The June 2019 General Assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore listened to Bp. Barron gave a presentation on the serious problem of the millennials’ mass exodus from the Church. How many are leaving, and why are they leaving?
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
26 June 2019
During the June 2019 General Assembly of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Bp. Barron gave a presentation on the problem of the mass exodus of millennials from the Church. During his presentation, Bp. Barron listed a number of related statistics as well as reasons for why millennials are abandoning the divine faith.
He noted Pew Research Forum studies and others that show 50% of millennials have abandoned the Church, which means that 1 in 6 millennials are now former Catholics.
For every catechumen or candidate who enters into full communion with the Church, typically at the Easter Vigil, there are 6.45 people who leave it. Most of the millennials who leave do so before the age of 23. Bp. Barron observed that Hispanics and Mexican migrants fare no better. They often enter America as Catholics but quickly drift away from the Church due to a militantly secular-humanist culture.
Where are these millennials going?
- 25% are becoming Protestant, namely Evangelicals.
- 25% are switching religions, which would include man-made religions such as Buddhism.
- 50% become “nones” or unaffiliated; that is, they profess to be “spiritual but not religious” and therefore do not identify with any particular religion.
Why are millennials leaving?
- Millennials no longer believe in the basic narrative of Christianity. For example, the profession of faith found in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds is no longer accepted.
- Widespread relativism among millennials. Bp. Barron quoted from Dr. Christian Smith, a noted sociologist, who has engaged in a number of studies involving millennials in terms of their attitudes and beliefs about religion. Dr. Smith, quoted by Bp. Barron, said, “Young people are simply uneasy with strong statements made regarding theology. Consequently, very few general if any statements can or should be made about God, faith, or morality.”
I think what Dr. Smith is saying, is millennials are often opposed to dogmas and doctrines, which, in terms of relativism, are viewed as “rigid,” “intellectually stifling,” “antiquated,” “freedom limiting,” and so forth. Relativism tends to anesthetize people to the fact that objective truth and moral norms are realities worth studying, learning, and embracing. Relativism makes truth not so much an enemy to be directly attacked front on with solid and logical arguments, but rather something to be set aside as irrelevant, unpalatable, and abrasive.
- The “Culture of self-invention,” is a term used by Bp. Barron to describe the thinking of millennials that includes the idea that “I invent myself,” to use his words. This attitude is, of course, a logical extension of relativism.
If there are no objective truths, then what is left? Only the notion that man himself determines what is true, including who he is (transgenderism, for example). Truth, then, originates in man, as opposed to externally to him, flowing from the reality of God, Eternal Law and Divine Law to man. The transcendent dimension of the human person in God is reduced to an “I” in isolation. The “culture of self-invention” breeds the rule of man for man, not man for and in God.
- The problem of science. Millennials often think the Church, her dogmas, doctrines and moral teaching is out-of-step with the findings of modern science.
This bears out in the incorrect belief that only science can offer a valid evidence set. What cannot be readily observed, tested and verified scientifically, falls under doubt and suspicion. Such a view dismisses a-priori knowledge derived from logic and theoretical deduction. In other words, what can be known by the light of human reason, including philosophical wisdom, is dismissed as unscientific and unverifiable. Millennials often think that faith, reason and science are contradictory.
- The Church’s teaching on human sexuality remains a problem for millennials.
This is, perhaps, largely due to the opposing cultural, secular humanist clamor that tends to present every kind of sexual belief or practice as laudable. Here again we see the link to relativism and scientism. Relativism is dismissive of sexual moral norms. With regard to a lopsided emphasis on science, sexual morality is not something you can “prove” scientifically per se, although one can certainly study the consequences of sexual immorality, which are many.
- Few nones are anti-religious. They are indifferent to religion, but “did not storm away” from the Church, said Bp. Barron. This suggests that, although they tend to over-emphasize science and remain indifferent to organized religion, they do not see themselves as enemies of God or religion as do the new atheists, for example.
During the question and answer period following Bp. Barron’s presentation, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, noted that the mass exodus is the “second greatest problem we are facing right now”—an obvious reference to the devastating issue of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. The fact is, the hierarchy has in large part lost its credibility. Consequently, bishops are increasingly seen in a negative light by millennials and others.
Bp. Strickland of Tyler suggested that the present issues in the Church are related to the need to return to the truth of Jesus Christ. In my opinion, his comments intimated that Christ and his truth is no longer primary, in many cases, among some of the hierarchy. There is more of a tendency toward diplomacy, appearances, social doctrine (and its politicization), and garnering media attention. Good solid teaching on Tradition, the belief of the Church, and catechesis is lacking and, in some cases, nearly absent. Further, as Archbishop Viganò has openly revealed, there is an actively homosexual culture that has infiltrated the Church at the highest levels, which cannot be said to be in communion with Christ and the truth of the saving gospel.
Millennials, whether they admit it or not—as well as people of all ages—crave to hear and learn about what is really true, since the human intellect is ordered toward acquiring the truth, especially the truth about God. The human mind is created for the purpose of joining to the truth. The human person is ontologically a being of truth, since he is created in the Imago Dei, the image of God.
Truth includes a number of topics; however, the truth of the divine faith is the topic par excellence because it pertains to God himself, who is absolute and perfect truth. The Creator has made us for himself, and, as St. Augustine noted, our hearts will not rest until they rest in him. There is nothing in the world, nor in its many cultures that can ultimately fulfill the human person. It is God alone who provides the peace and perfect happiness for which we thirst.
American culture, of course, tends to act in opposition to a love for truth. It stifles it and diminishes its importance. As I’ve mentioned, the secular humanism of the day is heavenly steeped in atheistic, relativistic, and naturalist tenets. If people are careless and allow lax attitudes about God, religion and morality to creep in, these negative elements of culture quickly fill the void. The mind becomes darkened to the truth and the will becomes weakened to seeking the true good.
It’s important that we, the clergy, get back to preaching Jesus Christ and his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. It is no longer acceptable to give abstract, feel-good “God is love” homilies, Sunday after Sunday, lacking in catechesis and failing to address serious cultural issues of the day. We must, as Bp. Barron has stated repeatedly, stop “dumbing down the faith.” Millennials, as with all people, want and need to be challenged intellectually. The Catholic faith is rational; it’s reasonable; it’s logical. It’s beautiful, true and good.
I’m convinced good solid teaching and preaching is needed, using all available platforms, including social media. Apologetics. Evangelization. Catechetics. Heartfelt preaching of Christ crucified and resurrected. The saving gospel needs to be presented with passion and conviction. The moral teaching of the Church needs to be heard and adequately explained, not simply stated as “the rule.”
People need to learn about the belief of the Church, the commandments, the natural law, and why God is not only love but justice. They need to learn about the virtues, both cardinal and theological, how they are acquired and developed. They need to hear about eschatology and the four last things. They need to be catechized on the sacraments of the Church and why they are essential in our lives. They need to learn and understand why sin is dangerous, why mortal sin is fatal, and what to do about it in terms of repentance and restoration to God’s friendship.
They need to hear that Jesus Christ came to defeat sin, evil and the devil. However, if we fail to respond to the grace and truth he offers, we may find ourselves in a permanent state of separation from him called hell. Life is not a game. It’s a matter of eternal life or eternal damnation. There are no other options.
The truth stands in stark opposition to the “Teddy-Bear-God” teaching and preaching so often heard. The God of love is not the god of permissiveness. The truth is opposed to doctrine-free catechesis, a distaste for dogma, and false tolerance. A return to and love for Truth Itself, Jesus Christ, who is the “way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6) is essential. It is in this love, a burning love, that minds and hearts will be transformed.
The Church’s response to this mass exodus must be rapid, committed, and vigorous. It must include clearing away the rot, whether it be false teaching, corrupted liturgies of accommodation that are nearly devoid of the sacred and beautiful, distortions of the gospel message, failures to catechize, and homosexual networks responsible for protecting and elevating sexual predators. All these must go. We must return to and develop an ardent love for the truth of the divine faith. It has to become something we are willing to die for. In that willingness, the light will shine through.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, intercede for the Church before your Son, that it may be cleansed and purified of those elements within who obscure the light of truth and raise obstacles before the faithful.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.