For National Catholic Reporter, Father Peter Daly, pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Maryland, recounts what his parish learned when it invited its young adult members (many of whom do not participate in parish life and worship) to tell parish members why they have given up on participation. As Father Daly notes, of 500 young adults invited to this listening session, only ten percent showed up.
And those who did show up told the parish community the following:
The No. 1 issue by far, which came up over and over again, was the Catholic church's treatment of lesbians and gays. Everyone, conservative or liberal, disagreed with the church on that.
Here's what intrigues me about that statement. It's clear. It's unambiguous. It meshes very well with findings we already know and have known for some years now from researchers Robert Putnam and David Campbell, which show that young people are leaving churches "above all" because of the ugly treatment of gay people by the churches. It fits with what the research of the Barna Group and PRRI has also told us. It corresponds with the testimony of one young person after another who has left the Catholic church or some other church in recent years.
And yet, even with this clear, unambiguous testimony, hardly any of the discussion following this NCR article focused clearly and unambiguously on the glaring problem — the problem above all — that is causing young people to walk away from the Catholic church and other churches these days. And in subsequent threads at NCR in which people who took part in this discussion have cited Father Daly's findings, one commenter after another talks as if this parish's listening session had identified some other problem — e.g., the ill treatment of women — as the primary reason young people are walking away from the churches these days.
It's not as if those other problems do not exist, too, and demand very serious attention. The problem of abuse of women is genetically linked to the problem of abuse of gay folks; the latter is rooted in misogyny, and this fact needs careful attention anytime we speak about the churches' abuse of those who are gay.
Even so, when we have such clear testimony that the problem above all for young people who are severing their ties with the churches these days is the churches' ill-treatment of gay folks, and when not only church leaders but many lay people who remain connected to the churches act as if these words have not been spoken and as if the testimony about this problem is not clear, what are gay people who hope for some humane response — some pastoral response — to them by the churches to do?
What is anyone to do, as long as we refuse to talk about what is right in front of our noses?