09 June 2022, The Tablet

Why are young people leaving the Church?

by Anthony Bracuti

Why are young people leaving the Church?

The average Catholic-identifying young person has no recourse to push for meaningful reform, writes Anthony Bracuti

Of the many crises currently affecting the Church, the lack of young people has perhaps the most far-reaching consequences. From it spawns the lack of priests and the lack of money, and it will inevitably lead to the rapid shrinking of parish attendance over the upcoming decades.

In the face of this upcoming calamity there has been an increase in direct consultation with young adults (which the Church defines as those between 18 and 35), although the discussion is still dominated by the clergy and older church members. However, if young people are consulted at all, it is inevitably highly engaged Catholics towards the upper end of “young”, often very conservative, and invariably married and/or with children. In short, those that are leaving, or have left, are not part of the conversation.

Throughout my 7 years as a student at two universities (across Catholic, ecumenical and interfaith, political, and social groupings) I have come across many questioning Catholics (who are often afraid to question priests), ex-Catholics, anti-Catholics, and agnostics whose collective criticisms and issues have formed the basis of many late-night chats in poorly-lit kitchens (often being teamed up on by many people at once: it’s difficult being Catholic at university).

The institution of the Church is fundamentally cryptic and is currently constantly mired in scandal. Why are abuses hidden, with senior church leaders promoted despite failing to instigate safeguarding systems? Why is Boris Johnson allowed to get married in church, when my [insert relation/friend here] could not? Why is my youth community getting defunded, while the local Catholic conference centre gets a boost in investment? (and many other questions besides)

Additionally, as a young person, your viewpoint is ignored at almost every turn. This is not a problem isolated to the Church: in wider society social movements that are made up of young people are resoundingly derided (vis BLM, Extinction Rebellion etc.), but the average Catholic-identifying young person has no recourse to push for meaningful reform. There is no consultation at a diocesan level or higher. And at a parish level there are very few opportunities to engage, and they often depend on the good will of those who are already established: from music groups to social organisation, almost everything is organised by those who have been there a long time, and opportunities to join in can be hard to come by.

Lack of meaningful consultation alienates young people. We are consumers of a tradition we have no material power to inform. The lack of transparency, of hidden decisions inconsistently applied, of abuses covered up, makes us feel helpless. Those two factors together leave us unmotivated, the lack of motivation leads to apathy, and apathy to disengagement.

A powerful testament to the ease with which these problems can be resolved can be seen with a recent visit of Bishop Marcus of Leeds to the Catholic chaplaincy to the universities of Leeds. After Mass, there was a discussion in which the bishop asked a simple question “what can I do to help you?”. A 28-year-old PhD student told me after that it was the first time she had ever been asked her opinion from the Church; it made her feel part of it.

Too often young people are treated as a resource to be mobilised for the Good of the Church, and scarcely are we treated as we need to be for us to remain active, or even faithful. We are poor, disenfranchised, and fed-up. Tired of being ignored, and tired of being dismissed.

Is it really so surprising we’re leaving?

Anthony Bracuti is a postgraduate student in the University of Leeds

What do you think?


You can post as a subscriber user ...

User comments (0)

  Loading ...