Is it primarily the fault of the Church or of the Catholics who have left it?

This week Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York spoke to his fellow bishops about the “chilling” rates of lapsation among US Catholics. He said:

Fewer and fewer of our beloved people – to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith – are convinced that Jesus and His Church are one.

So they drift from her, get mad at the Church, grow lax, join another or just give it all up. If this does not cause us pastors to shudder, I do not know what will.

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The topic is on our own bishops’ radar, too. Last weekend they launched a national campaign to reach out to Catholics who have lapsed.

One bishop has suggested that people are lapsing because they are simply too busy to go to Mass.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton was indirectly quoted by the Guardian as saying the cause was

… more likely to do with laziness and children’s extra-curricular commitments than controversies surrounding the pope or clerical sexual abuse scandals.

But is the Church itself, or at least its members, not to blame? Abuse scandals, poor communication of the Church’s teaching, bad preaching, the failure to defend the Church in the media – surely these are all big factors in pushing people away?

On the other hand, as Archbishop Dolan said, the sinfulness of Church members is never a “reason to dismiss the Church or her eternal truths”.

And in many situations lapsing from the faith may just be the easy option.

So, why do Catholics lapse? And is it the fault of the Church or the Catholics who have left it?

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