Yep. I’m on my faith-Church-culture “kick” again. I subscribe to an online Catholic headlines service (sponsored by Paulist Press) which provides me with access to a widely diverse collection of Catholic-related stories daily, Monday through Friday. Think of it as a sort of electronic version of “Catholic Digest.” On any given day, it can cover anything from Jim Martin, S.J.’s latest book to an official announcement from theVaticanSecretary of State. It make for interesting reading, I assure you… While almost all of the stories are noteworthy in their own right, it is often the juxtaposition of two of more of them which speaks volumes about the complex and “pluralistic” reality which is our Catholic Church today.
Yesterday’s and today’s (4/19 and 4/20) headlines, not surprisingly, featured prominent stories about the Vatican’s recent “stinging report” to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. TheVatican– perhaps somewhat predictably – declared itself “compelled to intervene” to correct “serious doctrinal problems.” The women were chided for being silent about (or at least, insufficiently attentive to) “the right to life” and the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality.” Spokespersons for the LCWR – perhaps equally predictably – declared that their group (which represents 80% of theU.S.’s 57,000 Catholic nuns) was “stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment.” The spokeswomen seemed especially distressed by what they perceived as a message that they were spending too much time and energy on poverty and social justice concerns.
Each side of this “discussion,” of course, has legitimate points in its favor. The hierarchy, whose job it is to defend the authority of the magisterium, has a responsibility to call its public representatives (including women religious) to steer clear of “cafeteria Catholicism.” The leaders of the religious women, on the other hand, legitimately raise concerns about a “canon within a canon” – in other words, are they being asked to believe (and to act on) a view of the Gospel in which vocal opposition to abortion and gay marriage would be “more important” or “more central” than care for the poor and the marginalized?
If you are waiting for me to resolve this “discussion,” then this column will disappoint you. I simply find the whole business troubling and confusing – something which, I suspect, I experience in common with both our bishops AND the religious women, as well as with a great many of you. What I really want to talk about here, however, is another story which appeared on the headline service today.
This story, originating from the “Washington Post,” is entitled “Young ‘Millennials’ Losing Faith in Record Numbers.” It reports that “a growing tide of young Americans is drifting away from the religions of their childhood — and most of them are ending up in no religion at all. One in four young adults choose ‘unaffiliated’ when asked about their religion, according to a new report from the Public Religion Research Institute andGeorgetownUniversity’sBerkleyCenterfor Religion, Peace & World Affairs.”
The “Post” story further indicates that “most within this unaffiliated group — 55 percent — identified with a religious group when they were younger.” And of these, Roman Catholics lost the highest proportion of childhood adherents — nearly 8 percent. Furthermore, the researchers uncovered a morally divided generation, with 50 percent of the respondents declaring themselves contextual moralists (i.e., holding that right and wrong may vary from situation to situation), while only 45 percent believe in universal rights and wrongs.
My point is that neither the bishops’ positions NOR those of the “liberal” nuns is currently persuading our 18- to 24-year olds very well. For a whole complex of reasons, they are either ignoring the entire conversation or are dismissing it as irrelevant “background noise.” So let’s all pray extra hard that we believers – “liberal” and “conservative” – might learn somehow to come together in unity and to defend the continued meaningfulness and relevance of Church affiliation – period. We need to work together to figure out ways to combat the culture of secularism and immediate gratification and to “hand on the faith” more effectively to our next generations. If we fail to do this, then discussions between “conservatives” and “liberals,” or between this faction and that, will ultimately lead us nowhere – that is, literally, to oblivion.
At a more local level, several moms from among our young families here at OSJ are currently brainstorming about starting a “youth group” for our parish “tweens” and teens. These moms have my complete encouragement and support as pastor, and certainly my ardent prayers, in pursuing this project. If you want to help – especially if you are a parent of “tweens” or teens, or if you ARE a “tween” or teen – don’t hesitate to be in touch with me and I will get you “plugged in”… And everyone else, we need your support through the “stewardship of prayer”…
©2012 Fr. Daniel M. Ruff, S.J.