Should We Leave Our Parish?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

We are a military family and we have a dilemma. We know we should be attending Mass with the military Catholic community, because we reside on the military base. However, the Catholic community here is so fraught with abuse that it is barely Catholic at all. The Altar faces NORTH! The community here is still stuck in the abuse phase of the late seventies early eighties: I'm okay — you’re okay stuff, to include guitars, maracas, half naked teenage readers, armies of EME's, omission of the word MEN in the creed, oh and my favorite “the Lord IS with you” instead of “May the Lord be with you.” These are just a few — the list goes on and on. We do not see how, in good conscience, we can take our seven children to the Mass there. However, we do not want to teach the children that it is okay to shop for churches, as that is not the Catholic way of doing things. Is a military family bound to the military Archdiocese if they reside on a military instillation, and do they have to attend Mass at the military chapel?

Mrs. Powell

Dear Mrs. Powell,

Peace in Christ!

I do not know whether there are military regulations restricting your freedoms, but the Church does not prohibit a person from attending the liturgy at a different parish.

Typically we recommend (and try to live ourselves) the counsel that one should try to be a leaven in one’s own parish. The Pope provides some important commentary on the “parish” in his apostolic exhortation on the lay apostolate Christifideles Laici, nos. 26-27. There are no perfect parishes, and the Pope’s vision is for the laity to participate in a broader renewal of the Church.

A key concept is “communion” — and while we enthusiastically accept Petrine supremacy and strive to remain “in communion with the Pope,” ecclesial communion is lived more concretely in the particular (i.e., diocesan) Church, and if the family is a vital “cell” in the Body of Christ, the parish is a vital “tissue.” The pastor is our connection to the bishop, who is in hierarchical communion with the Holy Father. Shifting analogies, the Pope emphasizes the familial nature of the parish in the above section of CL. Parish-shopping is reflective of our culture’s declining sense of family, with quick recourse to divorce and a disinclination to make commitments or honor them when the going gets tough. Maintaining one’s identity in a given parish manifests a certain sense of family, of belonging, of stability, of fidelity to the local Church.

Therefore, before leaving a parish, we suggest that people ask whether they have done what they could to participate in the life of the parish, apart from attending liturgy, and sought to build relationships with the pastor and other parishioners. Through these relationships problems can be more effectively addressed. At the very least, we suggest people approach their pastor before leaving. If problems are not resolved, the salvation of family members should be the primary consideration in determining whether a family stays at one parish or leaves for another.

I hope this helps. The short answer to your question is that this is not a matter of rules. You can participate in liturgies at other parishes with impunity. Nonetheless, I would suggest that you read Christifideles Laici and prayerfully discern God’s will in this matter.

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz

Information Specialist

Catholics United for the Faith

827 North Fourth Street

Steubenville, OH 43952

800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

Editor's Note: To submit a faith question to Catholic Exchange, email Please note that all email submitted to Catholic Exchange becomes the property of Catholic Exchange and may be published in this space. Published letters may be edited for length and clarity. Names and cities of letter writers may also be published. Email addresses of viewers will not normally be published.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage