Recently, the Vatican held a PRE-SYNODAL Meeting with 13-30-year-olds. This meeting was designed to get the input from young people all over the world to help the bishops in their deliberations regarding young people that will take place in October 2018. If you associate with Catholic twitter at all, you know that this document is being heavily criticized by more conservative Catholics. Recently ENTW entered the fray through their show, The World Over.
In the show, the host asks, “Why are we listening to young people who don’t have life experience and have not been properly catechized.” Not only is the statement a loaded question, but it expresses a dismissive attitude towards young people. However, the reality is that young people are the future of the church and thus deserve a voice in the direction of the church. When watching the full interview segment, it becomes abundantly clear that the real fear is not the opinion of young people, but rather the liberal agenda. Certain individuals believe rightly or wrongly that the actions of Pope Francis and his writing of AMORIS LÆTITIA have encouraged a certain situational ethics. For example, AMORIS LÆTITIA hints at the idea that certain divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to take communion at the discretion of the priest.
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin –which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end. (AMORIS LÆTITIA, pg 237). The footnote reads, “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 ,1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).”
While not an outright endorsement of communion for divorced and remarried, it does provide enough ambiguity that would allow liberal-leaning priest and bishops to advocate for a change in practice. Hence, there is a genuine mistrust of Pope Francis by radical traditionalist Catholics, who want to uphold the teachings of the church. This mistrust extends to the letter written by youth in that either the youth themselves are liberal-leaning and want change (due to an improper catechesis) or they are puppets for Pope Francis’ liberal agenda. To this end, I would like to make two points. First, I would like to suggest that this fear is unfounded. Second, readers misunderstand the purpose of the letter.
To the first point, I would like to cite Matthew 16:18,
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”…
In this passage, Jesus appoints Peter to lead his church. Peter in Greek means rock, so quite literally Peter is the rock. Jesus makes a promise. The promise is the church founded by Peter will last; nothing can destroy it. Do we honestly believe this? Keep in mind, that Peter was not perfect. Peter denied Jesus three times. In fact, right after being given this promise by Jesus, Peter is rebuked for wanting to prevent the crucifixion. Mathew 16:22-23,
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Hence, clearly, the promise of the church lasting is independent of the Pope being perfect. Yet, in today’s age, when the pope speaks with imperfect clarity, conservative Catholic automatically assume that the church is in danger of changing its fundamental dogma. However, rather than being fearful, I would choose to rest in God’s promise that the Catholic church will prevail. That whatever happens with the synod for young people, the Catholic church as we understand it will prevail. However, I do not foresee any dogmatic changes for one simple fact, the letter is not a theological document.
This brings me to my next point; critics of the document do not understand the intended purpose of the document. The third paragraph expresses its intended purpose;
It is important at the outset to clarify the parameters of this document. It is neither to compose a theological treatise, nor is it to establish new Church teaching. Rather, it is a statement reflecting the specific realities, personalities, beliefs and experiences of the young people of the world. This document is destined for the Synodal Fathers. This is to give the Bishops a compass, pointing towards a clearer understanding of young people: a navigational aid for the upcoming Bishops’ Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in October 2018. It is important that these experiences be viewed and understood according to the various contexts in which young people are situated.
From the beginning, the document clearly establishes that no new teaching is intended, rather the letter is merely a synthesis of opinions that young people have regarding the circumstances that they find themselves. The major sense that I get from this document is that young people need a place to belong and to grow.
A sense of belonging is a significant factor to the shaping of one’s identity.
Because the sense of belonging is so important, the document notes that . 1. young people need authentic models and complex answers, and 2. Parishes need to be places of connection that impact their daily lives. Hence, we get the most controversial quote in the whole document,
For some, religion is now considered a private matter. Sometimes, we feel that the sacred appears to be something separated from our daily lives. The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism. Sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of “it has always been done this way”. We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards. Many of those who look for a peaceful life end up dedicating themselves to alternative philosophies or experiences.
An uncharitable interpretation of this paragraph would conclude that young people want the church to loosen its excessive moralism. However, if we keep in mind that no new teaching is intended, then this interpretation is unfounded. Rather I feel that this paragraph is describing the ‘because I said so” mentality of the church. I find in my own life that the church teaching can be hard to follow especially in the sexual revolution culture. Yet, there is no place to express my concerns or struggles. In fact, in regards to lust, one priest told me to simply stop thinking lustfully and that these thoughts come merely because I am older. The systems that work in past generations, no longer work now. My generation sadly no longer blindly accepts waiting until marriage. Hence, children being catechized no longer come from two-parent households. There needs to be a way of welcoming those of “irregular unions” without sacrificing our heritage and moral teachings. If the church fails to recognize and love those, who fail to live up to its standards, then the church will continue to lose young people.
The point is that the church can no longer stick fingers in its ears and ignore the voices of the young people. Their opinions deserve to be heard because their struggles are real. As a young person myself, I want the church to love those, who are broken, while still standing her ground on moral issues. I want to support my attempts to live chastely, but please acknowledge that it is hard. Accompany me on my journey, but please don’t tell me to do it simply because “it has always been done this way.” Importantly, don’t let your fear of the liberal agenda cause you to ignore the issues facing the young people. Have faith that the church will prevail.