How to Further Alienate Young People from Catholicism

April 16, 2012

In Minneapolis, where an upcoming state-wide referendum on marriage equality is being hotly debated, students at DeLaSalle Catholic high school turned an assembly designed to promote traditional marriage into a debate about marriage equality.  Seniors at the school were required to attend the program given by two archdiocesan officials,  according to a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, from which the students’ quotations below are taken.   Officials ended up turning the assembly into a protest for marriage equality.  The story is a textbook case for how to further alienate young people from Catholicism.  Here’s what the officials did wrong:

1) Assume that young people are pliable and can be easily duped.  Young people instinctively know when they are being hoodwinked by adults. One student noted that many of her peers knew at once they were being used as pawns:

“. . . students were anxious when they heard about the program and were suspicious because only seniors were required to go. ‘We put two and two together,’ said [Lydia] Hannah [a student]. ‘All of us will be able to vote next fall [on the constitutional amendment that limits marriage to same-sex couples].’

“Hannah said the presenters briefly brought up the amendment but backed off when students got angry.”

2) Assume that young people don’t have a sense of fairness and can’t see through false arguments. Young people know immediately when a situation is not balanced and fair, and they react strongly against such situations:

“. . . one of the presenters said that adopted kids were ‘sociologically unstable.’ She called the comments ‘hurtful’ and comparisons between gay love and bestiality upsetting.

” ‘My friend said, ‘You didn’t just compare people to animals, did you?'” said Hannah. ‘I think everyone has a right to their opinion, and I don’t judge them on it. But we don’t force people to sit down so we can tell them their opinion is wrong.’ “

3) Assume that young people will be docile.  Young people are naturally passionate about ideas and principles and will speak out and act if they feel that they or others are being wronged:

” ‘We weren’t being rude,’ countered Lydia Hannah, another student who spoke out. ‘But people were upset, and we weren’t just going to sit there.’ “

4) Assume that young people don’t know anything about LGBT issues.  Both statistics and everyday experience tell people that young folks today are not only much more aware of LGBT topics than older generations have had, but they are way more supportive of such subjects.  Indeed, many of them have involvement with these issues:

” ‘When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset,’ said Bliss [a student]. ‘You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying, and people were crying in the bathroom.’

“Bliss was one of several students who stood up to argue with the representatives from the archdiocese. One girl held up a sign that said, ‘I love my moms.’ “

5) Assume that young people don’t have information. Because of their awareness of LGBT issues, students today have a lot more information about these topics and can discuss them comfortably:

“At one point, Bliss raised his hand and, ‘as politely as I could,’ began to argue with the presenters. He used his knowledge of history to refute many of their points, and explained that various cultures have accepted and embraced homosexuality going back hundreds of years.

” ‘I think they were surprised by the history I gave them and surprised that I was so calm,’ said Bliss. ‘I don’t think they expected the response they got from the students.’ “

The story of this assembly reveals that these church officials not only lost these students on the issue of marriage equality, but that they didn’t realize that their heavy-handed strategy may have further alienated these youths from Catholicism altogether.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota’s blog, Sensus Fidelium, recently posted about a homily given at a Catholic Easter vigil mass, which supported the DeLaSalle student protest.  Blogger Jim Smith reports:

“In that homily, he mentioned ‘the candor and ease with which young people discuss the matter of sexual orientation these days, as well as their conviction that something’s wrong when religion gets in the way of love and respect for any person.’  He continued, ‘I am impressed with the grit of the DeLaSalle students to voice so confidently their truth, especially about such a tender matter.’

“And then the pastor said this: ‘I think it’s critical for those of us who intend to hang around [in the Church], to agree that not standing up, over time, for what we know to be the truth, is not right. I too often wonder, “Will this get me into trouble?” or “Can I pay a kid from DeLaSalle to do this for me?” rather than, “What does Jesus Christ ask of me?” In the face of insult, or injustice, or bigotry, or hatred, or greed, or lies, or the abuse of power, the Christian must stand up for and speak the truth, knowing that the cost and consequence – ‘The Cross’ – are part of what being Christian means.’

“When the homily ended, resurrection reigned yet again when the Vigil packed church practiced what was just preached. The church stood, and she, too, spoke truth with an ovation that rocked the rafters.”

Congratulations to the DeLaSalle students for speaking their minds!  They are an inspiration to the rest of the church!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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