US bishops: Next synod must address disillusioned, indifferent youth

Next year’s synod, which will focus on young people, must address their most pressing problems, including indifference and disillusionment, U.S. bishops said at their annual meeting on Wednesday.

“The synod indeed comes at a critical time,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told fellow U.S. bishops of the upcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, to be held in 2018 at the Vatican.

Cardinal Tobin cited today’s pressing concerns, like the “rise of the Nones” – or young people with no religious affiliation. An “increased amount of disconnected Millennials is certainly a concern for us, as is the decline and delay of marriage among young people,” he added.

The U.S. bishops discussed the upcoming synod at their annual spring general assembly, held this year in Indianapolis from June 14-16.

Among the agenda items for the morning of June 14 was an address from Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, to the bishops, where he called for “missionary discipleship” in the Church to “go to the peripheries” of society.

Afterward, Cardinal Tobin, along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, led a discussion about the upcoming synod, an international gathering of bishops which will focus on “young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.”

“Through every phase of this Synod, the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception,” a preparatory document for the 2018 synod released in January stated.

“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them,” the document added.

Both Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Tobin exhorted their brother bishops to promote a survey of youth available online at It is intended for those between the ages of 16 and 29, both active Catholics and “indifferent” Catholics. The feedback of those working with youth – like youth ministers – is also vital, they insisted.

“This is a time to learn from youth and young adults,” Cardinal Tobin said. “They must have as much at stake in this as we do.”

According to a 2015 Pew Research report, 35 percent of those in the Millennial generation (born 1981-1996) were religious “Nones.”

However, there are also positive trends among young people, which include a high interest in the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, he added, and positive results of parish outreach ministries.

Other bishops weighed in on issues pertinent to young people.

Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Fla. said that the youth have been drawn to Eucharistic Adoration and have a “renewed appreciation for silence and desire for silence which manifests a thirst for spiritual life, for growth in the knowledge of the Lord.”

“We need to develop more the theology of gift,” he added, in a culture of “pragmatism” and “functionality.”  Meditation on the gift in the Cross “needs to be internalized in the discernment of a vocation,” he said.

Many young people are struggling with racism prevalent in society and are “angry and disconnected from the political process,” Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento added.

The Church should think of “how to engage” these disaffected youth, who “feel in many cases disowned by the more traditional institutions and organizations that were important to their parents and grandparents,” he said.

Invitation needs to be a theme of evangelization at the synod, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA. He insisted that active Catholics need to invite their peers to prayer and to the Mass.

Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire ministry, pointed to intellectual objections or challenges to the faith among many young baptized Catholics, like struggles with believing in God and perceived conflicts between religion and science.

The language of missionary discipleship and the sacraments is “opaque” to them, he said, insisting that “we have to clear the ground in a significant way” through a “new apologetics.”

The bishops must “think through this issue of addressing some of these real intellectual difficulties young people have before we can plant the seed of effective evangelization,” he said.

Dr. John Cavadini, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, started the discussion by addressing the bishops on the centrality of the sacrament of Baptism to vocational discernment.

In addition to being a theology professor at Notre Dame, Cavadini is also the director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the university, and previously served on the International Theological Commission from 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, until 2014.

“We hear lots of exhortations for young people to change the world,” he noted, but “this can actually verge on secularizing the baptismal vocation” in making it “a vocation of the world.”

Rather, he said, discussion must emphasize the “mystery of the Church.”

“Meditating on the mystery of the Church” is not thinking about it as a charter or a constitution of some club, he insisted. Rather, it is about meditating on the “wounds of Christ from which His most previous blood flowed” which is the real birth of the Church.

“Meditating on one’s dwelling near, and even in, the wounds of Christ,” he said, brings about an “intimacy of love,” to which “one’s only response can be ‘Thank you, Lord, for this love’.”

Catholics should also see Christ’s example of “self-emptying love” which is reflected in the Church, Cavadini said.

“The one who loves the Church loves the love who had no contempt for anything human, but did not spare Himself,” he said, noting that Jesus reached out to sinners.

“He didn’t back away from that solidarity” even when the penalty for it was death, Cavadini said. Rather, He “received the blow, and so transfigured the whole of human solidarity” from “solidarity in sin” to solidarity “in His love.”

“The Church is the sacrament of that solidarity in the world,” he added, “a solidarity which the world cannot give itself, which does not come from the world” but is “for the world.”

By Matt Hadro



  1. Peter Aiello Reply

    The Church needs to go back to its source documents, which are in Scripture, and forget about the 2000 years of changes that have occurred. I did this personally many years ago, and found a relationship with Christ that has sustained me to this day. My Catholic upbringing did not do this when I was growing up. Whatever changes that there have been are not an improvement over the New Testament. Check out the epistles to see what real Christianity is supposed to look like. There is no resemblance to what there is today in the Church.

    1. Patrick Gannon Reply

      Peter, there are no source documents -no originals in any event. There are no original copies for any portion of the bible, including the NT. It apparently wasn’t “inspired” enough for Yahweh-Jesus to ensure that any original copies would survive. We know that the copies we have today are full of errors and edits, most unintentional, some not.
      I would agree that there is no resemblance of today’s Catholicism to the earliest scripture – which are Paul’s letters. After all, Paul let women preach! Paul knows nothing of a historical Jesus. His Jesus is a celestial demigod. Paul knows nothing of genealogies, virgin births, baptism, disciples, ministry, miracles or sermons. All Paul knows is the crucifixion, and he knows this by way of his visions and older scriptures (some of which are not in the bible). The author of Mark, apparently put human flesh and blood to Paul’s celestial demigod, some suggest, as a way to deal with the ignorant masses who couldn’t be expected to understand the deeper secret mysteries available to the chosen few. Creating a historical Jesus gave these people a way to follow the new religion without being indoctrinated into its early cult secrets – which apparently have been lost to history, as the new mythology took over.
      If we’re to go back to the earliest roots, then we need to worship Jesus the demigod; but we have to keep in mind that Paul’s reputation is shot. He assured his followers that Jesus’ return was imminent. Obviously he was dead wrong.

      1. Peter Aiello Reply

        Patrick Gannon: I think that there is enough cross-checking and corroborative writings to get an idea of what the Bible is saying, even though we don’t have original manuscripts. Paul’s writings have most of what the earliest Christians believed and contested after the death and resurrection of Christ. He visited the apostles in Jerusalem and got an idea of what they believed; so I think he got a good overview of that in addition to what he believed; and was able to compare. There were lots of Jesus’ disciples still around who were with Him while He was alive on earth.
        Because all of the earliest Christians were Jewish, they were still very much Jewish in their Christianity. Their only cult secrets were Judaism. Gentile conversions made them have to think about the place of the Mosaic Law in Christianity and whether the Gentiles needed to be Jewish after they accepted Christ, or in order to accept Christ. This was difficult for many Jewish Christians, and confusing for the Gentiles. You would think that when the house of Cornelius received the Holy Spirit while they were still Gentiles; that this would be a clue that Christ didn’t require conversion to Judaism.

    2. Stone Robbins Reply

      Peter, would you care to elaborate the “2,000 years of changes” that have occurred? Unless we’re talking about the abuses of Vatican II, the Catholic faith has remained doctrinally the same since Pentecost. If I recall correctly, it was the Catholic Church that infallibly decided which books went into the New Testament. To accept the New Testament is to accept the authority of the Catholic Church.

  2. Tom Rafferty Reply

    “indifference and disillusionment”? No, it is wisdom and science-based thinking.

    “like struggles with believing in God and perceived conflicts between religion and science.” No, it is not just perception, there IS a conflict between religion and science: science has falsified the claims of religion.

    “the ‘rise of the Nones’ – or young people with no religious affiliation.” You are putting a small finger into the dike of dogma when the forces of science-based thinking is overwhelming it.

  3. Patrick Gannon Reply

    I think this is a lost cause.
    1) Back in the 60’s and 70’s the Church drove out a generation with its hostility to young people when the Church sided with Nixon against the youth of the country. We did not raise our kids the same way, and the Church lost a big chunk as a result.
    2) The Church has lost the ability to control the narrative. In the old days, information always flowed from a central source to a large number of receivers. That paradigm of one to many, has been replaced, thanks to the internet, with a new paradigm of many to many. This makes it impossible for the Church to control the flow of information, and too many people have access to information the Church kept under wraps in the old days.
    3) Science has debunked the gods upon whom the religion is based. There are five pillars for the Abrahamic gods, and they have been washed out. We know there was no six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck (very bad news for original sin), no global flood, no mass Exodus from Egypt, and no conquest of Canaan as described in the bible. Without these pillars, there is no foundation for Yahweh-Jesus.
    The Church chose the higher path, by accepting evolution, unlike literalist fundagelicals, but in so doing, they dug themselves into a hole. Now with DNA evidence illustrating that we evolved from a pool of early humans, and not just two, original sin is debunked, and without that, what legitimacy can the Church retain?

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