Millennials leave the Church

Many of my Catholic friends have children in their twenties – these are called millennials, I understand. The issue is the high proportion of these who no longer practise their religion or perhaps are effectively agnostics or atheists. What, we ask ourselves, did we do wrong or what did the Church do wrong? It is not that they lack a moral sense – in many respects they have high moral beliefs and actions even if those are sometimes focussed on objectives that may seem odd to us. Generally they act in line with the Ten Commandments but it might be better not to mention this in case they drop them as a result.

Naturally the sexual area looms large and it appears that the routine is sexual activity (perhaps started at university) beginning early on, developing into living together for years rather months, then finally – sometimes pregnant — into marriage. They listen politely to the statistics which show that this is not a good route irrespective of religion but they ultimately continue on the same path.

Perhaps advanced methods of contraception provide a needed facility, perhaps the Church’s prohibition on sex outside marriage conflicts with their circumstances. And perhaps the imperatives of Catholic morality run counter to their ways of thinking. It may be that the rate of marriage breakdown is another factor which influences them. This is my guesswork and you may have different ideas.

Tell me whether you agree with my view of the situation. And just as importantly what should we do to keep our young inside the Church. Or perhaps the problem lies with the Church’s approach. The last time I published my thoughts on how the Church might approach the young by taking them seriously all I got was the Holy Office on my tail

Apologies for posting this late.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

83 Responses to Millennials leave the Church

  1. John Candido says:

    I had a little giggle to myself when I read that Quentin was reported to the Holy Office by a zealous Catholic who objected to some matter. Mind you I am not laughing at Quentin’s predicament but whoever reported him to the authorities for trying to help the church relate better to the young.

    The Roman Catholic Church and Catholics, in general, love the church as it is. Its authority, its age, its hierarchical structure, all of its wrinkles.

    There is a lot to like in all of its orderliness and certainty. However, if it is going to be seen as a relevant institution, it needs to examine where modernity can be let into its structure, its mind, its theology, and its consciousness. It pays to be humble and to listen to those who no longer go to mass, or who have lost their faith.

    Why have they left the church?

    Why is following Christ an unattractive thing to do today?

  2. John Nolan says:

    This a very complex question. The decline in practising Catholics did not begin with the ‘millennials’, but with the two preceding generations. Most of the indicators (conversions, baptisms, marriages) show a steep decline after 1960. Mass attendance held up until around 1970 but declined steeply thereafter. (Official statistics for England and Wales.)

    Why did a strongly Catholic region like Flanders, with a Mass attendance of over 90% in 1960, decline to 5% within 40 years? Why has Catholicism virtually disappeared in the Czech lands since the fall of Communism? (I visited Prague in Holy Week 1993 and the churches were packed.)

    People do not cease to be Catholic because their sexual mores are counter to the Church’s moral teaching. Casanova was very devout, as was Joseph Haydn whose marriage failed and who had many affairs with women. The 20th century composer Francis Poulenc was a practising homosexual and also devout (he produced some wonderful liturgical music). Oscar Wilde and Siegfried Sassoon converted to Catholicism.

    I would like to agree with John Candido about ‘orderliness and certainty’ but he has been away from the Church for too long. The liturgy, as performed in most parishes, would not inspire anyone to stay (or return). It is dull, pedestrian, overly didactic, accompanied by infantile music, and dominated by parish worthies (mostly women) who swarm all over the sanctuary with their ‘special ministries’. Who is going to be inspired by that?

    As for certainty, the five years of the Francis pontificate have done little but sow confusion. And the sexual scandals have certainly not helped. I am ten years younger than Quentin. I was given a good grounding in the Faith at junior school level and then went to an old-established grammar school with a strong Anglican ethos. I was not taught by Jesuits, although I relish the story of the schoolboy in the 1950s who asked his Jesuit tutor ‘What is the spiritual authority of the Church of England?’ only to receive the fizzing reply: ‘Henry the Eighth’s church has as much spiritual authority as British Railways!’

    I read myself back into Catholicism at university, and have spent the rest of my life trying, and succeeding, in avoiding those aspects of contemporary ‘Catholic’ worship which quite frankly turn my stomach, and the animadversions of those ‘Catholic’ writers who think that if only the Church were liberal enough, people would flock to her door. Well, it hasn’t worked for the dear old Church of England.

  3. Nektarios says:

    We look at all the usual suspects as causes for the decline, not only in the Roman Catholic Church but all the mainstream churches around the world.

    The usual suspects are but symptoms of the real cause.

    The real cause is a varying decree of departure from the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.
    It doing so, we lose spiritual power, Our Christian identity becomes an invention of our minds.
    What is true in this dark world with all its troubles, exists within the Church. The worldly world is always watching and they see perhaps more than we think.
    Resorting to theological jargon, cleverness and committees that exclude everyone else in the Church – that essentially is Institutionalism – oh, beware of isms.
    The Church has and I mean all mainstream Churches seems to have filled the same route, and the result is the same.

  4. Nektarios says:

    Sorry for the errors.
    I correct.

    The real causes the varying decree ….should read…. the real cause is the varying degree of departure.

    It doing so, should read…In doing so,…..

    Churches seems to have filled….. should read….. Churches seems to have followed……

  5. John Nolan says:

    I don’t think it’s a question of the Church not taking the young seriously; it’s rather a question of the young not taking the Church seriously.

    Middle-aged folks who think they can appeal to a ‘youth culture’ are misguided. They don’t understand it, and forget that it is ephemeral; adolescence is a phase we pass through quite rapidly. I cringe when I recall mine.

    I do, however, notice a fair number of ‘millennials’ at the Solemn Latin Mass at the Oxford Oratory. Many are university students. It would appear that they have ‘put away childish things’ and realize there is more to worship than sitting on beanbags strumming guitars.

  6. Geordie says:

    On the web site “Aleteia.org” there is an interesting article entitled “When Father Joseph Ratzinger Predicted the Future of the Church” dated 1969. It is an interesting commentary by the future pope. It strikes me as being optimistic in a Church that seems full of pessimism and it was broadcast before the turbulent years which the Quentin’s post highlights. It cheered me up no end when I read it.

    • John Candido says:

      Geordie, if it helps the Joseph Ratzinger article you refer to that is located on the website Aleteia.org has been collected in a book of five radio presentations, which is also available as an ebook on Amazon.

      The book is entitled, ‘Faith and the Future’, and the most current edition is published by Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2009.

      ISBN 978-1-58617-219-0

      From the preface which is written by Ratzinger.

      ‘The five chapters of this hook were first presented as radio addresses. The first three were broadcast in the special program of the Bavarian Rundfunk during December 1969, the fourth on Vatican Radio in February 1970, and the fifth by the Hessian Rundfunk at Christmas 1969.’

      ‘As it happened, all five addresses centred around the same theme: the problem of faith and the future. The fact that this problem emerges on every side today indicates how faith is being shaken to its foundation by the crisis of the present and also how great is the fascination of the future in a period when we witness history being set unusually in motion and see human possibilities beginning to develop, positively and negatively, along roads that lead we know not where.’

      ‘And so, the reflections in this little book cannot be considered as “final”. They are presented merely as attempts at “opening up”, at indicating where the embryonic future is to be detected—and that is within the faith, provided faith remains true to itself.’

      Joseph Ratzinger
      Regensburg
      Spring 1970

  7. John Candido says:

    Seriously though, I know that liturgy is important, but is it that important, John Nolan? With respect, aren’t there other more important questions other than the liturgy?

  8. Nektarios says:

    John Candido

    My point exactly. But, it is not a case of more questions, rather a return to the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice which the Roman Catholic Church started with and was faithful to. But like all the others, they started well, then moved away from what the Apostles laid down and taught and includes Holy Communion.

  9. Nektarios says:

    It is not a matter of the importance or less of liturgy, but of simplicity of Holy Communion.
    We are not required as the Church to answer all the worlds woes and questions.
    The answers to all of these matters are already there in The Gospels, and the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.

    We have the tendency to think that modern man has got beyond all that, but man remains the same with all his/her problems as it was in the past. Mankind is hopeless, hapless, walking around in the dark for all his pride and pretensions religious otherwise.

    It is not a matter of pleasure of the senses, but of ones soul’s need.
    Hence, I say, we need to return to the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice,for contained within them is food and nourishment for the soul and its Salvation.

    Some say we know all this, when clearly the evidence is we don’t. We have abrogated and leaned to our own understanding which isn’t much to brag about.

    It is also necessary to return to the preaching of the Gospel and to the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice to every generation till the Lord comes again.

    Yes JC, there is indeed more than liturgy, much more to be understood, otherwise the liturgy just becomes an external religious rite or sacrament. But without understanding something of the Gospel and the Apostolic Docrtine, teaching and Practice, we would be eating and drinking to our own damnation.

  10. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    I didn’t see the need to evaluate the importance of the liturgy, but since you mention it, the Church holds that it is of paramount importance, the ‘source and summit’ of our Christian life. It concerns how we approach God, and how God reaches out to us. If you can come up with ‘more important’ concerns, feel free to share them with us.

    Nektarios

    The Catholic Church does not need to return to the Gospel and Apostolic teaching since she has never left them and she alone upholds and transmits them in the fulness of truth, guided by the Holy Spirit.

    To argue otherwise is to embrace the Protestant heresy.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan

      I don’t want to get into a mud – slinging discussion between Catholicism and Protestantism or Orthodoxy, but to insist as you do:- ‘The Catholic Church does not need to return to the Gospel and Apostolic teaching since she has never left them and she alone upholds and transmits them in the fulness of truth, guided by the Holy Spirit.’

      Like the early Christian Church, the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches all did very well each of them respectively for about two-three hundred years, then they slowly departed in measure from the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.
      Today, this is self-evident. I don’t want to suggest you should not uphold the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice, one should with all its spiritual content, wisdom and understanding. But, to suggest this is the case in the Churches today, is to hide behind rose-coloured spectacles and a past golden era, if there ever was one?
      This worldly world, recognises the difference between truth and propaganda.
      As the truth seems to be absent, and propaganda prevails in all the Churches, the people seeing it, and doing nothing for their souls really, leave.What they see does not hold them and tragically, it is an indictment facing all the Churches that needs to be faced too.
      Perhaps as you state:-‘The Catholic Church does not need to return to the Gospel and Apostolic teaching since she has never left them and she alone upholds and transmits them in the fulness of truth, guided by the Holy Spirit.’ There is little hope of that, if true, but the steady decline we are seeing today.In your own Church, 72,000 have stopped going each month.

      • ignatius says:

        Statistics from:https://faithsurvey.co.uk/surveys.html

        ” 3.8 million persons identify as Catholics in England and Wales (8.3% of the adult population) and 6.2 million were raised Catholic (13.7%). Put another way, the retention rate of Cradle Catholics was 55.8% (the highest among Christian denominations)** . However the church also had the lowest conversion rate at 7.7%.

        The Catholic percentage of the total population has remained fairly stable over the last 30 years or so. By way of contrast, the Anglican percentage has declined from 44.5% in 1983 to 19.0% in 2014…”

        While it is true to say that there is a trend downwards overall in church attendance it is also true to say that week on week church attendance figures don’t always tell you that much about belief and adherence to a faith.

  11. John Candido says:

    ‘…the Church holds that it is of paramount importance, the ‘source and summit’ of our Christian life.’
    (John Nolan)

    I have no issue with that statement.

    ‘It concerns how we approach God, and how God reaches out to us.’ (John Nolan)

    I have no issue with that sentiment either.

    However, there shouldn’t be any rigidity about liturgies.

    The liturgy of the Catholic Church is an important matter, but these matters can evolve over time. What we are left with is that when the liturgy changes there will be a set of people who may either like, be indifferent to, or positively dislike some or all of the changes to the liturgy.

    So the liturgy seems to me, in the end, to be (1) a very important matter because its modality can engender spirituality in the mass, and (2) it is also a matter of personal taste and that is why I say that there are more important matters such as the church’s theology, and whether or not it is surfeit with contemporariness.

  12. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    Theology is essentially a speculative study, and not a corpus of doctrine. So it is misleading to refer to ‘the Church’s theology’. The Church may decide that the conclusions of certain theologians conflict with right doctrine, but that is another matter. I’m trying to make sense of ‘surfeit with contemporariness’. ‘Surfeit’ is a noun (the adjective is ‘surfeited’) and ‘contemporariness’ is the noun form of ‘contemporary’ which means ‘living at the same time’.

    The best I can come up with is ‘gorged on modernity’, and one would hope that no serious theologian would wish to be described as such. Could you enlighten us as to what you meant to say?

    I don’t want to get involved in a long discussion on liturgy, but its purpose goes far beyond ‘engendering spirituality in the mass (Mass?) and has never, ever, been a matter of personal taste. Spontaneity and creativity are enemies of the liturgy, properly understood.

  13. John Candido says:

    What I meant to say is that the church needs to be more relevant and accommodating to the modern age that it finds itself serving.

    • Nektarios says:

      The modern age, is just that a limited passing period of time with its culture etc.
      It does nothing for the soul.
      Hence my call to all people, young people, middle-aged and elderly people, to return to What God has to say, what he has revealed about Himself, Christ and the Holy Spirit. About all matters about your soul’s Salvation, what is a Christian actually, what is a Church actually and how the Church is to operate within and without, that is what the Apostles Doctrine, Teaching is all about. Time perhaps for the Church, all of us to revisit it?

    • John Nolan says:

      John Candido

      So if the modern age approves of abortion, or homosexual behaviour, or (and this is a very recent trend) a bizarre form of gender theory, then the Church should ditch two millennia of doctrine in order to accommodate it. The Gospel according to John Candido, which we have already heard, and hopefully dismissed as garbage.

      The Church serves God, not every passing fad the ‘modern age’ comes up with. She also is tasked, by Divine mandate, to transmit the truth to all generations until the end of the world.

      Doctrine may be presented in ways that are adapted to different times, but (and this was emphasized by John XXIII when he opened the Second Vatican Council) ‘eodem sensu eademque sententia’.

      Your confusion is evidenced by the fact that, despite our sharing a common language (although I admit I eschew social science jargon) you cannot say what you mean the first time round.

  14. G.D says:

    From Pope Francis in his ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ ….
    ’58. Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt.
    59. Once we believe that everything depends on human effort as channelled by ecclesial rules and structures, we unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace.’

    ….. That is why so many lose interest in a life of faith & trust in ‘God’s church’ ….. ‘for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures’ … ‘The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour.’ Manifested in many ways, but they are all symptoms. i believe the crux is as the quote above.

    • Nektarios says:

      G.D

      You want the blessing of the Holy Spirit,The spiritual nature in ourselves to be realised.
      That is what the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice is all about.
      But man, subject to the wiles of the devil, puts himself and the edifice they have built, deluding many souls, depriving God’s people of their spiritual birthright by giving it to an institution calling itself a Church, and making spiritual beggars, mere repeaters out of everyone.
      Time to get back to the Apostolic Doctrine, Teaching and Practice, for that is what the Holy Spirit among other gifts, He has imparted to us.

      And for those in your Church who are not attending 72,000 a month at the latest count,
      I suggest, you prayerfully pick up your Bibles, and asking the Lord to lead you all together
      to the foundation the Church is truly built upon, Jesus Christ, and the inspired Holy Apostles Doctrine, Teaching and Practice.

      • ignatius says:

        So, Nektarios,
        I guess your church is bursting at the seams with people all giving away the profits from the houses they have sold and all agog at the signs and wonders in their midst?..Oh and I’m sure that when you last preached a weekend at least 3,000 were added to the church daily…I’m sure events must have spread for miles around and you are all in the local news too?

  15. ignatius says:

    PS
    I’ve been hunting around to find this figure of 72,000 per month and, surprise, surprise, I can’t find it anywhere. Here are some more figures for you:

    Catholic Church Statistics 2016 – ZENIT – English:
    World population
    To 31 December 2015 the world population was 7.248.941.000 with an increase of 88.202.000
    units compared with the previous year. Population growth was registered on every continent,
    including Europe: increases were registered above all in Asia (+ 47.656.000) and Africa (+
    31.252.000), followed by America (+ 8.735.000), Europe (+ 430.000) and Oceania (+ 129.000).
    Catholics
    On the same date Catholics in the world numbered 1.284.810,000 units with an overall increase
    of 12.529.000. The increase affects all continents, except Europe. Increases were registered
    above all in Africa (+7.411.000) and in America (+ 4.756.000) followed by Asia (+ 1.583.000)
    and Oceania (+ 123.000). Decrease in Europe (- 1.344.000).
    The world percentage of Catholics decreased by 0.05 %, settling at 17.72%. By continent:
    increases were registered in Africa (+ 0.12) and Oceania (+ 0.24), decrease in America (- 0.08),
    and Europe (- 0.21). Asia unvaried.

    • Nektarios says:

      Ignatius

      There are statistic and damn statestics and lies, so the saying goes.
      It all depends how one reads these statistics.
      For example,I did not say the people who had stopped attending had stopped being Catholics.
      What makes the statistics sited suspect, it does not take into account for example natural wastage, that is, those who have died.

      Google up Leon Zigami who is a writer and journalist and operates within the Vatican. It was from him that raised the figure 72,000 per month stopping attending. He is also a devout Roman Catholic.

  16. ignatius says:

    I too think liturgy is important. As John Nolan says there are many factors afoot but the delivery of liturgy is certainly one of them. I attend four places of worship as part of my duties one of which is a prison. It is very obvious that where the liturgy is observed with reverence, truth and indeed with joy, where the Mass is clearly articulated and the gospel clearly preached, then the church is pretty full. Take away much of the above and things start to get a bit patchy.
    It does seem to me that a certain fire is required to be burning in any church and if it is not then the gathering is heavy and mournful…I know one or two places like that and wouldn’t attend them if I had choice.

  17. John Candido says:

    ‘Theology is essentially a speculative study, and not a corpus of doctrine.’ (John Nolan)

    All that we seem to obtain from ultra-conservatives on the problem that Quentin has highlighted in this post is, no change. I pity the Roman Catholic Church if that is the best that we can get from intelligent people like John Nolan.

    Does he really believe that theology can be dismissed as speculation? That it has no real life or purpose in the Catholic Church? That a multitude of theologians are wasting their time with a discipline that is ‘speculative’?

    God help us!

  18. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    I am an historian. History is speculative. Why should not theology be equally so?

    What you need to get your head around is that there are aspects of the Church which can indeed change, and have done so; and there are aspects of Tradition and belief which are immutable – quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

    ‘ I pity the Roman Catholic Church if that is the best that we can get from intelligent people like John Nolan.’ The Church does not need your pity, any more than I do. Do you really think that I am simply advancing my own opinion?

    You will no doubt go to your grave worshipping the Golden Calf of modernity. i would have some sympathy for you, were it not for the fact that over the last eight years you have shown yourself to be incorrigible.

  19. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    I am an historian. History is speculative. Why should not theology be equally so?

    What you need to get your head around is that there are aspects of the Church which can indeed change, and have done so; and there are aspects of Tradition and belief which are immutable – quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

    ‘ I pity the Roman Catholic Church if that is the best that we can get from intelligent people like John Nolan.’ The Church does not need your pity, any more than I do. Do you really think that I am simply advancing my own opinion?

    You will no doubt go to your grave worshipping the Golden Calf of modernity. i would have some sympathy for you, were it not for the fact that over the last eight years you have shown yourself to be incorrigible.

  20. G.D says:

    “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.” St Vincent.

    … … John,
    does that not mean ‘only that which has been believed’ (in that way) can be believed? Anything added is erroneous?
    Has not there always been additions, that have been contended by a. n. others, who held the prior accepted beliefs; so the new has not been ‘believed’ by all always …
    I ask for the sake of clarification, not contention. Can’t get my head round the seeming paradox.

  21. ignatius says:

    GD Have a think about this statement:
    ” Bernard Prusak explained in The Church Unfinished, that for Vincent, “the decrees of a universal council were to be preferred to the ignorance of a few” and the deposit of faith “did not exclude development or progress, as long as it was not an alteration” and accordingly, doctrines “could be taught in a new way..”
    I find it quite helpful. Scripture is complex and though revelation may be individual in nature, for the church, things proceed slowly, as they should.

    • G.D says:

      Do not doctrines, as they ‘progress’ to become fuller revelations of the inherent truth in them, change in substance for intellectual understanding? And become ‘new’ in some sense?
      Further, what is seen as the ‘ignorance of the few’ is often an awareness (intuitively/spiritually?) of ‘inherent truth’ prior to the ‘universal council’ intellectual sanctioning. (Thinking of the, now official, Saints and Doctors of the church only recognised & accepted after being sanctioned and slated by the ‘teaching authority’. How many more gave up being ‘prophetic’ voices?).

      Obviously ‘insights’ should be seriously scrutinised; but there seems to be a knee jerk culture of ‘guilty until proven innocent’, and often condemnation without trial from the ‘authority’. Even at parish level.
      It doesn’t seem to be like that in the New testament Christian community.

      Seems to be something wrong somewhere – a ‘Throwing out the baby with the bath water’ type of attitude.

      Could well be another major factor why the sincere younger seekers of truth leave the churches. They are given no credence in their ‘innovations’; which might be at least worth serious consideration before being cast out and condemned as they often are. If for no other reason than to simply accept the people who proffer them as valid members.
      It’s an oppressive culture that drives people away.

      i suspect it is so because they are seen to threaten the neat ‘understanding’ of church ‘authority’; and upset the status quo somewhat. (Just like Francis is doing?).

      • ignatius says:

        GD,
        I think there is a huge difference between individual growth and liturgy. In fact one could say that doctrine and liturgy form the crucible of individual growth. By this I mean that my insights and personal revelations are grace which come my way OUT OF the sacramental system of the church, they are not a mandate for global change.

  22. Martin says:

    How about asking the millennial generation why they don’t attend formal worship?

  23. ignatius says:

    Yes..that’s a great idea! My daughter is 23 and I asked her. She is a practising Catholic and goes to a local parish in London having moved down there a year or so ago. The truth seems to be that though it is ‘cool’ to be spiritual again it is not that ‘cool’ to be tied down in a particular way. So, many leave around 17-20 years old.
    For those who do stay and attend church their preference is for decent and engaging in terms of the delivery of liturgy. They really are badly put off by the mediocrity of delivery that seems pretty ubiquitous in many catholic parishes and then the seeming irrelevance of preaching. I have to say I don’t blame them and wonder why such an awesome event as mass, and the astonishing reality that is therein presented can manage to come across as a seeming irrelevance! Have you asked anyone about it ?

  24. ignatius says:

    One of the things that interests me so much about our liturgy is the seemingly huge gap between what we preach, teach, enact, purport to believe about eucharistic celebration ..and then the apparent disconnection and observer status of the laity. I have no answer to this but it is too easy to blame the liturgy and the delivery only.

  25. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius, I have to agree. My generation, and I was born in 1951, witnessed in our teens a top-down liturgical reform which meant that the way we worshipped in 1964 was altered out of all recognition merely three years later.

    Some of the older generation welcomed it; most went along with it, out of obligation, but muttered ‘they have thrown out the baby with the bathwater’.

    We, however, believed we had a choice, and walked away from the ‘new liturgy’ in droves.

  26. John Candido says:

    We have to examine this question very seriously without letting prejudices get in our way. In an age of the awareness of child abuse by the clergy, this would be as good a way to start a session discussing what must we do to make the church more relevant to those pesky and finicky people who do not go to Mass anymore and why is the Catholic Church ‘on the nose’?

    One place we could start is the hierarchical structure of the church and the issue of clericalism. How does a church de-emphasis its own hierarchical structures and lessen the impact of clericalism without losing its own identity or ‘soul’?

    These are not easy questions of course, but the church has to look at them if it can arrest the gross falling away from Christianity and our version of it.

  27. ignatius says:

    JC,
    This is completely wrongheaded in my view. I think the responsibility lies equally with the laity. If you go to a church that works well you will find that things are done well and there is little visible gap between ordained and not ordained. This is partly down to the spirituality of the priest but also very much the part of the laity, we should be willing to share our bread and not just come demanding the full loaf of self satisfaction for our private pleasure.
    Their part is to create an atmosphere of participation and not to expect their priest to be a TV celebrity and a social worker at the same time as being what a priest is. You personally probably have very little idea how dispiriting it can be for the priest who is faced with row upon row of sullen faces demanding ever more from their man while at every opportunity criticizing his least tiny slip..

    As to Child abuse, it is no more prevalent in the church than in any other mode of life which holds power and authority over others, you really are talking a very tiny number of priests overall.To use this phenomena as an excuse for top down change within the church simply makes no sense. As to those ‘pesky finicky people’ who no longer go to Mass, the choice is theirs and theirs alone, sanctification is not a form of entertainment.

  28. John Candido says:

    Oh good! There is no problem. Let’s all go back to what we are all familiar with.

  29. ignatius says:

    No, let us all remember who we are.

  30. John Nolan says:

    JC, your last reply was heavily ironic, Ignatius’s was not. By the way, some time ago you admitted you had lapsed since the Church inconveniently refused to conform to your progressive (and entirely subjective) model. Is this still the case?

    • John Candido says:

      It is good to see that there are some very loyal Roman Catholics who will have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with even the slightest change. A hair out of place can be such a hazard. What an absolute waste of time!

      I suppose the death and passing of so many of you will eventually force the church’s hand to stop the haemorrhaging of Mass attendances.

  31. John Nolan says:

    Sorry, JC, your last comment proves the point that irony should only be attempted by those with a modicum of literary flair.

    It is impossible to know whether your last sentence is meant ironically or not; it makes little sense when read either way.

  32. ignatius says:

    JC,
    We can have these mild exchanges occasionally and it’s all grist to the mill. But let me make myself clear. I’m not remotely interested in church politics either way. Having spent fifteen pr catholic years in the house church movement it is simply not possible for me to value a conservative position for it’s own sake because I haven’t been a catholic long enough to have a position on any spectrum. But sacrament is sacrament, John and the means of sanctification do not change. I honestly think you have failed to grasp the point of this completely.

  33. ignatius says:

    JC,
    We can have these mild exchanges occasionally and it’s all grist to the mill. But let me make myself clear. I’m not remotely interested in church politics either way. Having spent fifteen pre catholic years in the house church movement it is simply not possible for me to value a conservative position for it’s own sake because I haven’t been a catholic long enough to have a position on any spectrum. But sacrament is sacrament, John and the means of sanctification do not change. I honestly think you have failed to grasp the point of this completely.

  34. ignatius says:

    whoops, sorry, came up twice.

  35. G.D says:

    I still have a question of …. ‘Do not doctrines, as they ‘progress’ to become fuller revelations of the inherent truth in them, change in substance for intellectual understanding? And become ‘new’ in some sense?’ …

  36. G.D says:

    I still have a question ….. ‘Do not doctrines, as they ‘progress’ to become fuller revelations of the inherent truth in them, change in substance for intellectual understanding? And become ‘new’ in some sense?’

  37. John Nolan says:

    G.D.

    Doctrines may be explained in ‘new’ ways but ‘eodem sensu eademque sententia’ (with the same sense and the same meaning). Truth cannot contradict truth.

    • ignatius says:

      GD,
      Generally speaking it is our own understanding of doctrine that becomes illuminated BY meditating and pondering on those very beliefs of the church.

  38. G.D says:

    Please read the whole of this post, if you start it .. incessantly painful as it might be!

    ‘the inherent truth in them’ (doctrine) remains yes; The Truth can’t change, i appreciate that, but if ‘our own understanding of doctrine … becomes illuminated’ by the Truth of them, presumably we gain a fuller knowledge, and alter our way of ‘understanding’ to accommodate that, and consequently change (that word again!) in our way of portraying that fuller revealed Truth of life.

    The truths they contain as a WHOLE, is the Life God gives and stays the same; that which is being revealed to us, as we grow and accept more of that Truth, does.

    My ‘problem’ is seeing the embodying (living out) the fuller truth, of the ‘doctrines’, as change.
    The sense and meaning of the doctrine, may be the same inherently, but it’s sense and meaning to all practicable (and spiritual) purposes grows. It changes by embodying us, FOR US. If only by mediating truth to our blindness.
    I can’t see ‘doctrines’ as merely a literal ‘intellectual formulation’ (even though literally that is defined).

    Therefore, i find it difficult to appreciate there is no ‘change’ in them, the more we accept the Truth of them the more we become part of them.

    I realise this is my usual ‘paradoxical’ way, and it might not make sense to other’s … and yet …. ?? No responses are needed, although you are of course welcome … just needed to express it …

  39. ignatius says:

    GD
    ” My ‘problem’ is seeing the embodying (living out) the fuller truth, of the ‘doctrines’, as change..”

    “The sense and meaning of the doctrine, may be the same inherently, but it’s sense and meaning to all practicable (and spiritual) purposes grows. It changes by embodying us, FOR US. If only by mediating truth to our blindness.
    I can’t see ‘doctrines’ as merely a literal ‘intellectual formulation’ (even though literally that is defined)”

    Good stuff !
    I think we are getting closer to it here.
    We are about to need some different language here. As I understand it ‘doctrine’ is not a dead intellectual formulation at all. There is a sense in which doctrines participate in formation in a similar way to signs and symbols..in other words they mediate reality as they describe it.

    So, as you say doctrines beget growth. I tend to see them rather more as the support which strengthens the fledgling plant…no need to change the doctrine as long as it nurtures life. To this end it is quite important to understand that ‘doctrine’ may encode truth…on the other hand it may, I guess, eventually be seen as empty…in which case we either hope it doesn’t quite become a doctrine of the church ..or…as the centuries pass that which is no longer productive quietly falls away without too much fuss.
    Better hasten off to my books and dig up a definition of ‘doctrine’ now before Mr Nolan next passes this way beating the bushes with his stick..!!!

  40. John Nolan says:

    Don’t worry, Ignatius. Candido is an easy target, but I am with Alexander Pope when he wrote:

    ‘Satire’s my weapon, but I’m too discreet
    To run amuck and tilt at all I meet.’

    What is rather irksome is that when I point out what the Church actually teaches, I am accused of simply advancing my own opinions, which are then reduced ad absurdum to the erroneous idea that I believe that nothing can ever be changed.

    And this from a self-confessed lapsed Catholic who snipes at the Church from without.

    • G.D says:

      You, carry on carrying on, John, i’ve learned a lot from you and expect more of the same … and enjoy your japes …

      ‘A head, for thought profound and clear, unmatch’d;
      Yet, tho’ his caustic wit was biting-rude,
      His heart was warm, benevolent and good.’ (Robert Burns).

  41. Alasdair says:

    Of course much of what you describe is equally true within the wider “church”. The christian church is suffering a “perfect storm” – defined as 3 bad things all happening at the same time.
    1) Scandals within the church are incredibly damaging 2) Christian belief is considered to conflict with scientific truth 3) The church is seen as resistant to the liberalisation and progress in society which most people consider to be inevitable and good.
    As a result, a large part of western european society considers the church to be somewhere on a scale between irrelevant and downright evil.
    Unless the church turns its “bow to the storm” it could disappear beneath the waves.

    • John Candido says:

      Thank you, Alasdair, I was beginning to lose hope. Yours is one of the most relevant posts that I have read on this topic. Thank you again for your efforts on this important topic.

      The ‘perfect storm’ consisting of three parts that you allude to, is a true conceptualisation of what society thinks about the Catholic Church today.

      While I do not in any way want to minimise the importance of your first point, I think a useful discussion may eventuate at a later date on how authority is used in the Church, with important issues such as infallibility, clericalism, accountability and transparency may be debated.

      I think that your second and third points are excellent casting-off points for debate.

      Christian belief is considered to be in conflict with scientific truth, and the church is conceptualised as resisting progress or liberalisation in our society which most people consider to be an essential sign of a normal civilisation.

      Will anyone cross the breach?

    • ignatius says:

      This is marvellous Alisdair!
      Could you put perhaps a little flesh on the bones of your argument? Perhaps a few figures on the proportion of population considering the church to be ‘evil’?
      Strange that the church did not ‘disappear beneath the waves’ under the weight of the pogroms of communist leaders in Russia and China isn’t it? Even wierder that those two countries now experience large Christian growth. You’d think they would have spotted how evil the church was during all those difficult years of the 20th century wouldn’t you
      You might find this link to be of interest:
      http://www.pewforum.org/2017/04/05/the-changing-global-religious-landscape/

      The other thing that puzzles me about this otherwise cogent piece is why you think that one persons moral failure should cause the collapse of another’s faith?

      • Alasdair says:

        I wasn’t really expressing my own view – rather what I perceive to be widely-held and often expressed views out there in secular society. ‘Evil’ as in “Root of All Evil?” by Dawkins and in similar rantings by Christopher Hitchin and Sam Harris. ‘Conflict with scientific truth’ as in, among many others, “The Human Universe” TV series presented by Brian Cox and in the more recent books co-authored by Stephen Hawking. One person’s moral failure should not cause the collapse of another’s faith, but I’m afraid that Satin believes that it does, and he uses it to devastating effect!
        Compared to the Perfect Storm the persecution of the church under communist regimes was just a little local difficulty (with apologies to anyone directly affected by it – including some of my friends).

      • Alan says:

        On the point about religion and science I would like to ask something …

        About 50% of the population of the US don’t accept that mankind evolved from simpler species. America is perhaps a special case, but it is certainly not alone. The Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly at my door are of the same opinion. The Catholic Church could again be said to be amongst the front runners when comparing religious institutions on this point. I think it deserves some credit for that, but that still seems like nothing particularly special when compared to what motivates our curiosity and enquiry in general.

        The idea that the Earth is flat is gaining some traction too apparently. Around 2% of adults in America think it is a disc with a wall of ice surrounding it. That figure rises to around 4% amongst 18-24 year olds. On top of that there are another 4-5% who are somewhat “on the fence”.

        Both of these correlate strongly with religious belief. Indeed the Bible is often sighted as one of the reasons people don’t accept the empirical evidence on offer and the scientific view is dismissed as a conspiracy against God.

        I must remember that “correlation doesn’t equal causation” here, but I still find it difficult not point an accusatory finger at religious faith. Should I not?

      • Alasdair says:

        In response to Alan 2018/04/13: Over the years I have worked with Americans from the “Bible Belt” and am just back from a 12 day trip to Houston TX. Evangelical Christianity is the prevalent “world view” there followed by Catholicism. “Bless you Brother” and “Have a blessed day” etc are common greetings. Many people wear their faith on their sleeves in a manner that would be astonishing here. However I have not met anyone who entertains extreme views which are at conflict with scientific orthodoxy and I doubt that the percentages are as high as Alan quotes.

      • Alan says:

        https://today.yougov.com/topics/philosophy/articles-reports/2018/04/02/most-flat-earthers-consider-themselves-religious

        Assuming this link works …

        Probably not reasonable to claim that only 66% of millennials are sure the world is round as they do here, but the numbers for people who are confident it isn’t is doubtful do you think?

  42. ignatius says:

    On the other hand, here is an interesting article from the Spectator:
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/06/2067-the-end-of-british-christianity/

    Apparently the Anglican Church is about to become an extremely rare bird indeed.

  43. G.D says:

    ‘2) Christian belief is considered to conflict with scientific truth’ generally yes ….
    Then if we take the discoveries of Quantum Physics & marry them up with Mystical experiences throughout the ages we see similar traits. Which many people have both religious and scientific have recognised.
    Read theologian Ilea Delio ‘The Unbearable Wholeness of Being’ ‘Hunger for Wholeness’ … amongst others.
    Many physicists are reverting to ‘mystical’ language to express their findings on the quantum levels too. Scientific researches into what consciousness is, near death experiences, and the existence of life after death, also bear a look at.
    Science and religion are starting to converge in many ways.

  44. ignatius says:

    Here’s an interesting take on the decline of the Anglican Church in Britain:
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/09/religion-is-on-the-decline-yet-our-society-is-underpinned-by-faith/

  45. ignatius says:

    Alisdair,

    I think that’s the point, we believe a certain attitude exists when in fact the factors driving church attendance may be based on much wider societal trends. Wandering the streets in a dog collar (not the studded variety!) one gets a picture of how the church is seen. I would class the general response in Britain as somewhere between ‘ mild welcome’ and ‘bemused indifference’. That is why the link above is worth reading.
    Certainly in this country there is a level of comfort and self reliance/self sufficiency which dulls the spiritual need and there is also the lack of grass roots community which will mean a much wide framework of choices may appeal – a secular atmosphere probably breeds a secular world view.

  46. ignatius says:

    Alan:
    “Both of these correlate strongly with religious belief. Indeed the Bible is often sighted as one of the reasons people don’t accept the empirical evidence on offer and the scientific view is dismissed as a conspiracy against God. I must remember that “correlation doesn’t equal causation” here, but I still find it difficult not point an accusatory finger at religious faith. Should I not?”

    I was having a conversation with a religious person awhile ago. We were discussing the tendency towards ‘faith’ or against it. I explained my view that some persons were simply more disposed towards mystery than others. I expressed my view that this was probably genetic in nature and when challenged added the caveat that, as far as I understood things it was in fact God who wrote the genome in the first place.
    The catholic view would be that reason should not conflict with faith since reason is built into the psyche of man in the same way that the eye of faith is built into the heart and the spirit – in other words we are made in the image of God and are restless till we find our home in Him.
    So no, its not especially wise to point an accusatory finger at Catholicism. Religious fundamentalism is another matter. I long ago parted company with the belief that God ‘made’ Adam and Eve together, full grown, instantly out of thin air as if by magic. But I would like you to give one or two concrete examples of what you mean.

    • Alan says:

      Ignatius,

      I certainly wouldn’t single out Catholicism. I was suggesting quite the opposite with regard to comparing the various religious groups.

      Is the problem really confined to fundamentalists? Half of the population of the US?

      “But I would like you to give one or two concrete examples of what you mean.”

      I’m not quite clear on what you are asking for an example of. In the case of people arguing that the Earth is flat or that Creationism should be taught to students alongside Evolution I think religious faith is compromising people’s ability to reason. And if it is doing so here, where the evidence and contrast is as strong as it is, how am I to judge its value where it is most often given credit – where evidence is sparse/absent?

  47. John Nolan says:

    Alan, who argued that the earth was flat? The Greeks and Romans knew it was a sphere, as did St Bede the Venerable, as did early medieval monarchs who were invested with the orb, as is made clear in the Canon of the Mass which has ‘toto orbe terrarum’.

    • Alan says:

      I know that the Earth has been understood to be a globe for a long time. I’m aware of the stick experiment carried out by the Greeks. Despite this, and despite all the other evidence we’ve accumulated since (including photographs!), the idea that it is flat is making something of a comeback. “Who” is arguing this? I can offer a few names and likely some qualifications too but no one of any note as far as I know. Ordinary, working, educated people amongst them though.

      The figures I quoted are extrapolated from a recent poll in the US. I can link recent news items or articles about it if you wish.

  48. ignatius says:

    Anyway,
    There is another issue which is missing in all this? In the midst of all this dissent about the church. When was the last time any of you rearranged your day in order to make a special trip to your local church in order to sit and adore our beautiful Lord, present in the tabernacle and eager for your visit?
    When was the last time you heard the Love of the Lord fiercely preached and when was the last time you were moved to tears by the kindness and mercy of God?

    • Martha says:

      I think you have hit the nail on the head, ignatius. We are very fortunate in our local parish where all this is available and encouraged. I wish it had been more so in the years following Vatican 2, when things were somewhat adrift while we were bringing up our children.

  49. ignatius says:

    Martha,
    Yes, really when we get down to the heart of things we find a certain coldness and embarrassment regarding our faith. Parents promise to bring up their children to grow strong in the faith yet they are not themselves strong and the love of the heart has deserted them or was never there.

    From what I see much of our conversation as believers revolves around ‘the church’ as if regarding some cold institutional edifice from a distance. The only way to love the church (and therefore oneself) is to allow the sacramental truth and real presence of eucharist to inflame the heart with love and desire for Christ,to seek a Godly life and to implore the God who loves us to be merciful.

    When the love of God is present in the heart yes, sure , the are problems ..many of which come from within ourselves, but there is also the tolerance, forbearance and patience to overcome.
    It is a sorrowful thing to realise we have lost our first love but the reality of it stares us all in the face and quite often shrieks loudly from these pages.

  50. Alasdair says:

    As usual I’m thoroughly enjoying the discussion!
    Some points to humbly add to the discussion:
    Firstly – setting the scene. My personal definition of the “church” is the entire human population who claim to be christians and who believe in the apostles creed. When people use “Church” (capital C) they are either talking about the Roman Catholic church or the Anglican (Episcopal) church, and the “Kirk” is the Church of Scotland.
    Most of the issues we are discussing are common to all branches of the (small c) church to varying degrees, including these that I earlier described as contributing to the Perfect Storm.
    Quentin’s focus on the Millenials – people in their twenties – is apropriate. They are precisely the group who must build the church and ensure that it is a force for good in the world in this millenium. Without them, the church and the Churches face the greatest challenge in their history.

  51. ignatius says:

    Alisdair,
    A Catholic definition of the church is probably wider than yours..see CCC 839- 848. God’s own definition may well be wider still!
    I don’t think the Pentecostal Church suffers from the apparent woes of the Anglican gathering, Alisdair, nor the independent churches as a whole.
    Its worthwhile also reflecting on the fact that there are currently more middle-aged /elderly people, in Britain, at least than young. So the responsibility to pray, adore, show out and speak remains firmly with us, the challenge is to us all, here, now, today, we can’t afford to simply pass the buck! 🙂
    PS
    I think your ‘Perfect Storm’ isn’t perhaps quite as homogenously or devastatingly omnipotent as you fear.

    • Alasdair says:

      Ignatius,
      I agree that the CCC grants a generous and broad definition of “Christian Church”. In the section The Church is One, para 819 we have “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church —— Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as a means of salvation”.
      It’s true that Pentecostal and independent churches are looking healthier than the old stuffy churches, and indeed are popular with millenials. Some of these churches though are increasingly coming under attack as being reactionary and fundamentalist. Independent churches in my area have benefited from large numbers of people leaving the CofS because they disagreed with the Kirk’s position on LGBT issues.
      (Speaking of being fundamentalist and coming under attack – during my recent visit to Texas, there were many references in the media to it being the 25th anniversary of the Waco Siege!).

  52. John Nolan says:

    An anecdote from National Service days – Sunday church parade.

    ‘Jews and Roman Candles, fall out!’
    ‘May I fall out, Sergeant?’
    ‘Is you a Jew boy or a Roman Candle?’
    ‘I’m an atheist, Sergeant.’
    If you is not a Jew boy or a Roman candle, then you is Church of England. Stay fell in!’

    Those with little or no religion would probably have answered ‘Church of England’ if asked about their religious affiliation; it was the default setting. Nowadays they are likely to be more honest about their lack of belief.

    Similarly, Romans who would never have set foot in a church (unless it was to show visitors around) would probably have identified themselves as Catholics.

    European history and culture is incomprehensible outside of a Christian framework. To take one example, music, listeners to BBC R3 are assumed to have a knowledge of Christian, and specifically Catholic, belief and liturgical practice, since a large part of the station’s output is bound up with it. They will know the Latin Ordinary, and be able to tell you what is meant by Tenebrae. Sadly, the same cannot be said of most Catholic congregations.

    The extent to which the Catholic Church has abandoned its own culture and tradition, to the extent of actually despising it, has been remarked on by observers over the past half-century, not all of them Catholic. There is some evidence of revival, but it will take a long time to repair the damage.

    It’s not all about liturgy, either. Religion is a to a large extent a cultural construct. Destroy the culture, but don’t be surprised if the whole edifice collapses like a house of cards.

  53. ignatius says:

    John Nolan,

    “The extent to which the Catholic Church has abandoned its own culture and tradition, to the extent of actually despising it, has been remarked on by observers over the past half-century, not all of them Catholic. There is some evidence of revival, but it will take a long time to repair the damage.

    It’s not all about liturgy, either. Religion is a to a large extent a cultural construct. ”

    John, I would be really grateful if you would flesh the above out a little..or refer me to a book or something. I’m particularly keen on the last sentence and would welcome your view on the seperateness or interchangeability of these three terms from a Catholic perspective:
    Liturgy, Religion, Faith.

    Would you see the collapse of Dutch Catholicism as an example of a house of cards?
    I’m interested in all of this because, having spent several years with the underground church in China – and now as a prison chaplain in England – I am aware that faith can flourish in the unlikeliest of places and in quite a counter cultural manner; yet also that a religious culture can be pretty devoid of ‘faith’.

  54. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius

    If you have not already done so, I recommend you read HJA Sire’s ‘Phoenix from the Ashes – The Making, Unmaking and Restoration of Catholic Tradition’ (Angelico Press, 2015). One may not agree with all the author’s conclusions, but the weight of evidence he has assembled would make it difficult for anyone but a doctrinaire ideologue to dismiss them altogether.

    When you speak of faith, do you mean faith generally or the Catholic faith in particular? I can’t speak for China, but Catholic moral teaching is certainly counter-cultural in western liberal democracies. Recently the Conservative MP Anna Soubry suggested that Jacob Rees-Mogg be expelled from the Party for having views on abortion and same-sex marriage which were ‘unacceptable’.

    Regarding the Dutch Catholic Church, where only 5% of Catholics attend Mass, the present Cardinal (Wim Eijk) faces a storm of protest from Dutch Catholics for merely stating Catholic doctrine on subjects such as abortion and euthanasia.

    It’s nothing to do with the desacralization of the liturgy in the 1960s and 1970s under Cardinal Alfrink – liberals, who agitated for this, should have no problem on this score. We’re looking at the near-universal apostasy of the laity. If anything, the situation in Belgium is even worse. Australian theologian Professor Tracey Rowland wrote in 2014: ‘Its Catholic culture has been trashed by a couple of generations of intellectuals at war with their own heritage.’

    The names Suenens and Daneels spring to mind.

    • ignatius says:

      Thanks John,
      I’ll get the book you suggest.
      Sorry for not being more precise with my question. I mean’t ‘faith’ in the sense of having confidence in the apostles creed, holding to that believing in a manner so as to produce personal hope. In other words that which underlies authentic belief. Tricky thing to describe now I try!
      I’m trying to get my head around why it is that persons in cultural milieux that do not particularly predispose towards religion can nonetheless come into an understanding and a conviction that will drive inner change while what might be termed a religious milieux can seemingly produce relative indifference. Just something I’ve been pondering for awhile now and which came to mind when I read your post.I guess it is also prompted partly by my own coming from a pretty basic and irreligious background into being at times transfixed with adoration of liturgy.

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