Anthony Stanford: On a day of rebirth, grieving a loss of faith

Posted by Kendall Harmon

A recent survey showing that Americans are changing their religious affiliations in record numbers was particularly relevant to me, for I have decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church. This Easter will be my first as a non-Catholic.

The Catholic Church has lost more members than any other religious group, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, with about 10 percent of all Americans now identifying themselves as former Catholics. This remarkable statistic offers little solace, other than to prove to those who have agonized over abandoning their religious convictions that they are not alone.

With the approach of Easter, the ominous distinction of being labeled a "former Catholic" has filled me with dread. My feelings of estrangement and self-doubt have increased, and I have questioned whether I made the right decision, whether abandoning Catholicism, of all days on Fat Tuesday, could have been better thought out. However, my decision came after a time of spiritual starvation and reflection.

I wonder if there is something I can do to prepare for this, yet it is hard to imagine that anything could compensate for what has been so much a part of my spirituality and sense of being.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & Culture

18 Comments
Posted March 27, 2008 at 12:57 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. COLUMCIL wrote:

Can there be a better time not to act?  This sounds very much like the way of the cross.  The Church is full of people who sin, make mistakes, do not act correctly, struggle to theologize.  But the Body of Christ is not an error.  The Hound of Heaven will continue to pursue.

March 27, 2:34 pm | [comment link]
2. Stefano wrote:

Is that figure of “10 percent” accurate? That would make it almost thirty million which is about three or four times the estimate I saw.

March 27, 2:35 pm | [comment link]
3. St. Jimbob of the Apokalypse wrote:

From the article:
“For example, it matters to me that splendor and opulence exist inside many Catholic churches, while beyond their doors so many people suffer in poverty and despair.”

From Mark 14:
”  3While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6"Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”

March 27, 2:46 pm | [comment link]
4. vulcanhammer wrote:

As one of those former Catholics, I went back and forth with Abu Daoud about this on his blog recently.

However, no matter how you look at your departure, to leave is to die a little, as the French would say.  That, in no small measure, is also the pain of many who have departed TEC.

March 27, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
5. Words Matter wrote:

Well, I have had my crises of faith, and quit going to Mass. Actually, I was still Episcopalian the first time it happened, although the bonds of a small parish kept me active.  That would have been in 1986 or so.

Since becoming Catholic, it’s twice. The first, I blamed on the parish, which (really!) had a lot of problems.  After awhile, though, the hunger was just too great and I had to face the fact that I quit Mass because I preferred myself and my sin to Christ.

The second crisis (as a Catholic) came about when they closed my parish (merged it into a larger parish for staffing reasons). Again, I had all the good reasons, but it basically boiled down to to me being full of my own grief, just as before I had been full of my own sin.

And thank goodness I didn’t write newspaper articles about it all! Anonymous blog comments are bad enough!

March 27, 3:33 pm | [comment link]
6. Harry Edmon wrote:

It is unclear to me if the author is claiming to be just a former Roman Catholic, or a former Christian.

March 27, 3:59 pm | [comment link]
7. Marion R. wrote:

Roman Catholicism has many strengths- perhaps definitively so- and many gifts to offer mankind. It has weaknesses, too, though.  One can be seen in this article.  Roman Catholicism frequently engenders in its members an attitude that the Church is something “out there” that is “done to them”. 

Consider Mr. Stanford’s disapproval of the Church’s splendid and opulent buildings, standing, in his mind, amidst the ruin and despair of people living in destitution.  If one’s attitude is that the building is something owned and controlled by distant oligarchs, then it makes complete sense to be morally outraged. But is this the case? Who exactly is it that enjoys the use of the real estate he is talking about? Are we talking about the walled vacation compound of some powerful senator? Or a Hollywood movie mogul? A Silicon Valley tycoon? No. We’re talking about a place the poor themselves can walk right into an opulence and splendor that they, themselves, can partake of and possess whenever they want.  Indeed, the only opulence and splendor they likely will ever be able to actually use and enjoy.  We should— what? Gut it and sell the proceeds so that we can distribute cans of tuna to the poor instead?

And the sex scandals?  These are particular products of the Church, and not symptoms creeping in from a completely bankrupt culture?  It’s the same thing: if the Church is something out there that is done to us, it stands to reason: if we disband the Roman Catholic Church we will eliminate this problem.  But, again, look at reality.  Most sexual abuse is inflicted by family, friends and neighbors.  Are we to dismantle these institutions?  And, what, replace them with the State?  Has he thought for a minute about the frequency of sexual abuse in state school systems?  And the role of administrators and teacher’s union’s in shunting the perpetrators from one school to another? 

Or the rape in our prisons?  Sexual assaults which make civilian rape statistics seem small by comparison, are more brutal, more systematic, and more hopeless, yet can be safely joked about on late night talk shows?  I will only say this: the person who sexually abused me was not a priest, and the only person in whom I have been able to confide the abuse is.

And the incense and vestments now gaudy to him? Well, perhaps there is no accounting for taste. But once one has deliberately broken with a culture—declared that we are “us” and they are “them”, this sort of attitude is inevitable.  I would only mention that others might be equally offended by being served their food by someone with tattoos and facial piercings, or by having derogatory music played in every public place they visit, or by having obnoxious video programming pushed into their face in airplane seats—or nowadays even in restaurants!

I wish Mr. Stanford well.  The Roman Catholic Church itself declares that there is grace outside it, and that other ecclesial bodies bring their own gifts to the Faith. As an Anglican, however, I would merely mention that, to many of us outside the Roman Church, so long as he goes on believing that religion is something “out there” that is “done to him” by other people, he will, in some small, perverse way, still be Roman Catholic in my eyes.

March 27, 4:12 pm | [comment link]
8. robroy wrote:

The TEc benefited from the RC diaspora in the late 90’s. This when they were talking about the 20/20 program. We don’t hear much about the 20/20 program, do we? It seems that people are heading back in the other direction. We recently lost one of vestry members to the RC church.

March 27, 4:26 pm | [comment link]
9. Jon wrote:

#6… I was struck by the same thing, Harry.  His final paragraph sounds like he is no longer a Christian, but perhaps it could also mean he just is standing outside any specific Christian denomination.

I have written him in a very friendly way and asked him which he meant.  Hope to hear back.

March 27, 4:29 pm | [comment link]
10. magnolia wrote:

although i feel the opposite toward the rc church, i respect them now more than ever, i feel the abandonment and bewilderment about my own denomination very much like the author….

March 27, 4:39 pm | [comment link]
11. TWilson wrote:

#6 and #9 - Great line of inquiry.  I have known many people who left the RCC as adults, and sadly most are both unaffiliated and unchurched. Some had decent reasons: namely shock over the sex abuse cover-ups (I’ve noticed women and those who work with children cite this reason a great deal) or theological questioning. Others had reasons that seem smaller: dislike for the music, bad homiletics/lack of entertainment, lack of esprit d’corps among parishioners. I think there are valid reasons for leaving a church or denomination (eg, heresy), but I don’t think that relieves us of our obligation to keep holy the Sabbath, and that means a particular church/parish with its particular imperfections. Perhaps it’s an echo of the scandal of particularity: not only did God come into history in a particular, identifiable manner, time and place, but the worship of Him also necessarily involves particulars, some of which may not like/prefer/appreciate.

March 27, 5:07 pm | [comment link]
12. Jon wrote:

Did his last sentence seem strange to anyone?  His last paragraph is:

I cannot be certain what will happen or how I will feel when Easter arrives. I do know that I will be among a growing group, the “unaffiliated,” who do not identify with a specific religious tradition. They are the former members of all faiths whose certitude has been strengthened by doubt and despair. 

Surely he means “shattered” or “weakened” rather than strengthened?  His narrative is one of a man who, at one time felt really sure about a lot of things, and gradually over time was driven to a place of great doubt about them; i.e. his certitude over time has taken a pronounced beating. 

Was this just some strange typo?

March 27, 5:10 pm | [comment link]
13. celtichorse wrote:

Leaving a church, or is it God?, this way has the same feeling as leaving a marriage.  The other guy is at fault, and all of the evidence sounds like a pretext for avoiding responsiblity.  C.S. Lewis said that hell was that place where there was nothing but blame.

March 27, 5:15 pm | [comment link]
14. pair of scissors wrote:

“Some had decent reasons: namely shock over the sex abuse cover-ups”

The ever-relevant Newman, speaking around 1850:

Hence you sometimes find those who give up religious duty altogether, attacking the conduct of religious men, whether their acquaintance, or the ministers or professors of religion, as a sort of excuse - a very bad one - for their neglect. Others will make the excuse that they are so far from church, or so closely occupied at home, whether they will or not, that they cannot serve God as they ought. Others say that it is no use trying to do so, that they have again and again gone to confession and tried to keep out of mortal siin, and cannot; and so they give up the attempt as hopeless. Others, when they fall into sin, excuse themselves on the plea that they are but following nature; that the impulses of nature are so very strong, and that it cannot be wrong to follow that nature which God has given us.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

March 27, 5:55 pm | [comment link]
15. Sherri wrote:

Marion R, thank you for your post above. The “opulence” of churches being an opulence that all can partake of, no matter their circumstance, is something not to be overlooked, especially since it is an opulence that seeks to glorify God in its expression of beauty and majesty. And everyone ought to have acess to that beauty and majesty.

March 27, 9:17 pm | [comment link]
16. Words Matter wrote:

In case it wasn’t clear from my earlier comment, I think this guy is full of himself, and the “opulent church” complaint is just one evidence of that.

At our inner city parish, we are trying to build a family life center for additional Christian Ed space plus a parish hall, while also restoring our historic church building. It really is a beautiful building, but rather shabby and in need of restoration.  A friend who works at our parish commented recently on people who peal off a couple of bills for the offertory, then after Mass load up in “honking big trucks” that cost $30,000 or more and guzzle $3 per gallon gasoline. These are mostly working class hispanic folks, and they aren’t “poor” in any meaningful sense. They spend THOUSANDS of dollars on baptism parties, Quincenera’s, and let’s not even talk about weddings. There really are some poor people around, generally of the drug addict type, and some (probably) illegal Mexicans.  And we do a certain amount of ministry to them, in conjunction with the local Union Gospel Mission. 

But I’ve yet to hear about the wicked folks who are buying those $250K to $500K condos going in down the street.

March 27, 9:55 pm | [comment link]
17. ann r wrote:

I get upset with our parish (lack of reverence, too “talky,” no sense of the holiness of what we are engaged in), but remind myself of the wheat and tares parable.  The Kingdom of Heaven has wheat and tares, and they don’t get straightened out until the Lord comes, and the angels sort them.  I just hope I don’t end up being taken for a tare!

March 28, 1:26 am | [comment link]
18. Jon wrote:

Incidentally, I got an email back from Anthony Stanford (see my post #9).  He confirmed that he is still a Christian believer, just no longer a Roman Catholic.

Obviously that’s great news (that he is still a Christian).  Let’s hope and pray the best for him—that at some point he can find a Christian community he can join, whether that involves reconciliation with Rome or (more probably) joining some other church.

March 29, 10:54 am | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): Report Assails Auditor for Work at Failed Home Lender

Previous entry (below): Photographer Trains a ‘Complicated’ Lens on Teens

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)