“The church knows young Catholics are leaving; I don’t think it knows what to do about it”

From CentreDaily.com in suburban Washington:

As the Catholic Church prepares to elect a new pope to guide it into the future, church leaders are struggling to keep young people from leaving the faith.

Four out of five Catholics who have left the church – and have not joined another – did so before the age of 24, according to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Some young Catholics have drifted away as they moved from home and failed to connect to a new parish, while others have left because their personal political views made them feel isolated. Some have blamed the church’s conservative stance on gay marriage and abortion for their departure.

The Catholic hierarchy is not doing enough to address the problem, said Robert J. McCarty, director of the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.

“I think the church knows (young Catholics are leaving); I don’t think the church knows what to do about it,” he said.

But Jonathan Lewis, the evangelization and young adult coordinator at the Archdiocese of Washington, said that his organization is actively working with local parishes to stem the tide.

Getting young adults to explore long-term spirituality is difficult when they “are living more in the moment,” he said. “What we’re dealing with is not particularly a Catholic problem, but a generational problem.”

Indeed, a growing number of young people are leaving not just the Catholic church, but organized religion as a whole. In the 1970s, 12 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were unaffiliated with a church, according to the General Social Surveys. Last year, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey found 32 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were unaffiliated, far higher than any other age group…

…Former Catholics cite frustration with the church’s stance on social issues as a common reason for leaving. According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life 2009 survey, half of former Catholics said dissatisfaction with the church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality and birth control were among their reasons for leaving.

The church, under conservative Pope Benedict XVI, has steadfastly held to its views on those issues. Benedict officially retired on Thursday, ending his eight-year papacy. Cardinals began meeting Monday to discuss plans to elect his successor.

In an effort to attract more young people, some Catholic organizations said they are spending less time talking about controversial social issues and more on the benefits of the faith.

FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, sends missionaries to college campuses across the country to recruit new members for the church. Jeremy Rivera, a spokesman for the organization, said many students are figuring out who they are in college, making it a critical time to provide information about the church.

The missionaries talk less about social issues, and more about the positive benefits of a relationship with Christ.

“Their days are filled with telling everybody what the church is for and not just what the church is against,” he said.

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