'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. Atheist Hunter

    "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." Matthew 24:44

    June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Dog is Good : P

      bring it on jesus freaks

      June 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      "I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I am."

      – Dr. Seuss.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      can animals go to heaven? we better start converting them quick or else we'll starve in heaven with no animals to eat

      June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  2. New Rule

    you can't say you worship jesus and then turn your back on those in need

    June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • TC

      That's pretty much every elected official we have – welcome to America.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  3. andyst

    I may be wrong but I think the point is that some people want to make their disbeleif in religion a personal attack on anyone that does. There is no need for that.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • placate

      It's not personal. It's about the belief.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Bob

      But it is equally true that the believers attack those who do not believe as they do.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • andyst

      Fair enough, my point was only to keep the discussion civil.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Hmmmm

      well, i think the problem is people that are religious want laws that reflect their beliefs, this isn't a theocracy, we are all free thinking men and women and shouldn't be forced to follow any one person's beliefs, there are however universal truths of right and wrong that we can agree on

      June 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Hmmm Don't you want laws that reflect your beliefs? Would you deny me that privilege solely on the basis of my religion?

      June 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  4. Grace

    I wonder if this article has anything to do with the Catholic Health Association coming out against Obamacare. Seems like lately CNN has made its sole mission to re-elect Obama.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Jesus Christ Superstar

      That's like saying, the police have made it their sole job to catch the bad guys. There's nothing wrong with doing what's right for America, or Amercia as you guys prefer.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • KMW

      Probalby Grace.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Katie

      Bingo. A hastily-written, perfectly-timed op-ed against Catholicism posted on their front page. That's pretty pathetic, CNN.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Ya think?

      June 19, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  5. Dionysis!!

    I will drown you with my wine!!!

    June 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  6. Colin

    Could a Catholic please explain to me which of the following is sillier and why?

    The wizard, dressed in his purple robe, raised the goblet of wine to the sky. He spoke the magic words of the ancient wizard's ceremony to the Sky Fairy in the heavens and the wine was turned into the blood of the great prophet.

    The Catholic priest, dressed in his purple robe, raised the chalice of wine toward the sky. He spoke the sacred words of the Catholic mass to God in heaven and the wine was transformed into the blood of Christ.

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

      What is silly is the arrogant atheist who thinks they can speak for others spiritual experiences. The mass is given in worship of the REAL god – just cause you don't believe doesn't make it not true.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Colin

      Well, you told me. HArd to refute that rock solid logic.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • TC

      That's your problem Colon – is you are so concerned about trying prove your point of view you don't stop your arrogance to respect others spiritual beliefs and experiences.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • OOO

      Arrogance is when you assert the truth without proof. Look in the mirror.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Adam

      TC's true statement: "just cause you don't believe doesn't make it not true"

      Adam's true statement: Just because you believe does not make it true.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  7. Poseiden's Revenge

    I'm going to smite you with my trident!!!

    June 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  8. no longer ex catholic

    This whole thread is sad. It perpetuates every stereotype of athiests and Catholics. Both of you need to stop shoving your beliefs down each other's throats. We live in America, and we have the right to worship or not worship however we please. It's not right for anyone to judge or poke fun at anyone else for their beliefs. I went to Catholic school as a child, and the school that I went to actually pushed me away from the faith. It is someone's own personal decision, and no one else can make that for him/her. I came back to the Church in later college years. I do not agree with 100% everything that the Church does, but I do agree with all the fundamental beliefs. That does not give me the right to bash someone who doesn't believe or doesn't belive in what i specifically believe in. It goes the same for the athiests too. Stop shoving your lack of beliefs down my throat. For the record, I also belive in evolution and creationism. One can not truly exist without the other. There is no real proof of the big bang theory, but there is definite proof that humans and apes evolved from the same ancestor.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • no longer ex catholic

      Also, the bible was written a really long time ago. One can not take the bible as pure fact in today's society. Take into account the time in which it was written. No one knew about dinosaurs or evolution.

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

      Curiously asking..
      What are the fundamental beliefs? I hear this a lot, but everyone I ask has a different set they consider to be the "fundamental" beliefs.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • LOL Religion

      No proof for the Big Bang?

      Now I cannot take anything you have to say seriously.

      How about cosmic microwave background radiation, time dilation in supernovae light curves, the Hubble deep field, the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect, the Integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect, the hom.ogeneity of stars and galaxies, etc, etc...

      June 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • no longer ex catholic

      The main thing that I believe in that differentiates Catholics is Transubstantiation. That I do belive in. I also belive in praying everyday, and I go to Church. I don't go to Church for fear of hell if i don't do. I go because I get spiritual fulfillment. I genuinely feel better after going to Church. The other beliefs are really just believing that Jesus died for our sins, being a good person, love thy neighbor, and all that jazz.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • miriam

      I totally agree, people talking about the Catholics is ridiculous. There's badness in every single religion, your actions and your faith is what's going to save you and not religion. People need to grow up and accept responsibility and not be acting like victims all the time, its what makes you WEAK!!!!!! I,m a Catholic and I believe in God, Jesus, and Angels. The rest of the world can spend time talking about how they were treated or what they were taught on their religion.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Steve

      He is correct. It is a theory, hence, by definition not factual with overwhelming proof.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Look up the usage of the word theory in the scientific community.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Yes, I agree. The CNN belief blog is a lightning rod for a subset of people who profess atheism to militantly attack people of faith.

      I believe faith deserves respect, but proselytizing, either on behalf of theism or atheism is offensive.

      Anyone who adheres to 'an eye for an eye' will get what they ask for.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  9. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Leave the Catholic church...it is a natural process in the intellectual evolution of man.

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

      Atheism is far from evolutionary – don't let your arrogance fool you.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  10. Robert Brown

    Why there are so many Christian denominations, Daniel 2:44, And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Joefrom bflo


      June 19, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      God foretold through the prophet Daniel the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the spiritual Kingdom of God. Jesus is the King and all believers are his subjects. He also told of the Kingdom breaking into many pieces and taking over the kingdoms of the world. Hence, all the denominations of Christianity.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  11. JennCoolva

    Why don't they talk about the abuses the nuns committed?

    June 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Because we are STILL afraid of them!!!!!

      June 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  12. orion

    grown ups and their imaginary friends...

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

      atheists and their arrogance

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

      I believe that stating something as true without evidence is arrogance.
      I believe saying I do not believe until supporting evidence arises is modesty.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • TC

      That's the problem isn't it? Everyone trying to prove something that is personal. While people can tell you about religion, you must experience the spiritual for yourself. Nothin arrogant about that. But your arogance about my peronal experiences is riduciulous.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Adam

      @TC Please see my response to you (which you ignored) on this topic on pg27. I know it didn't give you an opportunity to shoot off a zingy snipe, but I'd appreciate some sort of reply, as you seem very intent of foisting the "atheistic arrogance" and "Argument from Personal Experience" cards again and again.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
    • orion

      Your personal experience is just that.. personal. You are more than welcome to live out your blissful little fantasy where Caucasian, bearded deities created you with some special purpose.. but please keep it to yourself, keep it out of schools and government, and don't prance it around like its truth just because you FEEL it is.

      June 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  13. italianguy

    HAHAH religion is for FOOLS..You weak idiots need to look in the mirror and realize how dumb you are

    June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      I looked in the mirror and realized how dumb I was. I looked at Christ and realized he knew what he was about.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  14. OHHHHH No He Didn't!!!!!

    Zeus will strike you all down with a lightening bolt!

    June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  15. Sharon Svatik

    I am a convert to catholicism. I really never knew the love of Christ until I received him completely through the eucharist. I also never knew the suffering he did for me also. Too many people want the church to worship them and not for them to worship Christ. It is not all about "you feeling good". If you fell away you never took the time or effort to learn about and appreciate the gem and gift you had. It is only by taking up your cross like he said that you follow him. Church is not a party.
    PS- I had an anullment and never had to pay a dime. It was a voluntary donation.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      May the Peace and Love of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Madtown

      Are you special, relative to millions of other human beings on this planet who will never be exposed to the teachings of your church? If someone else has never heard of Christ, but are equal in human value to you, is it fair that they wouldn't have the opportunity to receive this gift that you have?

      June 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      No it is not fair. It is factual but it is not fair. Therefore we are commissioned to evangelize to the world the Gospel of Christ Crucified

      June 19, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Madtown

      Bill Deacon
      No it is not fair. It is factual but it is not fair. Therefore we are commissioned to evangelize to the world the Gospel of Christ Crucified
      Ludicrous. You'd never possibly reach everyone, nor is it your job. If you think it's your commission to evangelize to everyone, then you obviously think your way is the right way and the only way. It's preposterous, because if it really was the only way to God, then why doesn't God just let all his creations in on it? Why are you so special? God created all equal, every human walking the planet today. You are no better than anyone else, so why would you alone be privy to the great secret? The simple answer is: you are not special. You are not privy to any great secret. You do not have a responsibility to spread the word of God to all God's creations, that is God's job. If God considered the christian way the "right and only way", then he simply would allow all of the equal human beings that he created to be exposed to the message. To think otherwise is to showcase your ignorance, and your level of brainwashed indoctrination. How dare you think you're better than others, simply based on accident of birth? Arrogant fool.

      June 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  16. AverageJoe76

    Atheists and agnostics have a warm spot for Jesus. I know that I do at least. He's a wonderful character. Too bad the most of the faithful have totally exploited his fake image, and have saturated many structures with the instrument used to crucify him.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  17. J. Davis, Knoxville, TN

    Did you get my entry?

    June 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  18. lance corporal

    well let's review, at least 500 years of abusive behavior, massive corrunption and interference in governance and let's not forget serial abuse of children and aiding and abetting pedophiles......

    seems like a simple choice

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

      Marine – you just worry about defending religious freedom and let the 2000 years of wisdom guide the churches over your 20 somehting years of experience

      June 19, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • ohgran

      TC – The 2000 years of wisdom is being challenged, as it should, and exposed an questioned for all to see. It is the blind eye that refuses to see the light of day.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      ohgran which authentic teaching are you questioning? To be clear I'm not asking which made up teaching. Which teaching have you actually studied and questioned in depth?

      June 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  19. Clinton

    Amazing, CNN censors this part of it's blog more than any other. I'm not getting anything to post properly... responses etc. are not coming through. Must be an Atheist that moderates the board because every time i try to respond to a particular jab that an atheist made at me the post never comes through... making it pretty impossible to carry on a conversation... Not going to hang out very long on here, what a piece of garbabge blog system.

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

      It has nothing to do with Atheists. The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".
      • More than one web address will also activate “waiting for moderation”. Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.
      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".
      And said moderators still have not solved the chronological placement of comments once the number of comments gets above about 100. They recently have taken to dividing the comments in batches of 50 or so, for some strange reason. Maybe they did this to solve the chronology problem only to make comment reviews beyond the tedious.
      “Raison's Filter Fiber© (joking about the copyright)
      1. Here's my latest list – this seems like a good spot to set this down, as nobody's posting much on this thread.....
      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to post that wonderful argument:
      Many, if not most are buried within other words, but I am not shooting for the perfect list, so use your imagination and add any words I have missed as a comment (no one has done this yet)
      – I found some but forgot to write them down. (shrugs).
      c-um.........as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, etc.
      sp-ic........as in disp-icable (look out Sylvester the cat!)
      ho-mo...whether ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, etc.
      t-it.........const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, (an unexpected one)
      va-g....as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant
      ar-se....yet "ass" is not filtered!
      jacka-ss...but ass is fine lol
      p-is.....as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, etc.
      o ficti-tious, repeti-tion, competi-tion.
      There are more, so do not assume that this is complete.

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

      If that is the case i'm confused because i don't believe i used any bad words in my post. Oh well, it's not worth trying to carry on a conversation with people when your responses don't even go through...

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

      oh we got ourselves a long poster here – no one reads long posts.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      You sound like the typical uncivil "Christian."

      June 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      please let go of your paranoia. I understand that it can be frustrating not to be able to post and difficult to find the cause.

      Words like inst.tute, const.tution, ident.ty, c.mulative, acc.mulate all contain "rude" words that will case your post to be withheld. This is the likely cause.

      June 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  20. ohgran

    The Catholic Church is preaching the same today as they did twenty, thirty, forty, etc. years ago. It is as boring today and it was then. Teach the Bible and tell it in a way that it relates to TODAY. There is nothing wrong with modernizing the teaching so the young can understand. The Catholic Church will continue to lose membership as the elderly who feel they are too old to change (as I do) die and those younger continue to question the Church.

    June 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Teabagging for Jesus

      Catholics are so yesterday

      June 19, 2012 at 3:44 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.