Cover image for It's not the same without you : coming home to the Catholic Church
It's not the same without you : coming home to the Catholic Church
Finley, Mitch.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Image Books/Doubleday, [2003]

Physical Description:
193 pages ; 21 cm
Corporate Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BX2347.8.E82 F56 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In a heartfelt invitation to lapsed or estranged Catholics, Mitch Finley takes a realistic look at the various reasons people feel alienated, and proposes ways to overcome the anger, bitterness, and resentment, so that they may return. Sixty million people in the United States claim a Catholic identity, the largest religious affiliation in the country. The next largest group--approximately nine million--is made up of people who are "fallen away" or "lapsed" Catholics. Mitch Finley addresses this audience, as well as parents struggling with the almost inevitable teenage rebellion against religion, inIt's Not the Same Without You. Finley examines a wide variety of reasons Catholics choose to leave the Church, treating each one in a balanced and fair-minded way. He recounts dozens of true stories about people who have left and returned, a few about those who have yet to return, and candidly acknowledges that many--perhaps most--active Catholics experience periods of estrangement or conflict. Asking forgiveness on behalf of the Church for the ways lapsed Catholics may have been hurt by the institution or its official representatives, he also reminds readers that forgiveness needs to go both ways, and that false humility or arrogant pride all too often stand in the way of admitting to our own errors and failures. Encouraging Catholics to begin a new relationship with their religion, Finley suggests specific ways to become part of the active life of a parish once more. He also discusses the Church's obligations to those who have left, highlighting successful outreach programs developed by parishes throughout the United States. In guiding readers along the path from alienation to reconciliation, Finley shows that there are many good, objective reasons for "coming home again."

Author Notes

Mitch Finley was born on December 17, 1945, in La Grande, Oregon. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1964-68, he earned a B.A. from Santa Clara University and an M.A. from Marquette University.

Finley served as director of the family life office of the Roman Catholic diocese of Spokane, Washington, from 1977-82. He then began a career as a freelance writer, writing on theology and religion in 1982. His later work includes Your Family in Focus (1993) and Everybody Has a Guardian Angel (1993). He received the Excellence in Writing Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors in 1992 and awards from the Washington Press Association, the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, and the National Federation of Press Women.

Finley is the father of three children:

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Some 60 million Americans claim Catholic identity, but about 9 million consider themselves "fallen away" or "lapsed" Catholics. Finley examines the various and complex reasons that such Catholics feel alienated from the church of their childhood. Those reasons range from apathy to disagreement with official church teachings and traditions to thinking the church irrelevant to their daily lives. Offering the stories of many who left but returned to the church as well as those of others not quite ready to come back, Finley presents their points of view honestly, accurately, and carefully. He encourages Catholics to let go of bitterness against the church and suggests ways that doubting Catholics may renew relations with the church. He doesn't neglect the church's obligations to alienated Catholics, however, and he cites successful outreach programs developed by parishes throughout the country. In almost every case, self-proclaimed "practicing Catholic" Finley believes, there are alternatives to leaving the church. A useful book for anyone having problems reconciling their feelings with the church. --June Sawyers

Publisher's Weekly Review

With an estimated 17 million Americans identifying themselves as nonpracticing Catholics, Finley (The Seeker's Guide to Being Catholic) thinks it is high time the church attended to what constitutes a mission field in its own backyard. In this expanded invitation to the nation's largest religious group, Finley encourages alienated Catholics to come home, and urges the church to welcome them. He tells the stories of disaffected Catholics, explains why they have left the church and offers some ideas about how to draw them back into the fold. Catholic clergy, lay ministers and parents who wonder why their children no longer practice the family faith will find understanding and advice for dealing with so-called "lapsed" Catholics. Finley believes the reasons Catholics leave the church usually involve marriage and divorce issues, hurts caused by priests or nuns, disagreement with church teachings, disbelief in organized religion or God and the sense that the church is irrelevant, boring, too progressive or not progressive enough. Generally, he favors a soft approach to estranged Catholics that emphasizes listening to their concerns and gently reacquainting them with the church. For example, he suggests forbearance for engaged couples who are nonpracticing Catholics but want a church wedding, allowing them to marry in the church in the hope they will ease back into Catholic practice later. At this time of crisis for American Catholics, Finley initiates a conversation many will agree is important to the future of Catholicism. (Feb. 18) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



CHAPTER ONE Leaving the Church for Understandable Reasons Each person who is estranged from the church has a unique story to tell, and it's important to not turn fallen-away Catholics into mere stereotypes. Still, it is possible to identify the most common reasons people become estranged from the church. In this chapter we will look at these reasons and listen to the stories of a few people who fit into each group. MARRIAGE, DIVORCE, AND REMARRIAGE ISSUES One of the most common reasons people become estranged from the church is directly related to experiences of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. The divorce rate among Catholics is virtually identical to that of the general population, yet people continue to think that being Catholic and being divorced are completely incompatible. While the church's teaching on the permanence of marriage has not changed, today in most dioceses there is greater understanding of the reasons that marriages fail. Consequently--again, in most dioceses--a more compassionate policy is in effect with regard to the granting of annulments. A church annulment is simply a decree that, in retrospect, evidently a sacramental marriage never existed due to the presence of some impediment. This impediment may have been the inability of one or both partners to give full and real consent due to immaturity or a psychological condition, for example; or there may have been a failure on the part of the couple--or the priest--to observe the proper form or procedure for being married in the church. An annulment does not say that the marriage was illegal or that any children born to the couple are illegitimate, or anything like that. An annulment says nothing about the children at all. It is purely an acknowledgment that the marriage never actually existed from the beginning, as far as the church is concerned, due to some impediment. Once the nullity of the marriage is established by the annulment procedure, both parties are free to remarry in the church. In most cases, once a civil divorce is finalized, it is possible for a couple married in the church to obtain a church annulment in order to remarry. Nevertheless, misinformation concerning the church's policies with regard to divorce and remarriage continues to circulate. The following true stories illustrate the reasons related to marriage, divorce, and remarriage that people become estranged from the church. In fact, we could view each of these as a subcategory, since people become alienated from the church for reasons related to each one. Linda and Bill Years ago Linda and Bill decided to marry. Linda was a committed, practicing Catholic and a teacher in a Catholic elementary school. Bill was raised Catholic but stopped attending Mass during his teenage years and became indifferent about religion. He respected Linda's feelings about going to Mass on Sundays, however, and promised her that he would never object to her involvement with the church. He also assured her that he would put no obstacles in the way of their children being baptized and raised as Catholics. When Linda and Bill approached a priest at her parish to plan their wedding, however, he gave the couple a stern lecture, to Bill about being "in a state of mortal sin" and the need for him to return to the church; to Linda about what a big mistake it would be to marry a "fallen-away" Catholic. The priest dismissed the couple, telling them to resolve their religious issues and then come back again. Bill was furious. Linda felt hurt, disappointed, and angry. After some thought, she declared that she wanted nothing more to do with a church that would treat them in so insensitive a manner. Linda finished out the year teaching in the Catholic school, then found a teaching position in a public school. The couple explained to their respective parents what had happened, and a few months later they were married in a Protestant church. Following their wedding, however, they became nonchurchgoers, and none of their four children was baptized or raised with any religious instruction. In retrospect, it may seem easy to condemn the priest Bill and Linda met with for pastoral insensitivity and for having a legalistic faith. Who knows for sure what the priest was thinking or whether his intentions were good? Still, the reasons Bill and Linda became estranged from the church are understandable. At a particularly sensitive moment in their life together, an official representative of the church responded to the couple with a legalistic, judgmental lecture. Although the unfortunate experience of Bill and Linda happened many years ago, they are still bitter about it. They remain separated from the church to this day. Bonnie and Frank When Bonnie and Frank met and fell in love in the early 1970s, Frank was Catholic and Bonnie had been raised in a Presbyterian family. Both had been active in their respective church's youth activities, and after they met as students at a state university and their relationship grew serious, they talked about their religious convictions. Each understood that the other would never want to change religions. After they married, however, living with two churches became too much for Bonnie. Frank never pressured her one way or the other, but finally Bonnie decided to attend an inquiry class at Frank's Catholic parish. With some reading and discussion behind her, particularly on the history of the church, Bonnie converted to Catholicism. "It seemed to me that historically you would have to say that the Catholic Church was the one church founded by Christ," Bonnie explained. Her parents and siblings were sad and disappointed, but Bonnie felt that her choice was the best one for her own marriage and her own future. Fifteen years into the marriage, however, Bonnie and Frank's relationship was constantly in conflict. The couple had been unable to have children, and neither was willing to adopt. Bonnie accused Frank of spending too much time working and of drinking too much. Frank complained that Bonnie was irresponsible with the couple's finances. As the quality of their marriage deteriorated, the couple attended Sunday Mass sporadically. One day Frank announced that he wanted a divorce. Bonnie wasn't surprised, and she agreed. The couple separated, and their divorce was final six months later. Bonnie remained a practicing Catholic. After the divorce, Frank's alcohol consumption became so problematic that his employer began to notice. Frank's story mirrored that of countless alcoholics down through the decades. Then one rainy summer morning Frank woke up lying behind a tree in a city park with no memory of the previous twenty-four hours. He realized this was it. He had to get some help. To make a long, sad story shorter, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous Frank got his life back together. After a couple of years of sobriety, he began to think about patching up his relationship with the church, too. But Frank thought that his divorce would be an obstacle to receiving the sacraments, so for twenty-two years he stayed away. Frank was mistaken about this, of course, and eventually he realized his mistake. Divorce by itself is no reason to remain alienated from the church. Still, more than a few divorced Catholics live with this mistaken assumption. Tonia and Robert Even more frequently, however, remarriage following a divorce becomes an alienating issue for Catholics. Tonia was married for twenty-three years, and after her divorce she continued to attend Mass. However, she began to feel uncomfortable in the parish she and her ex-husband had belonged to. Friends there expressed sympathy, and no one was outright rude to her about being divorced, but she didn't feel at home there anymore. Fortunately, Tonia lived in a larger city so she became a member of another parish where she could "blend in" more or less anonymously, which she said was what she needed at that point in her life. A couple of years later Tonia met Robert, whose wife had died a few years before. Tonia and Robert began dating, and within a few months they both knew that their relationship was more than casual. They began to discuss marriage, but they realized that Tonia would need to obtain a church annulment of her first marriage before they could be married in the church, which they both wanted to do, even though Robert was not a Catholic. Tonia contacted the diocesan marriage tribunal office, and the person she talked to explained that it could take up to a year or more to complete the annulment process. Tonia and Robert agreed that they should wait until Tonia's annulment was in hand before they married. A couple of weeks later, however, Tonia received a call from the marriage tribunal informing her that they were having trouble locating her ex-husband from whom, ideally, they would like to obtain written testimony. Tonia was surprised because she had no idea her ex-husband had moved. She contacted one of her grown children, however, and he gave Tonia the new address and phone number in another city. Tonia called the marriage tribunal and gave them the information. Three weeks later another call from the tribunal informed Tonia that her ex-husband refused to cooperate with the annulment process. This was not an insurmountable obstacle, but it would slow things down. Also, with the backlog of annulments the tribunal was dealing with, it could now take as long as two or three years before an annulment could be completed. Both Tonia and Robert were discouraged by this news. Robert suggested that they could be married in a civil ceremony, then when Tonia's annulment did come through they could have a church wedding. Tonia was reluctant to do this, but she finally agreed, even though she knew that according to church rules if she remarried outside the church she could no longer receive the sacraments until her annulment was finalized. Tonia wasn't angry about the church's rules in this regard, but she decided that if she couldn't receive Communion she would rather stay away from the church entirely. So after she and Robert were married she stopped attending Mass and waited for her annulment. During this time Tonia felt alienated from the church, and the more she thought about it, the more she thought that the church's legalistic mentality was responsible for her alienation. Why couldn't the church be more understanding of and compassionate to people in her situation? Tonia finally went to talk with a priest at the parish where she had been attending Mass on Sundays. The priest explained the theological reasons, but Tonia left without being satisfied with his answers, and she became more and more bitter. Finally Tonia decided she wanted nothing more to do with a church that would treat people like her in such an insensitive manner. When, about eighteen months later, the annulment process was completed, Tonia refused to sign the papers. All this was some ten years ago. BEING HURT OR OFFENDED BY A PRIEST OR NUN The number of alienated Catholics who left the church because they were hurt or offended by a priest or nun is not insignificant, particularly among Catholics who grew up prior to the mid-1960s' Second Vatican Council. Stories of harsh nuns in Catholic schools and orphanages have taken on the characteristics of cultural mythology. Of course, incidents widely reported in the media of boys abused by priest pedophiles have done significant damage to the image of the Catholic priesthood. The following true stories are similar to many reported by people who are alienated from the church. Each one illustrates the tremendous impact a single individual in a key church-related position can have on another person's life. Regardless of whether a person is justified in abandoning the church because of the behavior of one priest or because of the cruelty of one nun, the fact is that this happens. Sometimes the stories people tell have so much in common--the insensitive, legalistic priest stories, the mean Catholic school nun stories--that they become virtual stereotypes. Lest stereotypes be taken for reality, however, it is important to have some true, specific accounts from those with legitimate complaints. Joe Joe is in his mid-sixties now, but fresh in his memory are the years he attended Catholic elementary and high schools in the 1950s. Countless Catholics have fond memories of their years in Catholic schools, but there are also some like Joe whose experience left them wanting nothing to do with being Catholic. Joe's memories are of strict nuns who punished classroom misbehavior by giving an open-hand stinging whacks with a ruler. Joe recalls that when he was in the fourth grade he forgot one of the Latin prayers he was supposed to recite as an altar server. After Mass, the priest gave Joe a tongue-lashing that left him in tears. Later, in a high school staffed by religious brothers, Joe recalls lectures that, he says, left him with heavy guilt feelings regarding anything related to sex. After he graduated from high school, Joe joined the Army. He wasn't getting along very well with his parents at the time, and their pleas that he go to Mass only added to his determination to stay away from anything having to do with the church. The only times Joe has been near a Catholic parish in all these years is for weddings and funerals. His own wedding was a civil ceremony conducted by a justice of the peace, and he and his wife raised their four, now grown, children with no religious instruction. Joe continues to attribute an adult lifetime away from the church to unhappy experiences in Catholic schools. Anna Looking back, Anna describes herself during high school as wild, rebellious, and constantly at odds with her parents. When, at age eighteen, she left home for good, Anna says she also left the church for good. She believes now that leaving the church was inseparable from leaving home because the Catholic faith was so important to her parents that she could hardly leave one without leaving the other. Some years later Anna married--outside the church, of course--and a few years after that her first child was born, a daughter. She found herself thinking that she wanted to have her child baptized, but she had no intention of becoming a practicing Catholic again herself. As Anna tells the story, she drove with her infant daughter to the nearest Catholic parish, went to the parish office, and asked about having her baby baptized. The priest Anna talked with asked if she was a member of the parish, and, of course, Anna had to say no. He then asked if she was a practicing Catholic, and she said no again. The priest told Anna that he couldn't baptize the baby of a "fallen-away" Catholic. That was the extent of the conversation. Angry and tearful, Anna left the priest's office. She decided that if that was how the church treats people like her, she didn't want to have her baby baptized after all. She couldn't believe that the priest could be so rude. Anna's daughter, and her other two children, are all teenagers now, and none of them was baptized. Excerpted from It's Not the Same Without You: Coming Home to the Catholic Church by Mitch Finley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.