Catholic Church Starts New Youth Program
It’s no secret that millennials are leaving the Church in droves. Apparently, some in the Church have decided to do something about this. RNS published a puff piece about a new program: “Catholics are evangelizing on campus, trying to bring back the ‘nones.’” The program started more than twenty years ago, and seems to be a throwback to the Youth for Christ (YFC) program, which gave Billy Graham his start over seventy years ago (and evolved into the Campus Crusade for Christ).
The article boasts that after more than twenty years, the program now has over “660 missionaries on 137 campuses.” That doesn’t seem like much to brag about, especially since some of these are Catholic colleges. The author says nothing about its success with Nones or Protestants. I assume it has only attracted Catholics; we don’t know how many were practicing Catholics.
The article says almost nothing about the nature of the program. It sounds like a social outreach program, much like the Moonies ran on campuses. At least initially, there is no discussion of doctrine, just an attempt to convey an atmosphere of a warm, cohesive group. Only after establishing social connections do they try to establish doctrine and cult behavior. The Moonies in the 70s were far more successful than this Catholic group.
Summary and Conclusion
The Church is aware of its problem in retaining its young - much less attracting non-Catholic youth. It has made a few attempts to address this problem, none involving a significant investment of resources. The program discussed here also received little intellectual capital. It is based on old movements from very different contexts. Youth for Christ was formed at the start of the Cold War. It was all about fighting the godless Commies with a new army of young, righteous Christians. It was a very conservative group. The Moonies, on the other hand, were the opposite of conservative - a non-traditional, Vietnam-era collection of flower-children whose public message was one of love.
The Catholic Church is currently facing two major hurdles. First, is a general reaction against traditional religion which also impacts evangelicals and other traditional groups. Second, the Church is hurt by its shameful handling of its child abuse problems. The new youth program doesn’t address either one of these hurdles. It is further evidence of the cluelessness of the Catholic Church.