At this point in Catholic history, the Catholic Church needs strength. This can be done in many ways, such as strengthening the clergy and laity. We also need to bring in converts.
We do have one more resource at our disposal: the ex-Catholic.
There is no shortage of ex-Catholics on our planet. People are leaving our faith daily. We do get converts, but far more leave. In addition to dwindling numbers, we also have the problem of quality. We have quantity, but our quality is lacking in many regards. A lot of this has to do with poor catechesis, priestly scandals, and nominalism.
The vast majority of fallen away Catholics adopt no faith at all. A lot become atheists and agnostics, but most become nones. In other words, they just stop going to Church out of habit and don’t really think about it. The second largest group who leave become Evangelicals. They find spirituality in a different group that they couldn’t find in Catholicism. Among ex-Catholics who become Evangelical, there are two main categories. These are the hostiles and the friendlies.
The hostiles believe that Catholicism is false, that the Church preaches false doctrine and a false Gospel. Catholics will not go to Heaven by following Catholic teaching, and these hostiles will try to get every Catholic they can to leave and adopt Evangelicalism.
The second group is the friendlies. Although they have left the Church, they still respect it and the people who attend it. They view Catholics as their brothers and sisters in Christ with whom they respectfully disagree on a few minor points. They are more than willing to stand side by side with the Catholics in the culture war and against immorality in our society. In many ways, they’re allies.
Of all of these groups, I believe that the friendlies have a high probability of being brought back. I’m not saying the other groups don’t matter. I’ve tried hard to reach out to nones and hostiles as well. With friendlies, it’s different, as it doesn’t take someone well trained in apologetics and polemics to bring them back. It takes a solid and faithful Catholic who knows what he believes.
Why did most of the friendlies leave the Church for Evangelicalism? There are a few reasons, but the biggest reason is that they saw the high degree of nominalism in the Church. They would sit in the pews every Sunday surrounded by many nominal Catholics. Many of these Catholics go to church, take communion, have coffee afterward, and go home to live like the world from Monday morning to Saturday evening. They have no friends at church, and they’re just going to fulfill their Sunday obligation while their faith slips away day by day. Because of the lack of spirituality, they don’t pray or read the Bible or any other religious books. It’s just barren Sunday morning after barren Sunday morning.
Enter the Evangelical friend, who invites the friendly to “church,” and everything he was lacking in Catholicism enters his life. He has friends who love to talk about God and faith. He has a pastor with solid preaching straight from the (Protestant) Bible. He gets weekly Bible studies, and because of this, he starts to read it on their own – something he’s never done before. Whenever he’s in need, he can just fire off a text to ask for prayers. He has things he could never have imagined in his old parish.
Most devout Catholics know that communities like this exist in our Church. They simply can’t be found in every parish. In fact, they can’t be found in most parishes. As a Catholic, I wouldn’t recommend the vast majority of Catholic parishes in my diocese. However, I know that there are good ones, including the parish I attend. These poor ex-Catholics just happened to find themselves in one of the bad parishes, with a poor priest and no strong faith community.
I mentioned that of all the ex-Catholics, these people are the easiest to bring back, but it takes work. It involves befriending them and having many discussions with them, and not just about religion. It also takes a lot of prayer. If you haven’t found a reason to pray the rosary recently, now you have one. Also, God gave us two ears and one mouth. We should use them in proportion and let these friendlies open up to us. Eventually, they’ll open up about the nominalism that was so discouraging and the strong faith community they’ve since found. At this point, we should tell them we’re just as frustrated with nominalism as they are. Most importantly, we have to remind them that despite the horrible nominalism we’re surrounded with that discourages us to no end, it doesn’t give any of us the right before God to leave His church for a group founded by a man a few hundred years ago.
Deep down, the friendlies know that if the Catholic Church was established by Christ, they have no business worshiping elsewhere. They might have a few additional doctrinal questions, and that is where knowledge of Scripture and Tradition comes into play. Be ready to give biblical answers to their questions.
One thing that is extremely important is to be ready to offer these friendlies a community. When they leave their Evangelical groups, they’re going to lose a lot of friends. This will no doubt be difficult. To ease the pain, we should try our best to introduce them to a solid Catholic community to replace what they left.
Many of us know people like this who can be brought back. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. We need these people more than ever to help fight the corruption in the Church. With the help of a good sponsor, they will become zealous Catholics who will help our quality-versus-quantity problem.
The year is drawing to a close. Make 2019 the year in which you bring an ex-Catholic back to the Church. Find one, befriend him, pray for him, and guide him. Most importantly, live the Christian life. When this is done, it stands in sharp contrast to our greatest enemy, which is nominalism.
Allan Ruhl is a Catholic apologist and blogger who lives in Western Canada. He holds a Bachelor of Science in engineering from the University of Alberta. His main interests are Church history and Islamic apologetics. His website is allanruhl.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AllanRuhl.