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"Catholics Leaving the Church: A Theological-Pastoral Investigation Through the Lens of Pope Francis' Ecumenism"

Belstar O. Ediang (Philippines)

Licentiate in Sacred Theology, with field of specialization in Systematic Theology
Adviser: Joaquin Yap, Jr., S.W., D.Phil.


The phenomenon of Catholics leaving the institutional Church has been happening more since the 16th century Protestant Reformation. A key reason for this departure is the Church’s need for renewal, primarily with regard to unaddressed abuses. Many Filipino Catholics struggle to face the fact of the Church’s need for reform, and are either unable or unwilling to help while remaining in the Church. Unfortunately, some emerging and mostly non-denominational Christian groups actively proselytize Catholics. Despite a concerted Catholic commitment to ecumenism since the Second Vatican Council, the Church’s unresolved issues, both internal and external, have become a stumbling block until now in realizing Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity: May they all be one (cf. Jn 17:21).

The author argues that, although he has yet to publish an official document on ecumenism, Pope Francis is a proponent of Christian unity largely through his occasional statements and personal gestures. This study relies on Pope Francis’s words and symbolic acts as a paradigm, and argues that constant renewal of the Church itself is the key to prevent more Catholics from leaving it. The Church cannot coerce Catholics to remain in full ecclesial communion. However, it can do such remedial actions as dealing with abusive pastors, training seminarians, giving instruction and pastoral accompaniment to the faithful, being more evangelical in caring for the flock, and the like. The author believes that such decisive actions can strengthen Catholics and perhaps prevent those who are disillusioned from joining another denomination. It must be admitted that a renewed Church is not a guarantee to this pastoral problem, nor a solution to the continuing division among the Christian churches. As Pope Francis keeps emphasizing, Christian unity is attainable not only through human efforts but especially through the Holy Spirit. Thus, instead of surrendering to pessimism about a seeming “ecumenical fruitlessness”, Pope Francis asserts that unity today is even more necessary for the sake of the poor and the persecuted – an “ecumenism of the blood”.

Final Defense:

Date of Oral Defense:19 February 2021 (Friday)

Board of Examiners: Ruben L.F. Habito, D.Litt.C.(Principal Examiner) and Fr. Hartono Budi, S.J., Th.D.

Proposal Defense:

Date: April 12, 2019

Board of Examiners: Dr. Joaquin Yap, S.W. (Adviser), Fr. James Kroeger, M.M., D.Miss., Fr. Hartono Budi, S.J., Th.D

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Loyola School of Theology