Dialogue with youth, laity essential in a changing world


March 7, 2011

The news these days is filled with talk of revolutions and uprisings. In the Middle East, we see old oppressive autocratic regimes being threatened and conquered by grassroots movements that are started by young adults who use Facebook and other social media to drum up support.

The Church, indeed, is facing its own uprisings with people like Benedictine Father Anthony Ruff resigning from ICEL (WCR, Feb. 21). In his resignation, he calls into question the Church's failure to embrace the consultative process, calling attention to its own autocratic tendencies.

It does not stop there. More than 200 theologians have spoken out against the Church hierarchy to embrace the values of democracy. They stated that a lot of the Church's thinking and teachings are suspicious of the intentions and the abilities of the people of God to choose to do the good. These theologians call for reforms on all levels.

Moreover, concerning the sex abuse scandals in Ireland, the visiting prelate Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boson admits the Church may be beyond damage control and will collapse.

What is going on? Why are people so angry, so ready to walk away from the Church? Is this a new authority complex driven by these revolutions?

Disturbed at the situation I decided to ignore the debate until recently. I was partaking in some great food and wine with a great friend of mine — he is agnostic by the way. We met a couple who were slightly younger than we were and were not practising Catholics.

We began a discussion about the Catholic Church and I asked the girlfriend in this relationship why her and her boyfriend and others their age (around 23 to 28) don't go to Church. Her answer seemed to sum up more accurately what the real problem is concerning all these revolutions and uprisings, especially in the Church.

She stated simply that since we have our freedom due to democracy, one does not have to put up with the nonsense coming from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.


I asked her what she meant by this and she said, "In a democratic system we are free to make our own decisions, based on our informed conscience. Our decisions must be respected in democratic systems; otherwise, it might cost them (the governing party) their election, or like the Middle East, cause a revolution."

For her, it was not good enough to be "dictated" to. She had no problems making decisions based on her beliefs in God, which are, I must say, countercultural and Catholic.

The major problem she has with the institutional Church is this: "They make claims about why society is going to hell and why I am going to hell in a hand basket without bringing us into the conversation."


She continued, "We always hear about how bad the world is, how it never changes historically, but it is clear that we are better off now than ever (she cites to me all the good things we have and freedoms that have been won for people) — what about the good the common people do? Why is this not emphasized?"

She ended the conversation with this, "At least God is forgiving and loves me that I can count on, structures like the Church I can't count on, just look at all the scandals going on — that is why I refuse to go to Church."

Instead of giving an apologetic for the Church, I decided to just listen to this insightful young lady who shared what I thought is the real issue — a failure in communication, which does not bring the "other," the lay people, into a real dialogue with the Church. These people want to be heard and this is when God's real healing grace begins.

That is what is causing these revolutions; it is not a failure to believe in God, but, rather, it is the belief that God's love is greater than our own expectations and that has brought about these movements.