The synod of bishops must consider young Catholics’ desire for authenticity

Youths attending a pre-synod meeting participate in the Way of the Cross at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on March 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Youths attending a pre-synod meeting participate in the Way of the Cross at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on March 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The upcoming meeting of the Synod of Bishops on young people provides an important opportunity for church officials to listen not only to young adults’ expressions of faith but, as Pope Francis has noted, “even your doubts and your criticism.” The move away from religious affiliation and church participation is especially pronounced among younger people, not just in the United States but globally. Yet it is evident that many Catholic youth want the church to be an integral part of their lives.

A working document for the synod cites participants from a meeting of young people in Rome in March, where they voiced the desire for an “authentic” and “credible” church that can “speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues” and “engage with and address the social justice issues of our time.” These are reasonable requests. An authentic church is one that maintains faithfulness to its core values but is also seeking to understand lived realities rather than simply condemning them.

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An authentic church is one that maintains faithfulness to its core values but is also seeking to understand lived realities rather than simply condemning them.

Authentic engagement is always an interactive process. It requires, as Francis notes in “The Joy of the Gospel” (No. 231), an ongoing conversation about the “tension between ideas and realities”—and for Catholics, an ongoing conversation between everyday lived experience and church teachings. Young Catholics, however, give little attention to church teachings. According to data from the Sixth National Survey of American Catholics (gathered in April 2017), in making up their minds about important moral issues, millennials are far more likely to “always or sometimes” draw on conversations with close family members (83 percent) and trusted friends (79 percent) than on official church sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church (29 percent), a local priest (25 percent), diocesan websites (17 percent) or papal encyclicals and statements (19 percent).

Even “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, did not make much of a dent on Catholics’ conversations. Despite its political and moral relevance, its accessible language and extensive publicity through secular and social media, one study found that only 24 percent of Catholics were even “aware” of it a few months after its release, and only 18 percent said it had been discussed at their church.

Despite this lack of attention to church sources, in a recent P.R.R.I. poll almost two-thirds of white Catholics and one-half of Hispanic Catholics between ages 15 and 24 said that they do not find it difficult to discuss religion with those who do not share their religious beliefs. This openness to conversation is good news. It not only enriches interpersonal relationships but also offers hope for a civic discourse that might bridge rather than belittle religious differences.

The inaccessibility of natural law is related both to its complexity and to how its arguments are communicated.

The synod meeting on young people is an opportunity for the church to craft a more central place for its teachings in young Catholics’ conversations. At present, however, if youth were to turn to official church sources—especially on sexuality, gender and marriage—they might be confounded by the church’s language and reasoning, particularly its reliance on natural law. The inaccessibility of natural law is related both to its complexity and to how its arguments are communicated. Increasingly, it is perceived as being incompatible with new theories in evolutionary biology.

The meetings of the Synod of Bishops on the family, held in 2014 and 2015, acknowledged that the language of natural law needs a more meaningful and accessible translation, but the bishops’ working groups appeared to struggle to find an alternative vocabulary that would resonate with contemporary Catholics. They have to try harder. A relevant Catholicism—one that necessarily engages with Catholics and with secular audiences—begs for church teachings on sexuality, marriage and gender to be revisited in light of advances in scientific knowledge and understanding of these complex matters. Whether or not any such revisitation leads to more nuanced teachings, church officials must find ways to reframe their arguments so that they can make sense both to increasingly secularized Catholics and to their non-Catholic peers with whom they are in conversation.

On a related topic, the synod would do well to address the conflict between the church’s desire to accompany Catholics whose lived realities do not conform to teachings and its condemnation of “the scandal” to the church from these lived realities. Can the church build bridges to L.G.B.T. Catholics and to cohabiting and divorced and remarried members of the church if it continues to insist that, as Pope Francis noted in “Amoris Laetitia” (No. 297), one “can’t flaunt objective sin” and continue to teach others? The pastoral goal of integrating such Catholics into parish life is in tension with the simultaneous expectation that they conceal either their Catholic or sexual identity, a tension underscored, for example, by their exclusion from parish ministry or the firing of married gay or lesbian teachers in Catholic schools.

Many have negotiated the tension in being gay and Catholic. But it might be harder to persuade young Catholics who do not fully conform to church teachings to manage such tensions. They belong to a generation for whom questions of gender, sexuality and marriage are more about personal authenticity than institutional conformity. They want to be open about who they are, and they want institutions to be open to the diversity of their and others’ realities. If the synod can openly address the tensions between its pastoral intuitions and its doctrinal expectations, it might be a turning point in meeting young Catholics’ search for a credible church. It might also mean that church teachings would become more integrated into young Catholics’ conversations.

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Jessica Pegis
2 months 3 weeks ago

Dillon is a sociologist, and she knows that sociologists "denature" the world in order to separate reality from perception of reality. I would welcome more of her thoughts on natural law, including whether it can survive at all.

Demi Phillips
2 months 3 weeks ago

I Have invested some energy with this article. In any case, paying little respect to her "alliance " on the off chance that you will I figure the CHURCH ought to dependably be receptive to such a person. The Church is all tolerant as it should and welcome her consideration. We should all comprehend her situation. It's an unpleasant street to cultivator. It's disquieting that a man encounters such dismissal and as Catholics we as a whole should endeavor to acknowledge in light of the fact that "it ain't their blame." and, after its all said and done it's not their issue. Not to be without feeling these people ought to be regarded. top assignment writing services UK

Tim Donovan
2 months 3 weeks ago

I agree that the Church should carefully consider the views of young Catholics, including in controversial matters. As a young man I doubted God's existence for some time, and stopped attending Mass except on Christmas and Easter. Because I'm gay and was often emotionally hurt by the offensive remarks (faggot) made by people who correctly assumed that I was gay, years before I revealed my sexual orientation. Ironically, I continued to believe in the Church's teachings. But my relationship with God was,very difficult. However, once I revealed my orientation and was met by support and love by my family, friends, and most other people, I again believed in a God who could be trusted and who cared about me and other people as well. (I had attended Catholic schools for sixteen years, and graduated from a Catholic college). I also agree that it's_good that many young Catholics feel comfortable discussing their beliefs with other people with whom they disagree. I know, respect and love as best as I can people with whom I disagree, as well as people of different faiths. My loving sister-in-law in law, niece and former boss are Presbyterians. I have friends, neighbors and former co-workers who are/were Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians, an Orthodox Christian and several Jews and Muslims. I'm also a pen pal with a man serving life imprisonment for a serious crime. Among several other people I know, he's a Jehovah's Witness and from years of correspondence I'm_convinced that he's reformed his life and is a good man. I oppose capital punishment (he supports it) and we often disagree about our respective Church teachings, but we respect each others views. Also, my sister-in-law whom I love supports the violence of legal abortion, but we get along well. However, while the Church should state it's beliefs in a more accessible manner, in my view it would be wrong and harmful to accept (among other matters) legal abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and cohabitation. Further, it would be wrong in my view for the Church to support capital punishment, or to back away from strong support for immigrants and refugees, victims of human trafficking, and to support violent conflicts except under exceptional circumstances (using a strong just war criteria). I agree that nuclear weapons must never be used. I believe that for years Church leaders have spoken out on social justice issues. Pope Francis has,both maintained "non-negotiable" Church teachings while showing understanding and compassion towards people who are different in many ways. Absolutely: let's listen to young people. They're the future of the Church and our world. But I believe our Church leaders, while listening to the opinions that may contradict Church teaching, must maintain authentic Church teachings, but make the teachings more accessible to the modern world.

Al Cannistraro
2 months 3 weeks ago

Historical Authenticity Also Required/Desirable. More Authenticity Would Mean More Young Catholics to Try to Hang On To.

Michele Dillon said: "A relevant Catholicism—one that necessarily engages with Catholics and with secular audiences—begs for church teachings on sexuality, marriage and gender to be revisited in light of advances in scientific knowledge and understanding of these complex matters. Whether or not any such revisitation leads to more nuanced teachings, church officials must find ways to reframe their arguments so that they can make sense both to increasingly secularized Catholics and to their non-Catholic peers with whom they are in conversation."

I would add very early church history/origins to the list of topics that need to be revisited.

I am no longer a young Catholic, but I was one many years ago. And though I have for the most part "moved on," I feel that my spiritual path has not been interrupted but evolved beyond what was being served up to me in my youth. I feel that the church has regressed in recent decades and has not kept up with modern knowledge. In particular, the church has not kept up with modern, clear-eyed, objective and appropriately skeptical historical methods regarding its own origins.

Far too much of the Catechism (100%) and of Catholic apologetics are based upon faith-based historical assumptions regarding the person of Jesus and the historical accuracy of the entirety of scripture. Increasingly, open-minded seekers are aware that currently available objective evidence regarding Christian origins do not unquestionably support the Church's traditional historical assertions, which actually are historically arguable if not highly questionable.

In other words, an historically authentic posture would acknowledge that the entire narrative is faith-based, not just the supernatural elements. To pretend that the Gospels, for example, are at all factual and based on objective evidence -- even minimally -- is inauthentic. Authentic assertions would suggest (low) probabilities -- not absolute certainties.

Thomas L. Brodie, a silenced and retired Irish Dominican bible scholar, is one who advocates such a revisiting. Early in his academic career, Brodie began to see Jesus as a purely literary character derived from earlier mainly biblical literature. In his final book, Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, Brodie begins to develop a new vision of Jesus as an icon of God's presence in the world and in human history.
Keeping Jesus entirely in the realm of philosophy and faith would make his character easier for modern minds to embrace and appreciate, than would continuing to assert his historicity in the face of virtually zero objective evidence.

Without broadening its base beyond cradle Catholics who have not left yet, and the overly credulous and intellectually unsophisticated, the church will not have much of a future. I hate to see Roman Catholicism, with its rich cultural and intellectual legacy, going down the tubes as current generations of believers either leave or die off without being adequately replaced.

And I myself would like to be able to participate again -- if only at the fringes. -- with some degree of authenticity.

Phillip Stone
2 months 3 weeks ago

So much to rebut and where to start ...

Tell young people the truth - there are two sexes and each of them is either one or the other, a fundamental property right down at the core of each and every one of their living cells as a chromosomal difference. As with all things biological in this fallen world, sometimes things go wrong; whenever that happens, it produces an ABNORMALITY not just a different sort of normal.

When they are very young, all that needs to be said is in Genesis "male and female He created them" - no ifs, buts or maybes.
There is ABSOLUTELY no authentic valid science to the contrary.

Tell them that they have two natures - physical and spiritual, " clay with Spirit breathed into us " and so we are automatically right from the beginning moral as well as biological creatures.
There is no material science of the spiritual realm, unless we call theology a sort of science.

Tell them that all that is, is made and was made by an unmade being. That includes space and time and matter and energy and spiritual reality. 21st century science contains not a single iota of proof against the fact that the whole universe started out of nothing quite a long time ago and every month discovers or demonstrates that the origin of life and its increasing complexity cannot possibly have come about by chance and without the introduction of intelligent instructions from outside the universe and is clearly aimed at a specific goal, humankind.

Tell them that no matter how hard they try, they will live with powerful urges to cherish and favour and do the good, the truthful and the beautiful and powerful urges to do the opposite.
Make sure they know these choices are made with free will, they are not puppets or automatons.

The core attitude of the parents is to be - you are not to blame for temptations but eventually will be expected to be responsible for the choices you make in the moral sphere aided by your community and grace. It is work, sometimes difficult work, but never is failure guaranteed to the end.

Tell them God did not leave us orphans and has provided all the means to be accepted into eternal life.

Vincent Couling
2 months 3 weeks ago

So much to rebut and where to start ...

I would suggest the recent series in La Croix as a reasonable place to start ...

The Catholic hierarchy’s problem with sex — Part I An obsolete understanding of the differences between men and women
https://international.la-croix.com/news/the-catholic-hierarchys-problem…

The Catholic hierarchy’s problem with sex — Part II A debunked, ideological view of men and women
https://international.la-croix.com/news/the-catholic-hierarchys-problem…

The Catholic hierarchy’s problem with sex — Part III Church teachings based on an obsolete view of men and women contradict other longstanding moral teachings of the Church and have not been received by the faithful
https://international.la-croix.com/news/the-catholic-hierarchys-problem…

Nora Bolcon
2 months 2 weeks ago

You are correct about Genesis God created MAN (one creation) male and female he created them - both are equally Man with the exact same purpose and so the same creation not two different ones.

John Chuchman
2 months 3 weeks ago

Catholic Church Hierarchy
keeps repeating the same thing.

The longer one listens to them,
the more obvious it becomes
that their inability to listen
is closely connected to an inability to think,
namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.

No communication is possible with them,
not because they lie,
but because they are surrounded
by the most reliable of all safeguards
against the words and the presence of others,
and hence against reality.

Ramon Domingo
2 months 3 weeks ago

my 2 cents : I think it behooves us all, whether young or old Catholics/Christians to to really understand WHY we are Catholics. I really believe the Priests and Catechists need to emphasize and make us all aware of the Patristic Writings,the Writings of the Apologists etc so that their Faith is on firm grounds ! To withhold and keep us ignorant of such early Christian Writers is really a Sad Mistake !

Nora Bolcon
2 months 2 weeks ago

Ramon we should actually be concentrating on the teachings of Christ in the Bible. Many of the early church fathers drew on pagan Roman and Greek religious beliefs to create the sexist church we have. Jesus only ever taught all of us to treat each other the same and this is how we show love of one another and God. My point is that although people like St. Augustine taught many powerfully good things, he also taught horribly hateful degrading things about the nature of women. These teachings he gleaned from Aristotle - some of them word for word and taught them as though they were Christian tenants which they are not since Aristotle was a pagan who worshiped pagan gods. The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the keys to a happy life. In them there is no hatred of any group or discrimination. Jesus valued the 72 followers (male and female) as much as he valued the original 12 apostles he picked as Judges for the Jews (not priests).

Nora Bolcon
2 months 2 weeks ago

We don't care why young adults leave any more than we care about following Christ's actual teachings in the Gospels. Jesus commanded we treat all members the same but we treat women less by offering dramatically less opportunities, less sacraments and less vote and voice. We already know Pope Francis has told women that they don't count at this synod too, as they will have no vote or voice at it just as they didn't have a vote at the last synod on marriage.

Young people have told us on every survey taken that they leave because we are sexist and because of pedophile priests at the top of every survey. They tell us they want women treated the same as men and given equal access to same sacraments. They find sexism equally hateful and sinful as racism just as Jesus taught it is a sin not to treat all people the same.

It has been clear reading this article and any article that comes from any supposed Catholic media source this past year that these media have been threatened to not even bring up the words women priests unless it is to talk against that possibility. The report from the 300 young adults that the Vatican asked the 300 to write a listing of what their concerns were is so clearly uncomfortable on this issue. They obviously tried to find their way around a restriction that clearly allowed them only to ask or state they wanted more roles for women while clearly and uncomfortably demanded they not seek women's priestly ordination. I felt for these young people but at the same time, they should have told the Vatican NO - we will not support this game of hiding what we know this church needs most to change.

We are a church that now holds misogyny above all things. We so desperately want to keep sexism in place that we are willing to lose even more of our youth as they leave and become NONES on account of this hateful bias. We allow entire parishes to collapse due to a lack of priests while we keep legitimately ordained women, ordained by legitimate Catholic Bishops, excommunicated for answering their priestly vocation. We let millions go without Holy Eucharist because there are no priests in some places even though there are women in these locations who have expressed a vocation to priesthood. We know that sexism is directly causal to pedophilia, a moral disease with which our hierarchy has proven itself over and over again to be infested. We know that married male priests would not only NOT likely decrease pedophilia in our church but might even actually increase it, especially, if those married male priests are not ordained along with female married priests. However our hierarchy's answer to this is we push parishes to accept married deacons to lead in their parishes without priests even though it is perfectly allowable under current church law for Bishops to allow trained lay women and men to lead these parishes instead, and even though lay leaders are the preferred choice of most parishes that don't have a priest.

We have become the Church that worships Misogyny instead of Christ. We are supposed to be first and foremost a people who care about spreading the Good News of the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Jesus' command to love God first and then love and treat all others the same and the same as oneself, no matter who we are, or who they are, in order to bring others to Baptism in Christ and Salvation. We are supposed to care about bringing The Holy Eucharist of Christ to as many as possible. We have allowed this Demon, Misogyny, to overtake everything that truly matters. It is our hierarchy's failing and us laity's failing too. If the laity and priests allow this discrimination against women to continue without enormous protest and fight, then we have no reason to complain when people leave since we are not really teaching the Good News anymore anyway.

Any young or old person can see clearly that what our church hierarchy labels as secular is actually more Christian in action than what our church has been teaching in many areas. Our largest and number one UnChristian teaching is our Church's taught sexism, and the different and lesser treatment of women, based on a tradition and false doctrine being taught to distrust, oppress, and yes - hate women as a gender. That is why our hierarchy won't let anyone talk about the subject of women priests, bishops, cardinals and popes and that is why Pope Francis is petrified to allow women any votes at this upcoming synod.

Ask yourselves: laity, priests, bishops - if they would not allow African or dark skinned men to vote, or Asian men, would you still support any synod? If so, what kind of person or Christian does that make you? and if you would not support such a synod, how are you any better a Christian for supporting one that disallows all women's voice and vote?

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