Bishop ponders reasons Americans leave Catholic church

National Catholic Reporter

by Richard McBrien on Jan. 02, 2012 Essays in Theology

Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., is the only U.S. bishop I know of who has explicitly taken into account the report of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that appeared more than two years ago and found that one in 10 Americans has left the Catholic church.

Thus, if ex-Catholics were a denomination unto themselves, they would constitute the second largest, behind only the Catholic church itself.

Bishop Hubbard is also one of the few bishops who was known and respected by the Catholics of the Albany diocese when he was named in 1977. Today, the frequently heard comments after a bishop has been appointed are: “Who is he? Where is he from?” or “Oh my God, not him!”

Bishop Hubbard has been writing a series of monthly articles in his diocesan paper, The Evangelist, regarding the departure of so many Catholics from the church. His initial column attributed the fall-off to the usual suspects: the loss of a sense of sin, individualism, rampant consumerism, secularism and so forth.

But he received some feedback to these articles. Readers noted that he had “neglected to acknowledge ways in which the church itself has contributed to the alienation of many of its members and to its lack of appeal, especially to younger people.”

Other bishops would do well to read his column, “Failings of the Church,” in Origins, November 17, 2011, vol. 41, no. 24.

At the top of his list of failings is the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. The problem was “not only that a number of priests betrayed the sacred bond of trust by sexually abusing minors, but more significantly there is a disillusionment and a loss of faith created by the way we bishops engaged in negligent retention and placed the image of the church before the protection and well-being of children and vulnerable youth.”

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