Responding to the “Mass” Exodus

08-12-2021Recommended Resources Jared Staudt

The Catholic Church, along with every major Protestant denomination, has witnessed a precipitous decline in Church attendance. This slide, set off during the 1960s, has accelerated with the rapid rise of the “nones,” Americans claiming no religious affiliation. We could wonder, has the bottom fallen out with this huge exodus? Or put more theologically, has Christ abandoned his Church? Moments of crisis test us, calling us to exercise great hope and trust in the Lord’s providence. Even though Jesus told us that he will never abandon us, he also calls us to do our part. We are not simply helpless in the current freefall. We can assess why things have gone off track and then adjust, focusing our attention on what can help us reverse course.

In taking stock of the crisis, Stephen Bullivant traces the steps of our decline for us, drawing together the many contributing factors, in his book Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America since Vatican II (Oxford, 2019). Bullivant describes the major forces —both internal and external — that have combined to form a perfect exit storm. Huge cultural changes certainly set the backdrop. One surprising example stems from the breaking up of ethnic Catholic enclaves in cities in favor of the more isolated and anonymous suburbs. Alongside of unprecedented upheaval in society, confusion also reigned for decades in the Church following the Second Vatican Council, which stemmed from a revolution in worship, conflicts over morality, a collapse of catechesis and a flight from the priesthood and religious life — all leading to general turmoil. More recently, revelations about the cover up of the sex abuse crisis and a growing distance between doctrine and society have alienated even more Catholics.