By the age of 10, young Catholics are losing their faith

Two national studies produced by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), based at Georgetown University, found that young Catholics are abandoning their faith starting around the age of 10, and certainly by age 17 (Confirmation catechists, please note!).

Nearly two-thirds (63%) said they no longer identify themselves as Catholics by the age 17, and another 23% said they stopped regarding themselves as Catholic by the age 10.

Of those who had left the faith, only 13% said they were ever likely to return to the Catholic Church.

The reason most often given is the tension young people perceive between faith and religion. While this factor is highest among students at public school, it is also remarkably high among students at Catholic schools.

There is an emerging profile of youth who say their religious formation is incompatible with what they are learning in public high school or university.

Dr. Mark Gray, a senior researcher with CARA, speaks of an unprecedented “crisis of faith” among youth. “In the whole concept of faith, this is a generation that is struggling with faith in ways that we haven’t seen in previous generations.”  There is a severe compartmentalization between education in faith and in science. The fundamental problem is that youth may go to Mass once a week but spend the rest of the week learning “how dumb” their faith is.

On a positive note, Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at Notre Dame University, states that there are three factors that yield a high retention rate among young Catholics. The first is that the young people have a “weekly activity” like catechesis, Bible study, or youth group. The second is the availability of adults (not their parents) with whom they can discuss their faith. The third is the possibility of providing “deep spiritual experiences.”

I am no sociologist of religion, least of all of that which deals with youth. But my own experience tells me that besides the three factors mentioned here, there are the three additional factors: There is daily prayer in the home, parents and children talking about their faith, and some kind of weekly charitable service made possible for the young people.

Some (like me!) worry about the quality of religious formation of children and youth. Things have improved a lot since the horrid days of religious formation in the 70s and 80s. But, having kept an eye on the kind of texts being used, even the better ones are inadequate. If you want your child to be well informed in the faith, then don’t look at the typical text available. We have a long way to go in this area. For one thing, we need to bring back a thoroughly updated question-and-answer catechism.

There is also the question of parish religious education teachers and Catholic school teachers. Would you be surprised to know that many of them do not go to Sunday Mass regularly and have “difficulties” with the Church? Surely this has to have a disastrous effect on the students for whom they have responsibility. I have seen no data on this, so I am basing what I say on what I have observed and read over the years and what other pastors tell me.

Finally, there are the parents, who rarely if ever talk to their children about the faith and the necessity of growing strong in it. And do parents, even of Catholic school children, go to Mass on Sundays? The vast majority, I fear, do not.

By Msgr. M. Francis Mannion

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Salt Lake City. He holds a Ph.D in sacramental theology from The Catholic University of America. He was founding president of The Society for Catholic Liturgy in 1995 and the founding editor of the Societys journal, Antiphon. At the invitation of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago he founded the Mundelein Liturgical Institute in 2000.



  1. thomraff Reply

    Please note that all of the “solutions” to this problem involve indoctrination. In today’s world of information, that is like putting a finger in a breaking dike and expecting it to hold.

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    The problem is clear. Science has debunked your god, and fortunately a lot of these young people are smart enough to see that.
    This is wonderful news. Absolutely wonderful. If this article is true, that kids are abandoning magic in favor of reason, then we have hope for enlightenment.
    Tom makes a valid point above. There was a time when the Church could control what information we were exposed to. If you go back far enough, people weren’t even permitted to read the bible, and some were burned at the stake for doing so! As kids we were taught that the Genesis stories were real, but today we know beyond reasonable doubt that there was no six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck, no global flood, no mass exodus from Egypt and no conquest of Canaan, and without these things there is no foundation left for any of the Abrahamic gods,,,, and thanks to the Internet they can’t hide this information any longer! Indeed, the historicity of Jesus is being called into question, and all available evidence being scrutinized, and in due course he may become a mythical figure like Moses.
    We also know that science has confirmed that there is nothing outside our natural world that affects the particles that make up us and everything around us, and without that, there is no way immaterial things like souls and gods can affect us, even if they should happen to exist. They are moot. They are obsolete.
    It is so gratifying to see the next generation throwing off the chains of psychological abuse and indoctrination! Wow, it’s not often that an article here puts a big smile on my face!

    1. anthony hulse Reply

      Poor catechesis, Patrick, does not prove that God is debunked.

      1. Tom Rafferty Reply

        anthony, we don’t have to make the case for a god, you do. The one making the claim is obligated to present evidence to support it. Hint: no one has been able to do so yet.

        1. anthony hulse Reply

          You are making the (extraordinary and false) claim – science has debunked your God – go on then, show me the proof that God does not exist. Show me how science has debunked God.

          1. anthony hulse

            Job chapter 38 says it all really: Brace yourself like a man;
            I will question you,
            and you shall answer me.
            4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
            Tell me, if you understand.
            5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
            Who stretched a measuring line across it?
            6 On what were its footings set,
            or who laid its cornerstone—
            7 while the morning stars sang together
            and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
            8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
            when it burst forth from the womb,
            9 when I made the clouds its garment
            and wrapped it in thick darkness,
            10 when I fixed limits for it
            and set its doors and bars in place,
            11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
            here is where your proud waves halt’?
            12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
            or shown the dawn its place,
            13 that it might take the earth by the edges
            and shake the wicked out of it?
            14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
            its features stand out like those of a garment.
            15 The wicked are denied their light,
            and their upraised arm is broken.
            16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
            or walked in the recesses of the deep?
            17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
            Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
            18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
            Tell me, if you know all this.
            19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
            And where does darkness reside?
            20 Can you take them to their places?
            Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
            21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
            You have lived so many years!
            22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
            or seen the storehouses of the hail,
            23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
            for days of war and battle?
            24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
            or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
            25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
            and a path for the thunderstorm,
            26 to water a land where no one lives,
            an uninhabited desert,
            27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
            and make it sprout with grass?
            28 Does the rain have a father?
            Who fathers the drops of dew?
            29 From whose womb comes the ice?
            Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
            30 when the waters become hard as stone,
            when the surface of the deep is frozen?
            31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
            Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
            32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
            or lead out the Bear[d] with its cubs?
            33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
            Can you set up God’s[e] dominion over the earth?
            34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
            and cover yourself with a flood of water?
            35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
            Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
            36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
            or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
            37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
            Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
            38 when the dust becomes hard
            and the clods of earth stick together?
            39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
            and satisfy the hunger of the lions
            40 when they crouch in their dens
            or lie in wait in a thicket?
            41 Who provides food for the raven
            when its young cry out to God
            and wander about for lack of food?

          2. Tom Rafferty

            Two questions, anthony: 1) Do you accept science as the best way to know? 2) How do you know that writings from our ancient, superstitious past without known authorship from a tribe in an outback of the planet is true?

    2. Allahnana chaku Reply

      And to you Mr Patrick all this you mentioned is for the weak of mind and soul you can confuse all of the people some of the time but you can’t convince all of the people all of the time we all know there is a God and there is the devil is now left for you to choose as for me I choose good over evil

      1. Tom Rafferty Reply

        “- – – we all know there is a God and there is the devil – – – ” No, you don’t, and I don’t either. There is no evidence for a god or a devil. Until you can justify this superstition, I will comfortably remain an agnostic atheist.

  3. James Reply

    The first thing you need to do is abolish the Novus Ordo liturgy and reestablish the traditional rite as it was before the evil Judas incarnate Annibale Bugnini got his disgusting hands on it. It is quite simply a fact that the Novus Ordo is not effective at transmitting the faith to future generations.

    The treasure of tradition has been stolen from the young people of my generation, and I truly think that many of the Fathers of Vatican II held a deep hatred for the Catholic Faith that they allowed it all to be stripped away after the Counsel. No one can honestly look back and call that Counsel great, or those men holy.

    Yet that Counsel still said that the liturgy is suppose to be the source and summit of our faith, yet paradoxically the Novus Ordo is still the “ordinary” liturgy in the latin rite. You think it’s bad now? It’s just going to get worse, you just wait.

    And BTW, Patrick Gannon is 100% correct about evolution. Evolution is not compatible with the traditional teaching of Adam and Eve being the first parents of the human race, and having Preternatural Gifts of Integrity, Immortality and Infused Knowledge. Theistic evolution is not an answer to the challenge of Evolution, it’s just a denial of the faith, like the Church has done so much today. Frankly, the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation offers a better solution to evolution than does those in high places in the Church right now.

  4. James Reply

    And also, the people in the picture are NOT SUPPOSE TO BE HOLDING THEIR HANDS OUT LIKE THAT. The Church has said you’re not suppose to be imitating the priest, lay people do not concentrate with the priest. Why don’t priests correct error anymore?

  5. RDB Reply

    I would respond to Thomm and Patrick by recommending that they read JH Newman’s Aid to a Grammar of Assent. Their objections were adequately addressed by Newman in the 19th century.
    Christian Smith also makes the point that in their research, no estranged emerging adult had a father who was a practicing Catholic and in their book Young Catholic America (pg. 124) makes the summary point that while the faith of mothers is important, the fathers is in most cases necessary. “Committed Catholic fathers are not a sufficient condition for producing children who will be committed Catholics down the road. However, in most cases, having a committed Catholic father seems to be a necessary condition.” “In short, the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children.”

    1. Tom Rafferty Reply

      “In short, the faith of Catholic fathers is powerfully determinative of the future faith of their children.” BDB, that old trope is falsified by so many of us atheists it is laughable. Both my father and mother were devout Catholics and I was also to the point of almost joining the Maryknoll Brothers. What happened? I finally saw that there was no evidence for an interventionist god, thus, my conscience would not allow me to continue with religious superstition. Educate yourself:

      1. rdb Reply

        Your experience and that of other atheists does nothing of the sort. It is not a badge of honor to claim that you don’t understand metaphysics and a reality greater than the material universe.

        1. Tom Rafferty Reply

          How do you know that there is a reality of metaphysics? All we really know is that you and others use the term to describe some concept beyond our knowledge. I prefer to live in reality presented to me through the findings of science, the best tool for understanding reality. You, and I at one time, accept what you have been told by people who are making claims without evidence, thus, you are deluded.

          1. rdb

            Tom, the most important decisions we make are not done scientifically. No healthy person looks to science to decide who they will marry. Science has its place but it is not the only way to see reality, including that which is beyond the material. A color blind person does not prove there is no color. An atheist does not prove there is no God.

          2. Tom Rafferty

            rdb, I don’t argue that every human decision must be done scientifically. I do argue, however, that, regarding OBJECTIVE reality, opinion and belief should always be formed in the light of what is known through science. Religious people are making the claim that there IS a metaphysical (supernatural) OBJECTIVE reality. There is no evidence for such. The one making the claim on reality is obligated to provide justified evidence for such. Thus, an atheist does not have the burden to show that there is no God.

  6. rdb Reply

    Tom, then can we agree that Science cannot prove that anything exists beyond the material world?

    1. Tom Rafferty Reply

      I fully agree with that, rdb. However, since there is no evidence for the supernatural, I am agnostic on the matter. Please ponder that you are giving the supernatural an unwarranted break: in every other area of your life, you depend on objective evidence to determine reality, and that includes the objective signs of love, generosity, et al you get from a prospective spouse prior to marriage. By the way, your subjective feelings formed by such objective signs are simply part of human consciousness and conscience formed through evolution and natural selection.

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