Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is the Catholic Church losing our younger generation?

Is the Catholic Church losing our younger generation on some very important issues? In terms of numbers, yes. It's probably not news to anyone that an increasing number of young people are gravitating closer to Hollywood values and than they are to Gospel values. With regard to premarital sex, this has certainly been the case for three to four decades. However, a new attitude is emerging about the very essence of marriage. This, to be sure, has far reaching consequences. But I have to wonder if the Catholic Church is on top of it. I have not witnessed an urgency proportionate to the crisis at hand among our Shepherds. Keep in mind that this same Church was slow in responding to the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Luther broke away from the Catholic Church in 1517. Soon thereafter, an avalanche of Christians leaving Mother Church was well underway. By the time the Catholic hierarchy took the crisis seriously it was in 1545. It was at this time they convened the Council of Trent. But much of the damage had already taken place. Again, I wonder if Catholics are finding themselves unprepared for another storm. Let me explain.

In a Fox News article, I discovered that my personal experience as a faith formation teacher was not an isolated one. The Pew Research Center Poll found that “Americans were opposed to gay marriage by nearly 2-1 a decade ago, the latest poll showed 45 percent in support of it, with 46 percent in opposition.” No doubt, gay rights activism has long advanced its cause through the entertainment culture, the media and in universities. However, in public high schools, and even in the lower grades, the gay rights agenda has become part of the curriculum.

Even here in Northeast Wisconsin, which, I believe, is considered part of the heartland, educators celebrate a gay rights day. Now, if the heartland is regarded as mainstay of traditional values, certainly the East and West coast in America is even more aggressive in pushing gay rights. To be sure, the social agenda is every bit as important, if not more so, than academic excellence in public education.

Whenever I can, I seek to find out where the younger generation is on the issues. In my faith formation classes I took surveys on my students views- ages ranging from ninth and tenth graders - on same-sex marriage and cohabitation. Two years in a row the majority of my students opted in favor of both lifestyles. Now, the parish I belong to is considered to be a “flagship” parish of the diocese; that is, a parish that the bishop sets up as a model to be imitated. Indeed, it is a Christ-centered, orthodox parish. But the public school students who have attended its faith formation classes on a weekly basis have been, at least with regard to sex and marriage, more influenced by Secularism than by Catholicism.

To interject a positive note: There is little doubt that God is raising up a new generation of youth and young adults in the Catholic Church. These young men and women who are devoted to Christ and the mission of his Church are, in my opinion, the most zealous and well formed youth we have seen in centuries. With that said, however, I also believe they are a remnant in comparison to the scores of adolescents and young adults that are being lost to the world.

As the Pew Research Center Poll indicates, gay marriage is gaining acceptance in our younger generation. Although the majority of California citizens voted for Proposition 8 (a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in 2008 which provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized) 66 percent of voters under the age of thirty voted against it. When this younger generation comes of age and assumes key leadership positions in our country, the campaign to redefine marriage will be close to being realized.

Keep in mind that if a redefinition of marriage succeeds, it also succeeds in redefining the image of God; which, as we know, is the union between a man and a woman. After all, it is through the father and the mother that a child comes to know God, the world and himself. When this image is blurred then the perception of God and the world is blurred as well. Therefore, the redefinition of marriage has far reaching consequences.

Another disturbing trend which is emerging in tandem with the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage is more and more couples are choosing not to get married. They are simply cohabitating. We should expect this if marriage is arbitrarily defined to include homosexual unions. People intuitively know that if something is subject to change because of a little political pressure here and a little social pressure there, then it is not that important; certainly not important enough to make sacrifices for it. Not only is the incentive to get married lessened, but the will to have children is challenged as well. This, we have seen in Europe, Japan, Russia and we are seeing the beginnings of it in America. The Western population is aging quickly; or one can say- dying!

We have seen that some significant social shifts are occurring. But where is the Catholic Church in all of this? Or a better question might be: Are Catholics equal to their mission? I do not get the sense that leadership in the Church- both clergy and laity –are ahead of this curve. Sermons, pastoral letters, ecclesiastical documents and even papal encyclicals have not addressed these trends head-on. There is still a great deal of reluctance to offend people. And I am afraid that this trepidation of speaking and writing about these issues forthrightly plays no small role in the decline of Western Civilization.

More on the next blog-


If you wish to continue reading this series please click on part II of Is the Catholic Church losing our younger generation? in the March archives of 2011.