Becoming Episcopalian: Mass Exodus from the Catholic Church

One out of every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. If they were a separate denomination, they would be the third-largest denomination in the United States, after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who were raised Catholic no longer identifies as Catholic.

The National Catholic Reporter had a nice article breaking down the reasons why Catholics leave the church. About half because Protestants, and about half became unaffiliated. The article focused on the Protestant half, and in that, a portion became evangelical, and another portion joined some other mainline denomination. It’s interesting seeing the statistics. (Hat tip to Episcopal Cafe for linking to it.)

It made me contemplate why I left.

So, Why did I leave?

That’s a simple question, but it’s difficult to articulate all the reasons. Faith is a strange thing, and changes in it are multifaceted. Some things I simply could not tolerate any longer. Some things my subconscious did not like, but it wasn’t fully articulated or realized until after I was received into the Episcopal Church.

If you want the short answer, I left because the Church was becoming more intolerant at the cost of its loving messages.

If you want the long answer:

Spiritual needs was one major issue for ex-Catholics, according to the article. My spiritual needs were mostly being met in the Catholic Church. I like the liturgy. It is beautiful, and the Episcopal Church has the same sort of liturgy, the routine of standing, sitting, and kneeling. They had the “smells and bells” too.

The homilies…well. I’m deaf. It’s hard to hear the homilies one way or another. Sometimes I can make sense of them, but after a couple of minutes into a homily I couldn’t hear, I will slip into a nap-like state. So that’s definitely not an aspect of spiritual needs, heh.

Theology was another issue for some people. Me? I agreed with the church on many theological things. Some things I sort of disagreed on, but could tolerate. For example, I thought perhaps clergy marriage wouldn’t be a bad idea, but I could understand the celibacy requirement. I just don’t really like the hard-line approach to celibacy that the Vatican has taken, lately. It’s unfair to accept married clergy into the RC fold, but exclude people who are struggling with the call to both vocations of married life AND the priesthood.

Female ordination–I thought the theology against it was absurd. I could get into that here, but many others online have made good arguments that I’ll leave it to you to find them.

I thought that the church could do better by gay people. This aspect of my faith is still in flux. I still generally agree with the Catholic theology that marriage is for one man and one woman. Yet I was so incredibly happy when one of my pastors got married to his long-time partner. Well, they married in Vermont, but finally got it blessed by the Episcopal Church, but you know what I mean. I am so glad that they were able to get married in the Church–there’s something about church recognition that helps to provide a sanctity of the whole marriage thing. So, I acknowledge that my theological understanding of gay marriage could be incorrect. For now, I’ll hang onto the general concept I grew up with, until I learn more.

I couldn’t stand the judgmental individuals who seem to confuse religion and politics and say that gay people can’t get legally married. Yes, I know, religion and politics often influence one another, but seriously, letting gay people have full legal rights in the United States is NOT going to infringe on your religious beliefs. You know what? Some people believe that their religion allows gay marriage! Legislating against gay marriage is legislating against their own religious liberties. It is possible to support legal protections for certain classes of people without supporting religious recognition of the same classes of people.

I agreed with the Church that artificial birth control isn’t the best thing to do if there are other options. However, I disagreed with the stipulation that it must be a “cure” for it to be morally acceptable. I think that “management” is perfectly fine, too. The only “cure” for my wayward lady organs is a full-on hysterectomy, which would cause more problems than it would fix. It would cause more damage to my body than simply getting hormonal treatment. Requiring a “cure” for PCOS is like requiring people to amputate their lungs in order to cure their asthma. Maybe that’s an extreme analogy, but you get the idea. Natural family planning is good if the female is relatively healthy. Even with irregular cycles, it can work. However, if the cycles are more than just irregular…if the cycles’ irregularity are a result of hormonal imbalance due to a disease or disorder, then just go ahead and treat the dang thing.

I couldn’t stand the judgey people who adamantly believe that birth control is ZOMG ABORTION, and then go on about NFP being the only option, and go on about natural cures like a Christian Scientist, and all the while implicitly telling you that you’re going to hell every time you have sex with your husband. Thank you, judgey ladies. You’ve provided the momentum to help me leave the Catholic Church. It’s one of the main reasons why I left.

I think it’s cruel to prevent transgender  or cross-dressing children from attending Catholic schools, or kicking them out because they weren’t dressing like the sex they were born into. That’s incredibly distressing to the children who are already distressed. If you know me at all, you know that I absolutely hate it when kids are subjected to adverse psychological maltreatment. Yet, Catholic schools completely don’t get this. Maybe there’s a few who don’t give a damn. But there are still plenty of Catholic schools who do provide a hostile environment to the poor child who happened to be “born into the wrong body.” This is another reason why I left. This is one of those things that wasn’t fully articulated until after I made the decision to leave the Catholic Church.

I could go on, and I could probably go back and revise my post some more to make it more concise, but I’m tired, I don’t give a shit, and I need to go to bed.

I am curious, though. If you are part of that “one in three” statistic, an ex-Catholic, what are your reasons for leaving?

Filed under: Becoming Episcopalian


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    I enjoyed reading your article, Holly. I write a blog for clergy and religious leaders who are working to reach out to the LGBT community. Check it out - everyone is welcome to comment.

  • In reply to Jessy Hamilton:

    Thanks for sharing, Jessy.

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    Hello!I respect all opinions, but his arguments are very vague. You do not cite any parent or doctor of the Church to make your defenses, let alone the Bible.
    You become just by Anglicans love sin more than Christ, because those who love to Christ, sacrifices everything for him and die with Him on the cross.
    The little pain that we have here in denying sin never compare to being in hell forever.
    Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide et Soli Deo Gloria.
    God bless you!

  • In reply to Jéssica Moretti:

    If I want to be snarky, I might say that by leaving the Roman Catholic church, I'm denying sin, and thereby am avoiding hell.

    But that snark doesn't encompass the entirety of my feelings, of my struggles, of my concerns about the world and politics corrupting the leaders of the RCC.

    The pain of leaving the church (rather, it felt like the church abandoned me) I grew up with is meaningless compared to the heart's desire to seek God--and that desire unexpectedly led me outside of the RCC.

    I am not a theologian, so I feel extremely unworthy to cite Scripture, and I've only begun to scratch the surface of the Church Doctors' readings. So, I'm not sure why you expected me to approach it from an academic standpoint.

    I understand that you believe I'm going to hell for leaving the "One True Church," because I used to believe that, too. Used to. Now I believe I am still part of that One True Church...just in a different branch of the same broad earthly institution.

    I'm not sure what to say about your baffling certainty that Anglicans love sin more than Christ, except that you are welcome to believe what you wish to believe.

    Thank you for commenting.

  • In reply to Jéssica Moretti:

    Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't realize you were a Protestant! I just posted my other comment assuming you were Roman Catholic, but then I remembered that the 5 Solas that you quoted came from the Reformation, associated strongly with Calvin and Luther. If I may ask, what denomination are you?

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    Hello! Sorry for the comment the other day, I was unable to express myself properly.
    Actually, I am glad you left the Catholic Church. I am a defender of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and even of Anglicanism.
    I do not agree with many points of Catholicism, since many of them are extra-biblical or unbiblical.
    I am a protestant since the cradle, but I tried to know Catholicism and study it. However, he failed to persuade me
    But I have Catholic friends and I think your article wouldn't persuade them , they seek a trusted source.
    I also am not a theologian, but I think every Christian should understand some theology to defend his faith. God help us in this learning.
    What I said about eternal damnation, was not exclusively for you. But for all of us, including me. That's what I learned from the letters of St. Paul.
    God bless you!

  • In reply to Jéssica Moretti:

    Hi Jessica...I apologize! Thanks for clarifying! We're all in this journey, Catholics and Protestants and even non-Christians, alike :)

  • Holly, your article really resonates with me. The big changes that have occurred in the Catholic Church in my lifetime have left me feeling that the Church has moved away from me, not vice versa.

    I grew up in Ireland, which has been rocked by the institutional abuse scandals (think Magdalene laundries), the pedophile scandal, the pedophile cover-up scandal, the Vatican's refusal to answer questions from an Irish judicial tribunal, and all of this frustration and anger culminating in the Irish Prime Minister's broadside against the Catholic Church a year ago in the parliament. Then in this country (the U.S.), where I've lived for nearly 30 years, the Catholic Church has taken the stand of wanting to impose its own beliefs on secular society in the form of supporting anti-gay marriage amendments to state constitutions. I have no problem with gays getting married in civil ceremonies and I fail to see how it will affect anyone else. Every time the Church takes some position on public policy, it is from the political right. Now they complain about so-called Obamacare because, heaven forbid, women might just get access to contraception. What happened to social justice? Why isn't the Church celebrating the fact that millions of American families will be able to get health insurance for the first time?

    Issues like female ordination aren't the most critical in my mind, but I have no objections to women in ministry. Similarly, I think it's reasonable that married men should be eligible for ordination (and ordained men for marriage). I don't know why so much energy is expended to maintain the status quo on those topics. Like you, I am looking at the Episcopal Church in the hope of getting out from the oppressive abuses, the in-fighting and the exclusionary politics that are dominating the Catholic Church today.

  • In reply to TonyK:

    Hi Tony, and thanks for reading and sharing your perspectives! I agree so much with you. I've been writing and rewriting my reply comment...but I find myself just repeating the points you've said. So, here's a big ditto to everything.

    I know the Episcopal Church isn't perfect. I'm not sure any church on earth is perfect. The Episcopal church has definitely had their share of scandals and in-fighting, but the difference is that I can publicly disagree with any church official--including Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori--and not be told that I should go to confession for disagreeing. In fact, I think most of the fights come from the fact that we CAN disagree without being censured. In the Catholic Church, any dissenting opinions or even dissenting scholarly papers are silenced simply because it's "contrary to the official teachings."

    In any case--I wish you the best on your own spiritual journey, and hope you're able to find the right home. :)

  • The reason I left the Catholic church? The main reason? I'm divorced, and remarried to a divorceé. Neither of us is annulled. I have no desire to declare that my first marriage never existed. I can't buy into that. Even though we are divorced, my first marriage has meaning in my life. It didn't not exist, and as a result of it, I am who I am now, which is closer to God. My new husband was Presbyterian who had married a Catholic. The Catholicism is such an exclusionary club of sorts is also why I am no longer a member of the Catholic church.

    I found your post after searching for more info about disaffected Episcopals becoming Catholics. I'm not anything but Christian at the moment (searching, searching) and Episcopalian was beginning to seem like a viable option for our family. But that there are disaffected Episcopalians is a little concerning to me too. I was kind of hoping to discover there really is a "Catholic light" out there...maybe something in between Catholicism and Episcopalian...

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    In reply to Susan ESM:

    Susan, you might want to consider the Ecumenical Catholic Church, which started in the U.S. in 1985 and counts the Old Catholic Church (before papal infallibility) as its ancestor. I think that you'll find that it is exactly like the RC service, but allows women and openly-gay priests.

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    In reply to Lisa McCann:

    Here is the link:

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    I left the Church because I had not gone in a while and did not want to go to confession. Silly, I realize but confession was just not the answer for me. Too, my husband had not gone either for a long while and I wanted a Church that he could accept too. We chose the Episcopal Church. I do miss the Catholic Church but I am happy where I am. We all confess during the mass and my husband goes to Church. I don't think that it requires a long discussion on the part of anyone who left the Catholic Church as to the reason. For my husband and I it was simple and long discussions just were not and are not necessary. I don't like the confessional and he does not like that the Church never has done anything about the priest pedophiles.

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    The belief that only the Catholic represents a standard is erroneous, so erroneous that it hinders the realization that they are the imposters of faith. This legacy of the Counterculture and Progressive Protestantism must be sent to Rome, not the other way around. The reality that many a Catholic hides in our Episcopalian pews is emphasized, but why do we want to pretend that they can hide?

  • Dear Holly,

    I have also joined the ranks of Non-Catholic, and have joined the Episcopal church. I am very happy with my decision and find it truly embraces what being a christian is about. I still get to enjoy all of the rites and liturgical rituals without the intolerable single mindedness from Catholic church. (I'm incapable of understanding the bible without the RCC telling me what to believe. I can't get to heaven unless it's through the pope. That married men OR women can't be priests. That if we have a really bad priest, we are stuck with him. And mostly just the hypocrisy in general from RCC.) I feel like I am on the path of becoming a better christian since I left the church.
    I am really struggling with my Catholic family (parents and siblings) who refuse to accept my right to practice whatever faith I choose. My parents have told me how much I have hurt them by leaving the church. They claim to have the inside track to God but have no tolerance for me or my change. Quite frankly their treatment of me since I left the church has only reenforced that I absolutely made the right decision. But you know it still hurts to be rejected! My grown children are not any practicing faith, but are really supportive of whatever I wish to do. I thought my family loved me, but they don't live their faith.

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