According to a Catholic News Agency report published this week, young American Catholics are “exhibiting an alarmingly casual attitude towards accepting church teaching.”

So is this a failure by young Catholics to understand church doctrine or a failure by church doctrinaires to understand young Catholics?

What puzzles the bishops is that young American Catholics “feel completely Catholic even while disagreeing with the church,” according to Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. At the most recent meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops in Baltimore, he summarised the responses given by young people to a survey conducted on behalf of the U.S. bishops.

For more than three years, a USCCB research group conducted a study about finding more effective ways to communicate Catholic belief. Researching a variety of segments of the U.S. Catholic population, they examined motivations, challenges, and expectations facing people in the U.S. Church. Young adult Catholics – those still in the church — stood out for their insistence on being part of the church while exhibiting a “causal disregard” for parts of Catholic teaching. If any Church teachings conflict with their own perceptions, Archbishop Wenski said, young people simply “tune out” the teachings. “They agree to disagree with the church.”

Furthermore, the archbishop observed, young Catholics are sensitive to language that could imply judgment. “For them, language like ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ means ‘hate the sinner.’”

Perhaps many bishops didn’t get the message; but shifting attitudes among young Catholics were pointed out by the Pew Research Center last year. Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29, for example, said in a 2014 Pew study that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged. Older age groups were less likely to favor acceptance; but even among Catholics ages 65 and older, 57% said that homosexuality should be accepted.

One of my bishop acquaintances observed that our bishops need to teach more effectively. He would like to revamp parish and school catechetical programs so that they put more emphasis on church teaching.

I would suggest, frankly, that our bishops revamp their own leadership styles and put more emphasis on communication that starts with listening.

Speaking of listening, I wonder how many bishops were really listening to the Scriptures during their festive liturgy in Baltimore’s famous basilica. The first reading was from the letter to Titus (1:1-9), which told the assembled bishops to “appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children….”


7 thoughts on “A Casual Attitude Towards Catholic Teaching….

  1. As always, your post this morning is on the money. As the mother of 20-somethings who were born, schooled, and raised in the Church, I can verify the findings of the USCCB, except for one point: Young adults know they have a choice. What is missing is the fact that the stigma of becoming a member of another faith, one that is accepting and welcoming of all people regardless of sexual orientation, is non-existent. I can attest to the fact that they do not care one whit about the opinions or (in their minds) antiquated, misognystic beliefs of old men. The USCCB simply does not matter to them.

  2. This is an easy one: When your compelling reason to believe is acceptance of a bunch of rules simply because (mostly) older white guys wearing funny hats say you have to obey the rules…as opposed to providing a positive, compelling reason to have faith…then of course there will be disenchantment. This isn’t 1900 anymore, and younger folks have access to a wide variety of ideas an opinions when it comes to many thing, including faith.

    Now I know faith shouldn’t be like buying mustard at the supermarket (i.e. you “buy” the cheapest or the nicest tasting), but nor should it be about “we said it should be this way…because we’re Bishops and we say so” either. There are real, compelling reason to have faith in Christ and His Church, but sadly, much of that gets lost in a sea of regimentation, rules, and social issue bantering that sounds (especially to younger folks) more like HATE than it does FAITH. Having religious leaders saying that someone who is gay suffers from being “inherently disordered” precisely proves my point. Where is the evidence of FAITH and COMPASSION in that kind of statement?

    Just my two cents.

    Love the blog by the way.

    Steve Albert
    West Pittston, PA

  3. … while “genital sins” need to be considered, it seems that these are all the bishops are concerned about, being almost silent in collective actions addressing economic and social abuses … young Catholics, especially in the west … are impressed by hearing the concerns of other areas being addressed by Pope Francis …

  4. A casual attitude? Or a responsible one?
    Followers of Christ should be answerable to Him alone and not to some authoritarian organisation that seems to think that the Church exists for its own sake, as an end in itself and appears to think that controlling people is somehow what Christ had in mind.
    I think not! Christ came to set us free and showed us how to develop our own wisdom, compassion and spiritual awareness.
    It isn’t just the younger generations who couldn’t give a toss about what this bunch of megalomaniacs has deemed sinful. Neither do I! I care far more about evolving into the kind of enlightened human being Christ always knew we’d become. And on bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth as we do so. That’s the one based on Love- not Fear!
    Best wishes. Mari

  5. Young milennials are just following their parents & grandparents in ignoring irrelevant applications of Church teachings to their lives, particularly when spouted by hypocritical leaders more interested in big money donations & rightwing politics.

    Didn’t the Bishops learn to listen after the Humanae Vitae silent revolt by the Laity?? Many USA Catholics learned to think for themselves in applying moral decisions in their lives.
    At least when the USA Hierarchy still tried to promote social justice up until the early 1980s, many Catholics were content to work along with them…
    But as the Hierarchs appeared to turn more conservative socially to stand with Reagan’s harsh policies, they seemed just like their predecessors who had been in bed with Franco, Mussolini, the Latin American dictators, etc…

    The suppression of Liberation Theology in Latin America, Africa & Asia by the Vatican was taken as a warning by US Catholics that even to think differently from the leaders was too threatening to them…. even though most American Catholics never tried the further steps of activism like the Liberationists abroad…But even so, many Catholics of conscience started to walk out of the Church here in the USA.

    The leaders shouldn’t take comfort in the fact that Catholic numbers in the USA are still high, due to the recent immigration generations… Their children, as they become assimilated here in the USA, are also starting to leave, just in lesser numbers. Even the Latin American countries in their heartland cultures are rapidly becoming less Catholic. They are losing members to evangelical Protestants and also to a separation of civil & religious cultural identities.

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