Faith & Life


Alienated, non-practicing Catholics are Invited Back to the Church – Without Judgment or Recrimination

By Cathi Douglas     8/30/2019

The Pew Research Center reports that there are more than 51 million Catholics in the U.S., yet many of them no longer practice their faith.  

And 13 percent of U.S. adults say they are former Catholics who now belong to another religion, or none at all. 

Non-practicing Catholics have myriad reasons for leaving the Church, ranging from being too busy to attend Mass to disagreement with Church teachings. A significant number of former Catholics cite their dismay at the recent scandals involving priests abusing children, and the perceived failure or slowness to act on the scandals by Catholic Church leaders. 

In a July 2010 article in U.S. Catholic, Lorie Duquin of Williamsville, New York explains that parishes can’t employ a one-size-fits-all approach to evangelization. Through her involvement in evangelization programs in the Diocese of Buffalo, Duquin has identified three categories of Catholics who aren’t at church: inactive Catholics, those who are registered at a parish but don’t go to Mass regularly; alienated Catholics, those who do not attend church and feel unwanted in some way; and the unchurched, baptized Catholics, who did not grow up as actively involved in their parish.  

Programs like Catholics Come Home strive to reach out to fallen-away and non-practicing Catholics with messages of hope, healing, and reconciliation.  

Failure to practice Catholicism fully is such a widespread issue that Katie Warner, author of Head and Heart and the website notes that Pope Francis has warned of the danger of Catholics being “backseat Christians.”  

“Don’t take a backseat when it comes to welcoming fallen-away Catholics home,” Warner says. “Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to people whom you can encourage on their faith journeys. That is certainly a prayer that God loves to answer. And when God puts that beloved, wandering child of his in your path, remember the words of the King in Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”  

In my own case, I became bitter when my father – a lifelong Catholic and longtime St. Vincent de Paul volunteer – suffered a brief illness and passed away without anyone from the Church acknowledging his suffering or his absence. 

Alienated from the same Church that offered me solace and grace for so many years, I stopped attending Mass except at Christmas and Easter. I explored other churches. I tried to live a life free of spirituality. I attempted to ignore the insistent voice inside me that kept calling me back to Catholicism. 

Over time I came to realize that try as I might to turn my back on my faith, being Catholic is an integral part of who I am. Denying my faith felt like denying my identity as a female, or as a mother, or as a wife. It is an essential part of who I am. 

Since making a good confession and starting anew as a faith-filled Catholic, I have rediscovered the peace that comes from a growing relationship with Jesus. invites alienated Catholics like me to come home to Catholicism without judgment: “Above all, do not lose heart. People may disappoint, but God never leaves us, and He is always present in the Catholic Church he founded.”