I'm having trouble seeing all those hordes of JPII kids who are going to save Catholicism. Maybe they are in the confessionals.
Peter Steinfels has a piece on Commonweal which is receiving a lot of interest. He deals with the exodus of US Catholics from the pews and some of the reasons for it. One of the points I was personally glad he made is the incredible disconnect between the reporting about the John Paul II generation of youth and that generation's real representation in the pews. Which is about nil. One of the major reasons for this, at least as found by current research, is the younger generations are turned off by the conservative politics of Church leadership. This includes conservative political attitudes towards social justice and ecological issues as well sexual morality. This is not just true for Catholic youth, but plays across the whole spectrum of Christian denominations.
From my perspective it seems Evangelical Protestants have a better grasp of this situation than our Catholic leadership--at least our most vocal Catholic leadership. For instance, there have been more pleas for real understanding of the gay bullying issue from Evangelicals while Catholic leadership has been stunningly silent. Unfortunately this silence is the exact wrong strategy to use if the Church really gave a damn about the loss of it's youth. These youth have gone way beyond concern about gay issues. In their minds gay rights is a done deal.
In my own experience it is the description of the kind of God implied in conservative political ideology that is a major stumbling block for these younger generations. So many of them have grown up in split families that the patriarchal God of the Old Testament doesn't have much resonance. They haven't experienced the kind of family order that conservatives are trying to say is God's order. When serial monogamists like Newt Gingrich give speeches about the divine nature of this family order, they smell hypocrisy and exit stage left.
For a lot of them paternity is not about a benevolent male authority figure, it's about male abandoment.
I don't actually have any idea as to how the current version of Catholicism is going to successfully make any inroads with these younger generations. I was really disappointed with the roll out of Benedict's new Vatican dicastery for the evangelization of the old Catholic strongholds. Archbishop Reno Fisichella sounded as if he didn't have a clue as to what his assignment was about. The best he could offer was he would get right on adding other languages (other than Italian and Latin) to the not yet fully constructed website for the not yet thought out plan by the not yet staffed dicastery. Great.
Maybe this lack of foresite for Benedict's new initiative indicates the Vatican is aware of some hard facts. Unless there is a massive change in the conceptualization of Catholic theology and a true reformation of how the Church does business it will not survive as a meaningful entity. Benedict has decided that survival of the current model of the Church is worth any cost. He is throwing verbal tokens in the direction of the lost sheep while spending the vast majority of his energy upholding the current clerical system and espousing the pre Vatican II Christology which is so necessary to that clerical system.
This is a Church which is essentially preaching to the maturity and intellectual level of naive high schoolers. Benedict's vision of the 'simple people' sometimes seems as if he sees his core audience as one big class of freshmen college students and his classroom is fully committed to the idea of 'en loco parentis'. This most certainly seems to be what he is seeking in seminary candidates and episcopal appointments. It is a recipe for virtually the total loss of the thinking West, but also most of the developing third world.
Worse than this, it makes the statement loud and clear that caring for souls is not what he is about. He is about saving the clerical Church. Evangelization implies a moving out towards others. Benedict's Church is telling Catholics it is our duty to move towards the stagnant center of Rome, not the Church's duty to reach out to the evolving margins. This is matched by his idea of ecumenism in which he has reached out for the most reactionary components of historical Catholicism while silencing or condemning the progressive components.
If the question for Catholics is sacrificing emotional maturity and intellectual integrity for the sake of full communion in the Church, the numbers that Peter Steinfels laments are only going to get worse. As long as the restorationist movement holds sway in Rome, the Roman Church will continue to shrink. Maybe it's time disaffected Catholics started buying up some of the property the shrinking Roman Church is selling. No reason their loss shouldn't be someone else's gain.