Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why young people are leaving the Church ... or - why young people interviewed on Hollywood Boulevard do not know who the Pope is.

This is the church, this is its steeple, open the doors, and - 
hey! where the hell are all the young people?

What's the Church?

There is an interesting article on Global Pulse asking the perennial question, "Why are young people leaving the Church in such numbers?"

Religious people, bishops and priests and Catholic educators, and apparently parents and grandparents seem to be constantly wringing their hands over youth leaving the Church, stop going to Mass, and living in sin together, with no time for religion.  "They're living like pagans Doris!"

How to get them back?  That seems to be the question - or should it be, "Why did they leave?"  How about, "Were they ever 'there'?"

Loosing my religion.

The Pulse article by Thomas Baker is actually his review of a new book on the subject:
Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church by Christian Smith, Kyle Longest, Jonathan Hill, and Karl Christofferson, Oxford University Press.
A line in the review which caught my attention, pointed out that the majority of 'emerging Catholic adults" seem to be those who are "perhaps willing to identify themselves as Catholic, attending Mass sporadically at best, and in general living life with their Catholic identity as a more dormant, if not entirely irrelevant, force." Is this the demographic the Synod Fathers are concerned about? Are they the marginalized on the peripheries?  Because if they are, they are stuck in between two "pockets" of very, very traditional young Catholics, and those who are totally and completely "disengaged" - gone.

It seems to me all the discussion on the 'how to get them back'  needs to be dealt with after we understand the causes which led to their leaving in the first place - or perhaps admitting they - along with their parents - were never really there.


As Brown points out - but doesn't seem to be convinced it is the only reason:
So, what brought us to this point? Young Catholic America reminds us that bad as these statistics may look, in fact they are not new: Mass attendance and other measures of involvement and allegiance among young adults have been at low levels since the 1960s. To the authors, the genesis of the decline is clear: “After [Vatican II] ended, the church in the United States did a less than ideal job of instructing the faithful in the pews about its teachings and their implications.... It does not appear that such unified, lucid, authoritative instruction and direction was provided.”
This, of course, is a familiar trope from conservative analysts of the church’s plight, naïvely assuming that our crisis of membership and allegiance is primarily a failure of ardor in education and explanation.
It seems to be an appealing idea to some that our bishops could have prevented the collapse of Catholic culture in the 1960s if only they had preached doctrine and Catholic obligations more heroically. However, from my years in business, I can tell you there are few sadder phenomena than a company that thinks its failed product would surely have been successful if only customers could have had its greatness fully explained to them.
The theory that vigorous teaching could have saved Catholic culture understates the magnitude of what has happened to church authority and credibility. It also casts a rosy nostalgic glow around the preconciliar church, remembering it as an era of higher Mass attendance (definitely true) and religious literacy (more doubtful, in my mind, although it certainly was a golden age for Catholic facts and lists).
But never mind the post hoc theorizing—what do these young people themselves report about the reasons for their weakened ties to Catholicism?  - GP

The article goes on to discuss the issues young people use to explain their 'falling away' - reasons which also are an all too familiar trope:
But never mind the post hoc theorizing—what do these young people themselves report about the reasons for their weakened ties to Catholicism? There is little evidence from the authors’ interviews that the issues so neuralgic for many Commonweal readers—the male hierarchy, bad preaching, sexual abuse, the church’s position on gay Catholics and marriage, the alliance of so many bishops with Republican political agendas—are at the top of their list of problems. (Other studies, such as those cited by Robert Putnam and David Campbell in American Grace, do suggest a recent trend of young people abandoning religion because of its closer alignment with conservative politics.) Instead, the most obvious factor identified in both the interviews and the survey data in Young Catholic America seems to be disaffection from Catholic sexual teaching, dramatically so with respect to both premarital sex and birth control. - GP
I have no doubt we will be hearing the abuse crisis excuse for decades.  The problems with Catholic sexual teaching is nothing new - it has pretty much been the dominate complaint for the second half of the 20th century including today.  Hence the Synod on the Family.

Pope who?

Which leads me to the Hollywood Boulevard interviews I sometimes catch if and when I watch Jimmy Kimmel.  

The Pope and the bishops and intellectuals need to watch more TV - then maybe they will 'get it'.  Popular culture is a mirror - look real close, and you will see the underbelly of decadent 'virtue'.  Watch - but be careful - sometimes you may see real Catholics on late night who think they know something, but they sometimes just screw it up more.  Colbert too?  Yup.  And his quests.

That said, the other night, Kimmel did one of his interviews of passers by on the 'Walk of Fame'.  It is a funny sequence because they show the strangest people with the dumbest answers to the most preposterous questions.  Among the questions last night was, "Who is the Pope?" or "Do you know who the Pope is?"

Of course it is random and I know it is not scientific and all of that.  I know it is anecdotal and not real data - but believe me - it's not atypical.  No one knew who was pope.  One woman came close - responding, "Some guy - I think John Paul 2 or somethin'.  Did I get it right?  Did I get it?"  Others said, "Some old guy quit and another took his place - I dunno."  The standard was "Some old guy."  and one said "Huh?"  He didn't know what a pope was.

Some of the 'contestants' were high or on their way to get high - maybe that explains part of it?

My point here is that I'll bet not many young people care about what the Church teaches, or what the Synod Fathers are discussing, or how cool the Pope is - or even who or what he is.

I think that may be a point in Baker's review as well... maybe not.  

One thing I am convinced of however is this - any further attempt at watering down Catholic teaching will not attract authentic conversions.  It hasn't worked that way for well over 50 years, I don't see how it could be effective now.  

Instead of reformation, I think we need restoration. 

But who am I?  No one.  Just some guy without credentials.

A Kimmel interview on Hollywood Blvd.
Words of wisdom...


  1. Our society is so secularized and the priests are sometimes also secularized so don't alert their parishioners to the dangers of birth control, etc. I found an article indicating that the pill creates false attractions to men so going off the pill will create issues.

    But really, it's that we don't view sin as sin these days.

    1. And apparently, calling sin a sin is too harsh.

  2. Instead of reformation, I think we need restoration.

    “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." No, this verse in context doesn't have anything to do with attracting people to the Church. One might take it as a "hint" - one of many scattered throughout the Bible. God is the first mover. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have wonderfully attractive and exciting religious education -- after all, we have the most momentous news since Creation to pass on.

    You are a peculiar person, Terry (thank you to the Amish for that thought), and Catholics are peculiar. We believe and do odd things - at least to those who are not Catholics. If every Catholic in the US was suddenly called by the Holy Spirit (although I think He has probably already done that on many occasions) and they listened and obeyed, then wouldn't there be whole masses of young people clamoring to enter the Church? Maybe not.

    The mystery of Christ and His Church was not made by us, and is not run by us, but is only for us (ALL people), should we chose to embrace it. That is a supernatural act, initiated by the Holy Spirit. I don't object to the Synod, and I think Bishops should listen to their charges. As long as the Bishops have a healthy fear of the Lord, for their duty is grave.

    In essence, I have no idea how to attract or keep younger people in the Church -- no new ideas. I have heard from online news about Bishops seeking opinions from their diocese, and I haven't come across anything that is not commonly batted around.

    Now if I were going to initiate a Synod (and after reading this, many people might be grateful that I'm not), I would first gather all the luminaries and have them privately read the Bible from cover to cover. Then the catechism. Then every work of every Doctor of the Church. Possibly followed by comprehensive works on the entire history of Christianity.

    Well, it's always good to refresh your memory.

    THEN, I would send them on a 30 day solitary retreat of prayer. However, some of them might feel retirement coming on. (I think I'm joking about that last line)

    This is my favorite ranting spot, I suppose I'll find something to say next year. May God bless us, and most importantly keep us, both now and forevermore. Ditto - No credentials. Don't pray the Rosary every day. Don't wear lace on my head when I attend Mass. Never think I have to wear clothing that covers my knees, so that I cause any of my brothers to fall. Maybe it's a mental health thing that I have to over-engage in your comment box every once in awhile.

  3. I can't believe how long that comment was. I'm so embarrassed.

    1. Him likes your comment. Thanks!

      I was thinking more about this today. I really think what attracts people to the Church is the Church. Catholic teaching is an anchor - Christ said, 'and when I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself.' I often think of the Carthusian motto, "The world revolves but the cross remains the same."

      When I was younger I stopped going to Church - stop being a practicing Catholic because I liked the bars and drugs and 'falling in love' with someone new every weekend. When it went from bad to worse - Jesus was there in the Blessed Sacrament, just waiting for me to return. I returned and accepted Catholic teaching - and was reconciled in the sacrament of penance.

      I don't think bishops get that. They're always too busy trying to figure out how to compete for attention - to 'attract' people to the Church.

    2. BTW - peculiar works, as does eccentric - I think. :)

  4. It's definitely the Holy Spirit. Just yesterday, someone asked if my mom is as Catholic as I am and when I replied that she had raised me not to believe in Church Teaching, the immediate response was that it was the Holy Spirit, which I knew already.

    1. I should have said the Holy Spirit as well. It is very good to meditate on that.

      "No one can come to me unless the Father draw him..." I love that.

  5. One answer is for parents to teach doctrine, teach doctrine, teach doctrine. I think even if young people leave for awhile, if they have been given the truth it will ultimately call them back. I was very devout through Junior High and High School. It was going to an unfaithful Catholic college that robbed me of my faith -- but only for a few years. It was getting married and recognizing how serious that commitment was that made my husband and me realize we could not do it without the grace of God. I believe the Scripture passage that says, "If you raise your children in the way of the Lord, when they are old they will not depart from it." Hopefully, they will embrace it before "they are old." Think I'll offer my rosary for young people today.

  6. If anyone is interested in the fact that all the evangelical churches are experiencing the same thing, there's a good book about it. It's called Quitting Church by Julia Duin, past religion editor of the Washington Times and a personal friend. I met Julia after a mock funeral Les Femmes held at the U.S. Capitol. She came and interviewed us (back in the 90s) and we've been friends ever since. You can check out her book at Amazon.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.