e kids are all right
It is the fate of every generation to be defined by its extremes. Thus young people today are derided as the “snowflake generation”: thinskinned, fragile, selfie-snapping narcissists who run in terror for a “safe space” when exposed to a contrary opinion. They are portrayed in the media as “censorious cry-babies” who “love to be offended by everything”.
This is, on the face of it, bad news for the Church. Catholic doctrine is tabooshattering. Our teaching on, say, abortion or same-sex marriage presents a profound challenge to the social consensus. If the Catechism of the Catholic Church were on the reading list at a trendy university, it would be plastered with “trigger warnings”.
But what if the “snowflake generation” moniker isn’t entirely accurate? What if the offence-seeking minority doesn’t wholly represent the rising generation? The 2016 Millennial Impact Report, released in America last Saturday, presents a more subtle portrait of young people born between 1980 and 2000. It says that these “millennials” are less likely to identify with political parties, or regard themselves as either “left” or “right”, than previous generations. But they are not apolitical: they care passionately about individual causes. More than 70 per cent said they believed they could have an impact on issues that they care about, without relying on traditional institutions, especially the state.
In other words, this is a generation seeking new ways of transforming the world beyond party politics. This is rather better news for the Church. For Catholi-
This is a generation seeking new ways of transforming the world cism has a particular genius for effecting change without controlling the levers of government.
Yet in order to convey what Catholicism offers, Church leaders must study this generation intensively. For millennials are likely to redefine politics, culture and technology in the decades to come. The Millennial Impact Report is a good place to start as it offers an empirical alternative to inter-generational name-calling.
Thoroughly investigating millenials’ attitude will ensure that next year’s synod of bishops on “young people, the faith and the discernment of vocations” is more than an episcopal talking shop.
Most research suggests that millennials are less conventionally religious than previous generations. More than half of those polled in Britain in 2013 said they had “no religion nor attended a place of worship”, other than for a wedding or a funeral. This isn’t necessarily as depressing as it sounds. There’s a chance that when millennials hear the Gospel for the first time it will sound as fresh to them as it did to those who heard St Augustine of Canterbury.
If you doubt whether Christ’s message appeals to this generation, then consider the following scene in London last Saturday: 10,000 youngsters on their knees in prayer for Eucharistic Adoration. This was CYMFed Flame 2017, an electrifying gathering of young Catholics at Wembley. The meeting’s theme – “10,000 reasons to hope” – was apt. Each one of those present has the potential to take God’s love where it’s most needed. Behind them are tens of thousands more waiting for a cause to give life meaning.
Last week the Rt Rev Philip North, the Anglican Bishop of Burnley, withdrew from his appointment as Bishop of Sheffield. Sheffield would have been a promotion for the bishop, being an independent diocese; Burnley is what is called a suffragan see. This is not the first time this has happened. In 2012, Bishop North declined the see of Whitby, and for the same reason: his appointment had aroused opposition from those who believed that an opponent of the ordination of women cannot be a truly effective diocesan bishop.
It is undoubtedly the case that a bishop, Anglican or Catholic, must be the focus of unity in his diocese. If Bishop North had become a diocesan bishop he would have presided over a community that was ministered to in great part by women priests whom he did not recognise. That would have been something of a contradiction. Moreover, as bishop, he would have had to appoint female clergy to various parishes. He would have sent to parishes asking for a priest someone he believed not to be a genuine priest.
Yet the Church of England, in its legislation allowing female bishops, also undertook to welcome male bishops who do not support female ordination. There was to be “mutual flourishing” and “two integrities”. That promise now lies in ruins, for the majority, it seems, will not tolerate the appointment of a diocesan bishop who does not agree with female ordination. What will happen next? Will there be any future appointments of diocesan bishops who believe in an all-male priesthood? Or will all future diocesan bishops be supporters of women priests and women bishops? The latter seems likely. The compromise summed up by the phrase “mutual flourishing” was never destined to work, because it papers over too many cracks, and tries to resolve too many contradictions. The Church of England has embraced women priests and bishops; the minority who dissent need to accept that in so doing it has rejected them. They must now consider their position and their future home.
CATHOLIC HERALD, MARCH 17 2017 3