A Faith Loosely Held

The institutional allegiance of young Catholics

The demise of religious traditions is about the loss of the young, not the death of the old. The present is the future. Young adults-those twenty through thirty-nine years of age-now constitute nearly 40 percent of America’s 60 million Catholics. They are a large segment of the 20 million or so Catholics who appear disconnected from their tradition, that is, who do not attend Mass regularly or have no official parish connection. These young adults are the people who will primarily transmit the faith to yet another generation. There are mixed views on their fervor and commitment: Will they pass on the faith and how will they do it?
The bleakest scenario portrays many young adult Catholics as having a weak, "hollowed out," or "vague" sense of Catholic identity. James Davidson and his fellow authors suggest in a recent study, The Search for Common Ground (OSV Press, 1997), that many are less committed to institutional Catholicism, more likely to be disconnected from the church’s tradition, less aware of God’s presence in their lives, less knowledgeable about the church’s teaching, more impoverished regarding its symbol system, more selective in appropriating doctrine and discipline, and more imbued with the American "Lone Ranger" approach to spirituality. These Catholics might be considered the religious version of the so-called "slackers" of Generation X-"in the church but not of it" (see Paul Elie, "The...

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About the Author

Juan L. Gonzales, Jr. is professor of sociology at California State University, Hayward.