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Katie Prejean McGradySeptember 04, 2018
Pope Francis prepares to take a photo with young people at a presynod gathering of youth delegates in Rome March 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Francis prepares to take a photo with young people at a presynod gathering of youth delegates in Rome March 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

We are facing a current crisis in the church. Only 14 percent of Catholic millennial young adults go to Mass every Sunday. Research indicates that most young people disaffiliate from the faith between the ages of 10 and 12. Young couples are not looking to get married in the church, nor are they bringing their children to be baptized (if they are having children at all). Many young people can articulate some of the church’s teachings but are not necessarily living passionate, faithfully Catholic lives.

We hear that term “crisis” today and immediately think about the current scandals concerning Archbishop McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the recent testimony from Archbishop Viganò. But we are also facing another crisis in the church today: the hemorrhaging of youth and young adults from our churches.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a man I deeply respect, admire and have learned from for years, said on Aug. 30 that the Synod of Bishops on young people, scheduled to take place in Rome this October, should be canceled because “the bishops would have absolutely no credibility in addressing this topic.” I do not think he is entirely wrong. Some bishops have lost credibility because of the sexual abuse crisis, and the church as a whole is greatly suffering because of the lack of leadership and accountability. Frankly, some bishops right now cannot credibly speak on any subject, much less how to keep young people from leaving the church and how to serve the ones who have chosen to stay. I think Archbishop Chaput is articulating that idea very clearly.

A room full of bishops talking about themselves and what they need to do to govern effectively is not the right move at this time.

But I do not think canceling the synod on youth to instead hold a synod on the “life of the bishops,” as the good archbishop has proposed, is the answer. A room full of bishops talking about themselves and what they need to do to govern effectively is not the right move at this time. A synod on that subject should happen, but not at the expense of a critically important discussion on youth and young adults that is needed at this very moment.

To cancel the synod on youth would be to close the door, yet again, in the face of those who are standing at the door saying, “We have something for you, about the future of the church, and we need to tell you about it.” The synod on youth is needed now, more than ever, because the church needs to figure out how best to serve the young people who are watching the current crisis play out.

In June, when I had the chance to make a presentation to the general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—with the two other U.S. representatives to the “pre-synod,” which took place in Rome in March—we spent 90 minutes fielding questions, providing firsthand experiences and offering insight. The rest of the time I was there, I had the chance to talk with bishop after bishop about how to serve young people and what they could do to make sure the synod on youth was effective. Many of them frankly admitted that they did not know what they could do to serve the youth and young adults of their dioceses.

Too often, and for far too long, keeping young people in the church has been “the next thing” we need to tackle.

On the Thursday morning of that assembly, while the bishops were debating their document on voter guidelines, one of the bishops stood up and said, “I think we need to bring those young people we talked to yesterday back up and ask them what they think.” A U.S.C.C.B. staffer leaned over to me and whispered, “You know what y’all said made an impact when a bishop brings it back up in a debate the next day. Youth and young adults have never been talked about from the floor like that before. This is a game changer.”

Too often, and for far too long, keeping young people in the church has been “the next thing” we need to tackle. But if this issue is not addressed now, there will not be many young people left when it is. The synod on youth is needed now more than ever because the voices of youth and young adults can bring clarity, new ideas and hope.

I used to teach ninth-grade theology, and I was always struck by how bright-eyed and optimistic my students were. Their questions were simple but deep, their insights refreshing and their hunger for truth inspiring. Day after day in the classroom with 14-year-olds was the best reminder to me of how amazing our faith truly is: God loves us, wants a relationship with us and gives us the church to be able to live out that relationship with others.

In the current crisis, faithful and committed young adults have been among those at the forefront demanding answers.

In the current crisis, faithful and committed young adults have been among those at the forefront demanding answers, seeking truth and proclaiming proudly that they are going to remain faithful to the church. Youth and young adult ministers are holding listening sessions and helping their teens unpack how to remain faithful in the middle of the storm. Youth and young adults at this synod can be the breath of fresh air and renewal the church needs right now as she tries to break through the confusion and chaos caused by dishonesty and cover-ups.

Three hundred young adults were invited to attend the pre-synod gathering in March, and some young adults have been invited to participate in the synod itself. But perhaps a few more young lay men and women, and those who serve youth and young adults, should now be invited to contribute.  If some bishops are saying they have no credibility to speak on these matters, then perhaps more lay men and women (who are still credible) can be brought to the table so bishops can listen. The answer is not to cancel the synod: The answer is to empower young people to be the leaders of a conversation that the church desperately needs.

If there is one thing I have learned about young people in my time as a teacher, youth minister and speaker, it is this: They can see straight through pretense. They know when something is fake. A synod designed to figure out how to serve a generation that hates inauthenticity is the perfect time for the church to stand in the open and come clean. This is a perfect moment to dispel darkness.

Some are eager for drama at the synod in Rome this October. But most want to see a good, fruitful, honest conversation about ways to minister to youth and young adults. And a gathering of bishops from around the world, with the pope at the front of the room, would be the perfect time for some honesty, frankness and a bold confrontation of the sexual abuse crisis.

The synod on youth is not just about what programs to support or initiatives to reinforce. It is the perfect chance for an introspective look at what the church is, especially to young people. What better opportunity to be open, transparent and accessible than at a gathering designed to serve generations of young people who are open, transparent and connected themselves?

My advocating for the synod on youth in no way means that I want any of us to stop seeking answers to important questions about allegations of cover-up and abuse. The truth must come out. But I do not think seeking the truth about those issues means we cannot also seek the truth about how to serve and support youth and young adults in the church. In fact, I believe that seeking the truth about the current crisis, and working to ensure it never happens again, fits perfectly into the idea of the synod as a place to answer important questions about the future of the church itself.

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Danny Collins
5 years 9 months ago

Maybe before the bishops preach to the youth they ought to clean house: laicize McCarrick and remove from office all those who knew about his abuse and did nothing.

if the author of that article thinks the Church leadership will clean house if not forced, she is dreaming. If Inzoli, Barros, Ricci, and McCarrick teach us anything, it is that the FrancisChurch will only address sex abuse scandals when forced to. In the normal course of events, abusing teenage boys (or younger) is no impediment to promotion.

J Rabaza
5 years 9 months ago

Archbishop Charles Chaput is guilty of enabling pedophile priests, according to the Philadelphia paper. Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests has many grievances against Chaput. Investigate Chaput

“Chaput defends posting bail for Lynn”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan 5, 2014
“PHILADELPHIA Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput on Friday defended his decision to post bail for Msgr. William J. Lynn, saying it was reasonable and just for the archdiocese to help him. "Msgr. Lynn presents no danger to anyone. He poses no flight risk," Chaput said in a letter to parishioners that was released by the archdiocese. "The funding for his bail has been taken from no parish, school or ministry resources, impacts no ongoing work of the church, and will be returned when the terms of bail are completed.“

“Chaput's action sends the worst possible message to current and former Catholic employees: No matter how recklessly, callously, and deceitfully you [endanger] kids and protect predators, the Catholic hierarchy will help you," Barbara Dorris of the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said this week.”

Tim O'Leary
5 years 9 months ago

I believe my bishop (Archbishop Chaput) recommends the synod on youth be postponed rather than cancelled. The practical problem is that if the youth synod goes on as scheduled, all the talk at the synod will in any case likely focus on the failure of bishops to police their brothers. It certainly will be the media's concern. I think Pope Francis doesn't yet realize the scope of the crisis he has on his hands. But, he could get ahead of this by being the most active in encouraging a lay-led investigation of the goings-on in the Vatican, and releasing to this committee all the documents in the Vatican and Nuncio on McCarrick. I believe the Holy Father has a good heart and sound doctrine, so I want him to succeed.

Carlos Orozco
5 years 9 months ago

I too want him to succeed, Tim. However, I disagree with the Holy Father having a "sound doctrine".

A Fielder
5 years 9 months ago

McGrady is right. The mission of the church has not changed just because of these demoralzing scandals. From what I can see the American bishops are taking appropriate steps (given their limited jurisdiction to discipline their brother bishops). The church has been hemorrhaging young people for decades. Perhaps this context of complicity is exactly what the bishops should have to confront as they cling to the concept that they are evangelizing anyone. Perhaps the timing is providential; the young people, with their natural tendencies toward justice, can evangelize the bishops.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 9 months ago

I wish it were that simple. You cannot evangelize the Christian faith unless you know & live it, and McGrady says the problem is that most youth do neither. They could clamor for justice (as on most campuses), but that just brings back the bishops behavior, which is what Chaput wanted to address first. The USCCB nominated 5 delegate bishops from 4 Archdioceses: DiNardo, Galveston-Houston (USCCB President); Gomez, Los Angeles (USCCB VP); Chaput, Philadelphia, (Chairman, Cmte on Laity, Marriage, Family Life & Youth); Caggiano, Bridgeport (Member of same cmte), and Barron, LA (Chairman, Cmte on Evangelization & Catechesis), all of who have urgently asked for an investigation into McCarrick. Pope Francis added Cardinal Tobin, Newark Archdiocese (Chairman, Cmte. on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations).

A Fielder
5 years 9 months ago

Tim, "the American bishops are taking appropriate steps" but the investigation will certainly take more than a month, and until then the bishops might learn something from their flock. It's sad that "clamouring for justice" is all you hear from the young people. I have read some of the preparatory documents from these young people and organizers, and I got the impression that many are quite articulate and have well reasoned positions with many good questions for the bishops to consider.

J Rabaza
5 years 9 months ago

Absolutely go forward with the Synod on Youth.
Americans feed off of crisis because they are such hypocrites and dogs devouring each other. No other country has such wealth as America and no other country is so bereft of spiritual depth than America.

““Man left to his own strength does not understand the things of the Spirit,” the Pope explained in the homily.
"There are two spirits, two ways of thinking, of feeling, of acting: that which leads me to the Spirit of God, and that which leads me to the spirit of the world. And this happens in our life: We all have these two ‘spirits,’ we might say. The Spirit of God, which leads us to good works, to charity, to fraternity, to adore God, to know Jesus, to do many good works of charity, to pray: this one. And [there is] the other spirit, of the world, which leads us to vanity, pride, sufficiency, gossip – a completely different path. Our heart, a saint once said, is like a battlefield, a field of war where these two spirits struggle."

America needs a good purging.

Tim O'Leary
5 years 9 months ago

Guillermo - We agree a purging is needed, but across the world. It won't work if it is just anti-American racist.

Jong Ricafort
5 years 9 months ago

Have you read the recent article of Patti Armstrong of NC Register, his interview with Fr.Gary Thomas
shed light on the state of church crisis.
As I ponder on that article, it lead me to Exorcism scenario.
In 1965 the "somke of satan enters the Church" this is affirmed by Bella Dodd claiming they now have 4 Cardinals before the Vatican II takes off.
In Exorcism what are the stages, infestation,obsession & possession.
Satan's human cohorts infiltrated the Church unnoticed or by Divine Providence?
In 1884, we know it was part of God Mysterious Divine Plan by granting satan arrogant challenge, but laughable because satan
ask God to give him more power to destroy the church.satan cannot destroy the church without God Permissive Will.
so, now the Church I could say had already passed the obsession stage and showing signs of possession.
Why? Becuase the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and satan can indwelt too in the Mystical Body to destroy it, to take away the Life
of the Church and bring it into death.
Are we going to believe that in the near future the Church will truly or fully possessed by Satan?
If that happens, we need to do an Exorcism Rite....to cast out satan from the Mystical Body of Christ.
Pope Francis life is the answer, as St.Padre Pio said "The Rosary is the Weapon in these end times"
And St.John Paul II was given an upgrade weapon a "spiritual fiery sword" the Luminoius Mystery, to combat the forces of
Light vs. Darkness
Pope Francis is a Luminous Pope and showing us how to become Light, by living a life of humility,
simplicity and transparency.
No wonder Pope Francis homily mentioned how fight the spirit of LIES behind Arch.Vigano Testimony against the TRUTH.
The Truth is meek, the Truth is humble, the Truth is not noisy.
The fruit of SILENCE is prayerm and the force of prayer is the only LIGHT to defeat the darkness of evil that possessed the Church right now.

Pedro Henrique Quitete Barreto
5 years 9 months ago

I am 28 years and, by far, I'm still included in the young ones. I dislike the idea of having a synod of the youth because we cannot entirely trust what is going to happen there nor who will attend it. Does the "youth" really know Catholic doctrine? Are they committed with worldly matters or agendas or are they entirely Catholic? Are they after sainthood or are they searching ways in order to be "accepted as they are"? I know that old ecclesiastical people, mainly those who see Vatican II as great event, dislike people like me: young, a bit traditionalist, starting a family, "without touch with the modern world" and skeptical with the relevance of Vatican II approach to the modern world.

We know for sure: only movements with traditional elements (not traditionalists) are having success today and only these movements are preserving the faith. We don't need another Vatican II-inspired synod because we know it leads to nothing. We read Iota Unum. We know it won't work.

Lee Bacchi
5 years 9 months ago

If we get the apostolic visitation requested by the bishops, an extraordinary synod may not be necessary.

Edward Graff
5 years 9 months ago

This is a great time for a Youth Synod, perhaps the best possible time. What we have seen is that the traditional status quo has imploded. The bishops have collectively destroyed their credibility by protecting the institution over the safety of young people and by climbing into strategic alliances with powerful and wealthy individuals who have their own agendas. The bishops have nothing at this point to say to young people but there is much to be gained by listening. It is in this spirit that they should approach the Synod - not as a forum to command, but as a opportunity to prayerfully gather and listen to what the Church’s future is thinking about. Any path forward leads through the young.

Trent Shannon
5 years 9 months ago

A synod on youth is not the answer. A youth led synod, however, seems more the go. If its Bishop led for other bishops or cardinals, were back at square one, and the younger generation have to start again.

Especially as younger church goers - as bright, interconnected, and informed as they are - know more about child sex abuse than elders who blame it on homosexuality (theyre not even connected - as a CSA survivor and bisexual 36yo i know that first hand) through schooling and media pursuit of abusers (they go after boys and girls btw), and as the future of the church, as layity or even as clergy, not paying them heed would be to miss a golden opportunity to see the world from the present seeking a more enlightened future.

Bishops with bishops, by bishops, for bishops is the status quo. Now i dont expect or suggest canonical revolution, but staying put is no option anymore

Martin Meehan
5 years 9 months ago

We need a synod on the future of the Catholic Church for those of all ages. I'm a senior citizen and have never felt so let down by my Church. The synod needs equal representation among clergy and laity (men and Women).

David Doel
5 years 9 months ago

The Synod on Youth will attract the people who are already sold on the Catholic faith. The bishops need to talk to those who are not sold. Why do the unsold youth no longer see the Catholic faith as useful in their lives? I expect there will be many answers that are not helpful, but among those weeds will be some fruit that needs to be understood and addressed. I have my opinions, but I'm no longer young. Find the people who are who are willing to talk to you and listen to what they have to say.

Dolores Pap
5 years 9 months ago

You are right- I know for a fact that 'none' of my three children is remotely interested in the Catholic church as it doesn't mirror their own values and beliefs-in their view, the church's main focus seems to be an attempt to limit others civil rights, and control their sexual orientation and bodies. Young people aren't having it. They see the church as a basically out-of-touch, patriarchal outfit..

Trent Shannon
5 years 9 months ago

Hence a need to look at (and take a closer look at) certain teachings, and whether they are relevant in the modern world.

Im not saying dump teachings, but surely the church could see that contraception as far more sensible than abortion. Im not saying widen holy matrimony to include same sex couples, but is consentual and societally legal homosexual activity as grevious a sin, especially viewed next to child abuse of any form (physical, sexual and emotional)? Is it so grevious, next to the resultant sins of abuse (as a triple sexual and emotional abuse survivor, i have anger, lust and greed issues - profligate spending like im made of cash when im not)?

Dont take me, those my generation, or those my junior as the agents of radical or even minor change. But we see through BS and adversarialism to an astounding agree. Are you surprised many youth, and those in 30s and 40s might not be interested, especially as the patriarch (esp. the clericalist) seem to have forgotten their queen is the mother of mercy? How many youth even know that?! (I only learnt this a few weeks ago, along with the body pf the church being a "she"!)

PJ Gee
5 years 9 months ago

Maybe because this mag and Jesuits are pushing the homoheretical platform.
There will be a day of reckoning - or wreck'ning.
Clean the House of God, and kick out the presumptives.
Restore the dignity and holiness.
Jesuits and their intellectualism.

Andrew Wolfe
5 years 9 months ago

Whatever you care to call it, the Society of Jesus certainly should realize that a large body of Catholics believe Fr James Martin represents the majority of Jesuits and its (semi-unacknowledged) official opinions. The Society of Jesus appears not only to favor normalizing homosexuality by removing its description of "intrinsically disordered." It also appears to endorse homosexual activity, and homosexual marriage. Whether the Society openly declares these positions or not, Fr Martin's prominent advocacy in these areas looks like they are its positions. Is this the position of the Jesuits?

Kemneth-Kazimieras Stewart
5 years 9 months ago

We live in a secularized society in which youth and elders are preached to daily that having a good time and living a life of always intensifying pleasure and being young is the way of happiness. Bucking this philosophy is critical to living with, through and in Jesus Christ. We can't jazz up the gift of God among us making it relevant to the current styles of pleasures and expect teenagers to find meaning in superficial tinsel.
Youth and older generations of laity and clergy can only find solid meaning in a relationship with God among us.
In my first assignment as a priest In the late 70s I was struck by the desire of so many young people to do good. But I was also struck by the complete lack of knowledge of the reality of the Lord Jesus among us in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures even while they were attending our Catholic schools. They understood the vague concepts of peace and sharing but not the actual and real presence of the living God. Not that any of us fully understand the immensity of God among us, but our youth had little awareness of the Lord's sacrifice shared at Mass, of the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
We adults, laity and clergy alike must point to the Lord as real and alive, not a quaint custom of our childhood similar to Santa Claus or a once historic figure. Until the relationship with the Lord is recognized as the essence of the lives of young and old, our Church will not be recognized as the center of life for our young or old, clergy and laity.

Carlos Orozco
5 years 9 months ago

Go on with the Synod on the Youth. But timid bishops can no longer be naive and follow the Pope blindly. Disasters can happen with the best of intentions.

Anne Serina
5 years 9 months ago

In planning for the Synod on Youth, sessions should be scheduled where any interested youth is welcome to participate. Not just invited youth. The Church needs to open the doors and get as much input as possible from as many youth as possible. If they are interested in participating, then we should be thankful and listen for the voice of God in what they have to say.

John Mack
5 years 9 months ago

What is being done at Catholic high schools about this synod on youth? Will the synod be conducted in self-referential isolation.? It seenms so. The bishops re hardly insightful in talking about youth. They probably never talk with young people about why they leave the Catholic church. Just who do they talk with anyway?

John Mack
5 years 9 months ago

There's another aricle in this issue that is so real compared to herding together a bunch of bishops to talk about "the youth." Everyone should read it, "Wat Can Nones And Nuns Learn from Each Other." If a bishop should ever attend one of these meetings I suspect he would expect to be deferred to, to be the center, the answer man, the correcter, in short the the non-listener, the guy who can't operate without his proper place in the "hierarchy," who can't move past his Catholic and age cohort provincialism. At this synod of self-referential bishops I suspect there will be a lot of generalities tossed around, the generalities often devolving into cranky comments about secularization, and other talking points showing that the bishops to be unable to connect to young people (except for the traditionalists who are already sold on the Catholic chjurch).

Jeffrey Smith
5 years 9 months ago

Young people are the future of our church and the opportunity for dialogue should not be shut down. Rather, this time is the right time for church leadership to face them and be willing to answer some very difficult questions that young people have the right to ask. Also, open up the opportunity for participation to those young people who wish to attend, rather than those who have been pre-screened and selected.

Luis Gutierrez
5 years 9 months ago

The clergy sexual abuse crisis cannot be fixed by the bishops hiding behind the walls of ecclesiastical patriarchy and trying to produce some magic of transparency and accountability. If the Pope and all the bishops resign, and are replaced by another ecclesiastical patriarchy, in a few years we are going to have another crisis.

For your consideration:

Some Points for Meditation on the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

The Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. The Vatican should stop fabricating patriarchal doctrines and allow Christ to call women to the priesthood and the episcopate. It is time for a new reformation to discard the patriarchal scaffolding that obscures the Catholic faith.

Isa Kavana
5 years 9 months ago

To the author: Dear Katie, please talk less (at the last usccb meeting you took over) and write less. It's time for reflection and silence. If not, so much publicity tends towards self-promotion.

Michael Barberi
5 years 9 months ago

Most bishops have no idea how to minister to and convince young Catholics to embrace the faith, attend weekly Mass, participate in ministries, and abide by all the moral teachings of the magisterium.

There have been many opinion polls of Catholics that show the results by age cohort, Mass attendance etc. These polls demonstrate that most young Catholics disagree with most of the Church's teachings on sexual ethics such as well as women ordination, voluntary celibacy, same sex marriage, etc. These issues are front and center to most young Catholics. IMO, this is the elephant in the room.

It would be naive for Pope Francis and the Bishops to think that young Catholics will not want to discuss and express their opinions about many moral teachings, and to ask questions and demonstrate outrage regarding the revelations of clergy sexual abuse, coverup and inaction as documented in the PA Grand Jury Report, the McCarrick scandal, and the Vigano letter.

In light of this, there are good reasons to postpone this Synod on Youth.

1. The bishops are completely overwhelmed and bewildered about how to deal with this systemic clergy sexual abuse scandal that implicates the past 3 popes as well as cardinals, bishops and priests.

2. The degree and scope of the anticipated sexual abuse investigation, not to mention the identification of the lay-lead national committee that will investigate all the issues, will not be known until the USCCB meeting in November.

3. More importantly, the sexual abuse investigation will likely not be completed and a report issued until sometime in 2019. So, what will the bishops say to young Catholics at the Synod on Young People.....we will investigate this?.....we will hold bishops and cardinals accountable? What will they say about the actions and inactions of the past 3 popes regarding McCarrick?

Nancy McCormick-Kovacich
5 years 9 months ago

Could there be any way to invite those of us who teach the young. And also invite those young who still (among the 14%) that still attend and why. What keeps them going, What do they see that works and doe not work? Have the Synod listen instead of just talking.

Nora Bolcon
5 years 9 months ago

Nope - we definitely should not bother with a Synod on Youth. This is because they have already decided not to allow any women a vote at that synod just like the last one on the family.

While our church remains concerned with remaining the Church that Hates women above all else even its own complete self destruction there is not point in having a synod on any subject.

Lets have a bunch of hypocritical super sexist blind by arrogance jerks come together to discuss justice and faith. Hmmm - what is the point of that? Personally, I believe that should be the next topic of the next synod and no priests, bishops, cardinals or popes should be allowed a vote - only laity.

Be awake sisters and brothers too because Pope Francis' plan for gender segregation is hidden in this set up of allowing priests votes but no women. He wants to turn priests basically into mini mass-producers of Eucharist and give them similar and greater authority to bishops while he pushes more and more married men - ordained married male deacons - on the parishes so they will start looking normal in the part of leading parishes so he can continue the misogyny against women and try to survive while still blocking women from just and same priestly ordination. Don't go to churches that are led by deacons because they are going to try and shove them on you in the future.

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