Pope Francis admitted on Tuesday that sex abuse scandals surrounding the Catholic Church have driven younger people away.
“We know – and you have told us – that many young people do not turn to us for anything because they don’t feel we have anything meaningful to say to them,” he told a group of Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox young people in Estonia.
“They are upset by sexual and economic scandals that do not meet with clear condemnation, by our unpreparedness to really appreciate the lives and sensibilities of the young, and simply by the passive role we assign them.”
Surveys commissioned by the Vatican, ahead of a bishops meeting next week to discuss how to better minister to young Catholics, have been filled with similar complaints.
Francis said that the church wanted to respond to the criticism in an honest and transparent way.
“We ourselves must be converted,” he said.
Still, he said, the amazing thing is that young people continue to find Jesus in the church and through its members and ministers.
Just as Jesus praised God for revealing truths to the “little ones,” Pope Francis told Estonian youth, “I marvel that, for all our lack of witness, you continue to discover Jesus in our communities.”
“We know that where Jesus is, there is always renewal,” the pope said. “There are always new opportunities for conversion and for leaving behind everything that separates us from him and our brothers and sisters.”
“Beyond all our limitations and divisions, Jesus is still the reason for our being here,” he told them.
Young believers must be generous and courageous enough to share that hope with their peers, especially in a country where an estimated 75 percent of the population identify themselves as “non-religious.”