If you learned that a 10-year-old kid wanted out from the Catholic Church, what would you do?
Throw a party? Give her a high five? Be jealous that she figured it out long before you did? See if she can get the rest of her CCD class to join her out the door?
If you’re Catholic, though, your goal is to stop the bleeding.
Mark Gray, a researcher at (Catholic affiliated) Georgetown University, summarized the findings of two surveys conducted by the school’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate to explain why so many people are leaving the faith.
In exploring why young Catholics were choosing to leave the faith, he noted “an emerging profile” of youth who say they find the faith “incompatible with what they are learning in high school or at the university level.” In a perceived battle between the Catholic Church and science, the Church is losing.
And it is losing Catholics at a young age. “The interviews with youth and young adults who had left the Catholic Faith revealed that the typical age for this decision to leave was made at 13,” Gray wrote. “Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed, 63%, said they stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17. Another 23% say they left the faith before the age of 10.”
It’s a trend in the popular culture to see atheism as “smart” and the faith as “a fairy tale,” he said.
Of course the Church is losing the battle against science. Yes, Catholics accept evolution. They’re not as bad as Protestants on that front. But they still believe Jesus rose from the dead, that consecrated communion wafers hold special properties, that wine can be transformed into the literal blood of Christ, and that sins can be absolved by saying a few magical words. In other words, the Church rejects science just like so many other religions reject science. You can’t just accept evolution and the Big Bang and call it a day when you also teach things that go against all the evidence in the world.
You know what Gray doesn’t mention, though? Catholic bigotry against LGBT people. Treatment of female leaders within the faith. All the sex scandals. The opposition to common sense contraception. The cruelty that exists in Catholic-affiliated hospitals. Internet access, giving people the ability to get straight answers to questions religious leaders would rather avoid. And the simple fact that Catholicism, like all religions, requires belief in things that just aren’t true.
I’m not saying a 10-year-old would leave the church over all of these issues — I’m guessing not many could tell you why Catholic hospitals are a problem — but surely some of that has to play a role in why they aren’t staying in the Church.
So what should parents do to keep their kids in the fold?
How can parents raise their children to stay in the faith? [Legionary of Christ Father Matthew] Schneider cited research by Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, who concluded that a combination of three factors produces an 80% retention rate among young Catholics.
If they have a “weekly activity” like catechesis, Bible study or youth group; if they have adults at the parish who are not their parents and who they can talk to about the faith; and if they have “deep spiritual experiences,” they have a much higher likelihood of remaining Catholic, Father Schneider said.
Ritual, mentors, and personal experiences. If you have doubts about Catholic teachings, though, those things will not address your concerns. The Church doubling down on its own awful beliefs will not change the mind of a child who knows better.
I guess we should be glad Catholics have such an inability to diagnose their own shortcomings. It means they won’t fix themselves anytime soon, because they assume the problems lie beyond their bubble. By the time they get around to realizing they were the reason people left the Church, it’ll be too late.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)