Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Deconversion experiences

I saw an interesting post at America magazine's blog - Catholic Deconversions: More Topical Than Ever by Tom Beaudoin, professor of theology at Fordham University. I always want to know about other people's conversion experiences, having had one myself, but of course there are also deconversion experiences (or at least deconversion from a church if not from God), and professor Beaudoin's post is about those, especially those caused at least in part by the church's handling of the abuse crisis. Here's a little of what he wrote ....

Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked in his famous prison letters his gratitude for life among prisoners who were not pious, his surprise at what life was like with them. In a very different context, I too have found compelling the "desacralized" spaces of secular culture .... This culture has been a school for "deconversion," a process that is now the focus of emerging scholarship in practical theology. Deconversion is the poor cousin to conversion. Whereas most of our theological attention and evangelical effort aims at conversion, scholars are beginning to suggest that the ways in which people leave faith/religious/spiritual practices behind is as worthy of study as the ways in which a new faith/religion/spirituality is taken up. Exit can be its own theological phenomenon ...

Professor Beaudoin mentions a couple of blogs as examples of deconversion, and I thought I'd post a quote from one of them. Here's a bit from Pews in the Back: Young Women and Catholicism, the post Done ....

I wake up in the morning to the sounds of radio news reports, new reports every day, of the abuse perpetrated by priests and covered up by the hierarchy (in order to save the Church from embarrassment?!) and I just want to cry and go back to sleep and forget it’s happening, in part because I feel complicit – this is my Church, we’re all one body, when the eye suffers does not the hand suffer too, and when the hand reaches out and abuses another does not the whole body participate in that abuse? – and in part because it reminds me that this is the end for us, that gulf between me and the institutional Church has widened too much and has reached the point of irreparable damage, and that sooner rather than later I’m going to have to deal with it. This is what the term “irreconcilable differences” means, I guess. I no longer look to the Church and see any of my values, my priorities, my convictions reflected back at me. Sure, it’s in the teachings, oh the teachings that I love so much, the social encyclicals, the preferential option for the poor, the stuff that has inspired those who have inspired me, the liberation theologians and Dorothy Day and well, if the Church was good enough for them perhaps I can still make it work? But I’m deluding myself if I think that the teachings of the Church are the Church, for there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING of the preferential option for the poor in this scandal, there’s not justice in the hierarchy’s response, there isn’t even the slightest display of concern for the powerless and I just can’t find Jesus anywhere in all of it, not anywhere at all. And I’m actually crying as I write these words because there is so much about this tradition that I hold so dear, and I feel like I’m abandoning the real Church, the people of God, my fellow sisters and brothers, but at the same time I’ve had enough. Enough. Enough.

I wish the Vatican would engage people who express these kind of feelings instead of marginalizing them, because if these people are anything like me, they wish very much that things could be resolved positively rather than leaving.


Blogger Fran said...

Crystal - thanks for this. I am so scattershot these days I might have missed that piece.

Wow... really powerful and your post is as well.

7:23 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

8:12 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for the kind words. I just saw the post at America's blog today myself. Professor Beaudoin also has a blog - Rock and Theology - that's interesting.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...

I have broken with the institutional Church twice now, and come back twice. I do not think there will be a third time because I have come to value the Sacraments which I am coming to see as more powerful and more valuable than the stupidity and wrongness that exists in the institutional Church.

There are a lot of good people in the Church, most of them working quietly and effectively for Christ. Again, I believe, at lest now, that they are worth much more than the bad apples, and if I pack up and leave, then I am abandoning them, and certainly not harming the abusers and those that covered for them. How does that do good?

The institutional Church is not my God! I love the statement I heard the other day, "Jesus founded the Catholic Church, he did not found the Vatican." So why should I abandon the Church that Christ founded because of some idiots in a human based organization?


Mike L

8:14 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Mike,

No, I'm not saying you should abandon the church - i'm not either (so far :). But I can see why many do and I think it would happen less if there was any give and take between people who are disatisfied and the Vatican, but the Vatican won't deign to discuss issues.

It reminds me of being an Americanm sort of. When Bush was president, I hated what he was doing to the country (and to other countries) but I didn't move to Canada. On the other hand, with politics we citizens can at least wotk to change for the better and we have a voice in the changes that are made. Not so with the church.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

"On the other hand, with politics we citizens can at least wotk to change for the better and we have a voice in the changes that are made. Not so with the church."

Not sure I agree crystal. Much of the change we have now in the church, from, say 100 years ago, began with the people at the bottom of the pyramid, not the funny hats at the top. In fact, I think the 21st century and information technology and immediacy and access of the media itself (while mass media has abused its power in some instances) provides we who are the Church unique opportunities to voice anger, frustration, and hurt at the situation (and all situations that arise) and in so-doing, be instruments for change. The posts you've done on the subject, those articles you've highlighted and that have been written and highlighted by others get the word out and make demands for change to an extent that hasn't been seen in the Church...ever.

I think the more recent responses coming out of Bishop's conferences and Rome are a direct result of the voices of the people being heard rather than silenced.

7:51 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


It saddened me so much to read the posts you cited - not just because they’ve temporarily left, but because they have been cheated out of the Beauty and Joy of following Christ by whoever taught them the Faith. The more I meet other Catholics, the more I am amazed and grateful to the Franciscan priest who taught me the Faith. Moreover, Christ has called me to follow him in an ecclesial lay movement in the Church (Communion and Liberation) that has built upon and enhanced the foundation that Christ gave me through the priest who taught me.

And so, based on my experience and what I have been taught and studied on my own, at heart, Catholic Christianity isn’t things to do, or laws to honor, but a Presence to be amazed by, a Presence to think about, a Presence you can talk to, a Presence to beg: a Presence. So, it’s a You that dominates, not things!

Think back to the experience that the Apostles had: the apostles were struck and attracted by a You that was present, by a You that ate and drank with them, by a You whose hair did things because there was wind, by a You that they put on the cross. It’s this You which is the meaning of history and the reason for the Church.

So why do I stay in the Church? Because that You comes to me through the flesh of those people – some that I don’t even like!

I pray that Kate and all my brothers in sisters in Christ will experience the joy and freedom that I have experienced since my conversion.

Regarding your last paragraph, don’t confuse the Vatican with Christ, the people in the Vatican have an essential and important role to play but they, like you and me, must continually strive to be united to the authentic Christ (not the one in our minds!) so that He can use their flesh to manifest His Beauty.



8:14 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Cura,

I think you're more optimistic than me. I agree that now we have so much of a better chance to voice our opinions in the church and there are advicacy groups like We Are Church and VOTF - those are great. But when it comes to actual change of the structure of the church, we lay people are pretty powerless. Even Vatican II only happened because the pope called it. But I hope I'm wrong and you are right :)

1:11 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I do think you're right - that it's all about Jesus. But as that one peron who's blog I quoted wrote, she didn't see Jesus anywahere in the church anymore.

There's something that seems important to me that I can't express well. If we belong to a church that is doing something wrong to others, whther it's covering up sex abuse or promoting anti-Semitism or homophobia, or anything else, and we tell ourselves not to care, I think that is colluding.

You can't belong to a group or an institution, and support it, even if your support is only that you belong, and not be in some sense responsible for what it does if only by association. I don't think that means one has to leave the group but I do think it means you have to at least say something about what's wrong.

To just say "I've got mine" and good luck to others, even if what we're talking about is spiritual peace of mind, just seems wrong to me (which is not to say I'm not guilty of this myself).

1:25 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

Thanks for your post, Crystal, and for the link. I went over to read the whole DONE post, and all the comments.

This week the daily gospel readings are from the 6th chapter of John, the "Bread of Life" discourse. At the very end, the teaching is just too hard to accept...everyone leaves Him but the apostles. Jesus asks them if they're going to leave too, and they basically say, "Where would we go? We know you have the words of Eternal Life."

Sure, I know that the Church is not the same as my faith in Jesus. But it hurts anyway.

4:33 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


It is sad to see people so disillusioned. But I think it's a good thing in a way that they're so upset - it shows they care, that they do believe in the words of "eternal life" - it's the dicontinuity between those words and the church that they find so disappointing. Sad for the church too.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


There is so much that we agree on, so much, and I sincerely hope that you are not implying that I would ever encourage you or anyone else not to say something about what’s wrong in the Church; or that I would ever tell anyone who follows Christ in the Catholic Church to dismiss another person. I pray that you know me better than that by now.

And yes, I agree that saying nothing is colluding and/or at least demonstrating consent with one’s silence.

What I am having trouble understanding is that someone can claim that “she doesn’t see Jesus anywhere in the Church anymore”. Or rather, I can’t understand what measure they are using to decide that Jesus is no longer present in His Church. I really can’t understand this, and I am trying so hard to do so – not because I want to argue with them, but because it is diametrically opposed to my experience. In fact, my question is: How can one not see Jesus in the Church?

Perhaps it’s a question of method because the most frustrating thing to me from reading posts on other sites is that I see that so many people imagine the Church to be something She is not and those distortions generally revolve around three general reductions: 1) the Kantian rationalist tendency to reduce Christianity to ethics; 2) imagining that the Church claims to be a utopia; or 3) thinking that the goal of the Church is to be a social agency.

Now, I am not an expert on every aspect of the Church but I certainly have always made it a point to be an honest and truthful catechist by being absolutely certain that I only pass on what the Church teaches in its entirety and without deviation. I have always believed that anything less would be dishonest to the person I am teaching and to my dignity as a human person.

Let me try to explain what I mean when I talk about reductions and why I think they are reductions. (Note, I am not asking you to agree with me, I am simply trying to explain what I am trying to say.)

I believe that realism requires a certain method for observing and coming to know an object, and this method must not be imagined, thought of or organized and created by the subject: it must be imposed by the object. In other words, the method of knowing an object is dictated by the object itself and cannot be defined by me.
Now, when I work with those who are interested in becoming Roman Catholics I explain to them that the Church has a book called a “catechism” that clearly outlines Her teachings. Lately, I have especially used the Compendium of the Catholic Church because it is “a faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  As it says in the front: “it contains, in concise form, all the essential and fundamental elements of the Church’s faith, thus constituting, as my Predecessor had wished, a kind of vademecum which allows believers and non-believers alike to behold the entire panorama of the Catholic faith.”
So what is the Church’s most basic claim? That She is the protraction of Christ in time and space. In other words, the Church presents Herself in history as a relationship with the living Christ - all other reflections, all other considerations, are a consequence of this position. And what does that mean in practical terms. That She has the same function that Jesus had when He walked the streets of Israel, to educate all men and women to the religious sense precisely in order to “save” them.

I’m tired now and so I am going to stop; I hope I am making sense my friend.

If you can, please help me understand.



6:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:26 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Henry,

I'm not sure I understand exactly what you mean and I'm not even sure I understand what I and others like me mean :) but I'll try.

So what is the Church’s most basic claim? That She is the protraction of Christ in time and space. In other words, the Church presents Herself in history as a relationship with the living Christ .... She has the same function that Jesus had when He walked the streets of Israel, to educate all men and women to the religious sense precisely in order to “save” them.

If I believed this, as you do, then I too would have trouble understanding why someone cn't see Jesus in the church.

But I don't think the church is the continuation of Jesus in time and space. I think Jesus can be made present in time and space through personal relationsip/prayer. I think the church is the distant evolution of a group of Jesus' apostles and disciples who got together after he died (and rose) to remeber him, to save and promote his teachings, to do their best to still experience him in real time and to show others how to do the same.

The church has done a good job with rituals, theology, and spirituality, to remeber Jesus and also make him present to us. But it can't take his place with us.

What would Jesus think of an infallible pope, of a madatory celibate priesthood, of the "just war" theory, of the church signing off on the death penalty, of indulgences, of centuries of anti-Semitism, of the wealth weilded by a church dedicated to the preferential option for the poor? The Catholic church doesn't seem to perfectly reflect Jesus and maybe that's why some people look at the church and don't see him.

3:15 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...


Looking at what I wrote last night in this morning's light I see that it can be perceived as a personal attack and if you took it that way I am so sorry because that was not my intention.

I appreciate your effort to help me understand but maybe it can't be done through this medium. I am very grateful for this technology but I do miss the “fullness” that exists when speaking with someone face-to-face. And I find that since that element is missing, conversations often turn into verbal sparring, and I don't like that.

I apologize again and I wish you a good day. I am having a “pain” day and I will offer up my sufferings for you and your intentions.

Peace Crystal, much peace.


5:11 AM  
Blogger Mike L said...

I am going to cheat this morning, I am going to make a reply and then Susannah and I are leaving on vacation, so it might be the weekend before I get your return comment.

Henry, I would add a couple of more things to what the Church is not. It is not an organization, it is not the ordained priesthood. I think more than anything these beliefs lead to tremendous confusion. Would I be wrong in saying the Church is like an organism with us as the parts, just as the human body is an organism. That it is a connection between all parts of creation, you, me, Crystal, BXVI, everyone that draws us toward Jesus and God. If this is true, then one cannot "leave" the Church because each of us is part of it, the best we can do is express our little part in a different way. We can, of course refuse the sacraments, follow a different set of ethics or even chose to believe differently, but we are still all bound together as the Mystical Body.

Be interested in your answer, and can probably read it on a computer where we are going, don't know if I can respond.

By the way, we are now a 2 dog family with a much lighter wallet after visiting the vet.

Mike L

7:09 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Henty - no worries - I saw nothing wrong with your comments :)

Mike - sfae and happy vacation!

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Mike,

Sorry I’ve taken so long to respond but I’ve been sick - e.g., right now my #is 256 - I just took some insulin and I am waiting for it to kick in!

Because of the ontological transformation that takes place at Baptism, I’d agree with you.

I hope you and Susannah had a great time on your vacation.


12:15 AM  

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