nothing but justification of hinduism, pagan ism by corruption of teachings of Hebrews.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Nasus

      I left the RCC after 40 years in it. Too much guilt and shame within the faith.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  2. God told me you're all full of it


    June 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Ya, your goad, belly told you, word god is short of word goad, belly, every hindu ignorant prays to as deity. nothing but hinduism absurdity of hindus, ignorant s.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  3. Lendog

    It's funny how one can ridicule people of faith and accept science as fact. The truth is science is good, but it's not absolute.
    Scientist too act on faith. Faith that there is a solution to a problem. The scientist then try to figure the problem out. If they can't do it right away they continue on faith that they will find a solution until the problem is solved. Atheist act as if they know it all, the same way that religions act as if they know it all. Nobody really knows if there is a god,however, one can feel inside himself if he wants to accept such a notion. If he does accept this he is acting on faith. If he doesn't he is acting on faith. Although he may say it's reason. If one insists he only acts on reason, then we must put into account that it's human reason he is using, therefore his reasoning can be faulterd, being he is useing human reason ,which we all know can be incorrect.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Atheism is a religion

      dont tell an atheist this..they become violent and filled with rage..

      or they will just call you a troll

      June 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • HighWire

      Man, there are so many things wrong in susch a small place. We would need a page or two to break this down and expose the problems.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Chuckles

      My favorite part was when you attempted to equate the "faith" of a believer knowing that god exists vs. the "faith" of a scientist who believes there is an answer to a problem.... because clearly those two things are equal and thus you are able to compare people of faith vs. people of science

      It's cute to see you people attempt to twist words and definition to bring scientists down to your level because you know you'll never be able to get to ours.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  4. Super double real, extra not fake god - ie the real god


    June 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  5. Honey Badger Dont Care

    There is absolutely NOTHING that can be done in the name of religion that cant be done through purely secular means. The only difference is that there is less corruption.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  6. kenny

    religion is a tool created by men to control other men .... guy comes up with some good ideas for how people can live and let live and either he is declared a savior or says the savior told him these ideas and the reward for following these ideas (cause you can't make people do anything) is forever life in paradise.... and a religion is born... why do we have sooo many religions??? cause we got lots of guys comin up with lots of good/bad ideas on how they wanna CONTROL each other... THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION IS.... there is no god and when you die that's it... nothing... just like before you were born YOU WILL CEASE TO EXIST FOR ALL TIME... and the good news is... you won't even know it... SO LIVE AND LET LIVE...

    June 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • TC

      Atheism is a tool created by men to let them answer to no one but themselves and have the arrogance to tell other people that what they encounter spiritually is not real and then post on forums that is on a topic that has nothing to do with thier non-belief.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • bigdil

      I think TC is a self-created "tool."

      June 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • TC

      Wow – great comeback bigdil – you are the arrogance i speak of.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Adam

      Hey TC, since we're trading definitions, I'll give mine:

      Atheism is merely the noises that reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.

      As to your point about personal experience, one cannot deny another's personal experience (and you are right to criticize these people). However, when one uses ones subjective experience to make an external claim regarding the nature of the universe, that is where one has overstepped the boundaries of reason. To say that one experiences sublime joy in Church is a perfectly acceptable statement. To then say that this experience is the direct result of intercessory action of a supernatural agent who works invisibly in altering the universe as we know it.... Well, TC ol' boy, that is where you're lying. And lying is bad. And I don't have to supplicate myself before a celestial dictator to know that is True.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • bigdil

      A tool with no sense of humor apparently.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Michael Murphy

      So Mother Theresa became a nun on the streets of Calcutta to get power?

      June 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  7. thinkhere

    i stopped considering myself catholic by my 30s and then slowly realized that i don't believe in any of the religions. all the major religions have books written by men creating a male god, setting men up above women and socially/culturally allowing/fostering horrific acts against people of their choosing. a much deeper conversation is needed that goes beyond these books to what is obvious to me... that there is no male or female god...only the all, all all and all nothing...that there is an egotism to any religion that sets a special holiness to some humans over others or to humans above other creatures. the immensity of existence is so beyond what we can imagine that we narrow our beliefs to such a ridiculous set of arguments based on one book or another. what if we throw out all the books, use our heads, our common sense and our ability to cooperate to rule ourselves without this destructive silliness? then the bishops, the imans, the priests, the ministers, the holy posers would all just be another human with no power to bully and dictate what the universe is all about. until then, i just shake my head at any of you who use any book to prove how someone must act or think or what is going to happen to any of us after we die.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • BoundTorturedAlterBoy

      I agree totally

      June 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  8. Atheists get out

    Eat sh!t and die, atheists!

    June 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • BRC

      Where's that guy who said only atheists make mean spirited posts?

      June 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      Oh no, you hurt out feelings. Maybe we should all go and cry to our man in the dress who touches little boys. Oh wait, that's the Catholics...

      June 19, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • AverageJoe76

      .... well, glad I am agnostic. I hate the taste of s_hit. And I was trying to prolong the whole 'death' thing, y'know?

      June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      I am a level 6 laser lotus

      June 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  9. Extra "Real" Not Fake God

    Religion is the opiate of the weak

    June 19, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • TC

      Atheism is the arrogance of the close minded

      June 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • God told me you're all full of it

      Good one TC, and people of religion are so open minded bahahahahaha

      June 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • TC

      A true christian who practices love and compassion is much more open minded than an atheist.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  10. Kate

    I am Catholic and attend a wonderful vibrant church. Every time we move, we church hop among different Catholic churches trying to find one that fits us. The closest Catholic parish to our current home is not welcoming and in general just gives off a weird 'holier than thou' vibe. We drive 30 minutes to attend church. Maybe some of the Catholics who ditched their church and hopped around other faiths should have tried a new Catholic church first. Every parish is different.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  11. drb

    I also consider myself born again.. I'm now an Atheist.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  12. AverageJoe76

    You want to hear God laugh? Tell him your plans. You want to hear ME laugh? Let me catch you, telling God your plans.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  13. cybercmdr

    Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful - Seneca the Younger

    June 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  14. Colin

    Catholics really are the weak kid at school when it comes to silly superst.itions. You don't want to beat up on them, but some of the Dark Ages nonsense they believe is just so funny, it's hard not to. One of my favorites is confession.

    The idea is, you whisper your "sins" to a priest. He says some magic word, and does some magic hand symbols. He then tells you to recite some prayers. You go outside and pray silently and a being that supposedly created the entire Universe (the same being that is upset about your sins in the first place) reads your mind and forgives you. Had you not gone through this ritual, he would be still mad at you. Apparently, being powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, and being at least 13,700,000,000 years (age of Universe) does not stop him having purely human emotions over the behaviour of an individual human on one of "his" planets.

    Ya gotta love the Catholics, the way a good comedian loves the latest stooge to appear on the National political stage

    June 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Jeff from Columbus

      Yes, that's exactly how Reconciliation works.

      (Shakes head...laughs...walks away)...

      June 19, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • TC

      What is hilarious is someone like you espousing an opinion but you are completely uneducated on the subject.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Colin

      OK TC, what did I get wrong?

      June 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • BRC

      Other than the fact that Colin forgot to explicity say that when the person says they're sorry they have to really really mean it and intend to never do it again, how is he wrong?

      June 19, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • TC

      This is not the proper forum t oeducate you on sacramental theology.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Colin

      BRC, if my experience is anything to go by, Tim will (i) disappear from the thread; (ii) focus on my personality flaws; (iii) say the ritual of confession is "too deep" for mortals to understand; or (iv) just rehash Catholic doctrine without addressing anything I said.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Colin

      And there you have it, TC (not Tim, sorry) bows out. I was right with option number 1. In truth, he has no answer, because I described this ludicrous ritual perfectly, it just sounds absurd when you call it for what it is.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • BRC

      It was an interesting fashion of backing out as well, since this is actually an excellent forum to better educate people on the meaning and execution of sacraments.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Michael Murphy

      Colin-say you and I were the best of friends. If we got mad and I slapped you in the face and cursed at you, then was sorry for it, wouldn't you want me to come and say I'm sorry? You would know I was, but it wouldn't it be much more meaningful for our friendship if I came and owned up for what I did and we could move past it? Confession works in a similar way. It is an opportunity to tell God (through a priest, "altus christus") we are sorry, that we recognize we sinned and want to do better and grow in our relationship with Him.
      Furthermore, Confession, like so much else in today's Catholic Church, is something that goes back much further than the Dark Ages, all the way back to the time of the apostles and early Church. If you do a quick google or wikipedia search, that won't be hard to verify.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • gibbongirl

      As a Catholic, this is one sacrement I never understood. As a kid, it's terrifying. You end up making up sins because you forget your list of real ones as soon as you walk into the confessional. Adult confessions are more like conversations except for the very beginning and the very end. And from the priests comments and suggestions, it's obvious they have no clue what I'm talking about. Maybe its because I'm a married woman with kids, three things they've never experienced. I'm thinking that God is powerful enough to extend grace upon me when I ask him for forgiveness directly. As long as your sincere and you ask forgiveness, I think God's got this one covered.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Michael Murphy

      I was right there with you...never got the gist of confession when I was younger. But if you don't understand it and, how can it make sense? Perhaps you should explore this sacrament more deeply and find the fruit that comes from a good confession as I did! Check this out- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cun9F-XCang

      June 19, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  15. mikep

    Among the MANY things wrong with christianity..Why is Jesus, who is God and knows he's going to heaven to be God forever, dying a mortal death such a sacrifice?? I know of many who have died more horrible deaths for much less

    June 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Adam

      I'll answer that:

      Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice (merely tweaked slightly from the thousands of cults/religions/civilizations that practiced human sacrifice for the the thousands of years previous).

      June 19, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  16. Tim

    Everyone is always so obsessed with the Catholic Church. I am a member and love my church. Why do you care so much about the RCC if you aren't a part of it? It's very strange why so many non- believers and non Catholics comment on something they know nothing about.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Adam

      The answer is pretty easy, Tim.

      The RCC is complicit in the suffering and ongoing deaths of millions of human beings suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Colin

      Hmmmm, let me think. I got it!!

      (i) a woman’s right to an abortion;
      (iii) medical immunization of teen girls (and boys) against HPV;
      (iv) assisted suicide;
      (vi) gay marriage;
      (vii) my right to view art and theatre deemed “offensive,” “blasphemous” or “obscene” Catholics;
      (viii) basic $ex education for older school children;
      (ix) treating drug abuse as principally a medical issue;
      (x) population control;
      (xi) buying alcohol on a Sunday in many places;
      (xii) use of condoms and other contraceptives;
      (xiii) embryonic stem cell research;
      (xiv) little 10 year-old boys joining organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, regardless of the religious views of their parents ; and
      (xv) gays being allowed to serve openly in the military.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • BRC

      I was going to go with, because the Catholic church tries to force its way into the US legal process and drive the creation of laws that support its own religious agenda, that is not shared or recognized by all of our citizens. But Adam's answer is pretty good too.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Brad

      Well Tim. The RCC tries to insert itself and it's teaching into all of our lives. So why would we non Catholics be concerned with what's going on in the catholic church? They try to run our political system, we need to stay abreast of what they are doing.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • KMW


      They are ignorant and have nothing going on in their lives.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  17. dharmic

    It is truly sad, that we demand rational answers in all spheres of life except in religion. Religion is reduced to a set of belifs that can not be questioned. Religion in a truer sense is supposed to help transcend rationality and not squash it. East has realized this long time ago and that is why their culture gives full freedom to question all beliefs till no doubts remain. Freedom of expression, scientific inquiry should be made as basic training as part of religious education.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • DeeCee1000

      Are you female? . . . because according to the Christian "bible" you should not be allowed to have any say-so in church affairs. Either way you BLASPHEME by questioning anything the pope teaches! How DARE you! ! ! He is INFALLIBLE dam*it! . . .and don't you forget it!

      June 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Michael Murphy

      Papal Infallibility doesn't mean the pope can say the Sox are going to win tomorrow and they will. It rather refers to dogmas of the church and in the Catholic Church's 2000 + year history, it has been used only 7 times, and in all instances, only in matters pertaining to the faith. It is not used on a regular basis/day to day stuff.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  18. Mohammad A Dar

    Word Catholic is corruption of word of Sanskrit, Katha, meaning gathered to gather or compounded, It is nothing but hinduism, criminality of hindu's, criminals of Egypt and Persia by subordination and corruption of truth to hindu pagan fundamentals, called Mithra ism, savior ism. handy work of hindu Jew's, criminal secular s to impose themselves as god's. Pharaoh's and their hindu santans, filthy goons.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  19. houbie

    I believe in God and also that he has a sense of humor.

    Why else would we have eyebrows? What's with the hair above the eyes? It makes no sense. And then some of us wax them, pluck them, shave them. God must really double over when he sees that.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • lolol

      Eyebrows serve several functions:
      To keep dust and dirt from falling into our eyes. to aid in communications.
      The eyebrows play a part in how we use facial expressions and can signal anger, surprise, humor, etc.
      Tp protect the eyes by reducing the intensity of highly luminated light.

      Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_purpose_of_eyebrows#ixzz1yGjOXEGm

      June 19, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  20. J. Davis, Knoxville, TN

    CNN, why was my comment not published?

    June 19, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      Obviously God hates you

      June 19, 2012 at 3:48 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.