Young Catholics

When labels don't fit

In her book The New Faithful, Colleen Carroll asserts that young Catholics take a more conservative approach to matters of faith than their elders do. According to James Davidson and Dean Hoge, that assertion is not supported by the empirical data produced in their study and earlier studies they have conducted.

One could respond to this apparent contradiction by picking a “side” and sticking to it. So-called conservative Catholics might continue to cite Carroll, while so-called Catholic liberals might point to the Davidson/Hoge data. That response would be a shame, because it would forfeit a valuable opportunity to discuss the challenges involved in handing on the faith to the next generation.

Davidson and Hoge say that “millennial” Catholics (born between 1978 and 1985) are not markedly different from the post-Vatican II generation (born between 1961 and 1977). That leaves open the question of how different the attitudes of those who grew up after the Second Vatican Council are from those who grew up before or during it. In my view, that is the crucial dividing line. I am a post-Vatican II Catholic; my students are millennial Catholics; although different in some important ways, our respective experiences of growing up in the church have more in common with each other than either does with the experience of those whose faith formation took place in the pre-Vatican II church.

I see six basic...

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About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.