Is it time to leave the Church?

Is it time to leave the Church?
Questions of Faith


One of the most common reasons people decide to leave the Church is because of the internal corruption that runs to even the upper echelons of the hierarchy. The decision to leave for this particular reason is one that everybody can sympathise with, even the most ardent and devout believers.

All too often, we have or hear conversations about the Church’s financial corruption or the clerical abuse scandals, the latter of which has a particularly dark resonance in Ireland. These forms of exploitation have led to many Catholics leaving the Church, while still trying to practice their faith in a personal, albeit hampered way.

Indeed, the well-known Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson said recently that the levels of corruption in the Vatican are almost beyond corruption that “maybe believing Catholics should go on strike [and] stop attending Church”. While I’m a big fan of Dr Peterson, I think in this case, he’s off the mark.

It’s perfectly understandable, for example, to retract membership from a political party if one no longer supports it for moral reasons, but the difference between institutions like these, and the Church, is that Catholics believe that the visible Church was founded by Christ himself – and so is not man-made.

This includes a visible membership as well as a visible leadership structure, based on the idea of apostolic succession. In the Church, Catholics also receive the Sacraments – an outward sign of an invisible, inward grace – which provide spiritual sustenance. As a result, the Church is the place where God’s love is on full offer, and where Catholics can worship and pray together in communion. These visible aspects are fundamental to the Church, as well as indispensable.

This, of course, doesn’t mean that the divinely ordained Church is filled with perfect people that always operate with the best intentions. The Church – laity, priests and bishops – is composed of people who not only do great good, but also horrendous evils. Sin and grace percolate within it.

This notion goes right back to the Church’s origins when the first Vicar of Christ, Peter, denied Jesus three times. Those within the Church – especially clergy and prelates – are not flawless and often fail to live up to the standard their Faith calls of them. While it’s tempting to leave the Church on this basis, to do so would mean departing from an institution of truth and love based on the failings of those who work within it.

This perspective doesn’t for one second mean that people cannot be unhappy and protest about how the Church is run, or what it teaches on certain matters. Rather than leaving, Catholics should be striving to make the Church more perfect, by gathering in community, praying, and holding those in positions of power accountable.

The religious author Carlo Carreto best summarises this struggle between staying and leaving when he writes: “Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face – and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms!”

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