Young Catholics aren’t committed to the Church

Young Catholics aren’t committed to the Church

“Catholic identity redefined by youth”

The current generation of young Catholics has a solid Catholic identity but they are not as committed to the Church as their predecessors.

That’s the opinion of Dean Hoge, professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America, and James Davidson, professor of sociology at Purdue University, according to the Catholic News Service.

Hoge and Davidson analyzed several surveys and concluded that Catholics born after 1979 are much different than prior generations of Catholics. They believe that most young Catholics have a weak commitment to the Church as an institution and its teaching on moral issues.

Dr. William Portier, the Mary Ann Spearin chair of Catholic theology at UD, concurs with Davidson and Hoge’s assessment of young Catholics.

“It makes sense to me that the identity and commitment of the majority of young Catholics has become more diffuse,” Portier said.

Portier believes that one of the main reasons for this is that Catholics are more of a part of mainstream American society than they once were.

“There used to be a well-defined Catholic subculture that dissolved sometime in the 1960s,” Portier said. “Catholics became demographically indistinguishable from other Americans.”

What could have possibly happened in the Sixties that could explain this? Undeniably, you’d have to say it came about when we removed all that is distinctive about Catholic faith and worship, changing it from a supernatural mystery in Latin and solemn music into a Protestant happy-clappy worship service. I’m not saying that the Mass prior to 1962 didn’t need reform. And I do recognize that in many places the Novus Ordo Mass celebrated today is much improved over what you typically saw in the 1970s.

But add the destruction of worship to the watering down of doctrine—thanks to priests and theologians and others who told the faithful that everything was up for grabs now—and you can see how we might have become indistinguishable from the rest of society: Catholics divorce at the same rate, abort at the same rate, contracept at the same rate and all the rest at the same rate as the rest of the country. Then when you see that pretty much everyone under the age of 40 got pretty pathetic Catholic religious instruction and it’s no wonder so many of our generation and the one following have wandered away.

One caveat to keep in mind, however, is that as with all studies, the questions asked and the people who are surveyed are important. We don’t know the criteria used to judge the perceptions of young people toward the Church.

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  • I was born in 1979.

    When we’re young, we think we know everything, and we think we don’t have to abide by ANYBODY’s rules: parents’, teachers’, the Church’s.  We’re on top of the world.  It’s as we age that we realize how truly dumb we are, and how little we know what’s best.  It’s then that we turn to ruling institutions like the Church for guidance.  This has been the case with me in my twenty-eight years, only the last few of which have been in any sense committed to the Church.

    So I have to wonder if the verdict that today’s youth are less committed to following the rules might just as truthfully be said about the young in any time and culture.  Will this same generation become more committed to the Church and her moral instructions the further we get from 1979?

  • I know plenty of families where the older siblings raised primarily under the preconciliar while those whose catechesis was largely postconciliar stayed.

    The liturgy is hardly the primary cause of what transpired in the post-war period. It’s a tertiary-level issue at most. There were much greater forces at work, and I have yet to hear a convincing argument (the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc arguments are, of coure, fallacious) that Vatican II’s reforms were the causal rudder for the decline.

    Much more important probably causes come to mind:

    1. The stunning demographic shift in the patterns of American Catholic life—full assimilation into the consumer capitalist culture of the postwar USA—cutting much more mobile families off from the dense urban and familial support structures that had been built up over the previous 3-4 generations.

    2. Brittle and shallow preconcliar catechesis. The usual state of liturgy didn’t help, either.

    3. The revolution of expectations confounded by Humanae Vitae

    4. At a less conscious level, the existential earthquakes of the Holocaust and folks like Gandhi. Why these? Because they fed indifferentism in different ways, and, unlike previous eras, they occurred in an era of international broadcast media (which has a much more powerful effect at a gut level):

    (A) Because even though the official program of the Holocaust was carried out by neo-pagans, it in no small part rested on corrosive cultural and religious anti-Semitism nurtured in the bosom of Christian cultures. This increased Christian self-doubt about the primary goodness of the Christian faith as compared to alternatives.

    (B) Gandhi’s example (among others) displayed to many Christians that many virtues could possibly be found in more ample supply outside Christianity.

    PS: Vatican II was in no small way intended to find ways to engage these existential earthquakes rather than to pretend they were not fundamentally problematic. The option of continuing such a pretense would have been a disaster. I am immensely grateful to Vatican II’s vision and courage in that regard.

  • In the ‘60’s there was Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll, and the US church stopped talking about eternal moral values.

    AND in general, those born after 1979 do not have children.  The event of child-rearing generally brings people closer to the Church.

  • Kate: The article actually says that while previous generations were likely to rebel when young and come back as they matured, the current generation shows less of that tendency to come back.

    Liam: The documents of Vatican II are not the problem, but the “spirit” of Vatican II. Like with the problem of expectations v. reality of Humanae Vitae, people just put into effect what they thought the council should have done.

  • My concerns come with things like “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” Are they catechized at least well enough to be able to see through these?

  • The “Spirit” of VII and multiculturalism in the church has been the biggest thing working against our youth building a Catholic Identity. At my parish the Pastoral Administrator doesn’t see that it is the parish’s mission to help build that identity, that’s the parent’s job.  Of course, they aren’t taking into account that many Catholic institutions are either a) hiding Catholic teaching so they don’t offend their non-Catholic students, or b) actively promoting other religions as being “just as valid a road to salvation.”  My two oldest boys who went to Catholic schools are still Catholic more in spite of instead of because of the schools efforts.

  • Dom

    The revolution of expectations re artificial birth control was part of a longer arc of a story.

    Well before Vatican II, I have been told by numbers of trustworthy witnesses, people had long known so-called “pastoral” confessors who were relatively “understanding” of the use of birth control. The lines of women (why it was largely women is a whole other discussion) could be depended on to be long for these confessors.

    The advent of the Pill in the early ‘60s aggravated this situation further, and the convening of a pontifical commission to consider the teaching on birth control apparently brought a tidal wave of leniency in the confessional (probably under the Roman juridical idea – and remember, confession was still often thought of in juridical terms at that time, something that Vatican II tried to overcome! – that a doubtful law no longer binds gravely) before Paul VI had the chance to enunciate his determination in the matter. By the time he did, as a practical matter the horse was out of the barn and the Church could no longer depend solely on the docility of the faithful to pretend nothing had happened. And it’s been uphill from there all the way, though I think there has been progress, however limited.

  • The watered down documents of Vatican 11, the failure to educate in the rich traditions of the church, the laxity over sexual sins, the acceptance by heirarchy of homosexuality in their midst, the loss of a sense of sin….need I say more?
    Our priests need to preach and teach as if our souls depended on it, because they do. Enough with the hogwash of ‘anything goes’!

  • I think this is being over-thought.  I’m sure that the younger generation (in general – across the broad spectrum – not just Catholics), have this mindset.

    It has to do with three main environments that they are constantly exposed to throughout their young (and formative) lives:

    1) The media exposure (music, tv, film, video games, internet, news),

    2) Education (especially via public school systems),

    and most importantly…

    3) Their parents (the baby boomers themselves), many of whom have raised their children with a 60s-70s mindset/approach to child-rearing.

    Basically… a significant number of youth today have been or are being raised, educated, and media-informed by a significant number of 50-year-old perpetual adolescents.

    (just my 2-cents worth)

  • “The liturgy is hardly the primary cause of what transpired in the post-war period. It’s a tertiary-level issue at most….I have yet to hear a convincing argument (the post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc arguments are, of coure, fallacious) that Vatican II’s reforms were the causal rudder for the decline.”

    L’audace, l’audace, tujours l’audace.  Establish your own claims and we’ll see about offering a convincing argument.

  • As a college student, I disagree with this.  I think Catholics are going to choose Catholicism 100% or leave.  Cafeteria Catholicism will die…

  • I don’t understand H & D’s conclusion.  People born after ‘79 aren’t as committed to the Church as previous generations—like the 60’s generation?  Like the 70’s generation?  What comparison are they purporting that couldn’t be equally applied to those people born in either of the 2 or 3 decades previous to ‘79?

    Somebody wasted a lot of money whoever paid the salaries of these two engines of profundity.  Aren’t there some ditches around that need to be dug by somebody for minimum wage?

  • I don’t think that it is necessarily due to a “watering down” of doctrine or changes in the Mass.  I’d would have to look through my shelves to see exactly which Andrew Greeley book I am citing, but I do believe that he considers CCD classes a failure. 

    I think that a decline in Catholic identity is caused by an increase in the Catholic attendance at public school. If it is true that the state of Catholic education is doctrinally weak, it would have a greater effect to increase access to that flawed education than to tighten up the “Catholicness” of the teaching. 

    It may be that the “spirit” of Vatican II is what causes people to be more willing to put their children in public schools.  Or there may be other causes.

  • Joshua Smith is right – “Somebody wasted a lot of money whoever paid the salaries of these two engines of profundity. “

    I am still laughing that a prof from Catholic University had the gall to publish this when his friggin’ job is to above all else spread the Gospel. Of course Catholic U. will probably sooon become “In the Catholic Tradition University of America “.

    And give me the 100+ converts who will come into full communion this Easter vigil in our diocese over all the spoiled, self-centered college kids in the world anyday.

  • I was born in 1941 and so experienced the Church prior to Vatican II with its subsequent spooky spirits.  And I have two children in their early twenties, both of whom largely received formal Catholic educations from 1989-2002.
    I am indebted to Joshua Smith (above) for his most perceptive comments.

    The fact is that Catholics were put put through an immersive sheep bath after the 1960s, and sold a bale of goods on the “spirit” of VC II that would make P.T. Barnum blush with envy.  And these were Catholics like myself raised in a well-catechized Church.  And yes, there was discussion and “dialogue” then at many levels regarding our faith.  We were not simply shoeless peasants as the current fiction contends.  After all, my youth was the Golden Age of Fulton Sheen!  And there was fine Catholic literature—something that has nearly vanished since VC II.

    Neither of my children has a stomach any longer for the normative masses that occur at a suburban parish level—the pervasive Haugen-Haas-Joncas-Funny Father Friendly stuff.  But take either to a mass at St. John Cantius—that is reverent in bearing, and sacred in intent and one can see two much different young people.

    Don’t look to our youth for our problems or theirs.  Look to our failed prelature and a VC II “spirit” that came from the wrong direction and is still haunting us.  One need only visit His Eminence, Cardinal Roger Mahony to see why the Church is in trouble in the United States.

    So again, thank you, Mr. Smith!

  • “Kate: The article actually says that while previous generations were likely to rebel when young and come back as they matured, the current generation shows less of that tendency to come back.”

    And I’m saying it’s a bit early to call that shot, because the most mature among that generation are only 28 years old.  In a culture that prizes being young and commitment-free more and more each day (Just check out retirement plan commercials), no less.  So I think making a statement about the post-1979 generation’s mature commitment to the Church is premature.  That’s all.

  • Greater overall secular forces have shaken the foundations of the Church, though Trubador points out something important:

    “3) Their parents (the baby boomers themselves), many of whom have raised their children with a 60s-70s mindset/approach to child-rearing.”

    My “formative” CCD education occurred in the 1970s and I vaguely recall a CCD class where we listened, on tape, to a sex ed lecture by Charlie Curran.

    I drifted from the Church for a good part of the 1980s before coming back. Part of the coming back, I think is some how related to my memories of my father attending Mass each morning.

    Parents (we) are key educators, mostly by example, and given the secular events around us, we have a tremendous job and responsibility before us. We need to pray and be open to welcoming back our sons and daughters who may have a prodigal experience during life.

  • It would be interesting to get a copy of his study and look at what the sampling was, what questions were asked and other factors.

    I think we have come up with some good reasons why GenX and GenY, so to speak, do not have the loyalty to the Church that earlier generations may have had.

    What I do know for certain is that there was a deliberate move to undermine the Church in the late 60’s through, well, now by folks in charge of Religious Education. When I mean deliberate,I mean thought out, planned, discussed and executed. Deliberate. My prof was around these folks and tells us horror stories. It was a direct attempt to “change” the Church to their liking, reverberations which will unfortunately affect us for years to come-the effect of which is now in our hands: What are you willing to do to change that tide?

    On the flip side, read Colleen Carrol Campbell’s book The New Faithful.
    It is a MUST read for any one with wonderings on this topic. Part of her conclusion is that those who DO come back to the faith-whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, even Muslim, I think-want the traditions, the bells and whistles: Want the orthodoxy of their faith.

    We already see that in the GenX and GenY groups. Yeah, we got crummy RelEd, but those who return, return starving and wanting the full banquet.

  • My mother recommended I comment on this. I am 23. I am entirely committed to the Church’s teachings (abortion, euthanasia, birth control, you name it). To be honest though, I can see from where this conclusion comes. Many of my friends have either left the Church or remain “cultural Catholics.” That is they only go through the motions and have little or no knowledge/belief in their meaning. Much of it I blame on the lack of catechesis. All many were taught is the “be nice to others” attitude. They weren’t taught to or how to stand up for their faith let alone what they are supposed to believe. When their faith was tested, they had nothing to fall back on.