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.

Dolan: Catholics must be prepared to defend their faith

Archbishop Dolan gave a strongly worded and provocative speech the other morning in Los Angeles that is getting a lot of attention in the Catholic blogosphere.

At the L.A. Catholic Prayer Breakfast, where he was introduced by Cardinal Mahony, Dolan called for new era of Catholic apologetics to help prepare Catholics to defend the faith.

He described apologetics as “the art of credibly, convincingly and compellingly defending and presenting our faith.”

Dolan described an annual rite of September, when Catholic parents tell him that their son or daughter, a freshman in college, has a new roommate or friend who has terrible things to say about Roman Catholicism.

He said that Catholics need a “steady, humble, cheerful confidence, a rational grounding in our Catholic faith.”

They need to be able to explain why “The Catholic Church is the one, true, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.”

He also asked young people in the audience: “Are you prepared to defend your Catholic faith against those who want to take it from you and who will feel they are doing you a big fat favor by liberating you from the shackles of this oppressive, corrupt, superstitious, unbiblical, irrational, anti-Christ church?”

In L.A., Dolan also described the mass exodus of Catholics from their church as the “number one pastoral problem we confront today.”

“People are renouncing membership, leaving the church or joining others,” he said.

In addition to practicing apologetics, he said, Catholics need to emphasize a new model of the church — “The church as our spiritual family” — and to “fess up” to the sinful, human side of the church.

“One of the reasons we have a growing number of ex-Catholics is that they have been shocked, saddened and scandalized by the sinful actions of Catholics, including her clergy and hierarcy.”

It was a passionate talk, which you can watch HERE, and was well received by what appears to be a large audience.

One priest from Alabama cheered Dolan’s call for a new apologetics on his blog: “No one wins a chess match by making one move and waiting to see what the opponent might do. Part of the strategy of great chess player is anticipating the opponent’s move and being prepared for it. We want our young people (who are the laity of the present and the future) to be able, calming and confidently, to deflect all these sad, stereotypical objections with ease. But such ease, even on a football field or in a battlefield, comes only with practice and proper equipment.”

And a Carmelite sister who was at the breakfast wrote of his remarks: “As Archbishop Dolan speaks I am captured by the truth of his words and deeply moved, strengthened in my love for the Church which is weak and broken like me, but outside of which I would be completely lost.”

Dolan was, in the end, typically hopeful and positive. And he did share some good news, too: “Thanks to immigration, the church is still growing.”