Never in its 2,000 history have Catholic leaders in the Church had so much information at their fingertips about the condition of the Church in this part of the country, in that economic strata, in that age group, in that nationality. One aspect of the modern world is we do have statistics on everything and for the most part that is very good. However, statistics can also be frightening! That is especially true if these numbers unmask serious problems within the Church that in the past we have had a tendency to ignore.
One of those problems is the massive defection of people from the Catholic Church in the United States and in Western Europe over the last half century. There are many reasons for it, but I am not sure that our leaders are really grappling with those reasons. Among those departed, a very high percentage are today’s young people. Since we are such a big Church, it is hard to see at first glance how many have left us. Our churches in most parts of the country continue to be full. New parishes are being built every year, especially in the Southwest and West. But yet, departing, they are.
The loss of young people is both dramatic and tragic. At 82 years old, I am not in any position to tell people how to effectively reach this new generation, how to involve them, to motivate them, to instill in them a sense of pride in this awesome reality which is the Catholic Church. I do know one thing. They have to be much more involved than they are today.
It is good that we have youth organizations and youth activity but most of them are, in a sense, set aside. They are not in the main structure and flow of the life of the Church. I think that should be changed as quickly as possible. Our young people need to be given real responsibility in the life of the Church, and be made to feel that their views and ideas are listened to seriously and when documented with good reason acted upon.
Jesus started his public life at an age that, in the United States, he would have been blocked from running for the presidency. But start his public life, he did.