Last month at NCEA’s Catholic Leadership Summit in Jacksonville, I was privileged to hear John Vitek, the CEO of Saint Mary’s Press, about their research in Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics. I had heard about the study but was struck by Vitek’s presentation and his explanation of why young people are leaving the Catholic Church. We need to face the reality that people are leaving the Church and the effects—sacraments are down, enrollment in Catholic schools are down, and the growth of non-religious and former Catholics.
Disaffiliation is a process. People don’t wake up one day and decide that they aren’t going to be Catholic. It’s a process where step by step people wander down the journey away from the faith. When we think about affiliation, we know that people join clubs, groups, and religions by steps. So perhaps we should think about disaffiliation in the same way and try to design ways to capture people on their path to disaffiliation.
And that might cause us to rethink what it means to be considered Catholic. I think many Catholics believe that only the purest should be considered. Catholics need to meet every standard, profess every appropriate belief, and practice every practice to be considered truly Catholic. So if one believes that gay marriage is acceptable, for example, then they aren’t part of the tribe. Or if they are divorced and receive communion, they should be likewise shunned. Yet there are many good people in the faith who are trying to stand up for what they believe is right. Rather than view them as 85% affiliated/15% unaffiliated, we view them as 100% unaffiliated, which causes them to walk further down the disaffiliated path.
The implications for our schools is tremendous. Rather than measuring school’s success by measuring the number of pure Catholics it produces (e.g. vocations to the priesthood), we should view our schools as Catholic field hospitals providing a means of affiliation for Catholics that they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Perhaps all we are providing is a step toward affiliation and away from disaffiliation. And isn’t that worth something?
Vitek presented two videos which voice the concerns of disaffiliated Catholics. Beatriz, an immigrant from Mexico, describes her decision to leave the Church and it sounds remarkably similar to other millenials. Lauren describes her journey away from the Church to a new identity (which she calls “Catholic-ish”). There are other stories on this page. These stories are a great way to listen and try to understand young people.
Wait? Where have we heard that before? Try the final document of the Bishop’s Synod on Young People (you can find a translated unofficial version here). The final document uses the Emmaus Story to illustrate the challenge to the church to walk with our young people.
Along those lines, read this great article from Fr. Joe Corpora about the Joy of Missing Out. He incorporates accompaniment, prayer, and a fresh perspective for young people. And I also recommend Dr. Kevin Baxter’s latest blog entitled “Contemplating Loss” which is a great reflection on community and also gives practical advice on how to approach the leadership crisis which is affecting us all.
Happy Sunday! I blog about the problem of disaffiliation with the Church and have a number of great resources to share in this area. Top 5:
- Saint Mary’s Press has gathered a number of video testimonies from young people who have left the Church.
- Joe Corpora wrote a great essay on the “Joy of Missing Out” for Notre Dame’s student newspaper that is worth a read.
- The New York Times profile of Catholics struggling with staying or leaving the Church is a great piece.
- The Vatican summary of the Bishop’s Synod on Young People is worth reading.
- In the Miscellany section, the special “12 Years of Brain Pickings” is chock full of great long reads. Maria Popova’s weekly blog is a constant source of intellectual stimulation. You’re bound to find something interesting to read.
I’ll be back in two weeks. Have a great week!
While I was in Jacksonville for the CLS, I was able to record three great podcasts. I was able to visit Guardian Catholic School, a super little Catholic school serving the underserved in Jacksonville which also is featured on the front cover of the latest edition of Momentum. That podcast will air in January. I was also able to interview three new superintendents (Sam Torres of San Bernardino, Janet Eaton of Wichita, and Deb Haney from Houston) and that interview will air later this month. This Wednesday I’ll air my conversation with a panel of veteran superintendents (Bill Crist of Syracuse (right), Kim Pryzbyski of Miami, David Faber from Grand Rapids, Daryl Hagan of Evansville, and Melanie Verges of Baton Rouge). It’s a great chance to hear from leaders in Catholic education talking about the challenges and opportunities for our Catholic schools. I’ll also be joined by Sandra Leatherwood of Charleston who will discuss the hurricane damage and her take on the current crisis in the Church. Here is the link to the podcast. Here are videos showing you how to download and subscribe to a podcast on iTunes and how to download and subscribe a podcast on Android.