Action Alert!

Cause and effect

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 29, 2009

Watching American religious developments from across the Atlantic, Irish commentator Niall O'Dowd notices the sharp rise in the number of Americans with no religious affiliations, and shows a special interest in the fact that Irish Catholics comprise the largest number of people leaving the church of their youth. He reflects:

Why are so many Irish Catholics leaving the faith? The obvious reason to me is the church sex scandals. They disproportionately affected Irish Catholics and most of the abusers we read about were Irish Catholic priests.

Sorry; wrong answer. The exodus began long before the scandal broke. It's true that there has been a spike in the number of departures over the past decade, and no doubt the scandal played a role. But the hemorrhaging had already begun. It didn't start--only accelerated--when the body suffered another trauma.

O'Dowd's analysis sounds reasonable enough:

For instance, the Boston archdiocese, a hub of Irish Catholicism in America, has been riven by deep scandals that surely have turned many parishioners off.

But again, in Boston particularly--and among the Irish-Catholics of Boston especially--the problem was evident long before the scandal broke.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: pmathes4441 - Oct. 18, 2009 9:09 PM ET USA

    1. Lack of good Catholic teacjing in the Catholic Schools. Too many high school students graduate with little understanding of the Church, especially among Catholic School students. 2. Poor homiletics from the priest at Mass. One K of C friend of mine, a convert from Methodism, once commented that the priest gave a good Methodist Sermon at Mass. The house is being built on sand, not the Rock of Truth. If the priest isn't energized, can we expect the faithful to be?