Thursday, October 09, 2008

Our Progressive Catholic Youth

Now here’s some good, though not totally surprising, news: According to a newly released survey, young Catholics are more progressive than older Catholics across a range of issues – including homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

In a recent article published in the National Catholic Reporter, Tom Roberts outlines the findings of this survey. One important thing missing from Roberts’ coverage, however, is a clear definition of “progressive.” defines “progressive” as “favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are.”

Given this definition, can one be a progressive Catholic? I think so, and the good folks I work with to produce
The Progressive Catholic Voice online e-journal think so too. We’re currently in conversation with a number of local theologians so as to develop a clear definition and articulation of progressive Catholicism. What we can say now, however, is that we believe that to be a progressive Catholic means to be drawn to participate in, and contribute to, the Church’s capacity to grow, change, and evolve in ways that ever increasingly reveal God’s transforming love in our midst.

Anyway, the full text of Robert’s article can be found
here, while highlights are reprinted below.


Young Catholics are more progressive than older Catholics across a range of issues and on a number of topics are more progressive than their peers in other religious groups, according to a newly released survey by the group Faith in Public Life.

Young Catholics, 18 to 34 years, constituted one group in a survey titled “The Young and the Faithful,” designed and conducted by Public Religion Research. Faith in Public Life is one of a number of religious groups organized following the 2004 election with the intent of broadening the public debate on religious and social issues.

“This is not the culture war generation,” said Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research, in drawing a broad conclusion from the study during a conference call. “From gay rights to the role of Americans around the world to working for the common good,” the young people surveyed represent a group that “kind of works past the ideological divides” that have characterized the political debate of recent years.

Katie Paris, director of communications for Faith in Public Life, concurred. The lines of the culture wars “are fading,” she said.

In the presidential race, the survey found that among all Catholic registered voters, Democratic candidate Barack Obama led Republican John McCain 51 percent to 40 percent, a figure similar to the 50 percent to 42 percent margin Obama held over McCain among all registered voters.

A significant generational difference exists, however, within the Catholic vote. Among older Catholics, those 34 and above, the vote was nearly evenly split between McCain (46 percent) and Obama (45 percent).

Registered Catholic voters ages 18-34 favored Obama over McCain by a wide margin, 55 percent to 40 percent, similar to the figures for all young adults, who favored Obama 59 percent to 35 percent for McCain.

There is a striking generational difference, too, among Catholics when it comes to party affiliation. Older Catholics are about evenly split, 45 percent and 48 percent between the Republican and Democratic parties respectively. Young adult Catholics overwhelmingly identify as Democrat (54 percent) over Republican (35 percent).

Forty two percent of older Catholics identify as conservative, while only 28 percent of younger Catholics do so.

“Younger Catholics are also less likely than older Catholics and even other young adults to see abortion and same-sex marriage as very important voting issues,” according to the report. Sixty one percent of young Catholics do not see abortion as a very important issue and 70 percent do not see same-sex marriage as very important when voting.

“Neither older nor younger Catholics are single-issue voters on abortion,” said the study. Seventy-one percent of all Catholics interviewed said they would vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on abortion.

Young Catholics (60 percent) polled nearly the same as their peers (58 percent) among Evangelicals and mainline Protestants on the issue of abortion rights, agreeing that “abortion should be legal in all or most cases.” Among older Catholics, 51 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Two thirds of young Catholics prefer bigger government with more services, the most liberal measure on that topic of any group polled. Only 41 percent of older Catholics favored bigger government.


Many of the comments posted on the website of the National Catholic Reporter in response to the findings of this survey, make for entertaining and insightful reading.

Following are excerpts from some of these comments:

Ron writes: [W]hat the figures in this survey reveal (and what sensible readers already know) is that John Paul II’s New Evangelisation was only ever an illusion. Or, rather, a delusion, because for three decades [so-called traditionalists] have been tricked into imagining that all the emphasis on doctrinal purity and authentic practice really did mean that the Church was going to be successful in pushing back against the wider culture they feel so encircled by. This is the great tragedy of the Church over the last 30 years – it looked great and sounded tough and instilled new confidence in many good people, but none of it had anything to do with reality.

Young American Catholics continued to go to American Catholic schools where they were indeed taught progressive values, in the best sense of the word. But the idea that Catholic classrooms are havens of leftist ideology is hooey, nor is there much evidence of significant doctrinal deviationism (the Church’s more foolish and outdated views on sex are simply ignored, as they are ignored everywhere on the planet).

But most of all, young American Catholics continued to live in the United States of America. The culture wars have not been won. Contemporary Catholics actually like living in an enlightened, pluralistic, liberal democracy. They don’t regard America as a ‘culture of death’.

So now the disappointment sets in [among the so-called traditionalists]. And the paranoia – so redolent of the Church of the 19th century. But this is what comes from having had the Wizard of Oz as pope for two-and-a-half decades.

Aldus writes: I find it quite unfathomable that some Catholics are so completely out of touch with what’s going on among our youth. These folks are living in some kind of dream that young people give much credibility to church officials any more. They think that simply because young people showed up and enjoyed participating in World Youth Day they still buy into the medieval, patriarchal, sexist, teachings of the church. They do not. They ARE seeking truth not superstitious dogma. They enjoy being among their own kind: young, exuberant spirits. To suggest that our Catholic schools are the “blame” for helping our young people think for themselves is actually quite a fine compliment.

Fred writes: I consider this good news and a cause for hope for the future. However, it has certainly been my experience over the last decade or so that the young priests who are being ordained are immensely more conservative and reactionary – even to the point of rigidity – than even the majority of the older people in the pews. The research about young priests by scholars such as Dean Hoge and Jim Davidson confirms this impression. Even more frightening are the studies of seminarians by Katarina Schuth which point out that the current crop of those preparing for priesthood continue to be increasingly more and more conservative. If this study of young Catholics by Faith in Public Life is correct, the gulf between priests and laity will most certainly widen even more significantly in the years to come. I am seventy years old and still remember the excitement of the immediate post-Vatican II years. In those days, the young priests (and many not-so-old) were far more progressive than most of the laity and they worked very hard to bring their parishioners to understand the Church through the lens of the Council. What an amazing turnabout has emerged in the intervening years.

Dennis writes: I am a older progressive, Vatican II Catholic, and an educator. I receive communion several times weekly. I see our Church very differently than the cult of our leadership. . . . We have serious leadership problems in the [Roman] Catholic Church. The Bishops purport to be the “teachers” but few of them are even good theologians. The Bishops continue to censor the best of our theologians that express the current revelations of the Holy Spirit. This is as it was in the Old Testaments: the prophets were not recognized in their day. No, they were ridiculed and censored. After Jesus’ message of love, we were given the challenge not to be so hateful, but the cult of administrators that we call the Bishops really do not live the real challenges that Jesus asks of us in his sermon on the mount. . . . We have a cult of Bishops that term themselves the Magisterium that are practicing an ever increasing cult of narrow dogmatic thought and who tell all others that they must follow them, not what Christ has said, and not what the Holy Spirit tells us in each generation. . . . We have megalomaniacs in so many positions of authority that they actually delude themselves into believing that their narrow beliefs, that do not consider all the facts, are in someway infallible. . .

Recommended Off-site Link:
Young Adult Catholics

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
It’s a Great Time to Be Catholic . . .
What It Means to Be Catholic
An Australian Bishop’s “Radical” Call for Reform
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
Beyond Papalism
The Holarchical Church: Not a Pyramid But a Web of Relationships
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
A Smaller, Purer Vision of Church - And Why it Won’t Work


Anonymous said...

"Fred" and "Dennis" self-identify as "older" Catholics. I wonder how folks 1/2, 1, 1 1/2 and 2 generations younger than they are would comment?

Rather than a post about progressive Catholic youth by older Catholic youth (yes even in their 60s, 70s and 80s), it would be helpful to hear the voices of actual progressive Catholic youth.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that younger priests are getting more conservative, since I've noticed the same thing. I wish there was a way to reverse that trend. What we need are progressive priests.

Michael J. Bayly said...


I hear your concern, but then again do not the "voices of actual progressive Catholic youth" come through in the results of the survey?



Anonymous said...

Only to a point, Michael. A survey us a summary. Fred's and Dennis' voices come through because they are quoted individually. And, given their self-identification as older Catholics, we've been hearing from them for a long time. Give the microphone to others, please.

CDE said...

it has certainly been my experience over the last decade or so that the young priests who are being ordained are immensely more conservative and reactionary – even to the point of rigidity – than even the majority of the older people in the pews.

For some people, the three adjectives mean the same thing: conservative, reactionary and rigid. That's simply a matter of perspective.

Regardless, I think the point is valid: younger priests do tend to be more conservative. It's no surprise, really. A young guy who doesn't believe what the Church teaches is not about to make the sacrifices required to become a priest... why would he make a commitment to a life he doesn't believe in? You don't marry a spouse you're not in love with, unless you have something you're running away from.

Anonymous said...

Mark Andrews,

Since you'd like to hear from an "actual progressive Catholic youth," here I am. I'm 21 years old and actively involved in my local Catholic Church. I can personally attest to the fact that, at least where I am, most of the other guys and girls my age that go to Mass with me are really getting fed up with the Catholic hierarchy and its teachings on sexuality (i.e. birth control, gays, etc.), despite the increasing right-wing trend in the Church. I've known several that have simply walked away from the Church, and I don't blame them, although I have no intention of leaving, no matter how many right-wing priests we get. Many progressive Catholics may be older than I am, but I'm here, and I'm not the only one. The problem is that my generation has become too silent and docile in the face of this repressive stage that the Church is in. No matter how bad it gets, I know that there will always be a place in the Church for me, and for all others who feel marginalized. Ultimately, I pray that the Holy Spirit will work to guide the Church toward a more progressive spirit. God bless!

Michael J. Bayly,

I love your blog! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, gg. There's one voice. Others, please? And please be aware, I'm not fishing for a "correct" progressive, youth voice. Let's hear what people have to say, the more, the merrier.

Michael J. Bayly said...


You might be interested in this blog - one for and by young adult Catholics.