Young Adult Catholics–frozen in time?

New book summarizes old research, and so gives rise a new book tour, and articles in the media. American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church is a rehashing of Gallup data from 1987, 1993, 1999 and 2005. The article makes lots of claims about young adult Catholics, but I for one am taking it with a grain of salt.

First, are these self-identified Catholics or Catholic that actually get to church sometimes? Should we consider them Catholics, or unchurched?

Second, the authors seem to assume that the ideas of teens and young adults in their twenties are frozen in time, and are a good predictor of what they will do and believe in the future.

“There’s a disconnect between them and the institutional church,” said Davidson. “And when they get older, they are not going to be like the Catholics of previous generations. They are going to be the Catholics they are now.”

I don’t see how they can say that. Young adulthood is always a time of challenge and questioning and of trying out new ideas. The oldest of the cohort they are trying to pin down are just now in their late twenties. Let’s wait another ten or fifteen years–then I think they can be compared to other generations. If you want to compare them, compare them to those who were in their 20s ten or twenty or thirty or forty years ago.

Dean Hoge, a liberal Presbyterian, continues to raise his own concerns about a younger generation of priests that is more conservative. I’ve heard him speak, and it seems to me he’s letting his own personal views influence him on this point. He seems to me to want the Church to look like his denomination. In person, his antipathy toward young orthodox priests is palpable, and much of it hinges on the point of how they view the priesthood.

Hoge said the disconnect might be exacerbated by the fact that the young diocesan priests who will serve the millennial generation are moving in the opposite direction, becoming more strict about some church teachings and more likely to adhere to the “cultic” model of priesthood as a man set apart than to the “servant-leader model” favored by the majority of older priests.

For example, while 94 percent of priests 35 or younger said they believe ordination confers “a permanent character making (the priest) essentially different from the laity,” only 70 percent of priests ages 56-65 said that. Asked whether the church “needs to move faster in empowering laypeople in ministry,” 86 percent of the priests ages 56-65 and 54 percent of the youngest priests agreed.

The point about what priests believe about the priesthood says something different to me. It says seminaries have done their job, and produced a generation of priests who know what the Church teaches, and who believe it themselves!

Another point on methodology. The article says “The margin of error was plus or minus 9 percentage points.” That’s a huge margin of error! How can they speak in such dogmatic terms about a period of life that is in flux, with a margin of error this large!

Young adult Catholics see the church as having “no credibility, no plausibility, no authority,” he added.

Some do, to be granted. But how many? He gives no numbers. And if he did, we could add or substract 9 points. And then we’d have to ask whether these are Catholics that go to mass, even for Christmas and Easter and weddings and funerals. Others see something different; yes, there are young adult Catholics who are unchurched and many who are “churched” who are uncatechized (lots of blame to go around there). But there is a core of young adult Catholics who are faithful, and who will make a difference. They’re already making a difference, as even this survey shows when it talks about younger priests. Let’s not write off young Catholics; let’s not write off even those who may not be professing the Catholic faith or living in accord with it today. Their story isn’t finished yet, and there are signs of hope. I see these signs every day.

See comments from Christina.

2 thoughts on “Young Adult Catholics–frozen in time?

  1. The last great late attempt of liberal/progressive Catholics to ‘change’ the Church that is eternal and never changing in her teachings.

  2. Young adult Catholics see the church as having “no credibility, no plausibility, no authority,” he added.

    I always laugh when I read or hear statements like this, because it’s obvious that this guy is taking his own baby-boomer adolecent rebelliousness and projecting it (plus some!) onto the younger generation, my generation.

    I have to wonder, “Does this guy get out much!?!?”

    The younger generation is far far more orthodox than the baby-boomers. So, heh, yeah I guess we are rebellious, in that sense.

Comments are closed.