An axiom in the legal profession is that a lawyer should never ask a question in court to which he doesn’t already know the answer. Getting an answer you don’t want can be embarrassing and may even harm your case.
Pope Francis has asked young people to write to him with their concerns. This is part of the lead up to October’s synod: Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment . Reading that text, you may be surprised that every papal document cited is by Pope Francis. No Paul VI, no John Paul II, no Benedict XVI? This somewhat narrows the catholicity of the Catholicism framing the upcoming discussions.
In addition to the request for letters to the pope, there are surveys being circulated in every diocese – all designed to take the temperature of Catholics in their teens and twenties, who are, of course, the “future of the faith.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, a recent report by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) about why young people leave the Church states flatly that: “eighty-seven percent of these former Catholics [in their teens and twenties] said that their decision to leave the Church is final.”
We may wish to chalk that up to the arrogance of youth, but 87 percent is an impressive number. As Crux  summarized the shocking takeaway: “More Catholics are leaving the faith than ever before – more so than in any other religion . . .” and also at ages younger than ever.
Of course, it has long been the case that, as the Pew Research Center put it a few years back: “Americans change religious affiliation early and often.” One expects young people to wander, whether it’s Christian kids off to college or Amish kids on their Rumspringa, although there’s also the expectation that they’ll return. But will this new generation of Catholic youth come home?
Perhaps. We recall when Our Lord had just finished speaking in the synagogue at Capernaum. He had presaged the Eucharist (and affirmed His divinity), stunning his listeners with insistence that they eat His flesh and drink His blood, and there is grumbling among some disciples about the difficulty of the Way – and some of them walk away. So Jesus asks the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?”
And Peter says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn. 6: 53-68)
It’s sensible to speculate that the decline of Catholic education is to blame for declines in Catholic affiliation in the West, and not just liberalization of curricula in parochial schools but also the more general decline in Catechesis. Arguments for Catholic doctrine and against secularism are effective only if those arguments are actually being made, especially by the hierarchy.
Not long ago I spoke with a man in his twenties about the Church’s position on homosexual behavior, contraception, and abortion. I explained the natural-law logic behind Catholic moral theology. He said:
“Why haven’t I heard it explained like that before?”
But here’s the thing: impressed though he was, he could not give up the belief that homosexual behavior is fundamentally no different than heterosexual, because each, according to liberal neo-orthodoxy, is a natural orientation – “born that way” and all that. It had been presented to him that way in every school and in most media, in opposition to whatever he may have heard at home, and – sad to say – had never heard in church.
Thus, to him, the Roman Catholic Church is homophobic. And as many young folks might say, “That’s sick!” Which, if you accept their premises, follows logically. And it’s why, when the subject of the so-called Culture War comes up, a very orthodox Catholic friend of mine waves his hand dismissively and says: “We lost.”
I know what he means, although I’m not willing to concede defeat. I think there are reasons to be hopeful – not least the demographic potential of large Catholic families versus tiny secularist ones. At every annual March for Life, we see large numbers of youthful marchers. We can win this thing!
But if the Church simply moves to become another liberal Christian denomination, it will lose its essential allure. . .no, its charism, which is its uncompromising continuity with the Apostolic tradition, passed down from Jesus Christ, through Peter.
So, I ask: Why are we even seeking the opinions of youth? So we can find new ways of explaining the Church’s perennial wisdom? Okay, although that’s been ongoing since Vatican II. Or is it because we believe the Church’s teaching needs to conform to new societal beliefs?
There’s no need to detail opinion data about the knowledge gap between poorly catechized young people and the Magisterium. As Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami commented on a typical survey of Catholic kids: “They feel completely Catholic even while disagreeing with the Church. We often heard ‘the Pope is entitled to his opinion.’” [Emphasis added.]
Catholics between the ages of 13 and 29 (and older) who believe in same-sex “marriage,” artificial contraception, pre-marital sex, and a “woman’s right to choose” are not going to reward the Church for kowtowing to their opinions, by trying to sweeten the message with a New, Newer, or Newest Evangelization, and for two reasons:
First, because these un-Catholic opinions are rooted in a rejection of the very idea of sin, and the Church cannot abandon belief in sin. If it did, there’d be nothing to believe in, because there’d be no need for redemption.
Second, because to compromise on any one of these matters, beginning with Communion for Catholics remarried without annulment, is like playing the game of Jenga, in which players try to remove pieces from a tower of blocks without causing the edifice to collapse. The fun of the game is that it always collapses. This would not, however, be enjoyable in the Roman Catholic Church.
Schism is no damned fun.