We talked about the restaurant, its food, our kids, our jobs. My sister Janell and I both knew the real reason I had invited her to lunch, but we avoided raising the subject until all other topics were exhausted. In the silences, we both wondered who would say what and how.
She had left the Catholic Church. Our parents raised us to be Catholic. This kind of thing couldn't happen in my family. Or so I thought.
My scenario is the reason Lorene Hanley Duquin wrote When a Loved One Leaves the Church. Duquin, a freelance writer, has been involved in ministry to fallen-away Catholics for nearly 10 years.
In her book, Duquin examines common questions people ask themselves when someone they love leaves the Church. She devotes five chapters to the questions and concerns people inevitably have: why, who's to blame, dealing with emotions, communication and end of life issues.
Duquin presents many stories, examples and quotes from a variety of religious leaders, clergy, celebrities and unnamed people who have firsthand experience. The reader will find examples of all the most common situations that lead to folks leaving, from a simple loss of faith to the influence of cults, popular culture and misplaced anger.
Duquin quotes extensively from practitioners, particularly clergy, who work with families in situations where someone has left the Church.
These experiences enrich the book and solidify the support offered to the reader.
All this and Church teaching, too. In discussing ways to pray for those who have died, for example, she discusses the meaning of Catholic funerals and Church teaching on purgatory, and includes a helpful sidebar on praying for the dead. After introducing divorce and remarriage as a reason people leave the Church, she devotes a whole chapter to Church teaching on marriage and annulments.
In her chapter on moral dilemmas, Duquin addresses the most sensitive, and the more frequent, reasons people cite for leaving the Church.
Cohabitation, premarital sex, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage—they're all here, and they're all dealt with in a warm, conversational style.
She describes situations people can find themselves in, offers commonsense advice and acknowledges the difficulty. “It's not easy when family members and friends choose to act in ways that are not in line with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church,” she writes. “Your values and your own sense of right and wrong are challenged.”
In discussing whether or not family members should or should not attend a remarriage without annulment, Duquin provides a balanced and supportive perspective. “The couple knows that they are moving outside the limit of the family's belief or value system, but they are going to do it anyway,” she writes. “The child may live to regret the decision, which is an important reason why it's essential for families to maintain contact.”
While Duquin acknowledges that those who leave may never come back, she concludes the book on a hopeful note.
It emphasizes inviting people to return home and offers ten tips on evangelization—something every baptized person should be concerned with.
“When a loved one leaves the Church, it is really not your problem,” she writes. “It's God's problem. Giving the situation to God and constantly striving toward unconditional love, in spite of your pain, in spite of your fears, in spite of your questions and concerns, may be precisely what God is asking you to do.”
When a Loved One Leaves the Church is an encouraging companion for Catholics in painful, difficult situations with once-Catholic loved ones. Read it, as you hope and pray for their return.
Mark Dittman writes from Maplewood, Minnesota.