says future of Catholic Church depends on conversion of ‘millennials’
“Millennials” — young adults born after 1980 — need to be
offered a clearly articulated idea of Catholicism to engage “their
understanding, their loyalty, and their deepest energies,” according to Rev.
Paul Philibert, O.P. ’58, the Rev.
Robert Randall Professor in Christian Culture for the 2013-2014 academic
Father Philibert, whose
specialty is pastoral theology, spoke in Aquinas Hall Lounge on the topic “What
is Adult Faith?” The Randall Professorship, Providence College’s first endowed
chair, was established in 2002 to honor Father Randall, who taught for more
than 25 years in the Department of English, the Development of Western Civilization (DWC) Program,
and the Liberal Arts Honors Program.
In introducing Father
Philibert, Dr. Richard J. Grace ’62, professor of history, noted that Father
Philibert has taught theology around the country and the world, including at PC
from 1968-1973, at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, the University of
Notre Dame, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, Calif.,
The Catholic University of America, and St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.
Father Philibert came
to PC as a pre-ecclesiastical student in 1954 and entered the novitiate of the
Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph after graduation. He joined the
Southern Province when it was created in 1979 and has served in all four
Dominican provinces. He also is one of a select group of Dominicans to be
awarded its highest academic honor, the Master’s in Sacred Theology, an
honorary title given for singular intellectual contributions to the Church and
the Order over a lengthy period.
In his lecture, Father Philibert noted that about 20 percent
of Americans do not identify with any religious practice and less than a third
of Roman Catholics identify as “strongly Catholic” in practice and attitudes.
About a third of born Catholics have left the Church for other denominations or
to abandon religious practice altogether.
“Former Catholics make up the largest proportion of mega
church members,” said Father Philibert. “And just in terms of numbers, former
Roman Catholics constitute the second largest denomination in the U.S.”
Vatican II defined the Church as “the people of God …
front-line agents of the Church’s mission,” Father Philibert said. It was a big
change from earlier in the century, when the British Cardinal Aidan Gasquet said,
“What is the position of the laity in the Church? The laity has two positions:
in one they kneel before the altar, and in the other they sit below the
pulpit.” He added a third: “The laity also put their hands in their wallets
during the collection.”
Despite the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, today “the
Catholic Church invites people to become regular consumers of conventional
rituals and traditional formulas of belief without offering them enough
substantial on-going formation,” said Father Philibert. “American Catholics
generally are under-catechized and over-sacramentalized.”
assembly is graying”
The U.S. Bishops’ Plan for Adult Faith Formation said in
1999 that “a living faith is a searching faith,” Father Philibert noted. The
faith seekers include young adults, described by one sociologist as “cultural
tinkerers,” interested in knowing about religious traditions but lacking a
knowledge of foundational ideas.
Rather than shake their heads in dismay, old-timers should
pay attention, Father Philibert said, because “today’s Sunday assembly is
graying and can only be the mainstay of a parish for less than a decade.”
“Catholic millennials still have the same sympathy for
Catholicism that they have for their Catholic relatives,” Father Philibert
said. “Strictly speaking, however, they are unevangelized. They are consumers
of the rites and the sacraments, but they do not become themselves the basic
sacrament of the faith. … There is little doubt that they want a meaningful
life and will pay attention to a meaningful message about life.”
Pope Francis has demonstrated that he may have such a
message, Father Philibert said.
“We notice his emphasis upon the Mercy of God expressed not
principally as doctrine but as loving ministry,” said Father Philibert. “The
unselfconscious quality of his gestures is remarkable, whether he is embracing
a sick child or inviting street people to breakfast.”
Catholics should ask themselves: “Are our parishes in the
business of really welcoming those who are ‘other’ in culture, race, age, or piety,
different from the dominant group? Can teens or young adults find people their
age in leadership roles of hospitality, service, music, or celebration? Do
gifted professionals have any idea that they might take initiatives for
pastoral service and leadership in the parish and the neighboring community?
“These are important questions that we all too often fail to
raise,” Father Philibert said.
Father Philibert’s fall
Randall Lecture was “New Pope, Old Problem: True and False Reform in the Church.” He also offers seminars to juniors and seniors in the Liberal Arts
On April 5, Father
Philibert will convene the 2014 Rev. Robert J. Randall Conference on Christian
Culture. “The Living Sacrifice of the Body of Christ” will be presented from 9
a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Ruane Center for the Humanities with Rev. Robert J.
Daly, professor emeritus of Boston College, and Harold W. Attridge, Sterling
Professor of Divinity at Yale Divinity School. The event is free and open to
the public. Register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Vicki-Ann Downing