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Breaking up with Catholic leaders

Dan Leidl
Dan Leidl has a PhD in Sport Psychology, works as a Managing Partner for Meno Consulting, and co-manages the blog My Generation Leader. Dan is passionately involved in lacrosse, having served as the head coach of the Irish National Women's Team, as well as playing and coaching with the Irish National Men's Program.


The most significant breakup in my life was with the Catholic Church. There wasn't a defining moment, nothing dramatic or final, just a slow separation. But like most breakups, I was torn. We had shared some good times, had good memories.

I'll never forget the morning of my First Communion, for instance, sitting at the foot of my parent's bed and lifting a flat-faced gold ring from a black jewelry box. My mother and father didn't have a lot of money, but they wanted to give me a "grown-up" gift. I slid the ring on my right index finger, put on my grey suit, and then went to my Communion prepared to be a man.

As I aged into my teens, however, my excitement and pride about being Catholic faded. I realized the people who stood with me in church, praying, smiling, and praising God, were the same people who mocked, criticized, and belittled each other during the days between Mass. I began to feel suffocated by the hypocrisy.

I had caught on at a young age that my Church had a culture with no accountability, and that those seen as the holiest of holies could act as dictators, manipulating, degrading and dominating anyone in the parish who stood in their way.

Thankfully, my story is not one of abuse or sexual exploitation at the hands of church leaders -- though you'd be forgiven for expecting that. Rather, it's about a slow realization that such calculated predators and abhorrent cover-ups are the result of a culture in massive disrepair. The cracks in the foundation I witnessed as a child -- the forced apologies, the smothering of a boy's natural energy, my parents' stories of their own abusive Catholic upbringings -- have now spread through the entire institution and are visible for all to see.

While it would seem that the Catholic Church would hold itself to a higher standard than for-profit corporations, there seem to be fewer checks and balances in place. For various reasons, voices of dissent -- a requirement for any healthy organization - are rare. Like a drug addict trying to score the next hit at any cost, like-minded Church leadership has brilliantly rationalized away any and all negative reports, even the protection of a known pedophile.

These acts are symptomatic of an insular culture in disrepair, and it has lead to a perversion of values that desperately needs to be addressed. Good leaders surround themselves with confident individuals who are not afraid to voice their opinions; good leaders listen to their followers; good leaders communicate through crises; and most importantly, good leaders ensure that the values upon which their organizations are built are always upheld. Religious leaders are no different, and if Catholic leadership can't find the courage to do these things, then followers can either demand new leaders or watch their Church's current decline accelerate.

I slipped away from the Church because I couldn't continue to be preached to by people who judged me by different standards than they judged themselves. Now that I'm a father, I stay away from the Church because I don't want my children to be concerned with what I never understood: why do fellow Catholics demand tolerance but judge differences, revere individualism but expect unquestioned unity, call for honesty but quietly keep secrets? If any good comes of this, it may very well be that the Church takes one step closer to practicing what it asks others to do. If that step is taken, even a dropout like me would be willing to try and rekindle the curiosity I had when I was eight.


Note: Joe Frontiera contributed to this commentary. Joe and Dan wrote previously for On Leadership about a Canadian ice-cream company that brought new meaning to corporate social responsibility and the power of Title IX in building a new generation of women leaders and what a young coach at Northern Iowa tells us about leadership and loyalty.

By Dan Leidl

 |  April 20, 2010; 7:53 AM ET |  Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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One of my priest professors in a Boston Catholic seminary said one day in class about 1958. "The Catholic Church must be Divine because it has survived for 2000 years being run by a bunch of ass holes." The clergy may be sinners as we all are but they dispense Divine Grace through the sacraments no matter how sinful they may be and you will be in big trouble if you neglect to gather those Divine Graces for your soul.

Posted by: mascmen7 | April 23, 2010 1:55 PM

I agree 100%. My break from the Catholic church was more abrupt. 17 years ago when I was getting married, and wanted an outdoor ceremony, I was told by every Catholic priest NO. One even went so far as to tell us our children would be illegitemate in the eyes of God. We had our outdoor ceremony with a minister and are still going strong 17 years later. I felt the Catholic church just wanted our money. Our daughter was baptised and confirmed in the Anglican church and is choosing her own path. The Catholic Church needs to realize they are not the only christians and they are not the only ones that are right. We have been welcomed into many churches over the years, funny all of the sermons are the taken from the same bible....

Posted by: kathleen7047 | April 21, 2010 11:47 AM

The Church often speaks of "Priest, Prophet, and King". We hear an awful lot about "Priest" and "King" but all too often are offended by and do not want to hear from "Prophets". This article is a healthy prophetic statement of faith. It should be seen as an honest gift for the faithful.
+Lou A. Bordisso, OSJV, Ed.D.
www.americancatholicchurch.org

Posted by: MostReverendLouABordissoOSJV | April 21, 2010 11:46 AM

As Catholics, we all acknowledge our sinfulness. Pope Benedict, himself, goes to confession daily. Catholics go to confession, because Jesus gave the apostles the power to loose and bind sins here on Earth and in Heaven. Jesus gave the apostles this power even though He knew them to be sinful. (It was Peter, the first Catholic pope, who denied Jesus three time before the cock crowed.) Through ecclesiatic descent, the power to loose and bind sins is now vested in Catholic priests. Catholics receive forgiveness of sins through the sacrament of Reconciliation. Catholics need to be regularly reconciled with Christ precisely because we are all sinful.

More importantly, we Catholics receive the Eucharist, which is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. We receive Christ in the sacrament of Communion in order to be perfected in His image, not because we are already perfect. Catholics are encouraged to receive the Eucharist frequently, precisely because we are sinful and in need of being perfected.

Catholics understand and accept that none of us will be perfect, nor even perfected, in this lifetime. But if we are sincerely faithful to Jesus' teachings as given to us through the Catholic church (including the sacraments of Confession and Communion), then Jesus will reward us with our eternal inheritance.

Had Mr. Leidl not been so busy judging the clergy and his fellow parishoners during Sunday Mass, he might have learned what it is to be Catholic.

Posted by: ATLMichael | April 21, 2010 10:32 AM

What irritates me most is how indoctrinated Catholics are quick to call themselves, "Catholic" or "christian" but have not an inkling of what is actually written in the bible...likely because if they did, they wouldn't be. I've had some go so far as to recall "new versions" of the bible, the weekly calendar and the ten commandments themselves in order to maintain their faith. Its interesting how they indoctrinate their members so successfully and completely, despite all the abuse, lies and hypocrisy. Its also quite sad.

Posted by: crisncortes | April 21, 2010 9:11 AM

It's not about the pope, it's about Christ.

There was an excellent piece Sunday in the New York Times about the other Catholic Church. The one that takes to heart the Gospel. Everything the critics say about the Church leadership is true. So much of its history as been, in words of Barbra Tuchman: A March of Folly."

But, no matter how much folly, and madness and even evil has infected the Church from time to time, it's still a march along a line that leads back to the preacher who lived in the land between the seas 2,000 years ago.

If you are interested, I published a comment on the salon Open blog: http://open.salon.com/blog/jc_klotz/2010/04/04/benedictus_agonistes

Posted by: Jklotz | April 21, 2010 6:50 AM

The column by Dan Liedl is right on, and I like his clear-headed thinking. I am not catholic, but have always noticed the kind of hypocritical, judgemental, and condescending attitudes that prevail in catholic identities. I hope Mr. Liedl will continue to provide his observations and insights regarding the church.

Posted by: nos103 | April 21, 2010 1:08 AM

We do not need to go to a church building to worship The Father. We can stay in our own homes, live by His Commandments and give our donations directly to the poorest people we see. At age 71 I've seen so much wrong in our Church that I just stopped going. When I was a little girl, my Mother swallowed her great pride and went to our Pastor to ask for a little help as we had no money for food that week. He glared at her so vilely that I hid behind her skirt. He closed the door to the Rectory and came back and handed my Mother a two pound bag of sugar. Imagine that. My Mother handed it back and said thanks anyway. She took that insult and was deeply shamed. It was the only time in her life that she ever asked anyone for help. I have never forgotten that jerk of a Monseignor. I've had other demeaning encounters with my Church in my life and so I no longer attend their hypocritical lectures. I know I will be acceptable to the Lord because I actually try to live every day the way His Commandments tell me to. I don't need these criminals posing as apostles of Christ telling me I'm not good enough unless I give them some money. My Church is fabulously wealthy but they spend our tithings keeping their museums heated and maintained while people on their doorsteps desperately need food and shelter. They are not serving God Almighty. They are serving their corporate masters.

Posted by: papafritz571 | April 21, 2010 12:04 AM

The Catholic Church is full of tricks. Here in Dili, East Timor over Eastern Sunday the priest first started an egg hunt for 6 years old kids, then collected money from the poor to pay for it, then had grown-ups hike a mountain with the 12 stages of Jesus torture (''He accepted the pain so you can go to heaven - please donate your money in this basket''). The RK Church is the pitts.

Posted by: ridagana | April 20, 2010 10:55 PM

I cannot believe there are people who defend the largest pedophile ring in modern history. If you still put money in the collection plate, that is similar to handing money to the playground predators.

Posted by: revbookburn | April 20, 2010 7:14 PM

Good luck - keep your eyes closed, your ears plugged, and hold your nose - lest you smell the stench of war.

Posted by: agapn9

Good luck - keep your eyes closed, your ears plugged, and hold your nose - lest you smell the stench of a pervert priest's semen mixed with the rectal bleeding of a young boy.

Posted by: areyousaying | April 20, 2010 6:32 PM

Mr. Leidl,
Many, I believe, have left the catholic church for the same reasons you have. I am Catholic, what some would call a “liberal” Catholic, and I have no intention of leaving. However, I am in total agreement with you pertaining to the poor leadership, the crimes/sins of the leadership regarding the sexual abuse situation. It has been deplorable---and if your faith has been in the “institutional church”, or in a “people” who have no hypocritical bones in them, then it’s been enough to make anyone in their right mind leave!

You have shared your experience and so I ask you to hear mine---which might even shed some light on your own: Through my many years of life, of soul-searching, some praying, and raising a family, I have come to a place where I realize my faith is in the wrong place when I trust the “institution”---of anything. My faith has to be---and is now--- in the person of Jesus and in the genuine love I hope and believe God has for me. That is real. Otherwise, I’d be ‘out of here’, as they say.

Why do I stay within the structure? Because I believe that, as part of this Body of Christ, I want not only to be an instrument of God’s love, kindness, and mercy for others, but I want a place where I can be “fed” and nurtured so that I can go out and be that instrument.

For me, when I go to Mass and receive Communion, I am being “fed” for myself, for you and for others, and I am affirmed and “fed” by the presence of others who believe the same. The homily can be lousy, the liturgy boring,I may be sitting next to someone I judge as hypocritical, but my consolation is that I am “fed”.

This is where I’ll place my bets, even though I’m longing for the day we have woman priests and married priests, and healthy priests. I might add, I think there are plenty of healthy priests around, even those that may be gay. Being gay is not the sign of a pedophile.

Thank you for listening

Posted by: mkh101643 | April 20, 2010 6:30 PM

As usual the WAPO will print anything it can to hurt the Church. And the they wonder why people see them as biased.

Posted by: ACDA2

Demonizing an opinion or media that prints it will not change the fact that the Church is hurting itself in the way it is handling this scandal and the scandal itself makes people biased against the Church. How typical you blame others for your self-inflicted problems by resorting to your proverbial beating the knuckles of other with your holier-than-thou Mother Superiors' rulers.

Posted by: areyousaying | April 20, 2010 6:29 PM

So we have a sports shrink (Sport Psychology) who is passionately involved in lacrosse -- and the WAPO is holding him up as an expert in theology because he is a lapsed Catholic.

As usual the WAPO will print anything it can to hurt the Church. And the they wonder why people see them as biased.

Posted by: ACDA2 | April 20, 2010 6:17 PM

Yep, I'm a Catholic in name only, too. I learned that all churches are just another business enterprise, where priests, ministers, rabbis, clerics, etc. are just there to make a buck off of people's anxieties, hang-ups, fears, etc. A few anecdotes: during the cleanup of the upper part of the Lower Ninth Ward in Orleans Parish after Katrina, I noticed that there had been a church on every block, yet this had been an area of almost 100% unemployment; what did these "churches" do for those people to help raise them out of their predicament? Not much. But, they made a living off of them. Recently, in Kentucky, I was appalled at the various churches advertising for customers. One local told me a story of how a church he frequented was decimated of its parishioners when a new church opened up advertising their giant screen television. In a nutshell, all people need is to learn to (1) stand on their own two feet and (2) to practice the golden rule. Pretty simple stuff to live by.

Posted by: dozas | April 20, 2010 3:15 PM

Yawn, this was a simplistic and frankly rather ignorant column.

Clearly the author's interactions with his congregation was unfortunate and not up to his standard, but he highlights some of the most shallow reasoning for leaving a church.

Unlike how the author makes it seem, most churches, not just Catholic, are more than simply the people sitting under a roof listening to another person talk. If all you think church is is nothing but 'a group of people', go find a new 'club', since that's all you think it is. If the human beings, laymen and clergy, are the deal-breaker for you, clearly you didn't have much interest or devotion invested in the church to begin with.

So, in case you never figured it out, churches aren't just social clubs. They're a lifestyle, and supposedly a personal connection to the respective deity. But the beauty of the Western world is that you are free to practice whatever you want, so if you can't get past the jerk sitting next to you in the pew, you're just as well to find a new place to put your devotions/beliefs.

Posted by: Comunista | April 20, 2010 1:40 PM

About the comment quoted below, it seems very juvenile. Perhaps an appropriate conclusion in one's teens, but one that you should grow out of by early 20's.

First, I highly doubt all the people in your church were acting the way you describe, unless it was a tiny group and you knew them all. So the problem with your reasoning is that you argue from a limited case to a very broad/general conclusion without sufficient grounds. It's a kid's view.

Second, one of the purposes of a parish is to minister to the spiritual sickness of people. Hence one of the reasons the leader of the religion was called "The Great Physician." You might not believe that, and that's fine, but you shouldn't be shocked to find people in a parish manifesting signs of spiritual sickness (aka "sin" and its consequences).

That's like being astonished that you are surrounded by disease in a hospital. People don't go to the hospital because they are well, to celebrate their good health. They go to try to get cured. Ditto for a church. That's what a church claims to do, even if you don't believe it achieves that goal.


QUOTE: "I realized the people who stood with me in church, praying, smiling, and praising God, were the same people who mocked, criticized, and belittled each other during the days between Mass. I began to feel suffocated by the hypocrisy."

Posted by: Matthew_DC | April 20, 2010 1:27 PM

What Mr. Leidl seems to be identifying is the Catholic Church leaders' lack of humility. Or at least his perception of their lack of humility. This is not unique to Catholic leaders, of course. But when the system encourages this lack of humility in its most powerful leaders -- globally and in the microcosm of a congregation -- it has strayed way too far from the basics of Christianity. Those posters who mention the love preached from the pulpit -- that's what any church is about. Those who have abused their power should prostrate themselves before God AND those they oppressed. In response, the oppressed, following God's commandments, would have to forgive them just as God does. If they can't, fortunately God forgives that too.

Posted by: lagibby1 | April 20, 2010 12:13 PM

There are no atheists in fox holes - the old saying goes. Pretense, pride, and an imaginary sense of self-sufficiency fills the Post. Good luck - keep your eyes closed, your ears plugged, and hold your nose - lest you smell the stench of war.

Posted by: agapn9 | April 20, 2010 12:00 PM

Churches are institutions, and institutions are made up of people. People are fallible, so therefore institutions are fallible.

The only difference between the Catholic Church and any other human institution is a pretense of infallibility that isn't supported by the evidence of their actions.

Posted by: AxelDC | April 20, 2010 11:47 AM

I am not Catholic. I attend a Catholic church because my husband is Catholic and we are raising our children in this religion. I do not agree with the church's stance on women in leadership roles or abortion, so I will never convert unless it does, yet I find peace there that I find no where else. The emphasis in our church on love and forgiveness and finding peace with ourselves and others continues to draw me in. I pray my sons get the best of the church and leave the rest. No large institution is without problems. Horrible mistakes were made and will be made in the future. I appreciate the traditions, continuity, and beauty of the Catholic Church along with the values they strive to uphold, admittedly not always successfully. My sons will decide when they are old enough if they want to continue this journey in faith or find another path. My belief is that this foundation will give them the strength to make good choices and a strong belief that God is a source of strength and peace throughout their lives.

Posted by: Faith351966 | April 20, 2010 11:07 AM

Barferio--and I assume that name well describes you--I do not apologize for the Church. I just don't accept any excuse that "hypocrites in the pews, in the government, police department, in the courts, etc. etc." is why I don't go to church, why I don't vote, why I don't do follow the traffic laws, etc. etc. The argument is so immature, junvenile, and irrational. For instance, I don't like our hypocritical politicians, presidents, or Congress, but I do not think our Constitution and system of government is evil and should be dissolved. That would be infantile, you know, like your comments and this man's blog.

Posted by: Cthulhu3 | April 20, 2010 10:53 AM

Always love hearing the catholic apologies of CTHULHU3. This time it's basically: every other human organization there is has and is run by hypocrites, so why shouldn't we!

Mommy? Can I play on the freeway, Johnny's mother lets him play on the freeway.

Posted by: barferio | April 20, 2010 10:22 AM

What I'm curious about is why anyone who disapgrees with the church remains a member? Personally, I left the church years ago--but only in spirit. I remain a catholic for one reason only: my wife wishes to remain, and since it matters more to her than to me I remain ... but what is it about the church that appeals to anyone else who has problems with the church? Why do you stay? (I do not need to hear from true believers--rather, I am curious why people who are essentially free to leave do not do so? What is it about the church that makes you stay or still appeals enough for you to stay? Are their family reasons, like my own? Or are there other factors at work? I ask in genuine curiosity because i would walk away from teh church and never look back if it were up to me alone.

Posted by: ToughChoices | April 20, 2010 10:13 AM

Mr. Leidl, you decision to leave the Church is fine, but your reasons are as immature as I can imagine. Hypocrites in the Church??? Noooo!! Show me an organization that doesn't have hypocrites. Unaccountable leaders? Nooo!! That would never happen in such fine, spotless, scandal-free organizations such as professional sports, business, and government!! Most Catholics--despite your ueber-generalizations--focus on Christ, the good in others, and the good in the institution. They revile the sin and corruption but know that we live in a sinful, corrupt world that needs redemption from the very least person to the biggest nations. You need to grow up and get real.

Posted by: Cthulhu3 | April 20, 2010 9:37 AM

The catholic church, and all the rest of them, needs to be put out of business.

They need to be fully taxed like any other corporation because this is what they are.

Every pedophile priest, and all those higher ups that covered for them by either denial of their crimes or transferring the perverts to another location to prey on other children, need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No leniency for these people and no exceptions.

Posted by: rcubedkc | April 20, 2010 9:25 AM

I understand that Catholic bashing is what's hot on the streetrs right now but I'm curious.

Who did Mr. Leidl worship; the priests our Lord and Savior and Jesus.

What's more important; God's message to his people or the people delivering it?

I wasn't raised Catholic but adopted the faith as my wife-to-be was Catholic. This was in 2001 right before the abuse scandal broke here in the US.

I recognized that the people running the church are just that: people. The are not godly figures but rather people God is using to deliver a message.

I don't have to live as they do. I just appreciate the insight they provide and hope to incorporate it into my every day life.

The people at your jobs probably mocked, criticized, and belittled each other as well. That goes on everywhere. Did you break up with your jobs as well? Or did you do what you needed to better yourself and not worry what others were doing.

I'm not here to defend the failings and complete lack of judgement by certain leaders of the Church. The cover-up of abuses is abhorrent to every thing I believe. But I do know that my wife and the Church have brought me close to God than I ever was in the Black baptist church I grew up in. That, ultimately, is what a church is supposed to do.

So, I'm gonna stick this one out a little bit. After all. I live my life the way I think I should, no matter what stupid things others are doing.

Posted by: Lassiter15 | April 20, 2010 9:24 AM

Dan, you can't be much of a leader if it took you years to "slip away" from the common childhood delusion of a big daddy in the sky.
Also, a leader would've taken as many of his friends with him as possible! I sure did.

Posted by: Davidd1 | April 20, 2010 9:20 AM

Ex-Catholics are a bore!

Posted by: ravitchn | April 20, 2010 7:56 AM

I find myself a lot like Mr. Leidl, however, I did not leave the church so much as the church left me. I still fervantly believe and I believe in the tenants of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, but I no longer have any faith in its leadership. I find it ironic that the very same bishops who deny communion to pro-choice politicians freely defend and cover-up the actions of child abusing priests. There is a huge disconnect there and I think it is in the culture of church leadership. Sadly, I think the entire hierarchy has got to go. All of the bishops and cardinals, up to and including the pope need to resign and be replaced by priests who are thoroughly checked and have absolutely no involvement with pedophilia or the cover-ups.
Right now, my response has been to attend mass on tv and stop giving--I cannot stand to sit in the pews and think of the hypocrisy and I cannot see my money going to support what is truly corrupt.

Posted by: Prosperity2008 | April 20, 2010 7:48 AM

I'm not going to defend the Catholic Church because it's leaders have screwed up badly and I'm not going to try to explain what it is about the soul of the Church that makes it more than the people who currently run it in my estimation. I also admit that I'm a petty, hypocritical sinner and have no issue with the fact that I have to make myself better or I'm just taking up space in the pew on Sunday.

If you're convinced though that the Catholic Church is nothing more than the people who run it and attend it and those people are hopelessly corrupt then the only thing to do is leave. Why not start your own church? Make it better. Don't have a pope. Ordain women. Only let good people in. Whatever structural changes you think you need to make to make it a real church rather than the one you left.

Please though don't pretend to be qualified to fix the 2000-year-old church of St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine itself that I revere. Just go. I, for one, am looking forward to a bit more room in the pew on Sunday.

Posted by: politbureau | April 20, 2010 7:18 AM

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