(Melbourne)David's previous articles
Alienation of the Boomers
the last week or so a number of articles have been published in various places
on the younger generations, X, Y, Z and their tenuous relationship with the
institutional Church. Authors have made many constructive suggestions about
strategies to re-attract these largely alienated younger people back to full
participation in the life of the believing Community. Almost all of these young
people withdrew from regular faith practice upon leaving school. The general
pattern now is for only a few of them to opt for marriage in the Church.
Increasingly too, they are choosing not to have their children proceed through
the Sacraments of Initiation. If they do then it has often more to do with
inherited Catholic tribal behaviour than out of commitments. It’s a mere
observance of the sociological
this reflection, I wish to address the question of the parents/ grand-parents of
the X, Y, Z generations. These are the post World War II Baby Boomer generation. Their massive disconnect from the practice
of the Catholic faith is even more alarming as they are the gate-keepers of the
tradition for the generations which followed them.
weekend I attended a fiftieth anniversary class reunion in the far north of my
home State. There were around sixty five of us and many had not seen one another
for half a century. As children and then young teenagers, we had been together
for a substantial period of primary school and for the first couple of years of
secondary. The school was a typical Catholic coeducational one run by a
congregation of women religious.
surprising, the conversation eventually got around to religious practice among
us. What was of little surprise was the catalogue of emerging stories about the
drift away from practice of the faith. Often the initial reasons were not of a
dramatic nature but generally it was more a case of some bewilderment on
emerging from an intensely regulated, regimented religious culture into a world
which was changing very rapidly. The sixties was a period especially in the West
of global reaction and rebellion to unquestioned authority.
The old certainties and securities didn’t add up any more. A
traditional Catholic education had guaranteed that this generation found itself
splendidly equipped with a toolkit full of answers to questions it had never
Baby Boomers were taught to think and to question in ways their parents never
did, at least to the same extent and persistence.
Their children and grand children too were born into this culture of
searching and enquiry.
They did not cash in their brains at the entrance of a church when it
came to examining matters of belief. Significantly though, they were taught to
make those nuance distinctions between what is core belief and what are the
various cultural and philosophical expressions of that core.
was a fateful year for many of them with the publication of Humanae Vitae with
its prohibition on artificial birth control. The reaction was stunning both in
its speed and extent.
The Baby Boomers felt that
their baptized intelligence and common sense were insulted. They were the first
generation to complete a secondary education en masse, large numbers achieving
tertiary qualifications and many thousands of them became theologically
literate. Confronted with this perceived irrational moralism they did what they
were educated to do: they did their own independent thinking and arrived at a
mature conscience objection to this teaching. They did not receive it. In fact,
they rejected it as not morally binding upon them. This mass popular refusal to
accept a doctrine of the Church has profound implications for the relationship
between the Teaching Church and the Church
taught. Who got it right?
Magisterium of the Catholic Church has never come to grips with this phenomenon.
Its credibility, furthermore, has not been enhanced in the least by repeated
insistence on its moral authority and the obligation of the faithful to obey its
doctrine in this matter. To make things even worse, the tradition of the
supremacy of conscience has been consistently distorted and manipulated in order
to control and to limit ‘dissent’. Benedict XVI has given this the cosmetic
name of ‘the discipline of radical obedience.’ Catholic people know all
about this regarding it as power-game and refuse to comply anyway.
faith has not been abandoned
to my classmates, I came away with a very important insight into the wisdom and
integrity of their lives which has been corroborated by relatives and friends of
the same age group at similar reunions. The overwhelming majority of the Boomers
crystal clear on one very important point. They may have drifted
dispiritedly from the institutional Church and still protest mightily against
its regression from Vat II. They are certainly shocked, outraged and betrayed at
the scourge of clerical paedophilia but they insist that they have definitely not
lost their faith. Ironically, if they were German Catholics right now they would
be regarded by the Church as renegades and apostates.
erosion of trust and confidence among this generation has manifested itself over
the past two pontificates. Probably a majority of ordinary Catholics believe and
experience the Church as excessively micro-managed, prescriptive and
authoritarian in teaching and governance. They see with alarm and despondency
the Church of Vatican II, a faith Community which elevated their hopes, made
them feel at home in their own culture and idiom, now being programmatically and
systemically stripped away from them.
generation would be highly offended and annoyed if they were to be labelled as
heretical, selfish, anti-life or promoters of a culture of death. These are part
of a catalogue of charges still levelled at them either by resentful hierarchs
or by fanatics among the ranks of the laity. As a generation, they are not
consumed by secularism, moral relativism or any other pernicious ideology. They
are morally upright and very decent, principled people who are sick and tired of
being held as suspect and disloyal.
frequent comment that can be heard among the Boomers
is that the introduction of the new translation of the Mass was akin to a
last straw. They had been deprived of their language and the familiar medium of
intimacy with God and one another. They had deeply encountered Christ in the
plain, mundane language of the vernacular. For them, there was no loss of the
‘sacred’ but rather a richer and deeper experience of the Incarnation which
could be named in their very own idiom.
the leadership of the Catholic Church is to succeed in winning back the trust
and confidence of the alienated Boomer generation, it will need to learn quickly
the lost art of listening to and conversing with an adult laity which is no
longer prepared to bleat like sheep and mutely follow the shepherd. The Church
at Vatican II called for a mature and educated laity and now it has got what it
wished for. The big challenge now is, can the institutional Church catch up and
keep pace with them?
McDonnell recently discussed strategies for ‘returning the Church’ to those
who remember the transformative time during and after Vatican II but who have
become disillusioned, refresh here.
For another article and conversation about on
Exodus of Young People is the Church’s core problem, click here.
See also my 23/08/ 2010 Cathnews Blog on the “Spirituality that appeals to Gen Y”.
What this generation does not relate to are cults, ‘prosperity Gospel
Churches, boutique religions or even the institutional Catholic Church. They are
however deeply attracted to the person of Jesus Christ and his teaching. Click
David Timbs writes from Albion, Victoria, Australia.