February 14, 2011


Catholic young adults aren't as attached to the Church as their counterparts from the 1940s and 1950s, but they have not abandoned the faith, according to speakers at a two-day forum at Fordham University.

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."

More than 700 people registered for the Jan. 28-29 conference titled Lost? Twenty-somethings in the Church. Participants included young adults, campus ministers, youth ministers and others.


Catholic young adults are not immune to the complex encounter between the Church and popular culture, said participants in a panel session on Sex and the City of God.

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.

Campbell said young adults who reject the "anything-goes ethos of popular culture" are a minority in their generation, but a majority among those active in the Church.

Those who successfully "fought and fumbled their way to a full embrace of Catholic teachings" were those who appreciated the countercultural nature of Catholic sexual ethics, she said. They have combined a disciplined prayer life with a supportive community life.

In a discussion on the intersection of Catholic culture and popular culture, Bill McGarvey, former editor-in-chief of BustedHalo.com, said, there is a perceived split between the Church and contemporary culture. The latter is valued as transparent, unfiltered, democratic and collaborative.


Nonetheless, he said people are "hard-wired" to seek deeper meaning in their lives and the Church should use all the contemporary tools available to spread the unchanging message of the Gospel.

Matthew Boudway, an editor at Commonweal magazine, said faith is about practice and not just belief. Faith is an activity and not a status.

"Catholics should be the last to forget that friendship is sustained by practice."

Tami Schmitz, assistant director of spirituality in campus ministry at the University of Notre Dame, said young adults yearn for good catechesis, a connection with God and a place in a community.

Many of the students she sees have a weak understanding of the basics, but are eager, open and curious to learn about the faith.

"We owe it to them to develop ways to feed this precious hunger in them. Catechizing them in ways that are creative and exciting and answering their questions is a good start," she said.

"If we don't do it, where else are they going to get their answers? And how long will they keep searching?"

Schmitz said those in their 20s seek community. "They want someone to know, listen to and treasure their story."

Father Robert Beloin, Catholic chaplain at Yale University, said 20-somethings are a great untapped resource which the Church should not overlook.

Campus ministry programs create small Church communities, Beloin said. Catholic intellectual life is promoted through "wonderful liturgy," lectures and discussions.

Young adults, he said, can be with one another and "be Church for one another and not just go to church."