If you could send a message to the Catholic Church, what would you say?
Maybe you’d chastise them for rarely taking swift, decisive action regarding pedophile priests? Maybe you’d call on them to welcome women into their higher ranks? Or teach them that contraception isn’t evil? Or tell them that requiring priests to be celibate and single is pushing decent Catholic men away from seminary? Or that the whole stance against marriage equality is absurd?
There’s a lot you could say.
Over the past week, hundreds of Catholic youth met in Rome during the “Pre-Synodal Meeting of Young People” to craft a document that would be presented to Bishops in advance of their October gathering, a Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Those young people also gathering the input of approximately 15,000 people who chimed in through various Facebook groups. The result was a 16-page paper addressing their concerns.
As expected, it’s nothing more than a giant disappointment. It doesn’t call on the Church to fix anything substantial. It barely mentions the real criticisms people have of Catholic teachings. Because of that, this document won’t spur any real change. It’s useless.
Take, for example, one section where several controversial issues are raised:
There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today. Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church. What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues. As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions. Even though there is internal debate, young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church. Many young Catholics accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching.
That’s a long way of saying the Church holds a lot of controversial beliefs, but the Church should welcome in those who disagree because they still want to remain in the fold.
Well, no shit.
There’s nothing in there about how the Church has no justification for it’s anti-LGBTQ bigotry or its irrational rules about contraception or cohabitation, and that a growing number of young people realize that. There’s nothing about how two-thirds of Catholics support marriage equality despite the Church saying otherwise (or how that number’s likely much higher for Catholics under 30).
If the Church can’t accept the fact that it’s just flat-out wrong about these issues, much like it was wrong about geocentrism centuries ago, then most young people will never see the Church as an organization worth trusting.
There’s even a section explaining why young people don’t remain in the Church as much as they used to… which misses the mark entirely.
Young people who are disconnected from or who leave the Church do so after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection. One could attend, participate in, and leave Mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ. Christians profess a living God, but some attend Masses or belong to communities which seem dead.
Boring services isn’t the reason Catholics have a bad reputation. Catholics could go the megachurch route and turn their services into choreographed performances with guitars and drums and movie theater-like seating, and that wouldn’t accomplish anything because it fails to address the underlying problems.
The document actually mentions the problem with women at one point:
Another common perception that many young people have is an unclear role of women in the Church. If it is difficult for young people to feel a sense of belonging and leadership in the Church, it is much more so for young women. To that end, it would be helpful for young people if the Church not only clearly stated the role of women, but also helped young people to explore and understand it more clearly.
The problem with the Church isn’t that the role of women is unclear. It’s that Church rules prohibit women from leading it. They cannot become bishops or archbishops or cardinals or pope. Beyond that, the Church’s stances on abortion and birth control hurt women specifically.
The role of women in the Church isn’t confusing. The problem is we know what the Church thinks of women and it’s awful.
It would be foolish to expect young Catholics to admit their beliefs are wrong, much less convince traditionalists to change their ways, but it’s clear the representatives who wrote this don’t even have a clear grasp on why more and more young people want nothing to do with the Church.
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