Vatican Worries the Catholic Church Is Losing the Young — and Abuse Is Just One Factor
By Chico Harlan
October 3, 2018
By age 9 or 10, she had her first doubts about the faith, and not long after, she felt confident telling her parents: The Catholic Church, Agata Leoniddi said, seemed “outdated and backwards.”
The language at Mass was archaic. The teaching was rigid and unwelcoming. And some of the issues most important to her — including gender equality — were not discussed in church, where the leaders were entirely male. Leoniddi had spent her childhood within the church, but more and more, she was reaching the conclusion of so many young people in the developed world who’ve abandoned organized religion and, in particular, the scandal-riddled Catholic faith.
“I don’t think the church understands my generation,” said Leoniddi, now 12, who lives in a village among rolling hills 50 miles outside of Rome. “We are not like our grandfathers.”
The failure to attract and retain young people has become a central focus this month as the Vatican holds a major summit on the topic of youths within the faith. Among the pressing questions is whether an institution often criticized as out of touch can regain relevance for a younger generation — and whether the church’s power brokers are willing to listen to what those people have to say.
At a particularly divided moment within the church, the discussion doubles as an ideological debate over the church’s future, particularly on the extent to which Catholicism should modernize its teachings on sexuality and gender under a pope who has been pushing to adopt a more inclusive tone.
The other key issue is whether the carefully stage-managed event — more than a year and a half in the making — will address clerical sexual abuse within the church. Some outsiders say the discussion can be meaningful only if bishops take on the topic,