Why are young Catholics leaving the Church?

It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is losing members quickly, and many of them are of the younger generation. Statistics show that for every convert, there are six Catholics that leave the Church. Nearly 13 percent of Americans have described themselves as “former Catholics.” A report released by the Pew Forum shows that the number of Catholics in the United States has dropped by 3 million since 2007. While it is true that the Church cannot be destroyed by humans and is infallible, these statistics show that many, many souls are spiritually at risk. Among adults, many people have left the Church because of the recent scandals and because of disagreement with the Church’s teachings, but it is a different story with the younger generation. Many young Catholics are dropping out because they do not fully understand their faith, society and the media are influencing them in a very bad way, and sometimes their lifestyle contradicts the teachings of the Church.

Lack of understanding about the Catholic faith and inadequate knowledge about the Church’s teachings is the beginning of leading young Catholics away from God and from truth. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” This clearly shows that many Catholics and non-Catholics alike have misconceptions about what the Church really teaches. Many young Catholics nowadays have not been taught well and do not understand their faith. The number of students in Catholic schools has decreased from 5.2 million students in the 1960s to roughly 2 million. The diminishing number of Catholics that understand their faith and want to follow Jesus has led to a decrease in vocations, so there are also fewer people to teach the next generation of Catholics.

Catholics must understand basic beliefs, such as the Eucharist, Original Sin, the Paschal Mystery, and salvation before they can understand the Church’s social teachings on, for example, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and social justice. If young people do not understand the Church’s teachings, it will be much easier for them to be led astray by outside forces. Matthew 13:1-9 says: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

The explanation of the parable is given in Matthew 13:18-23: “‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’”

The problem nowadays is that young Catholics are not being well-educated in their faith, and therefore are not understanding it fully. Since many of them do not have their foundation of faith and understanding on “good soil”, no fruit is being produced. Jesus’s explanation is clear: when a person does not understand their faith, the “evil one” will tempt them and lead them away from God and the truth. And in the modern world, Catholics are surrounded by temptations and immorality because they have simply become part of our culture.

Society and the media are also leading young Catholics away from the faith. Remember that the Devil is the “god of the world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and the “father of lies” (John 8:44). We know this is true because society and the media have led many Catholics astray with deception. And since many Catholics are not well-informed about their faith and what the Church teaches, they are more easily led away from God and the truth through the “evil one” and his works, as well as the sinfulness found in modern-day culture. Society and the media are often at conflict with Church teaching. The former is blocking access to the truth, and tries to teach us to adopt a “do whatever makes you happy” kind of attitude. However, real happiness can only be found in God.

Our society tells us to do what we feel is right for ourselves, and to do whatever makes us happy. Fornication is considered a freedom, people talk openly about what used to be considered “unacceptable”, and many people believe that everyone has a different set of morals (moral relativism). What is considered “acceptable” by society has changed from age to age, era to era. Yet the Church’s teachings have never changed. The Catholic faith is counter-cultural. Society’s definition of “happiness” is the superficial definition. True joy is more than temporary pleasure. When a lot of people nowadays think about what makes them feel good, they think of things like money, getting new clothes, living in a big house, buying a new fancy car, etc. But these are worldly pleasures that won’t last – and time and time again, as we try to make ourselves happy with worldly things, the excitement soon fades. What we, as Christians, think of as “happiness” may seem strange to secular society. We believe that happiness comes from God. The real peace and joy that comes from God alone will survive any troubles that life sends us while we are on earth, and we will experience its fullness in Heaven.

While sin can create temporary pleasure for a person, the damage has still been done whether one realizes it or not. For example, one can choose to smoke ten packs of cigarettes a day. While this can cause the person to feel calm and relaxed temporarily, the damage has been done; addiction can become a problem, and this leads to health problems and even death. Likewise, indulging in sin can lead to spiritual damage and even spiritual death. Having strong faith and a good understanding of the Church’s teachings and why they are correct will set us free from sin and will provide a defense against society’s lies. Moral relativism is also a real problem in the modern-day world. To put it in a nutshell, moral relativism teaches that one person’s morals can differ from another’s, that there is no one “right” moral law, and that there is no absolute truth. However (referencing my first point), young Catholics need to be taught that there is absolute truth, and this can only be found in God and His Church. In short, the faith of young Catholics is being threatened by the incorrect ideas society is trying to teach them, and they don’t know that worldly things only create temporary pleasure while God provides eternal happiness.

Another reason why young Catholics are leaving the Church is that after having been led astray by the incorrect ideas of society and the media, they realize that their lifestyle conflicts with Church teaching. Many times, their issues arise from the Church’s moral teachings about sex, especially masturbation, homosexual activity, premarital sex (fornication), and cohabitation. They may also disagree with the teachings about topics such as gay marriage, abortion, and contraception. This is a major hindrance in the search for truth, and the problem does not affect only young Catholics exclusively. Many people, adults and non-Christians included, have a hard time accepting truth because it requires them to change their habits and lifestyle. Also, it can be assumed that many young Catholics personally disagree with the Church’s teachings because of their lack of understanding, and this makes them far less willing to change their bad habits and lifestyles to seek truth and follow the Church’s teachings. They would rather leave the Church than do something so “inconvenient.”

Truth compels us to change at times, and sometimes we are unwilling to do so. Jesus spoke about this, too, in Luke 14:25-27: “Many people were traveling with Jesus. He said to them, ‘If you come to me but will not leave your family, you cannot be my follower. You must love me more than your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters—even more than your own life! Whoever will not carry the cross that is given to them when they follow me cannot be my follower.’” Sometimes while trying to be a disciple of Christ, we meet up with difficult situations, and instead of facing these situations and trusting God, we try to run away. The deeper one gets oneself into the snares of a sinful lifestyle, the further one is tempted to run away from God and hide from Him. In Genesis 3:8, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they sinned. After Original Sin, it is simply our human reaction to run away from God, ashamed, when we sin, rather than asking Him for forgiveness. When we apply this concept to young, modern-day Catholics, it makes sense that a sinful lifestyle can lead to leaving the Church.

In conclusion, many young Catholics nowadays are leaving the Catholic Church because of lack of knowledge about their faith, the bad influence from society and the media, and a lifestyle that conflicts with Church teachings. The statistics are not very encouraging, especially for parents who would like their children to remain Catholic even after they become adults and leave home. But all is not lost, for with God, nothing is impossible. We can help these people continue in their journey of faith by making sure they understand their faith and by teaching them about sin. They must understand that they cannot believe everything that appears on their computer screens. They also must be taught that unlike what moral relativism teaches, there is absolute truth, and that only God can bring them real happiness. Even though right now more people are leaving the Church than people who are converting to Catholicism, hopefully this will change in the future. One truth is stronger than a thousand lies, and God will triumph over the evil one.