In recent years, the US Catholic Church is undergoing a crisis. Fully 1/3 of its members have left the Church, even with all the Hispanic immigration. For the Church, this is a looming catastrophe. This is happening at the same time as Evangelical Protestants are increasing somewhat (8% increase) and mainline Protestants are declining somewhat (4%). There has been collapse in the membership of the mainline churches and the Evangelical churches are not undergoing explosive growth. Both of these are common tropes believed by many people nowadays.
If fully 1/3 of Catholics have left the church, this begs the question of where have they gone? I thought, once a Catholic, always a Catholic and in the sense that they take a bite out of you and psychologically, you tend to remain Catholic for good and for bad is a common cliche. I believe that the Church considers lapsed Catholics to still be Catholics, but that is a formality. The Church believes lots of silly things, for instance that we are all naturally born Catholic no matter religion we grow up in. That is why conversion to Catholicism is always called “return” because you are said to be returning to the natural religion you were born into.
In the past, converting out of Catholicism was considered a grave error and even a serious sin. I believed that Catholics were still loathe to convert to Protestantism, other than in the Hispanic community, where a mass exodus of Catholics to Evangelical churches has been going on for a long time in both Hispanic communities in the US and in Latin America itself. The situation is especially grave in Central America. Countries like Honduras now are ~1/3 Evangelical. As lousy as the Catholic Church is (and it is lousy) I would much rather have those Hispanics being Catholic than converting to pie in the sky when you die we love the poor but don’t try to improve your station in life ultra-rightwing anti-Left and anti-progress Protestant Evangelicals, with its various heresies such as Christian Zionism and Wealth Doctrine and other atrocities.
But Evangelical Hispanics are stuck in the worst rut of reaction. One wonders how they c can get out.
I used to think the most Catholics were absolutely loath to convert out to Protestantism, but it’s more common than you think and the Church hardly cares anymore, as they have more pressing concerns. Let’s look at the figures:
Of the 1/3 of Catholics who have left the Church:
50% have simply gone from Catholic to ex-Catholic. They have converted to Protestantism or another religion. Apparently nowadays it is perfectly acceptable to be a former Catholic. That’s news to me.
18% have converted to Protestantism. That is not a large number, but it is not trivial either.
Of those, 12% of leaving Catholics convert to Evangelical Protestantism. I would argue that these are mostly Hispanic Catholics converting out to the exploding Evangelical churches in the Hispanic areas of the US. I’ve never met a White Catholic who converted out to Evangelicalism, but there are probably a few.
Only 6% of leaving Catholics convert to a mainline Protestant Church. That’s a small number, but it’s not trivial.
In fact, more Catholics convert to Buddhism (10%) than convert to mainline Protestant churches. That’s a pretty pathetic statement on how many Catholics leave for mainline P Protestantism.
There’s no good answer on why Catholics leave. Sure, liberals say that they leave because of reactionary Church doctrine on homosexuality, women priests marrying, priestly celibacy, birth control, and abortion. In contrast, conservatives say that Catholics are leaving because they Church has gone way too liberal, especially since Vatican II.
The truth that about equal numbers leave because the Church is too liberal as leave because it is too conservative. There’s no real trends either way. It’s all a wash.
Actually the main reason Catholics left (65%) was that they felt that the Catholic Church was no longer meeting their spiritual needs. This is a serious failure on the part of the Church. I am not sure what they can do about it, but ritual only goes so far. More New Testament Biblical homilies, especially about Jesus’ life, might be an avenue.