QUAERITUR: Why don’t liberals just leave the Church?

From a reader:

Why do these liberals and people like in the LCWR stay in the Church?  Wouldn’t it make sense for them to go to the Anglicans?  They could be wymynpriests there and do all the crazy stuff they like instead of forcing it on faithful Catholics.

Good points.  And you may remember my facetious post about Romanorum coetibus.

I have often pondered this very thing.  If they are so unhappy with the present state of things, why not just go?

But I think we have to change our lens when we look at them.  They see themselves as righteous agents of change.  They view many issues in the Church through the lens of politics and political agendas and strategies.

To understand them, it might be helpful to review Rules for Radicals by Saul  D. Alinsky.  Alinksy, who would have given Machiavelli doubts, wrote this book to give tactics to community organizers and others about how to defeat in people their nature inclinations to commonsense, conservatism and tradition, and drag them through emotion and disinformation over to a leftist agenda.

Alinsky dedicated his book to Satan.  That dedication appeared in the first editions, but I understand that it was later removed.

Here is a quote from Rules:

There’s another reason for working inside the system. Dostoevski said that taking a new step is what people fear most. Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people. They must feel so frustrated, so defeated, so lost, so futureless in the prevailing system that they are willing to let go of the past and change the future. This acceptance is the reformation essential to any revolution. To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families – more than seventy million people – whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year [in 1971]. They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don’t encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let’s not let it happen by default.

It might be helpful for some of you to read Rules.  If you can get it used, that would be better.  Otherwise, if you want to buy a copy, use my link and I will get a percentage of the sale.  That might take the sting out of it a bit.  I think we have to study the tactics of the enemy in order to recognize what they are up to.

I found a great summary of Alinsky’s pointers here.   Here are the first set of summarized rules:

Rules for Power Tactics:

1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
2. Never go outside the experience of your people.
3. Whenever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.
4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
5. Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.
6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
8. Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.
9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.
12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Consider now what you read in liberal catholic web sites and publications.  Do those points sound familiar?  They may… they may not.  You decide.

In my first look at St. Augustine’s commentary on the 1 John, we saw that Augustine has three levels of love, the most perfect of which is that charity which is love of enemy.  We can reprove, correct, remonstrate, and even do so with great energy and harsh words.  But we cannot stop trying to love them.  For Augustine, we try to love our enemies in order that, some day, they might have fellowship with us.

We have to resist them and call them out when they harm the Church and the Faith.  But when we do so, we should check ourselves and self-edit so that what we write and say is not done in hatred, and is not personal.

Let’s not become them in calling them out.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. bmadamsberry says:

    I would say that the reason is a lot more personal than you suggest, Father.
    I think many do not leave the Church because it is a part of who they are- it is a part of their culture and heritage. Maybe their parents were Catholic, and their parents before them. They don’t want to simply give up on the Church that is so much a part of who they are.

    I think that they’re reasons are good, even though what they are fighting for and believe is horrible wrong.

  2. Gregg the Obscure says:

    In the 16th century, the “liberals” left the Church and became protestant. The Church continued her mission.

    In the 17th century, the “liberals” left the Church and became freemasons. The Church continued her mission.

    In the 18th century, the “liberals” left the Church and started universalism and agnosticism. The Church continued her mission.

    In the 19th century, the “liberals” left the Church and adopted Marxism. The Church continued her mission.

    In the first half of the 20th century, the “liberals” left the Church and founded totalitarian regimes. The Church continued her mission.

    In the second half of the 20th century, the “liberals” left the Church and promoted the culture of death. The Church continued her mission.

    The creatures behind liberal ideology are cunning, intelligent and persistent. They’ll keep trying until the St. Michael prayer is answered in full.

  3. vox borealis says:

    I think that they also truly see themselves as members of the Catholic Church—a deeply distorted understanding of what the Church is—but members of it nonetheless. And, as someone said to me once, the Catholic Church is the “alpha male” of the Christian denominations. In it resides religious legitimacy. They know this on some level. Thus, to “leave the church” would be to accept defeat on multiple levels. Become Anglicans? Who would listen to them? Who would care?

    Thus, they *want* in their righteousness to save the Church from its perceived flaws and errors (as they see it), but they also want the legitimacy that comes from the Roman collar, the Catholic (at least in name) liturgies, the Church’s history, etc. In other words. at a deep level, they desire what the Church has but are unwilling to do what the Church asks.

  4. danphunter1 says:

    Speaking of this topic I am reminded of a passage from the Dietrich Von Hildebrand work “The Devastated Vineyard” that I think applies to why liberals and avant garde types do not make an effort to visibly leave the Church [though in many cases they have in fact done so]:
    “The professional avant-gardists in the Church today never tire of telling us of the Christian faith in the post-conciliar epoch—of the changes called for by the “post-conciliar spirit.” These vague slogans conceal a tendency to replace the infallible magisterium and unchanging faith of the Church with something else, something new. I am reminded of the famous program of the German National Socialist Party, which in paragraph 17 declared that it accepted Christianity insofar as it corresponded to the “Nordic ethos.” In that case too the divinely revealed doctrine of the Church was supposed to subordinate itself to an extremely vague and, moreover, purely natural norm.”

  5. Teresamerica says:

    Progressive Catholics want all the laity and priests to conform to their warped version of the Church. They don’t respect Tradition. They want to change Tradition. Progressives in the political sphere believe in tyranny and that is what they are pursuing within the Catholic Church as well. Not freedom of choice as their mantra would have us believe.

    I recently came across this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/julian-guthrie/catholic-progressive-democrats_b_924899.html

    Here is my response: http://teresamerica.blogspot.com/2011/08/catholic-laity-dictate-church-teachings.html

    God Bless!

  6. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Why should they leave? They have it so good. They control so much. They wreckovated a large number of our churches to suit their specs, they have control how Mass is done in most locales, most religious ed programs, most seminaries, most Catholic schools, they have cowed our bishops and priests into not teaching the truth most of the time, they have control over parish funds, etc. Holy Communion is distributed as they want it distributed. That’s only a small part of what they’ve got. Nope, no way are they going to leave, unless forced out by those who are supposed to be our Shepherds. And that isn’t happening.

  7. rollingrj says:

    Of course, who says their opponents can’t use these principles as well?

  8. cweaver says:

    I would add two points:

    Many liberals have left the church and do become Anglicans. I speak only from my unscientific pool of personal acquaintance, but I know many such people. That is after all, what protestants are. The liberals in the church are the ones left in the church.

    Likewise, much of the same could be said of the other end of the spectrum. The SSPX voted with its feet after all. And I don’t know many traditionalists who are “happy with the present state of things.”

    These people are misguided to be sure, but it seems uncharitable and contrary to the Gospel to wish for more people to leave the church, which seems to be the suggestion of the original query. The end of Fr. Z’s post is spot on.

  9. Why they don’t leave? Because the Church pays so many of them so well–e.g., as Catholic school teachers, Catholic health and welfare agency workers, as bishops committee, chancery, and rectory staffers–to fight it from within.

    Really, where outside the Church could they find such a trough to belly up to?

  10. Mark R says:

    Catholic liberals and Anglicans are often two entirely distinct creatures. Catholic liberals in an Anglican milieu would have to endure a liturgical life that is still more dignified than that to which they are accustomed (i.e. liberal Catholic, not real Catholic). Many Catholics, liberal or not, would also be considered declasse’ by our Anglican brethren…though mind you a good many Anglicans, in the U.S. especially, are bounders. I have to admite there was a lot to recommend in the Anglican system…once.

  11. ecs says:

    When speaking of the Church and liberals, you have to make a distinction between the institution itself and those things which we as Catholics profess a belief in for example the Apostles Creed (i.e. the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life ever lasting). The liberals are indeed a part of the “institution.” Heck they are in full control of the institution and the wordly power that goes along with that control. They will never willingly give that up. It provides to much power, culturarly, financially, and politically, to give it up. Only demographics will get them out. But as to the latter, the liberals in mind and spirit left the actual faith a long time ago if they were ever really apart of it. Liberals by and large could hardly be called Catholic.

  12. FrAWeidner says:

    It’s actually pretty simple, in my humble opinion. People are always more likely to be saved within the visible confines of the barque, so it’s not good to hurl people out or wish they would leave willy-nilly. We have to be of one heart and one mind with Christ who wills not the death of a sinner but that he be converted and live. On the other hand, if someone is in a position of authority or teaching and is up to evident sabotage, they should be virtually immediately removed from their position, silenced, and disciplined. Fishwrap howlings notwithstanding, we haven’t seen anywhere near enough of that over the past 45 years.

  13. benedetta says:

    Agreed, Fr. Z. As I have commented before here my feeling with respect to the Eucharist and dissenting yet still somehow wish to be identified as Catholic politicians, I don’t think a declaration of ‘excommunication’ is necessarily the best way to go for a variety of reasons which I have mentioned elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean that appropriate steps to bring them back into the fold and to prevent good people from following in their errors are wastes of time either. It is not the Church’s declaration which cuts people off from communion. By what we intend through word or action, we place ourselves outside of communion with the Church. God does not look at the appearances but knows our true hearts.

  14. Choirmaster says:

    Why convert (i.e. leave the Church) when you can convert the Church to you!

    Why move out of your house when you can just renovate it to fit your needs?

    Why buy a new car when you can just modify the one you have?

    Religious conversion (to another faith/church, not the constant conversion from worldly to holy that we all strive and pray for), I’m sure, cannot be an easy, flippant move, regardless of your motives or reasons. It would also be a very uncomfortable process because you would have to admit to yourself and others that you have been in error, and now you have corrected it.

    I don’t think a “liberal” Catholic would choose to leave the Church and admit this kind of error when they can just saddle the Church with the error and convert Her to them. They have already had much seeming success at this. From the high-walled enclave and air-tight echo-chambers of the LCWR this seeming success must be great indeed; great enough to smother any inkling that they are the ones that have drifted far away.

    St. Benedict and St. Claire, pray for our women religious!

  15. Texana says:

    Fr Z please remember that Saul Alinsky spent 10 days in the home of the Archbishop of Milan with his good friend and admirer, Jacques Maritain. Imagine what they discussed over all those dinners and glasses of wine! Small world–Alinsky knew Pope Paul VI before he became a Cardinal and a Pope!

  16. acroat says:

    I was present when a nun mentioned in the book Ungodly Rage was asked that question. Her smile in response to the question was disgusting. Her justification involved her distortion of church history.

    Might part of the answer be what would these unhappy old women do if they left? They have no family & couldn’t get a job. FYI I am an old woman…

  17. ghp95134 says:

    Fr. Z “…Do those points sound familiar? They may… they may not. You decide.…”
    Sounds like something learned in some of my military training….

    1. When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.
    2. The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.
    3. Despise the enemy strategically, but take him seriously tactically.
    4. Revolution is not a dinner party, not an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be advanced softly, gradually, carefully, considerately, respectfully, politely, plainly and modestly.
    5. Women hold up half the sky.
    6. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
    7. Passivity is fatal to us. Our goal is to make the enemy passive.
    8. Enable every woman who can work to take her place on the labour front, under the principle of equal pay for equal work.
    9. In time of difficulties, we must not lose sight of our achievements.

    Mao Zedong

  18. anilwang says:

    Why don’t they leave?

    Let’s ask the opposite question, why don’t conservative Anglicans leave the Anglican Church. After all, the liberals now control the centers of power and there just isn’t any authority in Anglicanism that can correct the current decay — the via-media which holds almost-Catholics and almost-Presbyterians together leaves things so ambiguous that even almost-Unitarian Universalists can call themselves Anglican. If such a purging of ambiguity were attempted, Anglicanism would break in several pieces.

    Why don’t they leave?

    Let’s look outside of Christianity. Why don’t Atheist and Pantheistic Jews leave Judaism? After all, Judaism cares a lot of obligations that don’t amount to anything if there is no God.

    Culture plays a huge part in people’s lives, especially if religion has lost its relevance. A religious person can change cultures and adjust since God can be found anywhere, but a cultural person cannot move without losing everything that matters to him/her.

  19. Tradster says:

    Liberals cannot leave the Church. They are like blind, mindless termites that continue to live within the wood until they succeed in eating it away to nothing. Then they move on to another piece of wood and begin again. It’s just in their nature.

  20. The comments above could have been 2.5 X funnier if you all had omitted the definite article before the word “church” where ever it appeared.

  21. UncleBlobb says:

    @Fr. Z: Can you provide any clarification on what Power Tactic no. 11 means?

    “11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.”

  22. I think a good many of us who are now in our late 60’s went through our liberal phase in our 20s and 30s because the political system was seeking to extend human dignity and rights to minorities and to the poor. Sometimes the new liturgy was leaving behind some elements of the older liturgical abuses. Then 1973, –Roe vs. Wade. The true face of liberalism began to emerge and many of us had to rethink our positions on many issues. It was then some of us went back to a saner time, while holding onto some of our idealism. We could never go back to a bygone age, but we could and did rediscover the elements that were good and wholesome in that former time. It is over said that a young man is a liberal because he thinks with his heart; whereas an old man becomes conservative because he has learned to think with his mind while yet feeling with his heart. Pray God that this is so.

  23. UncleBlobb says:

    Also: it would be great to have an expanded treatment of these Power Tactics as used by faithful Catholics, with the love of Christ; as well as a list of counter-tactics to be used on them. Is any such resource existent, other than Fr. Z’s post above?

  24. PostCatholic says:

    I am a liberal who left Catholicism. Liberals can and do leave the Church, and I don’t think I’m either blind or mindless to have done that through a reasoned and personally painful process. I think that’s intellectually honest thing to do when you can’t reconcile yourself to the tenets of the faith.

    I am not interested in promoting a culture of death. I have spent a lot of time and effort in on issues of respect for human dignity in solidarity with what conservatives would recognize as faithful Catholic teaching. I also have never encountered Rules for Radicals but I don’t think the book would square with my conscience, either.

    I can tell you that I hit a point where my religious convictions were no longer aligned with the Catholic church’s direction; that I spent a lot of time thinking about what to do next and it was painful; and that ultimately I decided the right thing to do was to join others who believe as I do in the inherent worth and dignity of each human person. Many, many others on the more liberal side of the Catholic spectrum have done this, too; indeed I can think of several faith communities in several denominations in which formerly Catholic people constitute a sizable block.

    I’d like to suggest that for many who do stay, the reasons may be more complex than just a desire to fight from within. Among them:
    They have inculcated deeply in their beliefs the Catholic sacramental economy to the exclusion of that of other faiths. For some liberals this is bedrock. For others like me, once one tugs on a few loose threads, ideas like Real Presence unravel with it.
    They are culturally attached to their Catholicism. The rituals of family life, personal devotions, ethnic traditions, neighborhood fabric and so on form a part of personal identity that is very hard to separate from their religious beliefs. The pains of loss might motivate some of them to play what they think is a “loyal opposition” role rather than renounce their birthright.
    For people in religious life, very few other Christian traditions offer an analog. It’s somewhat easier for clergy to hop the fence to the other denomination than it is for a sister or brother. The Episcopal/Anglican churches do have communities of non-clerical religious, but they are few and far between. Not every woman who has arrived at the belief that women should be priests wants to be one herself.
    It’s possible that these liberals aren’t so very liberal on all issues. When I was one, I used to attend an OF Mass in Latin with schola cantorum each Sunday and loved the high side of progressive solemnity. That’s a bit unusual, I’ll grant you, but you may find that there are facets of liturgy, prayer, etc. unique to Catholicism to which liberals are deeply spiritually attached (e.g.the rosary comes to my mind for these women religious).
    Most Catholics are not familiar with non-Catholic theologies and really don’t know where to go if they felt they might leave. As a Catholic theology student, one learns about protestant theologies through the lens of apologetics; we rarely are exposed to the development of theologies beyond the foundational “errors” that difference them from the Magisterium. I have corrected classmates who’ve since earned STL’s and STD’s on my beliefs as a Unitarian Universalist–often they confuse Unitarian Universalism with Christian Unitarianism, Deism, or Christian Universalism. All of that is the long way of say that I think perhaps some come to the conclusion that Catholicism isn’t their cup of tea and are ready to jump, but don’t know where to jump that might fit there co. The Anglican and Episcopal church is often suggested but it’s a deeply troubled denomination and socially, it’s historically associated with the upper class in the United States and that might pose a mental obstacle.
    Families and friends can exert a lot of pressure on some people and threaten terrible consequences. I think it’s better for your soul to do what you know to be right, but some folks have convictions but not the courage that should accompany them.
    It’s possible they’re happy in the Church even though it disagrees with them, and find ways to reconcile their disappoints with their beliefs. Here’s a quote I had to hunt for that exemplifies this:
    “Let me make an uncommonly honest confession. In the past half century, I’ve seen more Catholic corruption than you have read of. I have tasted it. I have been reasonably corrupt myself, and yet I joy in this church. This living, pulsing, sinning, people of God. Love it with a crucifying passion.. Why? For all the institutional idiocy, I find here a tradition of reason. For all the individual repressions, I breathe here an air of freedom. For all the fear of sex, I discover here the redemption of the body. In an age so inhuman, I touch here tears of compassion. In a world so grim and humorless, I share here rich joy and earthly laughter. In the midst of death, I hear here an incomparable stress on life. For all the apparent absence of God, I sense here the real presence of Christ.”

  25. PostCatholic says:

    Just to add–the quote is from the late Jesuit theologian and homileticist Rev. Walter Burghardt, S.J.

  26. Sandy says:

    They don’t leave the Church for the reason given in “Ungodly Rage” by one of the feminist nuns who was quoted – they want to change it from within, into their image.

    That’s horrifying to read in a comment above that Alinsky met the Pope! You know, of course, that Alinsky’s “Rules…” shaped the occupant of the White House. I read in The Wanderer years ago that this political ugliness in Chicago had had a devastating effect on the Church there also.

  27. Gregg the Obscure says:

    A pro-life UU!? Who’da thunk it? There really are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in all those philosophies.

  28. Jackie L says:

    Many have left the Church, they just fail to acknowledge it.

  29. Joanne says:

    Interesting discussion. No church carries the same weight and authenticity as the Catholic Church. (This makes sense of course, since the Catholic Church is the one that Christ founded, even if people don’t realize that this is the reason the Catholic Church carries this weight and authenticity.) People who want to change the Church could leave, but whatever philosophy they find in a different church that is more to their liking, they STILL wouldn’t have changed the *Catholic* Church.

    As far as wishing people away from the Church, I wouldn’t. Suggesting that people “just leave” if they don’t like the Church’s teachings is not something I want to be held accountable for some day. Again, the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded – I don’t think I could bring myself to suggest that anyone leave.

    And correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think the Catholic Church is a “denomination” of anything. The word, “denomination,” is used to describe the different churches of Protestantism.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    Actually, a lot of people do leave. One in ten Americans is now an ex-Catholic, according to the recent research (the Pew Report).

  31. randomcatholic says:

    No. Those that stay (and they are minority. liberals have left the Church in droves) do so because they are Catholic in that they love the church, even if their vision is it flawed or wrong.

    They KNOW the Church is the Church, and that Church shopping is wrong. That much they know, at least intuitively. Most of them stay for the best of motives. They are just wrong, that’s all.

  32. Rosemary says:

    Thank you for your input, and for that quote, PostCatholic.

  33. benedetta says:

    I second what Rosemary said, I appreciate what PostCatholic is saying.

  34. pinoytraddie says:


    I Understand Why You Left the Church and I Appreciate your Honest Assessment of Liberals who Choose to Stay.

    My Brother who Studies at A Jesuit-Owned High School,has Similar Reasons for sure,as You Do for Why You left The Church.(I still do take offense at his potshots at the Church)

    I Too Ask this Question to Myself: “Why the Heck some Liberal (Anti-Roman) Catholics Leave?”

    Now I Know that they want to see and work for changes for the sake of a dynamic faith that gives an abundant life to all,But even so Their Solutions(albeit Promising) are Wrong and Do NOT justify the Means.

    They Also Feel The Joy that Catholicism Brings through It’s Rituals and Practices.

    I Hope that You and Your friends will try to Understand why The Pope need to Do Unpopular Decisions.

  35. Grabski says:

    It’s simple; they want the assets

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