Some highlights of the big conference at Fordham earlier this week, on 20-somethings and the Church, courtesy CNS:
Catholic young adults aren’t as attached to the church as their counterparts from the 1940s and 1950s, but they are hardly a lost generation and have not abandoned the faith, according to speakers at a two-day forum at Jesuit-run Fordham University.
More than 700 people registered for the Jan. 28-29 conference titled “Lost? Twenty-somethings in the Church,” which was co-sponsored by the Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies and the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture. Participants included young adults, campus ministers, youth ministers and others.
Sociologist James Davidson, professor emeritus at Purdue University, said young Catholics “distinguish between the Catholic faith, which they identify with and respect, and the Catholic Church, which they are less attached to.”
Quoting a wide body of research, including his own, Davidson said eight of 10 young Catholics believe there are many ways to interpret Catholicism and they grant more authority to their individual experience than they do to the magisterium.
“They stress the importance of thinking for themselves more than obeying church leaders,” he said. “Instead of simply embracing church traditions and teachings, they tinker with them. They distinguish between abstract beliefs and principles that they think are at the core of the Catholic faith, and more concrete norms and codes of conduct that they consider optional or peripheral.”
In essence, Davidson said, “they believe that doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Mary as the mother of God, Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and the need to be concerned about the poor are more important than teachings such as the need to limit the priesthood to men, the need for priestly celibacy, the church’s opposition to artificial birth control and its opposition to the death penalty.”
Catholic young adults are not immune to the complex encounter between the church and popular culture, said participants in a panel discussion on “Sex and the City of God.”
Donna Freitas, associate professor of religion at Hofstra University, said her research among college students showed that “there’s a lot of frustration, anger and alienation about the do’s and don’ts of sex, because Catholic students feel their tradition has not given them anything of use regarding sexual behavior.”
Author Colleen Carroll Campbell said trying to help young Catholics put Gospel values into practice is an age-old Christian challenge compounded by the current hypersexual culture. “Sex is little more than a contact sport, best played among strangers,” even at Catholic colleges, she said.