'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. Horus

    CNN I would like to thank you for continuing to present factual articles about religions so that people can weigh these facts accordingly. Great Job....keep it up!

    June 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  2. nolimits3333

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Monsignor Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître 17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven. He was the first person to propose the theory of the expansion of the Universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble. He was also the first to derive what is now known as the Hubble's law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble's article. Lemaître also proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his 'hypothesis of the primeval atom'. As he was a secular priest, he was called Abbé, then, after being made a canon, Monseigneur.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      So let Jesus fly you to Heaven and you can't lose!

      June 19, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  3. WDinDallas

    Boy, CNN is just hammering Catholics. Guess that is in defense of their Messiah. This has been the longest persecution of anything or person I have seen in my 50+ years. Guess the Democrats have figured out that they lost the Catholic vote this time around. They can say it is birth control, pro-life, etc....but the Church has not changed their views on that in the past 4 years.

    Looks like we better not vote for Obama. We don't want to be persecuted for another 4 years.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • nolimits3333

      The Catholic Church is more interested in preventing contraception than preventing pedophillia.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      "Looks like we better not vote for Obama. We don't want to be persecuted for another 4 years."

      Yeah. The last thing Catholics want is to grant freedom of religion to others. THAT would be evil.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • sam

      So now Obama is responsible for crap in an opinion section of CNN? Jesus, please. If that's your mindset...don't ever vote again, period.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Horus

      In 50+ years...really? Get out much? Civil rights? Women's Rights? just to name a few that might be a bit more persacutory than CNN's article....just saying.....

      June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      I'm sure WDinDallas would call the splinters in his hands persecution after finishing a few tree lynchings...

      June 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  4. Observer974

    Go! If you cannot agree with the moral stance of Christianity, there is no place for you in the church. Liberals are moral relativists. They want to decide what is right or wrong, invent their own system of morality (which is why you have them claiming that denying human caused "global warming" is a hate crime, that voting for Obama is some sort of moral obligation, have them justifying the cold blooded murder of thousands of innocent civilians in drone attacks is perfectly okay). Liberal claiming to be Christians, who pick and chose what they will accept as wrong or right, are moral relativists, too. They are simply too cowardly to accept that fact. So, quit the Catholic church, quit any and all religion, divorce God - you cannot be a Christian and be a liberal or even a Democrat.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • The GOP need to pack up and leave

      Jesus was a liberal.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  5. Sarda

    God is ONE. We are SOUL and are eternal. There is an eternal religion for everyone.. Vedas and Puranas are eternal scriptures....If we really want to learn who the GOD is, search for a real Saint then we will learn who the GOD is and What is our purpose of life.
    Please Read “the Philosophy of Divine Love”, by Swami Prakashanand Saraswati. It’s awesome!

    June 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  6. TheBob

    Religion is on its death throws. People are waking up to the age-old scam.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      But Jesus Christ is alive and well!

      June 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • kate

      Nope, but I can tell you we are seeing a polarization between the very religious and non-religious in america. The middle of the road people are disappearing.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Mass Debater

      Well, if all the religious will let their Gods do the destroying and judging then the rest of us have a good chance of survival, if they continue to be impatient and take matters into their own hands... again, then we are still in a heap of trouble.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  7. Partyman JG

    why did I leave? because it never did ANYTHING for me. Did I "find" another faith? No. Why? it's all a sham. I'm a happy born-again Atheist (Swear to God! HAHAHAHA). It's all about fables and magic tricks. No proof. 2,000+ years of nothing. Why do people still even bother? Don't even get me started on all the translations over the years from language to language. I was raised by wonderful parents, I know right from wrong, and obey the laws of the land. It's that simple. Quit wasting my time with all this "Christ" nonsense. Let's talk about the 11th commandment. "Thou Shalt Leave Me Alone!"

    June 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  8. Atheist Hunter

    There is one way to Heaven and God. Jesus Christ! No other way.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      What kind of a person convinces themselves that childish fairy tales are true, with the sole purpose of feeling superior to others?? Weak-minded people... Time for you to grow up.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • karl

      Have fun in heaven. An eternal place will eventually get boring not to mention all the lame peopel up there... I rather go to heck... well.... of course if either of them even existed which they dont fyi

      June 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      I'm not superior. God is! I'm sure my creator has something for me to do to pass the time that will be much better that eternal torment. Thanks.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • Dan

      You make no sense at all. Are you a grown person that still believes in fairy tales?

      June 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  9. Doctor

    That is true of all religions that are not based on oppression.
    Catholicism like others are population control tools, and people are beginning to realize that.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  10. Dan

    They leave when their brains fully develop.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  11. greg1466

    So with a magic spell, she went from Being Catholic to Born Again? Talk about going from the frying pan to...another frying pan. Trading one delusion for another is not really an improvement.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Dana

      It's all magic and make-believe anyway.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  12. bill dunn

    born and raised a Catholic, and educated in all Catholic schools, its hard to remain with a Church that gives promotions to pedophiles and elects as its Pope an ex Nazi who preaches in the poorest countries in the world that birth control is a sin.
    no, having children that will starve and die from disease is the sin.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  13. Brad Karelius

    The Pew Research has also shown that many other Christians changed denominations several times in a life time. As an Episcopal priest for 41 years (now retired) my experience is that Americans see their faith connection more to a local church/parish than a denomination. Research that I have seen shows that most RCs in America tend to focus on the local parish. I also attend my local RC Church in Laguna Niguel CA frequently. The sermons are Biblical and inspiring, the music and worship very spirit filled. I often leave with my heart moved to tears of joy..

    June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I would agree. The choice of religion in the US has become more of a shopping trip than an exercise in faith.

      The sense of ent.tlement to have anything you want feeds this. For many ,it becomes faith as a sense of identi.ty and belonging more than a belief. People defend this ident.ty vigourously.

      It is no surprise that megachurches offer health clubs and day care facilities in the hunt for new shoppers/parishioners.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  14. JudgeDB

    I was raised Catholic. I stopped going to church as soon as my mother stopped making me. Once I got out into the real world, I quickly realized that there is very little room within the church for people who like to ask questions. Personally, I was never satisfied with answers to the tune of "because god said so" or "because god made it that way". Granted, they are a bit more contemporary than some other sects with regards to science, but overall they still subscribe to a belief in something that can't be proven. On top of that, the church's views of things like birth control are monumentally backwards and damaging to entire populations (Mexico, Africa, etc). There is something to be said about people who refuse to question their beliefs simply because they grew up with those beliefs, and make poor decisions about social policy based on unfounded beliefs. That, and Catholic mass is the most boring thing you can waste an hour on every week.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  15. We know the truth...

    Good people will always do good things, and bad people will always do bad things... But in order for good people to do bad things, you need religion.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Ck

    The Independent Catholic movement is providing an answer for Catholics who have an affinity to the denomination but crave reform. United American Carhilc Church.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Ck

      That is United American Carholic Church.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Ck

      Auto correct is killing me. Catholic!

      June 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  17. Damien

    Born, raised and still practicing Catholic. Frankly, I think the greatest threat to the Church is our present Pope. John XXIII must be spinning in his crypt.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Delusions 3:15

      How stupid is this. He believes that the Holy Spirit works in his church, but just not this time. Bwawawahaha.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  18. Frank

    Part of the reason people are leaving the Catholic church is the fact that the media has crucified them and dragged them through the mud mercilessly for the past 2 decades or so because they won't give in to the liberal agenda on gays. It's the same exact thing that's happened to the Boy Scouts of America and any other group that doesn't go with the flow on social issues.

    June 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • SAC

      No, those are YOUR issues. I think most people want a Christian church to be well, Christian.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • MK

      That tends to happen when you don't accept large groups of people.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • JudgeDB

      I'd say the Catholic church's views on gays is a deserving of criticism. People talk about faith and beliefs, well I refuse to believe that if Jesus came down to Earth right now that he would agree with the bigoted views of gays that the Catholic church currently holds. The same thing was said of blacks in the past, but now they are accepted. Jesus preached acceptance and forgiveness, but these days people only seem to be forgiving and accepting of themselves and their own misguided beliefs.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • The GOP need to pack up and leave

      Ghandi is credited with saying something that is so profound and true. "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

      June 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  19. Gandalf

    If thou does not return to the worship of the Valar, the right and true creators of all worlds, then thou shalt be cast down into the abyss with Melkor!! Only ours is the right religion! Do you really want to take the chance that you are wrong? Melkor will not go easy on your souls, and all you have to do is live a life dedicated to the light and the magic of the elves and worship Iluvatar by dressing up in costume and attending renaissance fairs and playing D & D on Sundays...that's all you have to do to avoid being turned into one of Saurons minions, do you really want to risk it?...

    June 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Vinz Clortho, Keymaster

      Gozer the Traveler. He will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, the traveler came as a large and moving Torg! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, they chose a new form for him: that of a giant Slor! Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

      June 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Eru Iluvatar is the one, the creator of Eä and the lord of the Valar.

      I find your choice of Tolkein's mythology here quite ironic. Tolkein was a devout Roman Catholic – a somewhat represessed minority in Anglican England in the early 20th century.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Sorry – "Tolkien"

      June 19, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Gandalf

      Ironic or apropos?

      I think my maker knew very well the folly of pascals wager, and would never have used it to support his own faith.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      By all indications, JRRT's faith was genuine, not an expedient application of Pascal's Wager, consistent with a minority held faith.

      I have assumed you intend your reference to the cosmology of Arda as a reductio ad absurdum metaphor for Christianity, but I can't really tell. There is no doubt that one is connected to the other.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • The GOP need to pack up and leave

      May the Force be with you.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • The GOP need to pack up and leave

      All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  20. Michele

    Beyond the obvious hypocrisy of child abuse by clergy, most Catholics I know don't seem to really live the Catholic faith. They practice birth control, they live together without the sacrament of marriage, have been divorced, etc. I am not sitting in judgement as my family does all those things, too. It's just why not embrace a more accepting, less rules-driven faith which also believes in Jesus Christ than being Catholic in name only?

    June 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It is interesting that for all those people who assert that the Catholic Church is only "in it for the money", don't sell out on what are tenants of their dogma and go commercial, permitting: birth control, divorce, etc, just like so many protestant demoninations tacitly do.

      The evangelical expediency of overlooking divorce flies directly in the face of Jesus' teachings.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:34 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.