Brandon Vogt

New Stats on Why Young People Leave the Church


In my book, RETURN: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church, I pore through all the data about why young people leave the Church, where they go, and what they believe. Most of the analysis stemmed from surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, CARA, the Barna Group, and Dr. Christian Smith’s team at Notre Dame.

However, a new survey was just released by PRRI entitled “Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back”. The survey was conducted in August 2016, in partnership with Religion News Service (RNS), and involved a random sample of 2,201 adults in the United States. It’s not as comprehensive as Pew’s regular national religious landscape surveys, which sample more than 30,000 Americans, but it’s still helpful in many ways.

If nothing else, it reinforces the same dire picture as previous studies: young people are leaving religion in droves and the so-called “nones” are on the rise (these are people who don’t identify with any specific religion.) The PRRI study also affirms that young Catholics are leaving their faith at rates higher than almost any other religious group.

Below, I’ve pulled together key insights from the new PRRI study alongside data from the previous reports. I encourage all Catholics to study these numbers—especially if you’re a parent, priest, or Church leader.

Reflect on these stats. Paint a picture in your mind. If your goal is to help slow the surge of people fleeing the Church, and to help draw back those who have already left, it’s crucial to know as much as we can about them.

WHO are the Former Catholics and the “Nones”?

  • 10% of American adults are now former Catholics
  • When Catholics leave the Church, they become:
    • 49% – “None” (aka “unaffiliated” or “no religion”)
    • 25% – Evangelical Protestant
    • 13% – Mainline Protestant
    • 13% – Other (Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish, Muslim)
  • 25% of Americans identify today as “none” (i.e., no religion)
    • Highest percentage ever recorded: hovered from 4-6% (1970s-1980s), then rose during 90s to 14% (1999), 20% (2012), and today it’s surged to 25% (2016).
    • Now the single largest religious group in America
    • Interestingly, 21% of “nones” were raised unaffiliated while 28% were raised Catholic
  • 39% of young adults (18-29) are “none” (more than 3x the rate of “none” seniors aged 65+)
    • Today’s young adults are 4x more likely to be “none” than young adults in the previous generation
  • Young Adults today
    • 39% = “none”
    • 15% = Catholic
    • 9% = white Evangelical Protestant
    • 8% = white mainline Protestant
    • 7% = black Protestant
    • 11% = other non-white Protestant
    • 7% = non-Christian religion
  • Large majority (64%) of today’s young adult “nones” were raised religious, but then left it
  • Three types of “Nones”
    • Rejectionists (58%) – Religion is not personally important, and it does more harm than good
    • Apatheists (22%) – Religion is not personally important, but it’s generally helpful to society
    • Unattached Believers (18%) – Religion is personally important, and it’s generally helpful to society

WHEN are They Leaving?

  • 79% of former Catholics leave the Church before age 23 (Pew)
    • 50% of Millennials raised Catholic no longer identify as Catholic today (i.e., half of the babies you’ve seen baptized in the last 30 years, half of the kids you’ve seen confirmed, half of the Catholic young people you’ve seen get married)
      • Only 7% of Millennials raised Catholic still actively practice their faith today (weekly Mass, pray a few times each week, say their faith is “extremely” or “very” important)
  • 90% of American “nones” who left religion did so before age 29 (PRRI)
    • 62% leave before 18
    • 28% leave from 18-29
    • 5% leave from 30-49
    • 5% leave from 50+

WHY are They Leaving?

  • PRRI Survey (2016) percentage of “nones” who said reason(s) below was an important reason they left religion
    • 60% – I stopped believing in the religion’s teachings
    • 32% – My family was never that religious growing up
    • 29% – Negative religious teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people
      • 40% for women, 20% for men
      • 39% for Millennials, 12% for seniors
      • 39% raised Catholic, 29% raised anything else
    • 19% – Clergy sex-abuse scandal
      • Interestingly, this was 26% for women and 13% for men
    • 18% – Traumatic event in my life
    • 16% – My church or congregation became too focused on politics.
  • Pew Survey – “Faith in Flux” (2009)  percentage of former Catholics who said reason(s) below played a role in their departure
    • 71% – Just gradually drifted away from the religion
    • 65% – Stopped believing in the religion’s teachings
    • 43% – Spiritual needs not being met
    • 29% – Unhappy with teachings about the Bible
    • 26% – Dissatisfaction with atmosphere at worship services
    • 18% – Dissatisfaction with clergy at congregation
    • 10% – Found a religion they liked more
  • Diocese of Springfield Exit Surveys (2014) – percentage of former Catholics who said reason(s) below played a role in their departure
    • 68% – Spiritual needs not met
    • 67% – Lost interest over time
    • 56% – Too many money requests
    • 48% – No longer believe
    • 47% – Dissatisfaction with atmosphere
    • 38% – Too ritualistic
    • 36% – Too formal
    • 36% – Music not enjoyable

Other Stats

  • 66% of “nones” agree that “religion causes more problems than it solves”
  • 60% of “nones” believe in God, either as a person with whom they can have a relationship (theism, 22%) or an impersonal force (deism, 37%)


If you want a more detailed picture about why young people leave the Church and, more importantly, how to draw them back, click below to get your copy of my bestselling book, RETURN.

"RETURN" by Brandon Vogt

  • Adam Henrichs

    Can you direct me to the source of this statistic? Would love to be able to cite it. Couldn’t find it within Pew. Thanks:
    “Only 7% of Millennials raised Catholic still actively practice their faith today (weekly Mass, pray a few times each week, say their faith is “extremely” or “very” important)”

  • Mandana

    I joined the Catholic Church as an adult. One year, I made a resolution to read the entire Bible from beginning to end. I didn’t even have to finish the entire thing to see how many false, made up teachings the church had that put more people into bondage than anything else. There are many precious members, but for me leaving the church was absolute freedom!

  • Elelei Guhring

    People are just smart enough to realize there is no god and religion is just a scam. It’s a classic con job.

    • Julie Ann

      People are suddenly smarter.

  • DLink

    It would appear from this article, stated and implied, that some responsibility should be assigned to some of the clergy who have departed from basic truths and evangelizing to being presiders over ritual that more and more has little meaning for many. The decline of religious education for the young also has been a contributing factor. Although it seems a bit trite, a back to the basics program all around would be a good start.

  • Isaiah53_5

    I wonder how many of those that leave really know what the Church teaches. For those ignorant of those teachings, they either don’t care or can’t find the Catechism online. Those who know what the Church teaches and reject it are lost. Arguing with them will most likely strengthen their rejection. Only prayer will soften their hearts.

  • gigi4747

    Interesting to see how many just drifted away. I think young Catholics leave because the people who have been charged with teaching us all the reasons we should stay – priests, ccd teachers, Catholic school teachers, and unfortunately even our parents and other Catholic adults in our lives – have not done their jobs. The average Mass homily is just endless repetition about God’s love, mercy, faithfulness, etc. All important things of course but in no way the complete picture. Catholics need to grow up and start looking internally as to why young Catholics leave. Time to stop blaming the media, the secular culture, etc.

  • Jim Loiacono

    Perhaps we need to see the issues of those who leave the Church see; perhaps we have to listen to their questions. We are not addressing the pressing issues. There is a human nature, and the essence of being human is our creation as God’s image and what that means. We are meant for God; we are meant for freedom and love in their truest and deepest meaning and expression. We are meant for each other. Each of us, in our uniqueness, has been endowed with spiritual gifts and natural talents to develop and contribute to others, to the common god, and that desire is in every person – the need to realize his/her destiny as God’s gift to humankind and history. But, each must come to know the truth of who we are, not the deceptions of the enemy and the world, nor our own self-deceptions. These deceptions are the trapped the enemy encouraged us to trip and catch ourselves in endless dead ends and misery, confusions, disappointments, destructive relationships and behavior which lead to anxiety and depression. When the Church, through the vocations of marriage, religious life, priesthood and single life does not have a grasp of the issues and questions, not addresses them clearly with our faith, we squander the precious Truth, Jesus, who makes us free whereby we share this liberation with others. Jesus would be the one, the Light, what shines on the dark path of life so each person, loved by the Father and guided in the Holy Spirit, finds the truth of him/herself, the real truth, not the lies. Jesus is the GPS that accompanies us to find the correct map to our destinies. Then, we understand St. Paul’s words to the Galatians (5:1): “It is for freedom that Christ has made us free.” This is were the sense of liberation from the destructive lies, self-imposed and imposed by others, brings a certitude and sense of self and real purpose. It become the source of authentic Love in whose image we are created. In that way, we begin to see Mass as the coming together to be with God as his family of truth, love and life, caring about and respecting our selves and one another. The then see virtues as the means to live and realize ourselves and our destiny in the truth of truly being human as the divine image. God’s law and moral behavior is no longer seen as mere “do this, do that,” but as the true means of being just and loving to others, God, ourselves and even the gift of creation. These are the ways we live the justice and love to which we are called in the Law, the prophets, the Wisdom literature (Old Testament), by Jesus, the writers of Acts and the letters (New Testament). Our vocation and our profession, our life in all its dimensions take on the deepest meaning and richest expression of authenticity ourselves and for others. We can tell the nones, the kids in CCD and youth groups and couples in baptismal and marriage preparation, not to mention the folks at Mass that the is one God and the Persons in this one God, each Person being fully and equally God. They might well say, “Fine. Now, what does that have to do with my life and the issues I’m facing? What will it this fact do for me and where will it leave me? What meaning does it have in or bring to my life?” That is what they want; not empty ritual, otherwise it become a mere occult and mindless practice of the type of ritual Jesus and Paul condemn. Dogma and moral teaching must bring meaning and the revelation of the truth of God and the self. Ultimately, dogma reveals God, and thereby reveals who we are as his image. We must thing this to the world; this it what it needs and wants in the deepest recesses of the heart – a longing which often is subconscious and unconscious, but it’s there. It has to be if our understanding of God and the human person based on our faith is true.
    I was in a parish where we have about 180 youth in our program, attending of their own free wills – even the princes and princesses of the high school, the homecoming kings and the jocks. Why? They didn’t come to only socialize with endless trips to the movies, the pizzarias, the bowling alley or the amusement parks. They came to find the meaning of and in their lives – truth, love, life, peace and real freedom from the pathetic nonsense this demented, demonic culture, this pathological society has to offer with its lies. Why is suicide now the greatest killer of our youth? They want life and more abundantly. They want to know why and how God is truly interested in them and wants to be part of their lives’ journey. They sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament weeping; in small groups sharing their anguish; learning who they are in God’s eyes and that there is a supportive community that is able to facilitate their quest that we’re all trying to realize – the meaning and purpose of our lives. This desire is place by God in the hearts of every person, and the Church, which is each and all of us united in the Holy Spirit to Jesus as his very Body and visible presence in the world. How do we live it in witness to the nones and all others – how do we mission? When we allow ourselves to let God work through us to and facilitate His salvific plan, then the question of whether or not religion is the cause to too many problems become a more open and friendly dialogue. The fact the faith, reason and science are not and never have been enemies is more apparent and accepted. After all, the Big Bang Theory was developed by a colleague of Einstein who was a brilliant mathematician and astro-physicist, a Jesuit priest, Fr. George LeMâtre – based on Einstein’s Second Theory (General) Relativity. We first need to listen to the questions before we start giving Catechetica answers to questions they never thought about or even yet are ready to understand. Once we allow them to address their immediate and most urgent issues and they begin to see God´s presence and love in these existential, concrete realities, then the space opens for solid catechesis – dogma which reveals the truth of God and therefore the truth of themselves as the divine image, and moral teachings which are the way of true justice and love to God, others, themselves and nature. Then, the Church is not institution; it’s persons. As James Joyce defined the Church; “Oh, here comes everybody.” Well, let’s address the issues and get everybody involved.

  • ericdijon

    100% left because their spiritual needs were not met. Think it through.

  • James

    The problem is an inherent logical contradiction between Catholic teaching on sexual issues, including LGBTQ issues, and the accepted science on the subject.

    The logical contradiction is as follows:

    1. The Catholic Church teaches that can be no conflict between faith and reason (i.e. science).

    2. The Catholic Church teaches that the Magisterium of the Church is infallible in matters of faith and morals. Morality is conduct that is oriented toward the goal of authentic human flourishing. This natural moral law is discernable by man without the aid of divine revelation.

    3. Science teaches that Catholic teaching on sexual matters is not optimal for human flourishing.

    The conflict can be resolved one of three ways:

    1. Faith is something that is beyond reason. Man is too flawed to know what human flourishing is. This is Jansenism, and, therefore, not mainstream Catholic thought.

    2. The science is flawed in its analysis of human sexuality. This tends to be the conservative position. If not carefully presented, however, it can sound like an argument for Jansenism.

    3. The Church is not infallible in matters of faith and morals. While older liberal Catholics would stay and urge the Church to change its position on infallibility and/or moral issues or simply ignore it, younger Catholics quietly leave the Church.

    Many modern Catholic apologetics focus on the flaws of modern scientific views sexuality, the joys of large families, and pro-life politics, often at the expense of the rest of Catholic culture and the rest of the faith. For example, in one web series where believers talk about their faith, the Orthodox Christian talked about how mass was literally Heaven on Earth, while the Catholic talked about having a large family. Large families are great, but that’s not what being a Catholic is all about!

    • Micha_Elyi

      4. The “accepted science” is not science.

      Modern empirical science (which was invented by medieval Catholic churchmen, by the way) gives little weight to what is “accepted” in its goal of getting closer to the truths of the material world. As soon as you are browbeaten to accept something not on the evidence but on its political status of being “accepted” or “consensus” then you know you’re not dealing in empirical science but politics.

      Political correctness and secular fashions have been masquerading as science in matters of “sexual issues, including LGBTQ issues” for a long time. Freud was a charlatan of the late 19th century and Alfred Kinsey a fraud of the 1940s.

  • J_Bob

    This may be a simplistic answer, but perhaps the past couple of generations never had to go through a period of real stress, such as the depression or WWII.

  • Phoebe Coombey

    Why do we slavishly worship at the altar of poll?. Polls presume that the subjects reflect deeply about the matters at hand, They do not. Ask these millenials a simple factual question such as the three equal divisions of our Federal government and you’ll get my point. The culture of young today have no idea what it even means to be a human person. Just ask them

    If you want a surer path to discovering why Catholics hold or do not hold to the faith of their youth, why not ask millenials who DO practice their faith, why they stay faithful.

  • Thomas O’Neil

    One of the signs that is to occur that precedes the end times is a mass apostasy, where apparently the majority of people will give each up the practice of religion. St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians of this and jesus asked “when the Son of man returns will he find any faith on earth?

    • Micha_Elyi

      The “end times” have been underway since Christ Jesus rose from the dead. We are no more assured that the end times will be soon in coming than Adam and Eve were assured that the Messiah would come in haste.

  • David Brandt

    I would be interested in the coralation between choosing to be a “none” and the willingness to marry. Walking away from faith seems to me to coincide with fear of marriage and sloth around how and when during the course of a relationship a marriage should occur.

    • Felix_Culpa

      And a correlation between “none” and “wanting a lifestyle of serial shack-ups” would be interesting as well.

  • Graytown


    There are a multitude of reasons for the young leaving the Church.
    The novelties in the Mass are part of it.
    I would say a huge influence has been the disintegration of the family.
    When Mom and Dad no longer treat the Sacrament of Marriage as a life-long commitment, then everything else falls by the wayside.
    The young have been abandoned by their parents and the Church.
    When these children are Baptised, the parents and God-parents promise to teach them the faith. This is a life-long commitment – not just lip-service.

  • Dhaniele

    Your article brings to mind a very specific statement in the Bible that refers to the topic you raise. It talks about a “mass apostasy” such as you are clearly describing. However, it regards this as pointing to a “coming” of Christ which is spoken of by St. Paul that is clearly not his final coming (i.e. the last judgment). Nevertheless, given the content of the prophesy, it is an event of enormous significance in world history. This passage is basically ignored even in the liturgical readings (the passage is not in the lectionary). Just after calming his readers about any need to worry that the “day of the Lord is at hand” (2 Thess 2:2), St. Paul helpfully goes on to give the signs to know when this event is at hand. None of this is included in the reading (31st Sunday of Ordinary Time in year c). In fact, in the Bible reading, the signs are rather detailed. It speaks first of all a mass “apostasy” (apostasia in the original Greek) and the revelation of the “lawless one” who “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship … claiming that he is a god [the rise of contemporary atheism and nihilism].” “And now you know what is restraining [the papacy], that he may be revealed … whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth [i.e. the Holy Spirit] by the manifestation of his coming” (2 Thess 2: 3-8). All of his sounds like the Fatima prophesy [Russia will be converted and my Immaculate Heart will triumph and a time of peace will be given to the world, etc.]. Interestingly, 2017 will be the first centenary of the Fatima apparitions and Pope Francis has declared that it was his desire that his pontificate be particularly under the patronage of Our Lady of Fatima. Of course, the list of other recent visionaries who speak in the same terms about our present times is too long to list here. They all recommend in a practical way personal prayer and conversion rather than indifference, complacency or wringing of hands.

  • Maynila Dyaryo

    it(study) became inconclusive because of labels.

  • Tom A.

    It is an indictment of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo. This is the outcome desired by the modernists.

  • BillXR3

    They forgot to ask the key question as to “why” they drifted away and stopped believing in the religious teachings of the Church. These studies are always about “what”. It takes an answer to the question, “why” about the “what”, in order to begin to offer a solution. One cannot be a channel of His Grace unless you know “why”.

    • Micha_Elyi

      They forgot to ask the key question as to “why” they drifted away and
      stopped believing in the religious teachings of the Church.

      I agree. “I drifted away” is not an answer to the question “Why did you leave the Church”? It’s a pseudo-answer that’s equivalent to responding with “I left the Church because I left the Church.”

  • Andrew

    Our Bishop penned a pastoral letter recently where he acknowledges the sorrow of Catholic parents and grandparents who are leaving the faith. And leaves it at that. No solutions or initiatives, just a Clintonian “I feel your pain.”

    In my region (which has two diocesan jurisdictions), amidst all of the novus ordo parishes in varying states of maintenance to decline are three Latin Mass parishes, one (the diocesan parish) has experienced the most growth of any parish in town recently, the second (FSSP) has completely run out of room and are building a new chapel from the foundation, and the third (SSPX) is packed to the rafters of a fairly large church. They all share having lots of young people, and large families and in the case of the last two, tons of vocations (the diocesan parish is still relatively new).

    The recovery of the faith prior to the Spirit of Vatican II is the solution. We have become a Church that expects nothing, asks for nothing, and by and large does not acknowledge the reality of death, judgement, Heaven or hell. Form our priests in the way that they should be formed (esp, Thomistic theology) to offer the Mass they should be offering (the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, aka the TLM), and then the ship will right itself and be effective once again in guiding the faithful to Heaven. Until the Pope and our bishops acknowledge that, they’ll simply waste more of their time figuring out how to build better novus ordo mousetraps. My comments may not be sufficiently charitable but I’m tired of the Church failing.

    • David M Paggi

      While I love the TLM, the Novus Ordo can be reverently celebrated as well, and I well remember very pedestrian Latin Masses of long ago. So while I believe you are right in your call for the tough-minded Thomistic presentation of the Faith in all its rigor, and a new emphasis on the Four Last Things, this doesn’t necessarily imply the TLM is a condition precedent for this, but rather is its fruit (though both clearly nourish the other).

      • Andrew

        Thanks David. I appreciate your perspective, having grown up in the Church in the 80s-90s and never having known of the “old” Mass until the beginning of Pope BXVI’s pontificate. My experience of the TLM has been mostly at FSSP and (with acknowledgement of the problems with their current canonical status) SSPX chapels. I have never seen anything less than extraordinarily reverent Masses that have personally helped my family and I understand the nature of God – His majesty, His sovereignty, His holiness – far better than (as much as I hate to say this) the new Mass, and I attended the Cathedral parish where the novus ordo is offered in as High Church of a fashion as is possible in the new Mass. When I started to attend the TLM, I began to learn about “old” devotions like the Brown Scapular, and hear homilies on the absolute centrality of cooperating with and remaining in the grace of God for the attainment of salvation. I just never heard of these things or was taught from the pulpit about them even at a parish that is culturally “conservative”, with its reverent novus ordo. I would assert that there is a link between Thomistic theology and the traditional Mass which is philosophically severed with the new Mass, i.e. there really isn’t that much of a reason to study Thomistic theology/philosophy by priests who are only going to offer the new Mass. As for the priests who offered those pedestrian Latin Masses (I’ve heard about them from my dad and father-in-law) they were being offered, I believe, by priests who were fundamentally Modernist (and yes – they were trained in the pre-V2 manner) in their views and were simply X-ing off days on the calendar until they could be rid of it and “celebrate” the new and improved Mass.

        I disagree now with our great Pope-emeritus’ view on the reform-of-the-reform. Pope Francis has stated that it’s simply not possible, and with that – I agree! The historical origin of the new Mass (a committee of Modernist priests who fabricated it over a several year period for the purpose of appealing to Protestants and the creation of the rather patronizing, Protestantized form participation that characterizes it) make it – at least in my estimation – oil to the TLM’s water. Put it in a bottle and shake it up and it might look mixed together for a while but it will eventually separate out.

        Hopefully this doesn’t come off as too harsh. The thought that we could instantly re-institute the old Mass and its associated Thomistic theology is obviously unrealistic. But we have to start somewhere.

        • David M Paggi

          Thank you for sharing your thought and your passion. It may be that in between your lines you have made the best case possible for the TLM. I had not considered the possibility of a Thomistic link in the TLM that is not present in the Novus Ordo, nor did I consider the possibility that my previous exposure to the TLM was not s good sample of the beauty and grandeur of that Rite.

          On the other hand, those who rail incessantly at the NO and question its validity do nothing for the TLM either, because to attack one is to attack the other. The worst of these are the poor folks who make all sorts of outrageous accusations about Vatican II. They never seem to realize that if they got their way, they would end up in a “box canyon” with no way to get to the validity they say they want.

          Catholicism is rigorous, demanding, and simply tough! Consequently, no attempts at simplification or accessibility can substitute for the hard work of genuine catechesis. Certainly, a greater availability and respect for the TLM can be a catalyst for a greater appreciation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in all its forms. Let’s just not let our appreciation for the tradition give rise to disdain what is still good and beautiful in the Novus Ordo. After all, a TLM snob is still just a snob, resembling rather more the Pharisees of the Gospels than Our Blessed Lord.

          • Micha_Elyi

            It’s not the Latin, it’s the reverence that’s key.

            Why has Latin become a mark of a mass celebrated with reverence? Because the reverent make extra effort and to say the mass in Latin requires extra effort. Thus Latin and a reverent celebration of the mass have become linked in the eyes of those participating in the mass.

      • Tom Huckins

        Very well put. The reforms of any council take time. We are just 50 years out. Unfortunately, the reform was co-opted by (I hope for their sake…) well intentioned bishops, priests and others who did not take the time to truly understand Vat. II and instead, implemented their version of what they thought the Church should become. The rest of the Church just sat there and watched it all go to pot for 25 years. Finally, an awakening started to happen and John Paul II and Pope Benedict made heroic efforts to bring the ship around. They made many bishops who “got it” and little by little things started to improve. Pope Francis is trying to reform the curia, something that plagued the last several popes. It is heart breaking to know that the “church” “failed” a couple of generations with awful liturgies and high deficient catechesis. Ultimately, though, it is each parents duty to do the very the best they can and then it is up to the individual to choose to live the Faith or not. I was born in 1961 and my folks managed to teach us the faith despite the wackiness happening at the parishes and eventually having to pull us out of the “Catholic school” because it wanted to teach “sex ed” that did not conform to Catholic morals. My final thought, if you got this far, is to say that we are now called to live this moment of history as authentically as we can and embrace our Mother the Church in her imperfections, knowing the the Holy Spirit never leaves her and therefore never leaves us. Enough of the division. Rather let us pray and be united in our shared Faith that has held firm these 2000 years. If you study history, you know the fact it, we have been here before and the Church will survive. Hopefully, we all choose to cling to the “barque of Peter” . Merry Christmas

        • Micha_Elyi

          The rest of the Church just sat there and watched it all go to pot for 25 years.
          –Tom Huckins

          What if the most faithful had pushed back when they were told their parish’s beautiful altars and art had to go because “the Bishop said so”?

    • Jake in Pittsburgh

      The vocations are the key metric. By their fruits, etc.
      One thing is very clear– the more traditional and mindful of the Magisterium, the more vocations. Whether that’s the parish, or the diocese, or the FSSP/SSPX, you’ll see vocations. Show me a liturgical-dance-and-sister-with-a-bob approach to liturgy and seminary, you’ll see…well, you won’t see anything in the way of vocations.
      Year by year, with more and more Francis appointments to the hierarchy, I fear there is more bad news to come in terms of “just gradually drifted away” and “stopped believing”.

      • Andrew

        Begs the question – how have vocations been doing these past 3-4 years? I know they experienced an up-tick under the Pope emeritus. The current Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago was the Bishop of my diocese and while he was here; the seminary emptied out, almost completely. I assume that’s not what he was promoted for 😉

        • Felix_Culpa

          Don’t forget that a not-insignificant part of the vocations crisis is artificial: at the diocesan level there have been rumours for years of a certain screening-out of the more devout and orthodox candidates. It is true that, given human nature, the Venn diagrams of “devout and orthodox” and “unsuitable” do have some overlap, but the amount of that overlap in some places amounts to nearly 100% which just can’t be right.

          • Andrew

            That’s a good point. I’ve heard of this phenomena where orthodox candidates are screened out by hetrodox (that is to say, heretical) vocations committees, often chaired by the proverbial nun who thinks she should be a priest. I think, or at least I hope that things have gotten better than that, but it’s one facet of the overall massive decline of the priesthood and holy orders, see here for more data:

            I continue to assert that the decline has as much to do, if not more to do, with the character of the new Mass. It’s a gathering, not a sacrifice. As such it runs contrary to the fundamental character of what it means to be a “Priest forever in the order of Malchisedech”. Just as race horses want to run races, priests are meant to offer sacrifice, and to do so on behalf of the faithful. The new Mass makes them into gatherers of the faithful ’round the table, a sort of liturgical MC. That’s not to say that it doesn’t result in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but I hear the majority of the people in the pews don’t believe it is, and the priest’s identity as priest is harmed as a result. To offer the sacrifice of God to God is the most glorious thing imaginable, and makes giving up everything that priests have to give up worth it, but if the Mass becomes something other than the immemorial sacrifice for all ages, does it make it worth the giving up of wife and family worth it? I think the above stats show that no, it does not, and a lot of young men with God-given vocations have basically voted with their feet and given up on those vocations, even before getting to the vocations committees who are screening out the orthodox candidates.

          • Felix_Culpa

            “…if the Mass becomes something other than the immemorial sacrifice for all ages, does it make it worth the giving up of wife and family worth it? ” Indeed, indeed.

    • elisabetta

      Amen and Amen.

    • Micha_Elyi

      The recovery of the faith prior to the Spirit of Vatican II is the
      solution. We have become a Church that expects nothing, asks for nothing…

      I agree that the institutional Church has increasingly failed to support those in her flock who personally seek to live their lay vocation with high commitment to the faith. There are many more established pathways to a high-commitment Protestant life than to a high-commitment lay Catholic life. (Could it be that Protestants don’t have bishops who can and do say “no” to the high-commitment members of their flock?)

      • Andrew

        The Bishops…..

        The former Bishop of my diocese is now the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago. While he was here we (high-commitment Catholics, as you say) would joke that his management approach to matters spiritual would be to have his priests inform him of where the “Spirit was moving” so that he could then throw a wet blanket on it. They all seem to be about actually doing what is completely contrary to the spread of the Faith, the salvation of souls, and the good of the Church (I know I’m late to the party on that one).

        They throw good money away after bad by (for instance) flying out to “Amazing Parish” conferences so they can learn Protestant marketing techniques. When its pointed out that the local trad parishes constitute “Amazing Parishes” by objective, quantifiable measures, they get all huffy.

        Now that the Pope and many of the Church’s leading bishops are intent on overthrowing Our Lord’s teaching on marriage (because its just sooooooooooooo hard) when the heck are we pew sitters going to say we’ve had enough of failure?? Or will we just continue to sit there and pray, pay and obey, and enable failure??

  • Gary

    No doubt some of this is because many of our priests and bishops themselves, perhaps don’t believe in the Magisterium of the Church!

  • James S.


    It’s “I pore through all the data…” not “I pour through all the data…” Merry Christmas. And by the way, the syllabus I sent you is really worth a look.

  • James S.


    It’s “I pore through all the data…” not “I pour through all the data…” Merry Christmas. And by the way, the syllabus I sent you is really worth a look.

  • Cody Nichols

    Does the book address correlation between these responses? In particular, I’m curious about whether the reason for leaving is correlated with the way that they leave.

  • So people are leaving mostly because they no longer understand or believe Church teaching, and view overemphasis on rituals pretty low on the list.

    It is good we have a current crop of Church leadership who emphasizes understanding doctrine and doesn’t waste time warning about the extreme dangers of hyper-ritualism.

    A clearly pastoral leadership always has its finger on the pulse of its flock.

    • Andrew

      What do you mean by ritualism or “the extreme dangers of hyper-ritualism”? The Church has long taught that the way one worships is the way one believes in God (which is a rough translation of “Lex orandi, lex credendi”). Could it be possible that “people no longer understand or believe Church teaching” because the Mass itself has on a certain level has disconnected us from the immanence and majesty of God? If the Mass is not in concurrence with the teachings of the Church and in what the Church expects from its adherents, wouldn’t it follow that remaining committed to the Church really no longer makes any sense?

      The arrival of the novus ordo missae (new Mass) was heralded with claims and promises that it would usher in a greater evangelization than had been experienced in recent generations. This has proven to be completely erroneous and the complete opposite has happened. The fact that there is a small but growing number of faithful petitioning bishops and priests for the traditional Latin Mass to be restored (and many of them having the proverbial door slammed in their faces, at least for the moment) was simply not supposed to happen.

      • Seamrog

        For the life of me, I cannot understand why people ignore the tragic failure that the liturgical ‘reforms’ of Vatican II have become.

        Kevin’s very use of the term “ritualism,” and -gasp- “hyper-ritualism” demonstrate this quite effectively.

        For many, they have no idea what they have been robbed of, unless he’s being sarcastic. It’s hard to tell.

  • Seamrog

    When the most of the episcopate and the clergy won’t stand up for the teachings of Jesus Christ, why is it any surprise why others won’t either?

    It would be helpful to cite the questions the survey participants were asked, as the answers in the three polls are pretty diverse. A commonality, however:

    71% – Just gradually drifted away from the religion
    65% – Stopped believing in the religion’s teachings
    43% – Spiritual needs not being met


    68% – Spiritual needs not met
    67% – Lost interest over time

    Couple that with an amazingly self-centered, self-obsessed baby boom generation and ‘millennials’ who are equally self absorbed, I think the answer is pretty clear.

    My experience is that boomers are largely charitable, with their time and their treasure, just not with their adherence to the Church.

    I have no idea about Millennials and would be interested to see statistics on this group. My guess is they are largely uncharitable with both their time, and their treasure. That troubles me.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Couple that with an amazingly self-centered, self-obsessed baby boom
      generation and ‘millennials’ who are equally self absorbed, I think the
      answer is pretty clear.

      Unfortunately, Seamrog, you’re simply assuming as a premise the very “answer” you call “pretty clear”. The generation-bashing you appear to be indulging in is not at all a clear-headed way to think about these issues either.

      IME, most Boomer-bashers don’t even know who Boomers are. They often misidentify notorious figures from the 1960s as Boomers who were born sometimes a decade or more before the Baby Boom began. (Example: Tom Hayden and other leaders of 1960s campus unrest and contra-Vietnam War rioting are too old to be Boomers. Same for feminists Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.)

      Millennial-bashers suffer from similar flawed thinking. The oldest Millennials are just turning 37, the youngest 17. If one of the oldest Millennials are parents, on average their oldest child is 12 years old. Can’t blame Millennials as a generation for raising adults who left the faith either.

      There you go, another beautiful theory mugged by a few ugly facts.

      • Seamrog

        What a sad comment.

        My parents are boomers. My aunts and uncles are boomers. All their friends are boomers.

        My children are ‘millennials.’ Our friends’ children are millennials. All their friends are millennials.

        Try to keep your pompousness in check, lest the ugly facts show your ignorance.

  • Kirry

    I am very blessed that in my family all 3 of my siblings and myself have returned to the church after a collegial hiatus. Not sure which generation I am lumped into being born in 1975? My parents brought us up in the faith and we went to Catholic school through high school (Ursuline Academy in New Orleans, to which I attribute my continued faith to Our Lady of Prompt Succor) but my parents weren’t what you would call devout, at least while I was growing up. We went to mass every Sunday and my dad taught CCD but they were more habitual Catholics than devout Catholics (although today they are daily mass attendees). BUT, whatever they did made an impression b/c my sisters and I are all DEVOUT Catholics. I work hard at passing along the faith to my children by homeschooling with Seton, going to mass, celebrating holy days with sincerity but I know that the prevalent “evil is good and good is evil” culture that we live in is highly persuasive. I feel my only recourse to compete is prayer for my children. We are blessed to live very rurally, so I am able to shelter my kids from the worst society has to offer while they are young, but once they grow I hope all the catechesis I taught gives them confidence in the face of a bombardment by atheistic “conform or be ostracized” fascists.

  • LJR

    One of my 4 kids is becoming a “none” which is extremely hard to swallow. I feel like 20 years of Catholic upbringing, mass every Sunday, every Holy day and a solid Catholic school education has been outdone by a liberal secular campus. I will fight the good fight and keep as cool during “discussions” as I can. Please pray for me.

    • elisabetta

      LJR, I am in the same situation and know how broken hearted you are. Of course, we trust in our Heavenly Father, but it would be an honor to pray for you! Blessings!

    • Anne McCambridge

      St Monica was by advised to pray for her son, St Augustine, and to leave him alone – all would come right in God’s good time, and it did.

  • JFXP

    It will get much, much worse too. The USA will be just like Europe in about 10 years. The Baby Boomers are reaching the last years of their lives. They make up the vast majority of the faithful. Once they’re gone the pews will be empty. Generation WW2 is all but gone. Generation Korea is going fast. And very, very soon Generation Viet Nam will be next. That’s me. I’m 56, the last year of the Boom, 1960. There’s a lot of gray hair out there at Mass. As a priest there’s just so much you can do too. You try to do the things that matter such as preaching good homilies, and having holy, sacred Masses that show the beauty of the faith. But in the end it really is up to the person to respond in faith. Many parents, sons and daughters of the Boomers, no longer bring their children to Mass because they no longer attend themselves. They’ll send them to weekly religious education but they don’t show up for Mass. At our parish we’ve instituted a system that weekly Mass is also a part of the attendance to weekly class. They hand in a little card with their name on it as a record. You hate to do that but it seems like the only way to get anyone in the door. But some parents just drop them off and leave their children alone at Mass, which I find really appalling and distributing!! If anything you can only hope that this sticks with them somehow and they respond to the grace received at Mass when they get older. I reflect upon the Blessed Virgin’s words at Fatima, the need for penance and prayer. That was a 100 years ago!! And we didn’t listen. God have mercy on us.

  • Matthew

    Under the heading: “WHEN are they leaving?” you cite the 50% statistic twice. Is there at reason for that? Does it come from two different studies? Just wondering.

  • “Only 7% of Millennials raised Catholic still actively practice their faith today.”

    That statistic is an indictment of the generation that raised my generation. It also strongly suggests (and adds to the already overwhelming evidence) that the methods of catechesis and the liturgical innovations of the post-Vatican II era have been a complete failure. Catechetical programs are beginning to improve in places, yet very few in the hierarchy seem interested in rolling back any of the liturgical novelties (communion in the hand, extraordinary ministers, lay readers, versus populum, church wreckifications, abandonment of sacred music) or reforming the Novus Ordo to actually conform to the principles articulated in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Vatican II doc on sacred liturgy).

    When a manager (or any sort) introduces changes and those changes lead to a mass exodus of patrons, clients, customers, congregation, etc., that manager should conclude that the changes were a mistake and take immediate action to abandon them and correct the course.

    • Ann Glenn Erwin

      Have to agree with you. Thankfully things are turning around with new bishops and priests more likely to teach the authentic Faith.

    • JMC

      You are completely right about problems with catechesis. I’ve seen a few recently published religion textbooks, and they’re all fluff. Lots of stuff about “Love your neighbor” and other feel-good stuff, but not one word about dogma, and, in the advanced classes, nothing about WHY the Church teaches what it does. My advice to parents is to supplement your kids’ religious education with the old Baltimore Catechism. It’s really just a simple presentation of the teachings of the Church; when they’re older, you can add the Catechism of Pope Pius X, and/or the Catechism of the Council of Trent. This last one in particular is an excellent source for the “whys” behind the dogma, with none of the fuzzy, ambiguous language found in the modern CCC.
      And last, but perhaps the most important, mind your example. Make sure you yourself are living according to what you’re teaching your kids. As the statistics above show, one of the largest categories of young people leaving the Church is made up of those who didn’t get a good example at home.

      • William J. Walsh

        Do you mean that 32% say their family was not religious to begin with? I don’t know if that is exactly the same as not setting a good example, but I am sure it is very influential. The problem that you are pointing to is when those of us who are religious are nonetheless sinful which I’m sure is influential too. I doubt its the most important thing though.

    • ericdijon

      Using the term Millennials to categorize the cohorts of an age group is fairly ambiguous. Different demographers categorize the generational groupings of Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Generation X (and Y), and Millennials less on age and more so on common experiences. It used to be simple to say Traditionals were born post WWI through 1945, Boomers 1945 – 1965, Gen Xers, 1965 – 1980, and then from 1980 the Millennials births until around 2000… or so. Ask a Boomer born around 1960 where they were when they learned JFK was shot and they have no clear recall of it. Ask a Boomer born in the 1950s what they liked about white bucks and they’ll have no clue it was the boss shoe of the times that the Traditionals were sporting.

      I’ll be one of the first to insist that an individual is not a statistic, but when you collect enough similar individual responses, then percentages begin to have some real clout. Still, leaving out information is a favorite method for folks that use statistics to impress folks that never bothered to understand them. Using the term of Millennial to describe cohorts bound to a statistical point is amazingly surreptitious. Accuracy and clarity are easily improved using age years. Perhaps the bracket was defined in the source data – but that is not my concern.

      I paused on your comment because you, not so specifically, identified yourself as a cohort of the Millennial generation, indicting the generation that raised Millennials, who further were somehow shortchanged by the documents produced from Vatican II, in response to a statistic about Millennials in the post’s text.

      While demographers disagree on age bracketing of Generational titles, I’m gonna run with the ones I cited earlier and draw an assertion. If we can assume that plus or minus 1 year enables less confusing math, let’s say mothers of Millennials began giving birth to them by age 20 and ceased producing any more births after their 40th birthday. This makes the mother’s own birth range between 1940 and 1980… or so. This age range allows for cohorts from the generations of Traditionals, Boomers, and Gen Xers to be those who raised Millennials. Add to this that Fathers can represent men of birth years prior to WWI. This makes the group of Millennial parents out to be quite a motley crew. The folks who raised Millennials are hardly characteristic of one generation, but the way Millennials were raised may be more to the point.

      Is it fair to say that Vatican II (1962-1965) impressed all generations of Catholic parents the same? Or is it more fair to assert that the Domestic Church has been increasingly dropping the ball on offering quality catechesis to their offspring?

    • Micha_Elyi

      “…a mass exodus…”–Will Bloomfield

      Go back and look at the statistics for the past 100 years. Contrary to the narrative of those who pin the blame on VII, there was no “mass exodus”. Rather the trend began as a slow trickle that has grown bit by bit over the years with no inflection points that can be conclusively attributed to any one cause. The “VII Did It” speculations don’t hold up against the data. Nor can an appreciable portion of the drop-off be attributed to the homosexual predation scandal.

  • It’s getting worse, isn’t it? So sad.

  • OttFatherofTwo

    I thought there some stats on nines thinking that there is a conflict between faith and science.. also some stats about lgbt issues driving them out because their friendships with lgbts make them hate the Church
    s teachings

    • William J. Walsh

      I’m a lifelong Catholic. I cannot recall LGBT issues ever being important, and I’ve never heard a gay person–practicing Catholic or otherwise–tell me that it was a serious issue in their decision to remain Catholic or not though I’ve read about such people and seen them on TV. While I concede that maybe people are not inclined to share that with me, I cannot recall ever having heard a sermon on the subject of homosexuality per se, only references to the catechism’s requirement that people who are attracted to others of their sex are to be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity. However, I readily admit I may not have always been listening when the subject came up and of course today secular culture teaches that there is nothing wrong with such sexual conduct and takes offense at the Judeo-Christian view.

      With regard to science, I don’t know what kind of conflict it could present for Catholics? From the time I was a child I was taught the theory of evolution in Catholic schools. One hears in the media about the Church persecuting Galileo for teaching the theory of the heliocentric solar system in the past, but I have become convinced that the claim that the Church suppressed or retarded the advance of science in general is just false when the whole record is considered. The Church fostered scientific work for many centuries, our clergy have included many important scientists and there is no objection to empiricism as such, only if the experiments violate moral laws, ie if it were necessary to harvest stem cells from abortions for that purpose or otherwise involved harm to others. The conflict between Christianity and science, I think, is mostly restricted to those Christians who adhere to the very recent tradition of taking scripture literally and who therefore read the Genesis accounts as contradicting the fossil record. There is no such tradition in the Church though. Origen, for one, would have handled Darrow’s cross examination with ease if indeed it had been necessary.

      So I’m not surprised that polling data does not indicate that those issues are important determinants of why people leave the Church.

      • OttFatherofTwo
      • James

        Many young people—even those raised Catholic—learn about the Catholic Church through the media.

        Because they are not being properly catechized, they assume that the Catholic Church is anti-gay, anti-sex, and anti-aircraft, because that’s what they see on the news.

        • Micha_Elyi

          Many young people—even those raised Catholic—learn about the Catholic Church through the media.

          So true. This also applies to the grandparents of today’s young people. How many of those grandparents think Friday abstinence was abolished because a headline in the New York Times and their local paper, plus a blurb on the 6 o’clock TV news from one of the alphabet networks, told them so? Plenty.

          There are many who are quick to blame VII but the slide in participation in Sunday mass among self-identified Catholics was underway in the 1950s at a rate that continued long after VII was over.

    • Thomas Sharpe

      The confusion over a supposed “conflict between faith and science” could be solved by some high school age catechism, but that is only available to those who can afford very very expensive private high schools and they don’t take it too seriously not wanting to offend those who pay tuition and are not catholic.
      . LGBT issues too could explained. Unfortunately Diocese Officials are still living in an age where everyone goes to work after receiving 8th grade CCD and confirmation.
      – Eight is not enough!

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