Can the Catholic Church keep millennials from passing it by?

August 15 marked two important events for New York-area Catholics this year. It was the feast of the Assumption of Mary. It was also the start of the Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets. The Diocese of Bridgeport decided to celebrate both, with an event billed as “Baseball with the Bishop,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Young adults of the diocese were invited to attend the game. The group began the evening with Mass in Bridgeport, Conn., before boarding a charter bus bound for the Bronx.

In Yankee Stadium, section 427 is filled with young adults, who are cheering on their ball club alongside other young men sporting Roman collars. Bishop Frank Caggiano has come down with an illness and is nowhere to be found (as a Mets fan, perhaps the thought of being in Yankee Stadium was the cause). But none of the young adults in attendance seem to mind. There is a sense that they will see him another time.

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In the top of the ninth, the Yankees have a one-run lead and one out to go, but John Grosso’s focus is divided between the game and telling me how much he loves working for his boss—Bishop Caggiano. “Working with him is an absolute joy. He loves the church, and he loves young people—and he’s so good with young people because he’s a real person,” Grosso says. Grosso is the director of social media for the Diocese of Bridgeport. As a 20-something himself, his perspective is helpful for determining what style of ministry might be useful for young people. As we talk, his eyes dart back and forth between me and the batter’s box. “Our goal is to make ourselves a little bit vulnerable, by putting ourselves out there in situations where you wouldn’t expect to see the church.” Like at a Major League Baseball game.

This type of outreach can be effective: Tanya Adler, 20, came to the game in response to an invitation. She motions toward her friends, Rich and John Kelly. “Yeah, we’re baseball fans, and we heard this announced after Mass and thought it would be cool to come out and meet the bishop.” The Kellys are brothers; one is a graduate of Fairfield Prep and the other is beginning his senior year there. Adler was raised Protestant, but she attended Catholic schools and goes to Mass occasionally with the Kelly family. Though she is not Catholic, she feels a pull to be more involved in church. “I’m not as active as I should be in a parish,” Ms. Adler said. “But it’s a work in progress. I’ll get there.”

At 24, I am well within the demographics that are of interest to John Grosso and his team, and I certainly understand what it means to be a spiritual work in progress. I go to Mass (most) weekends, try my best to pray during the week and have a small faith-sharing community in my parish that sustains me. But I wonder if I am a success story. I have spent plenty of time parish shopping—it took me a while to find a sacramental home. I have been the youngest person in the pews too many times. I can no longer count the number of churches I have walked in and out of without anyone saying hello and asking what my name was, or if I was new.

It would have been really easy for me not to search as long as I did for a solid community, to become yet another story of “I was raised Catholic, but….” I would like to think that it was a powerful conversion experience that I had as a teenager in youth group, where I felt with the conviction of Paul that I was loved unconditionally by God, that pushed me to find a faith community. On my more cynical days, I think I would have quit this a long time ago if my profession as an editor in Catholic media did not keep me engaged in my faith on a day-to-day basis.

Some of my colleagues hope that many of those young people who have been raised Catholic but have fallen away from the church will return when it is time to get married. I am not so sure. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in 1990 there were 10 million people who referred to themselves as “former Catholics.” Last year, that number was more than 30 million. As for returning when it is time to get married? Well, those numbers do not look great either. There were 326,079 weddings in the church in 1990. In 2016, the number fell to just 145,916.

There were 326,079 weddings in the church in 1990. In 2016, the number fell to just 145,916.

The Vatican is also concerned. Pope Francis has announced that next year’s general assembly of the Synod of Bishops will focus on the topic “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Young people ages 16 to 29 have been invited to participate in an online survey in preparation for the bishops’ meeting in October 2018. More recently, Pope Francis has called for a pre-synod meeting of young people, to be held March 19 to 24, 2018, to hear firsthand their hopes and concerns.

This is the latest effort, but not the first, that the institutional church has made to encourage participation among young people. St. John Paul II announced the first World Youth Day in 1983, and since that time, the event has attracted millions of young people to gather at locations around the globe. Yet, despite the success of such events, parishes, high schools and colleges still struggle to successfully reach a wider swath of individuals from this demographic. Many church ministers are working to re-examine the church’s relationship to youth and young adults. There is a reason that Pope Francis called this synod now.

CNS photo/Paul Haring

Forming Faithful Leaders

It is April, and in the shadow of the Shrine of St. John Paul II in Washington, D.C., lay ministers from across the United States, all committed to working with young people, gather to discuss how best to serve a new generation of Catholics. They are here as participants in the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry’s National Diocesan Directors Institute. The institute sponsors any new diocesan director of youth and/or young adult ministry to come to Washington for a week of training and fellowship.

Tomorrow they will don business attire for their visit to the offices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but tonight many wear a more laid-back look—graphic tees, jeans, sandals—common to youth ministers, a role many of them held before taking their jobs in the chancery.

Doug Tooke, 41, stands in the front of the room, finishing up a presentation. As social hour begins, he walks away from the mini-fridge with a bottle: “My wedding ring is a sign of the sacrament I share with my wife, that I am the paterfamilias for my five beautiful daughters,” he pauses, “and it also opens beer!” Tooke is the master of ceremonies for the week. Doug is funny, charismatic and has what is commonly referred to a “big inside voice.”

Mr. Tooke has been involved in youth ministry for a long time. In 1998, he signed up to be the youth minister at St. Matthew’s parish in Kalispell, Mont., which at that time had a population of 14,000. He has been serving the youth of rural Montana ever since, and in December he was awarded the National Youth Ministry Award for Diocesan Ministry in a Rural Population.

Earlier, during a session on planning diocesan youth events, Mr. Tooke asked the ministers in the room to recall an event that had a significant impact on their own faith and vocation. After they discussed the question with their neighbor (this really was a room of youth ministers) he asked if anyone would like to share. Hands immediately flew up around the room (it was also a room of extroverts).

“World Youth Day,” one woman tells the group. “There was something about sitting in a field with thousands of people at a Mass being translated into five languages, with everyone listening in their audio receivers.” Another person mentions a social justice mission trip, and how she has seen some of her teens go off to Ivy League universities and then graduate with service-oriented jobs because of what happened on a trip. Another mentions a Steubenville Conference and looks around the room to see if she has to explain any further. People nod along, signaling they understand that she is describing a charismatic youth conference, one of 23 organized by Franciscan University of Steubenville and held throughout the country, that attract more than 50,000 Catholic teenagers each summer.

But as great as all these global and national events are, they may not be enough to create sustainable ministries in their individual dioceses, Mr. Tooke says. Too many places have an attitude of “Let’s put all of our resources into one annual event that shows we care about youth ministry!” instead of investing in sustainable, parish-based models.

“Retreat high” is a phrase common in youth ministry circles. It refers to that feeling of emotional or spiritual consolation that comes from an intense ministry event. But no high lasts forever, and youth ministers, who are often faced with tight budgets and differing amounts of ecclesial support, must figure out how to help youth build an ongoing relationship with God and a relationship to the church that sustains them the rest of the year. Many navigate a tension between experiential spiritual programs like World Youth Day, diocesan youth rallies, retreats and service trips, and the difficult and necessary work of developing localized models that give young people a deep faith and the relationships that will last them through the transition to young adulthood and beyond.

It can be hard to build and expand a ministry when not everyone agrees on what that ministry should look like.

But the decision between local and national events is only one of the tough choices made by youth and young adult ministers. Funding and other support for programs often is largely dependent on whether the pastor or bishop sees youth and young adult ministry as a priority. And it can be hard to build and expand a ministry when not everyone agrees on what that ministry should look like.

“For some bishops, youth ministry is just pro-life ministry. For some, it is not a priority at all,” Mr. Tooke told me, as we chatted between sessions. Other participants echoed this sentiment. That evening I observed a conversation in which one attendee was raving to another about how much he appreciated the support his bishop gave him, how the bishop had an open door policy if the minister ever needed to chat about practicalities or talk vision. His conversation partner looked down at his shoes and grumbled. It was clear he had not had the same experience.

A Changing Church

Christina Lamas, 38, understands what it is like to come up against skepticism or resistance when working in youth ministry—a feeling not limited to members of the episcopacy. “There’s a fear of the unknown. People are intimidated by not knowing what to give a young person,” she tells me.

Ms. Lamas embraced the unknown and trusted in what she felt was God’s will when she moved across the country from Los Angeles to Washington to take on the role of executive director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. As a Latina with more than 20 years’ experience working in youth ministry at both the parish and diocesan level, she brings with her a vision rooted in where the church is heading, both demographically and pastorally. As the American church creeps toward a majority-Hispanic population, the young church is already there. Sixty percent of Catholics under the age of 18 are Hispanic.

And yet according to a 2014 report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, only 26 percent of responding dioceses had a director of youth ministry for Hispanic Catholics.

Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, assistant director of the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and director of the V Encuentro, thinks the church has failed thus far to minister to this group of “perceived minorities.” “Second- and third-generation Latinos have been left behind,” on a national level, he says. He blames this on the traditional youth group model. Parishes, perhaps out of good will, often integrate Latino youth into the existing youth groups without providing any ministry that is designed for immigrant communities. “There is an openness to working with immigrants, but not with cultural-specific ministries,” he says. The church in the United States must be careful that, as it seeks to evangelize new populations, it does not ignore the one right in front of it.

CNS photo/courtesy Daphne Stubbolo, Archdiocese of Washington

Growing With the Faith

For Catholic youth ministers in the United States, there are more resources and national structures than those who are unfamiliar with the terrain might realize. There are a number of widely attended national events and organizations to connect and train youth ministers from around the country, not to mention a healthy market for resources and curricula. That is not necessarily the case for ministry specific to young adults, geared toward people ages 18 to 35.

Large archdioceses like New York, Washington, Chicago and Denver have had some success in reaching out to this population, often by empowering the young adults themselves to lead. Yet across the country, there is still no broader consensus on what specifically is working and how to replicate it. “It’s the Wild West. Everyone is trying to figure it out because no one really knows what they’re doing,” Paul Sifuentes, associate director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, told me over dinner at the conference for diocesan directors of youth ministry. Cecilia Phan, the coordinator of young adult ministry for the Diocese of Orange in California, replied saying this was a shame, because “so many young adults don’t know what they’re doing in their life!”

Despite some positive examples to point to, the statistical reality remains stark. According to a study from St. Mary’s Press and CARA to be published in January, among those Catholics who choose to leave the church, 74 percent do so between the ages of 10 and 20. And 87 percent of them say that it is for good. As youth face the transition to young adulthood, long-term connection is needed.

As youth face the transition to young adulthood, long-term connection is needed.

The Diocese of Bridgeport is one diocese trying to make those connections. The diocesan website sends a clear message about its priorities, including “Youth/Young Adults” among the main tabs on its menu.

“Youth and young adult ministry really is his passion,” Evan Psencik said of his boss, Bishop Caggiano. Mr. Psencik is the coordinator of youth and young adult ministries for the diocese. He says it makes a difference throughout the diocese to have that kind of support and energy coming from the bishop. “As a pastor in a diocese, when you see that there is something that your bishop is very passionate about, then you as a pastor feel like you need to be there,” Mr. Psencik said.

The support has also given him the freedom to experiment with new programs. One example is a retreat he hosted for high school seniors along with recent high school graduates who are now in college. Some young adults in the diocese came up with the idea, hoping the retreat would provide an opportunity for teens to discuss and pray about the transition to college alongside those who have experienced it. “A lot of those kids who were in youth ministry, they go off to college and they come back and they’re still trying to hang on to that youth group because they don’t know where to go,” Mr. Psencik said.

At 29, Mr. Psencik has enough experience in the youth and young adult ministry world to observe some changes. “In the late 90’s-early 2000’s, [when Psencik himself was a teen involved in youth ministry] there was this shift, that was like ‘Oh let’s take young people and let’s do youth ministry over here, and let’s do teen Masses and really take young people out of that and put them over here’,” setting them apart from the rest of the parish environment.

This movement to keep young people separate was not confined to Catholic youth ministry. Fuller Youth Institute, an institute in California that trains and provides resources for youth ministers across denominations, refers to this as the “kids table” model of youth ministry.

“We put all of the young people at ‘the kids’ table’ and then, when they got out of high school, they went to a church that was not the kids’ table and they didn’t feel a part of it because we never really showed them how to be a part of the bigger church,” Mr. Psencik said.

The negative effects of this model become clear in transition moments, whether from high school to college or the workforce, or from college to the workforce.

“Sometimes [a young person will] get to a college and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m really excited. I was in youth ministry, I went to my Steubenville conference, and I’m excited,’ and they might get to their university and it’s not a Catholic university,” Mr. Psencik said, describing a typical journey for someone who struggles with a transition out of youth ministry. “Or they show up to the Newman Center and they go, ‘Oh, it’s just all the weird Catholics who can’t find dates, so I’m not coming back here.’”

A Time for Change

Julie Lai, a senior at the University of San Diego, is looking ahead to her transition out of the college faith experience. She is involved in the campus ministry there, and she is also active in young adult programming in local parishes. She feels that youth and campus ministry thus far have given her a “confident and mature” faith. She is considering participating in a faith-based service program after graduation. Ultimately, she would like to work in social media for the church in some way.

Even with Ms. Lai’s experience and intention to stay involved, looking toward a faith life after college can be daunting.

“I am concerned transitioning out of college because I fear a lack of dynamic Catholic community,” she said. “There aren't many dioceses which do young adult ministry well.”

Bishop Caggiano agrees that the church needs to do more to integrate youth and young adults into parish life. “There isn’t enough effort [in the church] to connect all of these dots, so that we are all working together to create a continuum that allows a person to meander through transition, and not get lost in the cracks,” the bishop told me. “I think as a church, we’re beginning to recognize that.”

For young adults it can feel really daunting if someone doesn’t literally introduce themselves and literally welcome them to the Mass.

Esteem is one program that helps to emphasize just how big the Catholic community can be. It is a national effort present at nine universities in the United States and designed to help young adults transition from the comfort of Catholicism on campus to the realities of parish life. It can be particularly helpful for individuals who do not live in cities with vibrant young adult programs. Esteem strives to give college seniors the tools and the space to have a conversation about faith and the awareness to go out into the world after graduation and find a parish that they want to be a part of. Participants take part in a mentorship program, in which young adults are paired with a “real-life” adult Catholic. There is also a curriculum that empowers students to identify what they value in a parish or in a liturgy, so that they are able to find a parish that fills their needs.

Megan Colford, an alumna of the program, worked for Apple after graduation before taking the reins of Esteem as national director. She identified a number of issues that a young adult could encounter when they transition out of college and into the working world.

“I know one of the biggest things that [young adults] struggle with is that they’ve been going to Masses where their friends are, where there’s hot chocolate afterward; there’s great music and great preaching directed at them,” Ms. Colford said. “And then the only parish that they see, if they go to the neighborhood parish, doesn’t have that same vibrancy or isn’t as youth-oriented. I think people really get disheartened by feeling like they lose the fun or the connection of going to Mass.”

Another issue is simply recognition, the feeling of not being known. Young adults come from an environment where their friends and their campus ministers know them by name and know them well. “You can think you’re as welcoming as can be, but for young adults it can feel really daunting if someone doesn’t literally introduce themselves and literally welcome them to the Mass,” Ms. Colford said.

Chicago Theology on Tap
Theology on Tap in the Archdiocese of Chicago. (Photo by Karen Callaway /Chicago Catholic)

A Model Parish?

A difficult fact to reckon with is that the parish model itself is less appealing to young people, who are unlikely to be connected to a single parish. The Archdiocese of Chicago is among those places trying to find a solution.

For young adults, “the parish shouldn’t be the starting point for ministry—it should be the end point,” the Rev. Peter Wojcik, 36, director of the Office for Parish Vitality in the archdiocese, told me. “We’re working to create as many starting points as possible.”

One of those starting points is the archdiocese’s Theology on Tap events, which were founded in Chicago more than 35 years ago. These events, which typically include a guest speaker, drinks and appetizers, have become a popular model for young adult events around the country. The archdiocese recently asked parishes to collaborate in organizing these events regionally, so that the efforts and expenses are shared and the events are not competing with one another. It is a model that has brought some success. The kickoff of the new format, which featured America’s national correspondent, Michael O’Loughlin, and Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., of Salt and Light TV, was held in a downtown bar and drew over 600 people, the highest turnout in over five years.

The archdiocese hopes to direct young adults toward faith formation and service opportunities. It has launched a Scripture study program that has more than 200 young adult participants throughout the city, and will soon launch an app that will offer a listing of all service-oriented events around the city in one place.

Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Washington
Theology on Tap in the Archdiocese of Washington (Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Washington)

The Archdiocese of Washington has also found success in transitioning away from a parish focus toward a regional one. Jonathan Lewis, 31, the director of young adult ministry and evangelization initiatives for the archdiocese, learned some useful lessons from his own experience of being a young Catholic in a state of flux. At one point in his life, Mr. Lewis moved four times in five years and was often traveling three hours one-way to see his girlfriend, the woman who would become his wife.

“Does my transience in that stage of life preclude me from fuller responsibility in the church?” Mr. Lewis asked. He believes the answer is no, but also believes that most parishes are not set up in a way that easily accommodates people in this stage and state of life. “Our parishes are built for stability,” Mr. Lewis said. “They’re built for people who have mortgages, who have kids and school schedules, who know where they’re going to be.... If they move, they move in the same neighborhood.”

To combat this, Mr. Lewis says the archdiocese is engaging in what he calls an “ecclesiology of locking arms.” The archdiocese has set up six regional ministries across the D.C. area. Mr. Lewis says this has helped parishes to support one another by sharing volunteers, resources and programs and to survive transitions. The benefits of this model can be difficult for parishes to understand at first. It can be a challenge, he said, convincing parishes to “give up a little bit of visibility in their own parish, to think bigger, in a more regional, universal, sense of the universal church.”

It is clear that these new ways of thinking about evangelization are needed. According to a 2016 study from the Public Religion Research Institute, since the early 1970s, the Catholic Church in the United States has experienced a 10 percent net loss of people who identify as Catholic (the next lowest was mainline Protestants, with a 4.5 percent loss). This emphasizes the urgency of the situation and the need to find some answers for the many questions left to explore—how to redouble efforts directed at young adults who have left while also focusing on better formation for the next generation; how to find sustainable parish-based models for engagement; how to provide culturally sensitive ministry in a growing church. Yet in the midst of uncertainty, the church has many laborers, of many ages and backgrounds, in the vineyard, who are willing to take on the necessary risks of evangelization.

The church has many laborers, of many ages and backgrounds, in the vineyard, who are willing to take on the necessary risks of evangelization.

“It’s easy to point fingers: parish, parents, society,” Ms. Lamas told me, but she said she refuses to despair over the situation. “God is working in the midst of all of that. I hope there’s a new desire to do things differently for young Catholics,” she said.

Bishop Caggiano agrees. “I think this is the moment the Lord has given us,” he said.

“It does feel like a kairos moment,” I replied.

“Absolutely,” he said, “And if we get this right, there will be generations after us who look back and say, we have been able to build what we built because they had the courage to ask the right questions.”

For Mr. Lewis, the story of Jesus walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus serves as a good foundation for the conversation to come. “Jesus walked with them on the road to Emmaus for seven miles. But it was away from Jerusalem, so he walked the wrong direction for seven miles...just to be with them, and to draw near to them,” he said. “Are we willing to leave our churches to walk away in the ‘wrong direction,’ so that we can encounter people and walk with them in that journey, so that inspired by that encounter with the Lord, they return with a heart burning within them?”

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Richard Crank
1 month ago

Born in 1953, I'm part of the baby-boom generation, rather than a millennial, but am *very* much "yet another story of 'I was raised Catholic, but …!'" Not just raised Catholic but, I'm now very confident because of something my mother told me after I was an adult, also raised, as the second son, to be a priest!

But two things interfered with that plan, whether it was divine or human: 1. I realized I'm gay (though *I* was comfortable with the idea of being both gay and a priest, I knew – or rather was told by a Jesuit vocation director – the Church wasn't); 2) the writings of Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, to both of whom I was introduced in junior high and high school, influenced me as much as, if not more than, any other creators of literature, including the writers of the books of the New Testament.

In the end, I realized I could no longer say, "Credo en unum deum" and, with that, my own faith journey and religious vocation were forever at an end. As long as young people find readings that reach them as Camus and Kafka did me, they will continue to leave Holy Mother Church. That is beyond The Church's control.

But the Church hierarchy does have control over its vocation directors and priest. It might work harder at keeping them from driving young people away based on their prejudices and fears. Would I have been a good priest? Maybe not. But neither I nor that vocation director got the chance to find out. And if he exists, God didn't either.

Henry Smith
1 month ago

What was it about Kafka and Camus that made you take them more seriously than Jesus' words ?
I knew Camus and he would be appalled that you left the faith because of what he wrote was all about a search for faith.

Mark Wurtz
1 month ago

The youth of today’s church though less numerous are a very solid bunch. Once the baby boomers are gone the church will be fine. Yes I am saying baby boomers are at fault for the churches current problems. This too shall pass.

Randal Agostini
1 month ago

The statistics speak for themselves. Something urgent needs to be done, but nearly every example has to do with exposing people to the rule book or getting together for a social event, neither of which has much to do with real life.
Saint Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei was a visionary who was able to promulgate the message that sainthood can be achieved through our everyday work. When young Catholics leave school or college their religion has to be part of their everyday life. They have to belong to the Catholic community, which means that there has to be a Catholic community, which is more than a church.
In the first few hundred years after Christ, Christian communities were more like enlarged families, with people looking after the interests of one another. Our clergy is overworked and more young Catholics should become involved in ministries that assist the clergy. This will free up some Clergy time to communicate with the movers and shakers in their parish so that there is a top down transference of work and skills for the younger members of the community.
One example: Every Catholic parish should have a Catholic Community Bank so that the capital of mature parish members is available to create the housing, and financial needs for the young families in the parish.
Think about what the young need. If we adults act like Christians our children will remain christians.

Lisa Weber
1 month ago

I was a youngster during the baby boom years, so current trends for young people are not my area of expertise, but it was entirely clear to me before I started first grade that the Catholic Church gave the message that God had little or no regard for girls and women. When I see cassock and surplice attire on male-only servers, I am painfully reminded of that early lesson on church misogyny. When the Church begins to value women and give women an opportunity to speak and to participate in decision-making, it will have a much better chance of retaining its young people.

Richard Crank
1 month ago

Thanks for the reminder that male privilege/supremacy remains so integral to the Church hierarchy. As a recipient of that privilege and having had virtually no contact with nuns or laywomen who were active in the Church until my college years, it's far too easy to gloss over that important - even critical - issue.

Michael Seredick
1 month ago

My son and daughter are in their early 40's, rarely go to church and are raising beautiful families. The also have advanced degrees. They became disgusted with the abuse COVERUP news, asking how church leadership all the way up to popes could think saving church reputation was more important than safety of children. It's not the abuse, it is the COVERUP. Also, in their careers, diversity is the norm. The have many gay friends and accept them openly. Muslims, Jews, any and all, my children respect those who are different than their norm. My daughter speaks passionately against the no-female clergy factor. Finally, both, son and daughter, like 80% of Catholics ignore the no birth control issue. They laugh that they were taught it was a sin. Some readers may post negatively on my explanation and that's fine. They article asked for input and that's mine. I still consider my children as wonderful gifts from God and I don't fear for their salvation without the church.

William Bannon
1 month ago

Actually if they arrived at their birth control position thru the " fear and trembling" of Phillipians 2:12...ie hard research, prayer to God about it etc....then that is not an area wherein I would fear for them. But if they arrived at that position with light research, no prayer, and largely self will, then they face a tough punishment after death or prior. But the other issues of gay acts and female clergy connote that they give little time to the book Jesus sent them. There is no Amish family that would socialize laughingly with active gays due to Romans chapter one but the Amish should be interceding continually throughout the year for them and for all groups doing those things listed as grave matter in the NT. Christ told satan during the desert temptation..." man does not live by bread alone but by every word that cometh from the mouth of God." I don't sense that your children are zealous for every word but for some of the words of God. But that's not what Christ said...he said...every word....and some of those words speak on gay acts as acts forbidden in se.....ie irrespective of bonding emotionally. Sex is important in scripture because its intensity makes it competitive with seeking God ....Hugh Hefner is learning all about that on the other side as Solomon learned on the other side...300 wives and 700 concubines I think the number was. Solomon went from being the wisest to surrendering to that which is most competitive to seeking God.

Lisa Weber
1 month ago

Everything Jesus said and did with regard to sexuality indicates that he considered sexuality private. He kept the crowd from killing the woman caught in adultery. He ended ritual impurity with regard to menstruation and childbirth. He said absolutely nothing about homosexuality. You can say that Scripture talks about sexuality, but the Gospels do not. When the Catholic Church begins to understand what Jesus taught about sexuality, it will be a much friendlier place for women. Women often choose the family place of worship, so making the Church friendly to women will help greatly in evangelizing the Catholics who have left.

William Bannon
1 month ago

Christ as one within the Trinity inspired the entire Bible....not just what He said in the body.
He therefore told you that gay acts are forbidden in se....read Him through Paul in Romans chapter one. Vatican II in Dei Verbum..." both testaments in all their parts have God as their author".... the teaching Church " is not above the word of God but serves it" DV2/10.. ." passing on what is handed to them". Christ gave the death penalty for adultery as God and He was ending it in the incident of the woman caught in adultery. She had been " taken in the act" which means they caught the male also but ??? let him off perhaps for some gold. According to Deuteronomy, the witnesses in that non complex, non court case were to stone her and him right there on the spot as was done to Stephen in a non complex blashemy and as was tried against Christ in the temple but He passed thru their hands. Non complex cases called for instant stoning by law...this woman ( and man), Stephen, Christ in the temple.....yet here they were leading her all over town in order to trap Christ. Christ then wrote in the dirt....a hidden sin of each. How do we know? By the manner in which they left...look at the account....they left one by one in order of descending age because Christ was writing each of their sins one by one according to descending age. He had given them the Sinai death penalties for sin but was ending them since they were to be replaced with access to grace and since He was decreasing the power of Satan whom He says He could see "falling like lightning from the sky."

Lisa Weber
1 month ago

You have added a lot of speculation to a fairly simple story. The story may be simple but it has significant ramifications that better the lives of women. Men who claim that what they write has God as the author are outside the realm of credibility.

Henry Smith
4 weeks 1 day ago

Lise,
That is quite a claim about Jesus.
What is your take on the Samaritan Women at the Well who Jesus reminds has only one true husband ?

Annette Magjuka
1 month ago

The church will be a no go for young people until there is full inclusion of LGBTQ people (including all sacraments--yes, that means marriage!) and WOMEN. The young people do not want to live in The Handmaid's Tale, and unfortunately, the church is complicit in backing laws that disempower women. These are the big reasons, the "elephants in the room." Talk about these things or not, they will never be brushed under the rug until they are addressed. Oh, speaking of "brushing under the rug," there's the matter of sexual abuse of CHILDREN by priests. These are the reasons, people!

Bonnie Weissman
1 month ago

Annette, You and the others have all covered the "elephants in the room" VERY WELL. Here's my tale of two daughters, one coming back to the church after years away, and another who attended a diocesan high school and is converting to Judaism. My husband and I are interfaith. He is a secular Jew, and I am a practicing Catholic. His family loved me, and I love to cook, so we celebrated Jewish and Christian holidays together. My Catholic birth family was hundreds of miles away, and rarely visited us, so our girls did not know them well. Both girls early on attended excellent public schools in the DC suburbs, went to CCD (I served often as a catechist), and were raised in the faith. Older girl was interested in Judaism, went to Hillel in college, did a Birthright trip to Israel, and expected to go through full conversion to my husband's faith after law school in Louisiana. Didn't happen. I had told her I supported her in whatever she decided, but she had to go fully into it (instructions, temple membership, Hebrew school for the kids, etc.). Older one joined a Baton Rouge law firm with lots of philanthropic activities after work hours in. One day she called me out of the blue to tell me she was coming back to the church. When I asked her why, she said one reason was "good" and the other "pragmatic and selfish." The second reason was that she wanted her kids to have a Catholic education because the best people she knew, Catholic or not, had attended Catholic schools. The second was that in her work alongside of the firm's Catholic partners, she found that the church was the greatest force for good and serving the poor and disenfranchised in the community. She has since joined a parish, and our twin grandsons will attend the excellent school there. My husband and I have since retired, and are also settled in Baton Rouge to help her and her husband. The parishes here are so different than most of the ones I have known elsewhere. They are much more welcoming and have loads of things going on for people of all ages and backgrounds.

My other girl was severely ADD, and influenced by some negative peers in middle school. After a few incidents which showed "the handwriting on the wall," we sent her to the local diocesan high school, which had an excellent academic reputation. I wish I could say it strengthened her faith, but it did not. The religion teachers seemed to be pre-occupied with abortion. It started to really turn her off even though she was pro-life. She also saw a lot of hypocrisy on the part of a couple of priests there. Second girl took required theology courses at the small Methodist college where she was on the dean's list. She did delve into Judaism, and after consultation with a priest, some ministers, and a rabbi, decided to become a Jew. She now walks to synagogue a few blocks from her apartment in VA, takes religious instructions there, and comes into work early on Fridays to leave an hour early to observe the Sabbath. I think second daughter also made an informed decision, and I support her. Both of my girls work regularly with Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, and all kinds of people. The leadership in our faith needs to recognize this.

I also read several years ago that according to a study by Georgetown University, the more formally educated a woman is, the more likely she is to leave the faith, like three times more likely if she holds advanced degrees. The church has a "woman problem." We run many of the parishes (as a German archbishop noted), but we aren't allowed the priesthood or even the diaconate. This is wrong. The old excuse of the apostles being all male does not hold up either, for a couple of reasons. Some of these male apostles were married, but priests have to be celibate, even though this was not the case in the early church. The Acts cite many women who preached and assumed leadership roles as well, not to mention Our Lord treating them as equals and with respect. And don't get me started on the treatment of the LGBTQ community and the sexual abuse coverups! This is already too long! We and our leadership have LOADS of work to do, if we do not wish to become extinct in the future.

Dionys Murphy
4 weeks ago

Thank you for sharing your incredible story, and the story of your children.

Charles Erlinger
1 month ago

Very interesting article and comments. After an already longer than average life and marriage, and with a larger than average family, we have experienced a variety of life stories reflective of at least some of the stories told in both the article and comments. But we have been able to draw few broad conclusions from our observations and experiences. We try to give advice, suggestions, encouragement and tangible assistance as well of course as prayers. We are confident that our prayers are being answered in forms that we don’t always recognize, and occasionally in forms that we do.

Richard Crank
1 month ago

This is, I think like many of the responses, a very considered and thoughtful comment. I appreciate that very much! And you’re right that the article itself is interesting in itself, though the comments increase its potential value.

Anne Chapman
4 weeks 1 day ago

What an astonishing article. It is very long, yet not once does the author even allude to the reasons thirty million are "former Catholics" nor to the reasons that the young adult generation of which he is a part is leaving in even greater proportions than did their older siblings, parents and even grandparents. He notes:
There were 326,079 weddings in the church in 1990. In 2016, ... just 145,916.

Even though in 2016 there were 67.7 million (parish identified) Catholics cf. to 55.7 million in 1990. Infant baptisms have shown a similar decline - from 986, 308 in 1990 and 670,481 in 2016. Older children and adult baptisms have also fallen. Some estimate that 4 to 5 Catholics leave the church for every older child/adult who joins it.

But, we will ignore the reasons so many who are far older than millennial have already left, because this article is focused on trying to find ways to keep young adults raised in the church, in the church. So, why have they left, and why are they resisting returning?

“It’s easy to point fingers: parish, parents, society,”

Yes, it is. Far easier to point the finger than to look in a mirror. But the real reasons the young and not so young have left and are leaving lie within the church itself - not parish, parents or society. Rock concert events like World Youth Day, cookies and hot chocolate in the Newman Center, etc - what these point to is that many young people see parish youth activities, and college youth activities as primarily social occasions where they can have fun with their friends. Once they are out of school, the party is over and they are gone.

Not a word about Catholic doctrine. Not a word about the reality that all over the world the institutional church enabled child molesters. The stories are still coming out, and the hierarchy is still stone-walling.

Several comments here raise those issues - Lisa, Bonnie and Richard. But not a word about the church's insistence on keeping women as second-class citizens of the church, as well as their bare tolerance of "sinners" like gay people and divorced and remarried people and all of the 90% of Catholics who use modern birth control methods. Silence. When will the church look in a mirror and be honest with themselves. It's not the music, it's not the hot chocolate and doughnuts, it's not a young "cool" priest who is advertises his real (pre-Vat II) views and ontological superiority by wearing cassocks all the time.

Young adult women are leaving the Catholic church in numbers never before seen. They may have zero influence on Catholic doctrine, and are banned from a sacrament due to their DNA, but they are usually the family member who makes church decisions for the family. They are choosing not to marry in the church, and they are not returning to baptize babies. I have read numerous interviews of these young women - a common refrain is that they refuse to raise their children in a church that essentially tells their children that the sons are more important than the daughters, and that women must be submissive both to the male clergy and to husbands.

As Bonnie W. notes - the more education a young woman has, the more likely she is to leave the Catholic church. All of the initiatives mentioned in this article do not even touch on the doctrinal reasons millennials are leaving and have no plans to return. And who can blame young parents who do not feel that they can trust their kids to this church?

Add in the treatment of gays, the sex abuse scandal, the far too-close links between the hierarchy and the Republican party and with evangelical christians, reflected in the severe right-turn occurring in many parishes today because of the JPII/Benedict priests, and the mystery is less mysterious.

Rebecca Edwards
3 weeks 6 days ago

This! Thank you, Anne.

My own process of leaving the church started soon after my daughter was baptized in the church. Creating a family drama by avoiding baptism was just not worth it. But I was not going to raise a daughter in an institution which would teach her, like it taught me, that she is a second-class citizen whose life, in the eyes of the church and of God, was not worth as much as a man's. And worse, if I stayed, I would be responsible for allowing that to be taught to her. Not going to happen.

The idea that I would stay in an organization that would encourage her to think that controlling her own body and taking responsibility for her own reproductive health was a sin was unthinkable.

I also don't believe that discrimination against gay people is right in any way. Why would I raise her in an organization with such contempt for some of the very parents of her friends? For some of our family members?

And, as if the overall sexism of the church was not enough, the sex abuse scandal was the final straw. Why on earth would I put my child at risk? I cannot imagine parents would stay in any other organization that regularly exposed their children to sexual danger. To stay in the church was to risk placing my child directly in the company of sex offenders or to leave her vulnerable to the decisions of those men who cover up for them. What kind of parent does that? I don't even understand why some of my peers continue to stay. If the Girl Scouts were caught up in a sex scandal like this, the organization would simply collapse; parents would not leave their daughters there. It makes no sense to me.

Putting all the factors together, leaving the church was one of the easiest and best decisions that I have ever made. Refusing to raise a daughter in the church was one of the wisest decisions that I have ever made as a parent.

I have no regrets.

Joseph Burgio
4 weeks 1 day ago

My comments are informed by over 30 years of Music Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. The most common age for Confirmation is 15. What happens after that? In most places, NOTHING!. Teens who are involved in music ministry, especially instrumentalists and handbell ringers will often remain involved until they leave for college. But how many have been approached to become a lector? A eucharistic minister? An usher? I was told that teens could become Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist only if the attended a Roman Catholic High School. so, what does that tell them about being confirmed in the faith? The church certainly tries to interest young men in the priesthood, but that underscores the fact that there are 7 sacraments for men, but only 6 sacraments for women. How many have been invited to attend a scripture study, or other adult education class, if indeed, such even occur in their parish? We could learn a lesson from our Episcopalian and Protestant brothers and sisters about Adult Religious Education.

Joseph Burgio
4 weeks 1 day ago

"The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the church is directed; at the same time, it is the fount from which all the church's power flows." After over 30 years of professional music ministry, I now teach music in a community college. Millennials are searching, and a sense of integrity is one of things they are searching for. In how many parishes will they find the liturgy celebrated reverently, with integrity, and without gimmicks? In how many parishes can they hear an intelligent, theologically sound homily based on the scripture of the day? In how many parishes can they hear and participate in good music done well to the honor and glory of God? In how many parishes will they find opportunities to live out the gospel, feeding the hungry?

Mike Theman
4 weeks ago

Parents have abdicated nearly all of the education of their children to the schools, and most children attend government, secular schools that teach anti-Catholic, lawless morality. Sunday catechism classes have become nothing but social justice, secular-leaning classes taught by laypersons who are ignorant of Catholic teaching themselves, begged to take the position. Mass is uninspiring, homilies are similar to a post on a liberal website, and the mysticism of the Catholic religion is gone.

Young people will return to the Church when they realize the emptiness of their secular lives and the culture's emphasis on sex and partying. Or one would hope as much. Geez, who wants the life of a Baby Boomer?

Dionys Murphy
4 weeks ago

You, and those who promote a soulless, empty, dogmatic, wedge-building and exclusionary vision of Catholicism based in holier-than-thou egotism are the perfect example of why people are leaving the Church, and why younger people are not staying within the Church. What a sad, hateful, separatist vision of society you have.

Dolores Pap
4 weeks ago

Mike- I have three millennial children and not one of them is a practicing Catholic, nor are their children being instructed in the faith .I'll tell you why. They believe that the church is pompous, authoritarian, non inclusive, anti- women and discriminates against those of various sexual orientations. All three of them are highly educated and highly moral, ethical and decent young adults, but they find nothing useful in the Catholic church that would resonate with their beliefs.

Rudolph Koser
3 weeks 4 days ago

While there are no simple solutions, I do think three things really do permeate this problem -- the status of women (and I'm no talking about ordination), the abuse cover up and the obsession of our bishops with sex and sexual practice. All of these are downers. Who wants to be involved with that? The Church is failing to present a positive message which I think the Gospel is.

MICHAEL CONK
3 weeks 1 day ago

Thank you Zac for an excellent article. Yes, there are many challenges to attracting people of all ages to the Catholic Church. Also, there are many stumbling blocks we encounter with the institutional church.

Perhaps, we need a novel approach. My suggestion is we should all develop an “elevator speech” on why we are Catholic. If you are not familiar with an “elevator speech,” it is a very short talk presented during a hypothetical ride in an elevator. When you give this “speech” to another person, it should peak their interest in your subject and facilitate a further discussion.

Our elevator speech should be personal, sincere, and have our individual relationship with God at its core. It could also address the benefits we receive from our relationship with our God, which is established and nurtured by practicing our faith.

Imagine if we had a custom of introducing ourselves at any Church function by giving our elevator speech to each other. I suspect we would find significantly more common ground and, perhaps, begin to attract others to our great faith tradition.

John Campbell
2 weeks 6 days ago

I am working on my eighth decade as a Catholic, give or take a few years of flight. I am unsure of the value of my experience, but from here we must let go of the institutional focal point of our goals. Almost all of the ministries in which our youth can contribute embody values that are shared by most organized religions and many secular ethical systems. It is the community activity of the ministry that attracts, and Catholicism is not a necessary ingredient for that, and "evangelization" is not adequate as a goal. Catholicism brings the sacraments, the real presence, and continuity with apostolic tradition. In addition to ministry, we need to find our way back to Mass and the sacraments, without the trappings of ritualistic mumbo-jumbo that can easily be ignored, and to Christ, who, as St. Paul taught, cannot be divided. I really like what Lewis and others have been saying and doing according to this article, but let's drop Pew's numbers as a goal franework. Apologies for bombast and dubious grammar.

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