Get out while you can, Catholics!

I’ve known a lot of wonderful people who are Catholics; I’ve even met some Catholic priests who do great and ennobling social work. And then there are all those ordinary American Catholics who ignore all the doctrine, like the ban on birth control, and yet keep on going to church every week. The one thing I always want to ask these people is…WHY DO YOU STILL SUPPORT THAT BACKWARD, MEDIEVAL NONSENSE? There’s such a tremendous disjoint between the thuggish, conservative church and these people’s lives that it is so wrong that they continue to support it.

Now Annie Laurie Gaylor hits one out of the park with an excellent open letter to liberal and nominal Catholics. Go read it, even if you’re an atheist already. If you’ve got Catholic family, forward it to them — it can be your ‘coming out’ announcement!

Also, the FFRF is trying to raise money to publish it as a full page ad in the NYT. Help them out. If nothing else, it’ll be hilarious watching Bill Donohue rupture himself in an apoplectic fit.


  1. d cwilson says

    I married into a Catholic family, although my wife is no longer practicing and all that Medieval stuff is horsesh!t.

    My experience as a non-Catholic among Catholics is that many of them go to church more for the sense of community and because their family expects them too.

  2. says

    I don’t get it either. I’ve met some politically very progressive Catholics — LGBT-positive, feminist, etc. — whose religion seems to be of the very liberal Bishop Spong variety (ie. more like atheism dressed up in Christian language). I have no idea why they stick with Rome. If it’s the liturgy they love, the Anglicans have room for people like them.

  3. says

    I have two Catholic friends. I know neither of them take part in regular rituals (such as going to church on Sunday, or prayer), and neither have much respect for the Pope or the priesthood in general (although there are individual clergymen they like). They are more ‘cultural Catholics’ than anything else. But they still strongly identify with that church. It really disappoints me. I’ve sent them the link to this letter but I would be surprised if it made much difference to them.

  4. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    A brilliant article.

    It’s nice to follow family traditions, but there comes a point when some traditions just need to stop. Supporting an organization that denies basic human rights, protects and enables child rapists, perpetuates violence against groups they deem unworthy, and so much more is one of those times.

  5. raven says

    They are getting out.

    Recently 1/3 of the membership has left, a huge 22 million people.

    It’s not all good though.

    1/2 remain unaffiliated

    1/2 join Protestant churches. 2/3 of these join “evangelical” churches. Not quite the same as fundies but many of them are.

    10% of the US population are ex-Catholics.

  6. kevinalexander says

    It’s about identity. My sister hates the church with a passion but still goes to mass and does all the mystical stuff because she
    “has to, I could no more not be Catholic than I could change the colour of my skin.”

  7. Gregory Greenwood says

    A great article that tells a lot of hard home-truths to liberal catholics about their abominable church. Unfortunately, I am far from sure that it will have much effect. It seems likley that her words will simply be waved away as yet more ‘persecution’ of the faithful by the paranoia mongers of the church that work so hard to maintain the myth that religious freedom is under attack by ‘militant’ secularism.

    Of course, it could also get nastier than that – Annie Laurie Gaylor is speaking truth to power in this article, and doing that can be very risky. Donohue blustering on the airwaves may be a funny expression of his personal impotence, but there are all kinds of catholic fundamentalists out there, some of whom are xian terrorists all too eager to meet words with violence.

    That is why it is so important for more atheists and rationalists to make their stance on these issues publicly known, whether in the conventional media or by blogging or other means. The more of us there are ‘out of the closet’, so to speak, the harder it is to silence us by force or intimidation.

  8. says

    The same people who are crying “religious freedom” would be crying “religious tyranny” if the the same argument was put forth by Muslims.

    How is this any different that a demand that Sharia Law be broadened to cover everyone living in the US?

    They don’t want a religious exemption to US law. They want to impose their religion on everyone.

    I admit a certain amount of anti-Catholic bias growing up. These days, though, my disgust of the Catholic Church isn’t based on an irrational fear of the unknown. It’s based on tangible evidence.

    You’re allowed to dislike an institution that does that much harm and not be afraid of a charge of bigotry. No one would accuse me of bigotry if I declared myself against the neo-Nazis. Because I’ve done the research.

  9. jaybee says

    It is a great statement, but it is too long for a NYT ad. As it is, the “TL;DR” effect will kick in. Also, the Courier typeface on the lined paper is gimmicky, especially since the typeface is way out of proportion to the lined paper. Ditch the mock lined paper.

    Still, I’ll contribute.

  10. niftyatheist says

    That was an excellent letter. I will contribute, but I agree with Jaybee that it might be too long, even for a full page ad. On the other hand, I’d hate to see even a single great point cut out of that letter. Maybe FFRF can figure out a way to make that one page pop, while still including the entire text of this letter. I hope so.

  11. Moggie says


    My catholic friend is trying to get her husband to join the church again so they can get their children into the nice catholic private school…

    This is common in the UK. Faith schools which are able to be selective about the pupils they accept use this power to avoid taking on the more, er, undesirable pupils, such as those nasty poor people. According to 2005 figures, 20.1% of pupils in non-religious primary schools qualified for free school meals (a commonly used measure of poverty), while the figure for Catholic schools was 15.6%. Don’t want your little precious being exposed to hungry kids in shabby clothes? Go to mass and fake it.

  12. Anri says


    Well, PZ, it’s because it’s Straight from The Mouth Of Gawd backward medieval nonsense.

    (Whsipers from offstage)


    Oh, sorry, sophisitcated theology tells us it’s actually not Straight from The Mouth Of Gawd backward medieval nonsense.

    (More whispers)

    Ah, I see, thanks.

    Ok, apparently, really really truey sophisticated theology tells us that some of it is Straight from The Mouth Of Gawd backward medieval nonsense.
    And some of it isn’t.

    And that the only way to tell is to listen to one person –
    – um, some people –
    – um, all people –
    – ehrm, one or some or all people some, all or most of the time, but only in instances where there are clear moral –

    . . .

    You know what, I’m gonna go watch Winter Wrap Up again – it makes more sense than this bullshit.

  13. truthspeaker says

    kevinalexander says:
    2 March 2012 at 9:47 am

    It’s about identity. My sister hates the church with a passion but still goes to mass and does all the mystical stuff because she
    “has to, I could no more not be Catholic than I could change the colour of my skin.”

    I can sort of kind of understand this. Indoctrination is powerful.

    But I can’t understand bringing your kids up that way. If you can’t give up smoking because the addiction is too powerful, that’s one thing. But knowing what the addiction did to you, why would you buy cigarettes for your kids?

  14. Ganner says

    I have a friend who is functionally atheist, philosophically agnostic, never goes to church or gives money to it, but self-identifies as Catholic. I don’t get it. I had no trouble ditching the label, the “identity,” the culture. I wanted no part of that church, even if I did like most of the people I knew in my local church. They weren’t the type to condemn, they put a way bigger focus on charity and volunteer work than anything else, were on the whole accepting of all people… but by associating themselves with the Catholic church and not rebelling against its evils, they are as the linked article says enablers and part of the problem.

  15. ismenia says

    On getting religion in order to get kids into UK “faith” schools:

    My sister did exactly that, although she only got the milder Church of England religion. The other parents at the church with young families immediately gave her tips on how to get noticed. Go up for a blessing (she’s not confirmed so can’t take Communion), make sure you make eye-contact with the vicar when you shake his or her (they’ve got one of each) hand as you leave. It worked, my nephew is at the church school, full of ‘nice’ kids although his teacher warned that one of his friends is a bad sort.

    On Catholics:
    I’ve never understood what makes good people give the Catholic Church their power when they disagree with its views. I recall a friend at school feeling so guilty when she refused to sign a petition against a Marie Stopes clinic (contraception and abortion). She didn’t agree with the church’s position but the psychological hold is very strong.

  16. Beatrice, anormalement indécente says

    But knowing what the addiction did to you, why would you buy cigarettes for your kids?

    That’s why religion has a little catch by which it differentiates itself from a common addiction. It convinces you that the addiction is good, you can’t live without it. That no one can live a good life without it. And you only want best for your children, so you have to buy them those cigarets draw them into the Church.

  17. grumpyoldfart says

    Christians pray before making important decisions and then, if things go wrong, they can say “It’s not my fault. God has other plans for me…”

    But if the Christians give up religion, they have to accept responsibility for their decisions and admit (if things go wrong) that they made a mistake!

    That’s impossible for people with fragile egos, so they stay with religion and use its escape routes whenever they can (even while the priests are raping their children).

  18. tomforsyth says

    Feels like this letter is going for too much. Persuading a practicing Catholic to become an atheist is a big stretch. Much easier surely would be to deflect them to one of the less socially harmful versions of Christ-bothering? The majority of the brands of Anglicanism are Mostly Harmless, and (unlike many hard-core Protestant groups) they’re almost as gaudy and “fun” as Catholicism, but you don’t have to put up with the Roman Dick.

    Sure, it feels wrong for a freethinker organisation to be pointing people towards religions that they fundamentally (if rather mildly) disagree with. And it would be great if people could just “stop believing”, but as any smoker can tell you, quitting cold turkey is very difficult. Surely far more effective to point people towards the nicotine patch of the Anglicans – at least they’re away from the self-destructive Gitanes of the Catholics. And if freethinking is about anything, it’s about pursuing the greatest practical good for the greatest number of people without being beholden to dogma.

    Plus, it would be an excellent counter to the blather that we’re trying to “destroy religion”. No – we’re just asking you to switch to a religion that’s less socially catastrophic.

  19. kevinalexander says

    I just now made up a very short story. It’s called ‘A Perfect Catholic’

    Theresa goes to confession.

    ‘Bless me etc..’ Makin’ the story short.

    ‘Yes my child.’

    ‘I don’t have a sin, I want to ask a question’

    ‘ sound like Mary O’Leary’s mother. Whatever she told you was planted by Satan in her…’

    ‘No, it’s OK, I just want to know what the little slut did to make you give up your vow’

  20. Sastra says

    If the letter is published the FFRF (and atheists in general) will no doubt be accused of “anti-Catholic bigotry” and intolerance similar to racism or antisemitism. But that would assume that “being a Catholic” had nothing to do with what you believe and why you believe it. Instead, it’s a matter of identity, a cultural habit, a way of living or being. Changing your mind means that you, as you, would cease to exist.

    If I were a sincere and convinced Catholic, I think that would really bother me. Or, maybe, it ought to bother me. You’re supposed to have a reasonable faith, and understand the reasons behind why you believe what you believe. You’re not supposed to be just dressing up in some “views” the way you would wear clothing. If someone is trying to reason you out of being a Catholic, it’s not as if they’re telling you you have bad taste. They want you to think. Be consistent. Notice the conflict between what you say you believe and how you actually live, what you actually support.

    So I don’t know how this letter would effect a liberal or nominal Catholic. If they’re Catholic Humanists (which they apparently would have to be to qualify for being considered ‘liberal’), then they value reason. BUT, they have also clearly managed to figure out how to compartmentalize, compartmentalize, compartmentalize like hell, feeling good about it at the same time.

    Annie Laurie is pushing a lot of buttons. Would be interesting to watch what happens.

  21. Sastra says

    tomforsyth #23 wrote:

    Persuading a practicing Catholic to become an atheist is a big stretch. Much easier surely would be to deflect them to one of the less socially harmful versions of Christ-bothering?

    No; it’s much easier to be honest. By being clear and honest we not only treat the ‘other side’ with respect, but they will recognize and at some level respect our sincerity more than they would respect our to-obvious pandering.

    Don’t worry. Catholics themselves will quickly and easily come up with the solution that occurred to you. We don’t have to offer it to them. They’ll deflect themselves.

    In fact, if the ad pisses them off enough, then they might try to act on their disapproval not by remaining in the Catholic Church, but by showing those mean atheists that hey, there are other more liberal churches, you know. Didn’t think of that one, did you? I went and joined one, just to show you I’m a moderate and you’re not!

  22. quoderatdemonstrandum says

    I don’t think the letter is effective or well written. I think the intended reader will find the tone hectoring rather than convincing. Gaylor needed to choose between speaking truth to power and being persuasive to her audience.

    The following sentence is so stupid it gives the reader an excuse to entirely dismiss the writer and the letter’s content:

    (Question to ask your Bishop: Does he hold up an umbrella against the rain? Isn’t that just as “unnatural” as using a condom or diaphragm?)

    That can only be thought a clever question if one has never met a thinking catholic. Most catholics I know would read that and think “who is this ignoramus? That’s the dumbest analogy I have ever read and shows complete ignorance of basic catholic theology”

  23. David Marjanović says


    1) Peer pressure.

    2) Inertia.

    3) Many believe that some tiny core part of the religion is true. The organization may have fucked everything up (…on too many occasions literally so…), but that doesn’t say anything about the religion itself, does it?

    They are getting out.

    Recently 1/3 of the membership has left

    That’s in the US.

    But it’s similar in Europe. France, for instance, used to call itself la fille aînée de l’Église, “the eldest daughter of the Church”. Well, no more.

    “[…] I could no more not be Catholic than I could change the colour of my skin.”


    Well, where do you live? In some places, Catholicism is part of the national identity; and my impression is that this includes part of the US, where apparently some people with ancestry from Ireland, Poland, Italy or Spanish-speaking countries have reduced such national identities to religion. Also, well, Maryland.

  24. truthspeaker says

    tomforsyth, if clergy in Episcopalian churches, or the ELCA, or any of the other not entirely insane churches want to try to lure liberal Catholics to their churches then they are free to do so. We’re not going to do their work for them. It would be dishonest and frankly insulting to Catholics for us to do it.

  25. says

    There are also Traditional (ie: reactionary) Anglicans who are cozying up to Rome. The two churches should formally arrange a trade. Seems like a win-win: they both get rid of some dissidents, and the traded individuals get an ecclesiastical environment more to their liking.

    Sort of like a prisoner swap ;-).

  26. jfigdor says

    Great advertisement, but I wish they’d included links to some communities for people to join after they leave their faith.

  27. Ragutis says

    2 March 2012 at 11:33 am

    Feels like this letter is going for too much. Persuading a practicing Catholic to become an atheist is a big stretch. Much easier surely would be to deflect them to one of the less socially harmful versions of Christ-bothering?

    I don’t see where the letter is trying to make an atheist out of anyone. It’s simply saying that it’s time for liberal Catholics to shed their affiliation with the Church. To wake up and face just how much they fundamentally disagree with the Church. To question why they identify with a philosophy so disimilar from theirs. To stop attending, tithing to, and enabling the institution that works against their ethos and interests.

    My quibble with the article is this:

    A backer of the Roman Catholic presidential candidate

    She’s talking about Santorum, but Gingrich is Catholic too. When Newt dumped his wife after cheating on her for years with Callista, being the good Catholic (Other) woman that she is, Callista insisted that Newt convert before they married.

  28. jasonlocklin says

    I would forward this letter on, but it’s written in a way that only someone knowledgable about the issues would understand or believe -and those people probably don’t need the letter. It would do better to clearly cite the various abomonations at the hand of the church, but instead makes far too many allusions. It’s also to American centric -not even mentioning the push to keep contreceptives out of Africa?

  29. jkerber says

    Count me out!

    Can’t remember where I got this link, possibly here.

    To those other “recovering Catholics” I had no idea that the church, or so I’ve been told, can still count non church attending people when taking their census and can still declare you Catholic. You can fill in this form that’s a declaration of defection and send it to the church you were baptized in. Then, they can no longer count you in their numbers. But, beware, you will no longer be able to receive the sacraments. *spooky ghost noises*

  30. truthspeaker says

    Ragutis – and during the six years she was having an affair with a married man, Calista somehow never became pregnant, even though I’m sure someone as devout as she would never use contraception.

  31. Rich Woods says

    I could no more not be Catholic than I could change the colour of my skin.

    When I go out in the sun for a few hours my white skin turns red, then falls off the following day and I revert to being white.

    Unfortunately the religio-brainwashing can be an even deeper problem than my lack of functional melanin.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Callista insisted that Newt convert before they married

    She, or her parents?

  33. says

    The trouble is, whether you go or not, the Roman Catholic Church claims to represent you and tries to throw its political weight around on that basis. Almost nothing can get you off their list. However, not giving them money is a help.

    Incidentally, the fact that people go to church for community and switch churches rather than dropping out underlines the need for true secular alternatives such as weekly community meetings, all welcome, coffee and cookies free with some generally helpful agenda.

  34. Forbidden Snowflake says

    Markita Lynda:

    The trouble is, whether you go or not, the Roman Catholic Church claims to represent you and tries to throw its political weight around on that basis.

    Such claims sound less persuasive when the Church is closing parishes left and right due to a shortage of asses* in pews.
    Though obviously the tithes and the asses in pews are closely linked.

  35. francescoorsenigo says

    PZ, many Catholics do NOT recognize the authority of the Roman Church.
    For them the Church is, basically, an abstract group of all True Cristians.
    Many follow fringe authorities within the Church and hope in a reform of the Church from within.

  36. Azuma Hazuki says


    And by definition they’re not Catholics any longer, and will burn and scream and wail and cry and sizzle and shrivel and curse and bubble until the end of time and ever after as well. Next!

  37. jimmauch says

    This is a vicious attack on the Catholic Church — and now let’s keep it up. It’s time we let them know that they will no longer will be able to hide from ridicule under the absurd assumption that they stand for moderation.

  38. John Morales says



    This is a vicious attack on the Catholic Church


    (Try using a dictionary to find out the meaning of ‘vicious’)

  39. edwardkillian says

    How can any “good” priest or Catholic support forcing

    Original Sin and other dogma on the young without

    undoing the good things they may do.

    It taints everything.

  40. unclefrogy says

    OK I was once a catlic
    went to mass and stuff
    felt guilty and inadequate most of the time.

    I started smoking when I was 8 and smoked on and off for over 40 years tried to quit many times know too much about tobacco did not seem to matter at all.
    until one day I realized that the sinus headache and the acid stomach happen right after I started to smoke. It was the fucking tobacco that was doing it. I have not had any tobacco from that day to this I no longer have head aches and seldom have acid stomach form anything other than eating too much good stuff.

    Did not happen with the catlic in the same way it was harder but I now know that the guilt was learned and not earned and like the song says “god is a concept by which we measure our pain” and further it is an idea with which we inflict pain on ourselves and others and is completely imaginary.

    uncle frogy

  41. hamburger says

    I have a friend who is functionally atheist, philosophically agnostic, never goes to church or gives money to it, but self-identifies as Catholic. I don’t get it.

    There are lots of weird Catholic and post-Catholic phenomena which are attempts to deal with the cognitive dissonances. It’s a very difficult frame of mind and variety of obedience to authority/fear of questioning to break out of.

  42. mirrorfield says

    @Moggie: IMHO you’re right about private schools being selective, but it’s not the poverty which is the critical factor (although that does play the role). More important is that they can filter out people with learning disabilities, disciplinary problem cases and other academic undesirables.

    Not to mention the self-selective factor that if parents are paying for the ride, they expect their precious snowflake to apply him-/herself and take interest in what their kid is doing.

  43. billyeager says

    PZ, if wishy-washy Catlick priests get up your nose, how’s about atheist Catlick priests?

    Wuuuuh? I hear you respond so eloquently?

    Oh, yes, indeed, have you not heard of the ‘Sea of Faith’ organisation? Yes, priests who stay in the job whilst admitting that their religion is all made-up fantasy, borne of the mind of mankind? Could it be the free cassocks on offer? Or the free access to a veritable smorgasboard of the vulnerable?

    No, I’m sure they have a noble excuse for what they are doing and whomever they are doing it to.

    Oh do scroogle “Sea of Faith” will you? Prrrleeeeeze!
    I would *love* to hear your take on them.

  44. istilldream says

    I agree with the letter’s statements about the Catholic Church absolutely, and support the goal of getting them out to sap the power of this bigoted organization.

    However, I think this is a case where the goal of hurting bigoted organizations and the goal of bringing more people into Atheism are working at cross purposes. The reason that most of these people stay in the church even as they disagree profoundly with its political agenda is because they still in fact believe in god and find the rituals of the church meaningful. That belief might well be misguided, but they feel it nonetheless, and telling them “your choices are staying a Catholic or becoming an atheist” will make them more likely to remain in the Catholic Church

    Steering them instead towards an organization like the Liberal Catholic Church, a well-established alternative which keeps all the trappings of catholicism but supports gay rights, contraception, gender equality, and progressive social policy, as well as having women priests and married priests, would be a more effective way of getting them to leave, which ought to be the primary goal.

  45. billyeager says


    you must be new here….

    Um, yes, somewhat. I did do a search here for any prior reference to Sea of Faith, but nothing came up.

    Have I made a terrible gaffe? Is my lateness to the meeting showing me to be several paedophiles short of a parish?

    Apple-ogies if so.

  46. says


    1. what’s your agenda anyway? Why do you want to call attention to this organisation on a thread that has nothing to do with it?

    2. it’s PZ’s blog, he can write about whatever he wants, he is not obligated to write about anything. Feel free to send him the link by email though, probably will have more of a chance of getting noticed (but only barely so)

    3. also,from following this blog for some years, without pretending to speak for PZ, I can probably predict what his opinion on such an organisation would be…

  47. billyeager says


    Eesh! Sorry I spoke.

    1. My agenda? The purpose of calling attention to this organisation in this thread? Um, wow, given the haughtiness of your response I guess the association of interest I made between ‘liberal catholics’ being asked “Why are you propping up the pillars of a tyrannical and autocratic, woman-hating, sex-perverting, antediluvian Old Boys Club?” really must have no relevance when pointed in the direction of atheist Catholic priests propping up the pillars of a tyrannical and autocratic, woman-hating, sex-perverting, antediluvian Old Boys Club

    I just figured it did. Clearly I am missing something. Maybe I am suffering some sort of schizophrenic period whereby I see relevance and connection where there is none.

    2. It’s PZ’s blog? Did I suggest otherwise? Tagging on to, whatever I, oh so mistakenly, took to be on-topic relevance to the subject matter of this thread, a parting missive declaring a desire to read of his opinion of said organisation was not intended to be interpreted as an unreasonable demand, although, again, judging by your response, it clearly was.

    3. Well, feel free to predict what PZ’s opinion might be, or, given that the purpose of my initial comment was to allow others to also give their perspective, as opposed to purely sending PZ an email, of this grossly off-topic reference, perhaps you may wish to proffer your opinion instead.

    Or not, seeing as there is apparently absolutely no relevance between the original subject matter and wondering what a curious organisation such as the SoF might make of it.

  48. says



    Wuuuuh? I hear you respond so eloquently?

    sounded like you were expecting PZ to have written about the topic or paid attention to it.

    If your concern was genuine (and I don’t think you made a very good job of communicating that but it might just be me), then I suggest emailing him about it.

    I would predict that PZ would not care for “atheist priests”, organised or not. Ultimately they’d still be lending support to the institution of religion most of us here despise so much…

  49. Ariaflame, BSc, BF, PhD says

    Well, if they already know they don’t believe and still are pretending to, then I suspect not terribly much.

  50. julietdefarge says

    Dear Catholics;
    as you leave the building, please hand the keys over to your local historical association- they’ll take good care of your excellent art and architecture. In fact, you should consider joining an arts preservation society.

  51. Don Quijote says


    Some priests lose their belief during the course of their priesthood. It is not always easy for them to just hang up their cassock and walk away.