Where did 20-Something Catholics go?

Maybe I’m overstating it, but I can’t help thinking that Archbishop Dolan has made it…acceptable…to talk about the sensitive subject of Catholics leaving the church.

We all know there are a lot of lapsed Catholics out there. In New York, it seems that every third or fourth person you meet is a cradle Catholic who no longer goes to church (at least not more than a few times a year).

In fact, the second largest “religious” group around, after Catholics, is probably lapsed Catholics. (Then…mainline Protestants, Jews, lapsed mainline Protestants and secular Jews. See a trend?)

But I think that the Catholic Church in the U.S. was, for a long time, loath to address this painful and somewhat embarrassing subject. When Dolan came to New York, though, he talked at his opening press conference about the fundamental problem of losing people to secularism.

When studies showed last year that something like a third of Catholics have left the church, Dolan addressed it right away.

When he was elected president of the U.S. Bishops Conference, he talked about it again.

He told the NYT’s Laurie Goodstein that he regretted seeing long lines of people on Fifth Avenue heading for Abercrombie and Fitch rather than St. Patrick’s.

He said: “And I thought, wow, there’s no line of people waiting to get into St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the treasure in there is of eternal value. What can I do to help our great people appreciate that tradition?”

Since then, I’ve noticed a good number of Catholic blogs and websites addressing the “exodus” from their church. Conservatives say the church needs to be more orthodox, liberals that the church needs to be more understanding and less harsh.

No surprises there.

So it’s interesting to me that Fordham U is hosting a two-day conference, Jan. 28 and 29, called “Twenty-Somethings and the Church: Lost?”

Dozens of scholars will be taking on the central question of why young Catholic adults are drifting away.

An intro says this: “Twenty-somethings raised as Catholics are swelling the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.  Even those who continue to identify as Catholic are regularly absent from the pews and are likely to judge faith less important in their lives than did their parents and grandparents. Yet many twenty-somethings hold traditional beliefs about God, prayer, and life after death; many express spiritual yearnings and the desire to serve.”

One session will look like this: “Sex and the City of God/Hooking up, casual sex, cohabitation, later marriages, and same-sex relationships are cultural realities for twenty-somethings. How does this affect young adults’ ties to Catholic communities, teaching, and values, and their own desires for lives of integrity and wholeness?”


“Frenemies?  Popular Culture and Catholic Culture/The complex encounter between church and culture:  How do twenty-somethings navigate the varied terrains of church culture and popular culture?  How does the church engage the media-saturated, sensory-charged, and socially-networked lives of twenty-somethings?”

One of the presenters on the first night will be the academic Robert Putnam, author of the seminal work about social disconnection “Bowling Alone.”

You have to figure he will address the question of why so many Catholics are Praying Alone or not at all.

For a new year, a new Ten Commandments?

Moment magazine, offering that the Ten Commandments have “become a contentious subject in the United States, emerging at the heart of the culture wars,” has asked a bunch of scholars to weigh in on the current relevance of the Big 10.

It makes for provocative reading, I would say. (I realize that Judge Roy Moore would probably not approve of this exercise, but it’s unlikely that he reads Moment or this blog.)

Here are some snippets:

Michael J. Broyde, academic director of the Law and Religion program at Emory University’s Law School: “Our secular culture concludes that everything is relative and that all dilemmas need to be examined in context—there is very little that is always “right” or “wrong,” these voices claim. The Jewish tradition, through its framing of law in general, reminds us that while some parts of law are subjective and determined by the norms around us (particularly things like “what do words in a contract mean”), objective morality is the core of an ethical society.”

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, philosopher and prominent author: “The commandments don’t strike me as ethically illuminating for today’s world, nor are they so inspired as to suggest divine authorship. Quite the contrary, they are readily explainable as deriving from a Bronze/Iron Age people who created rules that would promote internal cohesion.”

Randy Cohen, who writes “The Ethicist” column in The New York Times Magazine: “Instead of the First, I would like to see a commandment to build an egalitarian society; for the Second, I would substitute the Golden Rule, and I would replace the Third with environmental ethics, the injunction not to destroy the earth but to create a green and healthy world.”

Jon D. Levenson, the Albert A. List Professor of Jewish Studies at Harvard: “The truth is that neither biblical nor rabbinic traditions speak of the Decalogue as applicable to universal humanity.”

Mark Rooker, who teaches at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC: “The Ten Commandments are the foundational laws for civilization.”

Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC: “Commentators in America constantly talk of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but if we were to use the Ten Commandments as the yardstick, then America is very much a Judeo-Christian-Islamic nation. Muslims unequivocally believe in the Ten Commandments.”