Last week I posted a complaint about the liturgy after attending Sunday Mass which offended some. But, now Fr. Thomas Reese , a Jesuit priest and former Editor in Chief of America and now a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington has published an article indicating I am not alone in my views. The April 15, 2011 National Catholic Reporter carried his  article "The hidden Exodus: Catholics becoming Protestants."

Mass Fr. Reese reports on the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Research Center’s forum on religion and public life. Their study indicates that one out of every ten Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of every three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies themselves as Catholic.

The Pew study shows that the primary reason given by people who leave the church to become Protestant are that their spiritual needs are not being met in the Catholic Church (70%) Some 81% say they joined their new church because they enjoy the religious service and style of worship of their new faith. As Fr. Reese puts it "In other words, the Catholic Church has failed to deliver what people consider fundamental products of religion: spiritual sustenance and a good worship service." That echos my observation of last week about the same issue

Reese notes that people are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings: people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.

Fr. Reese then says: "There are many lessons we can learn from the pew data, but I will focus on only three.

First, those who are leaving the church for Protestant churchs are more interested in spiritual nourishment then doctrinal issues. While the hierarchy worries about literal translations of the Latin text, people are longing for liturgies that touch the heart and emotions. More creativity with the word liturgy is needed.

Second, Catholics are leaving to join evangelical churches because of the church teaching on the Bible is a disgrace. Too few homilists explained the Scriptures to their people. Too few Catholics read the Bible.

Finally the pew data shows that two thirds of Catholics who become Protestants do so before they reach the age of 24. Programs and liturgies that cater to their needs must take precedence over the complaints of fuddy-duddies and rubrical purists."

Fr. Reese concludes: "The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging members. It needs to acknowledge this and do more to understand why. Only if we acknowledged the Exodus and explain it will we be in a position to do something about it."

Well, there you have it. This time it's not my personal viewpoint, but the conclusions from a valid research study and the observations of a priest theologian.It's a long way from Rome to the United States and sometimes just as far from the American bishops to the people who attend Sunday services. Somehow that gap must be closed. This subject is a relevant one and not to be swept under the rug by calling the Catholics who are unhappy "bad Catholics" or "ignorant" ones who just don't know their faith. Jesus said it well: "The Sabbath was made for man and not man made for the Sabbath."



  1. I am a Catholic convert since 2002 (husband is a cradle catholic)and I think you are right on target. Mass is dry, dull, boring and will suck the spiritual life right out of you. Our church has lost and continues to lose many members to the thriving nondenominational church down the road. Yes, I agree, that God’s word does not change but its method of delivery does as does its application to modern life. If Catholics don’t come into the 21st century, they will continue to lose membership. Many people stay because of some prideful, cultural identity, parental pressure etc. but surely no one can honestly claim they benefit from irrelevant homilies, offkey singing, and nonengaged repetitive readings week after week. Nine years is enough for me. I am looking for a new spiritual home.

  2. Kim

    Thank you for your note. I would feel bad if I were the tipping point for anyone to make that decision. My attachment is the sacraments, primarily the Eucharist, but the liturgy surrounding it in my parish and others is simply uninspiring. I know it doesn't have to be that way because I find pockets of Mass that are very inspiring. My complaint is parish priests in most of my experiences do not prepare for the homily, are themselves spiritually burned out and lack the passion that we expect from a spiritual leader of a congregation. Worse they appear to live in ivory towers unconnected to what is happening to ordinary people worrying about paying their bills, trying to understand their children and attempting to maintain a relationship with a spouse. My argument is that the liturgy doesn't have to be the way it is. It can be made a whole lot better.

    Best regards

    Paul N. Luvera
    701 5th Ave Ste 6700
    Seattle, WA 98104
    Office (206) 467-6090
    Cell     (206) 930-6000

  3. Mr. Luvera’s original entry complained about the Mass as being boring and needing change. This week, he cites an article by Fr. Reese as echoing his own conclusions. Even so, the Pew Study statistics as presented in the article by Fr. Reese, are anything but clear. Fr. Reese notes that “half of those who became Protestants say they left because they stopped believing in Catholic teaching.” In addition, the Pew Study itself states that at least 44% of Americans change the religious affiliation from the one they grew up with, more if you count changes in affiliations among denominations (e.g., American Baptist to Southern Baptist). See, Pew Study, p. 22. Seventy percent of those folks that left the Catholic Church may have indeed also found the Mass to be boring, weren’t having their spiritual needs met, etc and eighty percent may have joined their new church because they enjoyed the style of worship (this would be expected among those who stop believing in Catholic teaching). Nevertheless, if 44% of the religious population are going to change anyway, that speaks much more against changing anything in any denomination than it does for it.

    In any event, Fr. Reese’s point seems to be that people are not learning the Bible and having their spiritual needs met and, ergo, the Mass needs to be changed. He engages in a non sequitur.

    The Mass and its focus comes straight from the Bible, including the Last Supper and Jesus walk, and meal, with Clopas, on the road to Emmaus. The Real Presence was set forth by Jesus Himself in the 6th Chapter of John (v.55-56): “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.” His followers at that time found this language “intolerable” and many of his disciples left Him (vv. 60 and 66). Yet, Jesus did not change His language, even to go retrieve one of the sheep that left Him.

    Do Catholics generally need more Bible teaching. I don’t know anyone who would disagree with that. But Mass is not the place for it. Sunday School or a mid-week Bible study program is the proper forum for delving into the Bible. My assumption would be that Fr. Reese has a good Sunday School Bible program at his Church as he recognizes the problem.

    As for Mass and the Bible, a Catholic Mass has more Bible reading than any Protestant Church. Protestant Church services typically focus on one passage from the Bible. At Mass, there are readings from four parts of the Bible. The First Reading is typically, but not always, from the Old Testament. Then Psalms are read or sung. The Second Reading is from the letters, followed by the Gospel.

    Can we use better homilists? Of course, always. But getting better homilists is a function of training, not changing the Mass. Even so, a homily is only 10 to 15 minutes of the Mass, which highlights the difference between a Mass, which is designed to be a worship service of the Eucharist, and a Protestant service, where the homily is 30 minutes or more and is designed to be more of a Bible teaching service.

    The Catholic Church believes that the bread and wine are transformed (transubstantiated) into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in the Mass. Put plainly, Jesus is not only spiritually present at each Mass, He is physically present and we receive Him physically when we take communion (just as Jesus said in the sixth chapter of John). That is what sets the Catholic Church apart. Even a Protestant who does not believe this has to admit that, if one assumes it true that Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist, then that is a significant matter.

    If a person truly believes in this Real Presence, then it becomes impossible to leave the Catholic Church except, perhaps, for the Anglican Church, or Lutheran Church (some synods), which believe similarly, though there are differences. Regardless, the Catholic Church is not losing members to the Anglican or Lutheran Church.

    Those that have left the Catholic Church for other more entertaining Churches cannot believe in their hearts that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Jesus, regardless of what they may say they believe. To do so would be to leave a Church where they know Jesus is physically present and they receive Him, for a Church that does not believe Jesus is physically present.

    Historically, it is important to note that the Protestant Reformation did not immediately reject this Catholic belief. That has occurred over time. Protestant Churches, from their origins, changed their style of service away from the Mass and lost the most important thing – the physical presence of Jesus.

    Mr. Luvera concludes with Fr. Reese’s observation that the “Catholic Church is hemorrhaging members. It needs to acknowledge this and do more to understand why. Only if we acknowledged the Exodus and explain it will we be in a position to do something about it.” Nothing wrong with these words, but they do not lead to the inexorable and exclusive conclusion that the Mass needs to be changed.

    The Vatican and Bishops have lead the Church for 2000 years, a remarkable existence in and of itself which can only be by Divine guidance. We must rely on “the hierarchy” for truth and doctrines, including the structure of the Mass, so that we do not lose the truth. We should not have to rely on Bishops to tell us what programs, outside of Mass, we need or how to run them. To that end, the Church I attend has great Sunday School programs for children and adults, an active men’s group, altar guild, young adult group, etc and is growing like topsy. As Fr. Reese has recognized the Exodus, he should next post an article about programs he has instituted at his Church, along with what has succeeded and what has not.

    If a person finds the Mass dull and uninspiring, I cannot argue away that emotion. That doesn’t per se make someone “bad” or “ignorant” about their faith. Sometimes, however, deeper knowledge helps. Other times, reading someone who has dealt with the same struggle helps (e.g., Jeff Cavins book, I Am Not Being Fed). But, Jesus did not change His teaching, and in the face of a 2000 year existence, the fact that one or many find the Mass boring today cannot serve as the basis for changing the Mass.

  4. What role did your dad play ? My mother was Grace Satko and was on the journey. I have heard about the trip in some fond and not so fond memories. They were very hard times.

    Tim Connelly

  5. Tim:

    My dad had a grocery store in Anacortes. He admired the determination of Paul and donated groceries for the trip. Dad was also part of the group that “conspired” to help them sail while avoiding Coast Guard patrols. Paul

  6. Tim I grew up in Tacoma off of 28th & Portland avenue. The Satkos lived next door to use for a few years. North Sea and I are about the same age I was born in 1941.
    I didn’t know all the kids. Some of them were older and were no longer at home. Two names I think I have right are Charlie and Ester. They were younger than NorthSea we all called her Norsey. I remember Mrs Satko Telling some of the stories about thier adventure in Alaska. I don’t remember the year maybe 57 or 58 after Mr Satko passed they moved to Day Island in the bay near Univercity Place. I lost track of them after that. Do any of the Satko family still live in the Tacoma area? They were nice people.

  7. Thanks for the page Paul. It is really great to see people sharing my Grandfathers journey.

    Thanks Again,

    PAul Satko

  8. Hello Mr. Luvera. I hope those with an interest in the story of Satko’s Ark will check out the website we have built to accompany the audio documentary on this improbable journey story. The 9 episode documentary will be broadcast on KOUW-FM, 94.9 beginning on February 20. It will run on the Weekday program with Steve Sher between 9a and 11a. The episodes are different lengths so we don’t have a specific time for each broadcast but you will be able to listen to the episodes, look and photos and images and listen to unedited interviews at the website. Its; And thanks for yor help Paul as well as your sisters in Anacortes.

    Michael Sullivan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.