Thursday, June 7, 2012


Religious News Service has an article titled Gen-X Catholic Debacle which laments the fact that the children of Vatican II parents have left the Church in large numbers and apparently are not returning even after marrying (or living together) and having children, or having children without the benefit of marriage and a partner. The article blames Pope John Paul II's conservatism for driving them away permanently. This is the last paragraph of the article:

No doubt, the abuse scandals beginning in the late 1980s and accelerating rapidly after the turn of the century took a huge toll. In addition, however, it is more than likely that the increasingly conservative winds that began to blow out of Rome during the papacy of John Paul II blew a lot of Gen-X away from the church. Many on the Catholic right--including in the hierarchy--have been happy to say good-bye and good riddance to what they've dismissed as its cafeteria Catholicism. But you've got to figure that, as the percentage of Catholics in America drifts towards the teens, those in charge will live to regret blowing the opportunity to capture and hold one-third of the U.S. population.

However, a "Gen-X" person, Thomas Dalby, wrote a comment at the Praytell blog on this same article and refuted its conclusions by writing:

I am a member of “Gen-X” and this article seems to be calculated to stroke the prejudices of my parents’ generation, rather than addressing the reasons for the fall off in practice among people of my age.

I would point to three items that the author ignores:

• the abuse crisis started hitting the headlines in the early-mid nineties and hasn’t gone away – like most people of my age, I found the whole thing deeply demoralizing – it really rocked my faith in the Church (like many people I was and am sickened by the institutional failures, although these were no different to the utter failure of the secular authorities to deal adequately with child abuse, but the greater impact was simply that these sorts of crimes could be committed by clergy at all – I know that sounds na├»ve, but the scandal hit while I was in my late teens/early twenties);

• my generation was the first to experience the utter devastation of parental divorce on a large scale – friends and family members who were affected by their parents’ divorces often seemed to reject anything connected with their upbringings;

• inter-generational conflict – the whole “Spirit of Vatican II” ethos that gripped the Church and continues to have a hold on it today was something that really struck a chord with some of my parents’ generatio, but it’s a project that became utterly imbued with that generation’s cultural preferences that it had stopped speaking to me and to my peers when we hit our late teens;

• linked to the last point, liturgies and music in the Church seemed to have become fixated around my parents’ generations cultural choices – attending Mass can sometimes feel like one has been transported to a badly staged Crosby Stills & Nash tribute gig.

My Comments: Thomas Dalby's last comment focuses on Liturgy, but it could have focused on spirituality also and catechesis. What did the Gen X generation actually experience of Catholic liturgy, spirituality, reverence and devotion growing up?

I suspect that there was very little stability or Catholic identity in the traditional sense in terms of liturgy and the music their heard or sung at Mass and that most of it was superficial in quality rather than of a style that promotes a deep Catholic spirituality. In other words, it was vapid. It might have been better if the low Mass was their only experience of Mass rather than the sung Mass with vapid music. At least in the Low Mass they would have gotten the core of what the Mass actually is without an overlay of vapid musical sappy spirituality.

I think the next thing is the lack of tradition in their spirituality and worship. Prayer services or liturgies apart from Mass tend to be very trendy and obnoxious. I've attended many of these at national conferences as they are used in place of the Liturgy of the Hours and each one is different in style, content and creativity, in fact, creativity is the hallmark. There is no tradition in spirituality in these so-called "para-liturgies."

In terms of sanctuary arrangements, I wonder how many Gen-X Catholics know what a tabernacle is and what is contained in it. So many churches hide the tabernacle and only the brave go into these hidden side chapels to actually pray before our Lord apart from Mass. I doubt that the majority of Gen-X Catholics know the reason for the genuflection prior to entering the pew if even this was done in their church toward a naked altar.

In terms of personal and private spirituality and devotion, I wonder how many Gen-X Catholics ever prayed the Rosary either in a group setting or alone and on a regular basis or know anything of novenas, litanies and "spiritual ejaculations" and I add the modifier for they probably do know the other meaning of this term but not the religious meaning and would blush to hear a priest or nun ask if they do ejaculations. I suspect this term is no longer used in polite circles when teaching spirituality and prayer! :)

I wonder to how many Gen-X Catholics understand natural law and that natural law is one of the legs of the stool of Catholic morality, the other two being Scripture and Tradition and that all three are transmitted through the authority of the Magisterium, a word that they probably don't know how to pronounce let alone define.

While I include abysmal catechesis in what I perceive to be the loss of this generation of Catholics, I do also believe that the scandals magnified by the liberal press who hate the Catholic Church anyway has had a horrible effect also, but if one is shallow in one's Catholicism, how can one survive scandal and realize that scandal is a result of sin and sin is why we have so great a Savior. If Gen-X Catholics haven't been taught that basic then why in the world remain in the Church.

Would an embrace of the heretical Sister of Mercy's book, "Just Love" have kept them in the Church? Would the elimination of any kind of sexual sin and the elimination of natural law as the basis of sexual morality, and the acceptance of women priests, artificial contraception, gay marriage, and abortion have kept the Gen-X Catholics in the Church? I doubt that very much, because that kind of Church would not be the Catholic Church, it would be an apostate Church.

Finally what Thomas says about divorce should be taken very seriously. It is his generation who experienced it on a wide scale. Infidelity to marriage vows and the blatant sexual immorality of their parents who after divorce probably had numerous other partners and live-ins if they married again has to have some kind of impact on the psyche of the young who experience this instability in their home lives. And one wonders what kind of Catholic home they did experience where icons abounded, prayer was said and Catholic morality encouraged and lived? Were they told that when they marry, they should be virgins, find a Catholic and exclude divorce from their understanding of a Sacramental Marriage. Oh, I forgot, they weren't taught the sacraments.

But keep in mind, my parents generation had a goodly number of people who were basically illiterate in the faith but profoundly faithful people. They attended Mass every Sunday and in many cases everyday. They went to confession regularly (I wonder how many Gen-X Catholics did and do?) and they had fear and awe in the presence of God and feared offending God. In other words, they had a foundation built upon faith even if catechesis was lacking. Could that be one of the many problems of Gen-X Catholics who don't return to the practice of the Faith for they never were taught the very basics?


Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

Hmmm...the title and photo sort of reminds me of that 60's Barbara Hershey movie, "Last Summer." Now, there's a trip to the Confessional! LOL!

rcg said...

Dang, Pin, I had the same, err, thought. It's really simple: one of the most successful strategies of revolutionaries is to usurp the education system of their objective. Part of this is to insert extra levels of interpretation into the education to separate the educated from the actual writing, etc. This is why primary texts are so important in higher education and why the return to Latin is so critical.

Kitchener Waterloo Traditional Catholic said...

People leave the Church for one of two reasons: they either disagree with doctrine or they don't know the faith.

The "spirit of Vatican II" crowd wanted to change doctrine. When they became parents they didn't teach the faith to their children. Priests didn't want to offend anyone with their homilies.

Jesus created the Church to help us get to Heaven. The "spirit of Vatican II" crowd doesn't like to talk about sin and damnation. With no damnation then everyone goes to Heaven. If everyone goes to Heaven then what's the point of attending Mass?

Compare the Usus Antiquior with the Novus Ordo regarding the emphasis on sin, salvation and the saints.

Compare the reverence given to the Blessed Sacrament at both liturgies. When the Eucharist is treated like ordinary food receiving it weekly isn't a priority. When one realizes the miracle of Transubstantiation they kneel before God every Sunday.

If someone believes Mass is a happy communal meal intended to celebrate the Good News, then it's not important to attend. When one learns the Mass is the Sacrifice at Calvary that our Savior did so we can attain salvation, Mass attendance becomes crucial. A line develops outside the confessional.

Surveys indicate the pill along with the sexual revolution had much more impact on Mass attendance than the sex abuse crisis.

Henry said...

One generation left church because they no longer recognized it as the real Catholic Church. Another leaves because they wouldn't recognize it if it were the real Catholic Church.

Ray. V. said...

Great post, Father. I re-blogged it, along with part of my story here:

Thank you for all you do for The Church

Unknown said...

People! we have concrete evidence of what happens when a "church" becomes culturally relevant to the detriment of the Faith. It's called the Episcopal Church. Once a denomination of over 2 million members, it now has an average Sunday attendance of under 700,000. Relevancy does NOT attract people when it comes to their salvation; the Gospel of Life does!

rcg said...

Kitch has it right and add that you can't really disagree with the faith if you are ignorant and that has been the objective the the Spirit of Vatikan tyo (did I get that right, ytc?)

I concur with Henry on the point that the people who leave when they see the real thing are seeing their own defeat.

Gene W. (formerly Pin) said...

I think it is all of the above. Enlightenment Rationalism and the egalitarian world view it engendered (crowned by that gem of liberal revisionism The French Revolution), was the pathway to secularism, moral relativism, cultural equivalence, and apostasy within the Church. The tide has not turned; some in the Church have decided it is time to swim against the current...these are shark-infested waters. I have a feeling that more schism is in the future and that the True Church will become a much more isolated and marginalized entity...a Remnant, if you will. I hope I am wrong.

Andrew Berrigan said...

Father, I'm a Gen-X Catholic myself (or at least right on the younger border of that generation), and I'm currently traveling. I had the opportunity to meet someone the other day who's my same age, and who was raised in what sounded like a very traditional Catholic household.

From the way this woman described her upbringing, here's what I gathered: she and her family attended Mass every day, sometimes twice a day. The girls wore veils at Mass. The Rosary was said daily. Their home had pews and kneelers, and these were used in daily devotion. (All?) four of her uncles are permanent deacons. She and the rest of the children attended Catholic school.

Now that she's all grown up, she's a single mother with three kids (divorced). I don't know if she's sought an annulment from her husband, but she is dating someone else (also a divorcee with kids), and if I understand correctly, her husband is interested in becoming a deacon like her uncles. I imagine this would be impossible unless they've been granted an annulment.

I get the sense that she still has a love for the Catholic Church, but that she's fallen away from many Catholic practices (and perhaps a few beliefs). I mentioned that my wife and daughter had for the first time attemped veiling during Mass the week before, and she smiled and said she thought that it was a great, beautiful thing. On the other hand, she was frank with me in that she thought as children she and her siblings "overdid" Mass and were "too Catholic."

(I'm sure that there are some other things going on here. Talking to her, I get the sense that a priest close to the family was abusive to the children. I also get the sense that her father was at least somewhat abusive.)

I was deeply saddened talking with her. Here I met a woman the same age as I with the same number of children, but with a far more "intensely" traditional Catholic upbringing--and yet she seemed to have drifted away in her faith, while I feel my own faith has strengthened. Thinking of my own children, I worried that someone could be raised in such an apaprently faithful Catholic household and drift as she seemingly has.

Father, you mentioned above that your parents' generation contained a number of people who were illiterate in the faith but profound in their practice of faith. Now, no doubt there are other factors at work here (As I alluded to above), but one other thing stuck with me re: this woman. At one point we were discussing veiling, and I pointed out to another person listening in St. Paul's remark that a woman's hair is her glory while mentioning a Biblical rationale for the custom. At this, the woman admitted she never knew why they wore veils--it was jsut something they did.

I'm still reflecting on all this, but I think this episode really underscores the importance of good catechesis. If one's faith is shakened or threatened by abuse from the very parents and clergy one looks to for example, it seems to me that without an understanding of why one believes what one does, why one practices what one does, then there wouldn't be much left to keep the faith alive.

Please say a prayer for this woman, for her family, and for all Catholics of my generation who've slipped away under similar circumstances.

ytc said...

I believe that the whole cultural support system has to return incrementally in order for Catholic practice and tradition to return.

Everyone falters in their faith, even the Pope, even Mother Teresa, and on down to every Catholic mother and son and uncle, etc. What we have to have is the culture of support. That was there prior to Vatican II. In most places it is gone.

Look at a traditional parish. They are excellent witnesses to this "cultural support" principle. They might be poor, they might be slipshod communities, but they have a culture of support in their Catholic identity.

It's very hard for one family to be traditional and orthodox in a parish full of liberal and mediocre Catholicism. But if you get fifteen or twenty of these families together in one group, the social support system allows them to retain their faith even when one person's faith falters.

It would be asinine to say that before Vatican II it was all daisies and roses as regards the faith for each individual. Everyone's faith faltered back then just as it does now. But back then, there was a culture of support and a culture of expectation, a culture in which it was much easier to retain one's faith in times of trial and hardship, even if that culture was "stuffy" or whatever. Is it better to feel good or to get to Heaven? :)

no rcg, PS, it's Vateken Tew.

rcg said...

Andrew B., what that woman confirms for us is the need to ensure the actions are catechitical and not simply ritual. The people that gave us Vateken Tew (h/t ytc) were rasied in a Catholic environment we can only imagine, yet look where they have gone and taken us with them.

What that woman has is a rock, somewhere behind her in the stream, that she can and should swim back to. It will look new to her, but it will also look like a home.