Why we still need a synod on youth

We are facing a current crisis in the church. Only 14 percent of Catholic millennial young adults go to Mass every Sunday.

Research indicates that most young people disaffiliate from the faith between the ages of 10 and 12.

Young couples are not looking to get married in the church, nor are they bringing their children to be baptized (if they are having children at all).

Many young people can articulate some of the church’s teachings but are not necessarily living passionate, faithfully Catholic lives.

We hear that term “crisis” today and immediately think about the current scandals concerning Archbishop McCarrick, the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the recent testimony from Archbishop Viganò.

But we are also facing another crisis in the church today: the hemorrhaging of youth and young adults from our churches.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a man I deeply respect, admire and have learned from for years, said on Aug. 30 that the Synod of Bishops on young people, scheduled to take place in Rome this October, should be canceled because “the bishops would have absolutely no credibility in addressing this topic.”

I do not think he is entirely wrong.

Some bishops have lost credibility because of the sexual abuse crisis, and the church as a whole is greatly suffering because of the lack of leadership and accountability.

Frankly, some bishops right now cannot credibly speak on any subject, much less how to keep young people from leaving the church and how to serve the ones who have chosen to stay.

I think Archbishop Chaput is articulating that idea very clearly.

But I do not think canceling the synod on youth to instead hold a synod on the “life of the bishops,” as the good archbishop has proposed, is the answer.

A room full of bishops talking about themselves and what they need to do to govern effectively is not the right move at this time.

A synod on that subject should happen, but not at the expense of a critically important discussion on youth and young adults that is needed at this very moment.

To cancel the synod on youth would be to close the door, yet again, in the face of those who are standing at the door saying, “We have something for you, about the future of the church, and we need to tell you about it.”

The synod on youth is needed now, more than ever, because the church needs to figure out how best to serve the young people who are watching the current crisis play out.

In June, when I had the chance to make a presentation to the general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—with the two other U.S. representatives to the “pre-synod,” which took place in Rome in March—we spent 90 minutes fielding questions, providing firsthand experiences and offering insight.

The rest of the time I was there, I had the chance to talk with bishop after bishop about how to serve young people and what they could do to make sure the synod on youth was effective.

Many of them frankly admitted that they did not know what they could do to serve the youth and young adults of their dioceses. Continue reading

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