On Friday, June 18, when the American bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of writing a document on “Eucharistic Coherence,” I was at the end of nearly three weeks of church-related travel. I had spent two
On Friday, June 18, when the American bishops voted overwhelmingly in favor of writing a document on “Eucharistic Coherence,” I was at the end of nearly three weeks of church-related travel.
I had spent two weeks in Rome, working with 15 other “young potentials” at the Vatican Dicastery for Communication. We were trying to tackle the difficult communication questions facing the world church: How do we use social media to communicate the gospel? How to evangelize on these platforms? How can we be digital ambassadors of Christ?
After Rome, I found myself at the McGrath Institute for the Life of the Church at the closing conference of the inaugural “Church Communication Ecology” program, where we wrestled with the same questions. There on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, as our group shared new and innovative ideas on how the church could use digital media to bring people to church, we watched the congregation. General of the USCCB unfold.
I noticed that almost all of our conversations started with some variation of the question: How can we use digital media to reach young people?
As I participated in session after session in my own conference, I noticed that almost all of our conversations started with a variation of the question: How can we use digital media to reach young people? As we reflected on the future of the church, I couldn’t help but watch the situation on Catholic social media at that time.
As our bishops lined up one after another to speak at their virtual meeting, Catholics of all political and theological leanings were commenting on Twitter in real time. Some encouraged the bishops, or at least their favorites, one tweet at a time, and hurled insults and accusations against their fellow Catholics with the same enthusiasm. I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. The posting, both of bishops calling politicians and political parties by name, and of lay people, religious and clergy launching ad hominem attacks online, has done more to foment disunity and disunity. church division than anything I saw online during my ministry. .
As I watched the scene unfold, my phone was inundated with text messages from my friends (most of whom identified as former Catholics) asking me what was going on. At a conference on creating a good communication environment for the church, I realized. During at least the six years that I have served in the communications ministry, the church has repeatedly asked how to reach young people on digital media. We have hosted webinars, forums, conventions and snacks. We asked questions on social media and we created campaigns and programs. But I’ve thought of my friends, and I know digital media won’t draw people to a church that isn’t attractive itself. Young people are leaving because they are fed up with the hypocrisy they see in the church.
Let’s be clear: I don’t want to pile on the bishops. They have tough jobs and have endured many challenges in recent years. I sincerely believe that most of them are doing their best in a constantly changing world, and I pray for them daily. I have worked alongside several of them and I can attest to the fact that many are genuinely concerned about young people. But the way the meeting went – its virtual format leaving little space for real dialogue and discussion, and its live, live action reminiscent of a sporting event rather than a meeting of our church leaders – was a display that did not fit the concerns of most of the young people the church is trying to reach.
Young people are leaving because they are fed up with the hypocrisy they see in the church.
I have always been taught that the Eucharist is food for the broken, not a reward for the best Catholics. One of my beloved mentors has told me time and time again that the Eucharist is a person, not a price. But I can also understand that, faced with the confusion or the ignorance of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, our bishops need to engage in one of their most sacred functions: that of teaching. I believe that many would be in favor of a pastoral document on the Eucharist, not a political document.
The USCCB recently clarified that this document under review would indeed be a pastoral document. However, statements from some bishops and other church leaders, as well as many others on social media, seem to confuse the issue.
None of the political parties in the United States espouse the fullness of Catholic teaching, but we are dealing with a difficult outlook when many American church leaders were not so vocal or proactive in the face of racism, sexism, xenophobia, migrant and refugee crises, children in cages, armed violence and environmental degradation. However, these same leaders have rushed with much more vigor to address the current administration’s views on abortion.
This hyperfocus on one politician leaves many young Catholics wondering where this focus and passion for church teaching lies when working with political figures who support the death penalty or euthanasia. It also leaves many people wondering if leaders, or church members, are incapable of seeing our own faults.
It appears that the bishops have decided to address President Biden’s dignity in receiving communion, while neglecting the tensions and latent crises among the faithful.
The church in the United States has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, and many of our faithful have been or continue to be separated from the Eucharist for health and safety reasons. The pandemic came on the heels of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on the current crisis of sexual abuse in the church, and amid a proliferation of vitriol directed against Pope Francis and the institutional church by many of its members.
With the church in the United States already in shock, it appears the bishops have decided to address President Biden’s dignity of receiving Communion, while neglecting the tensions and latent crises among the faithful.
One person I know put it even more candidly: “The church is on fire right now, and the bishops have decided that denying President Biden’s Communion is the most important thing?
It all happened in public, on #CatholicTwitter and in Catholic Facebook groups for the whole world to see. In a time when the confidence and faith of many in the church was hanging by a thread, they turned to our media and saw bishops arguing publicly between themselves and their congregation offering insults, fights, threats, even people calling themselves heretics.
We, the Catholics of the benches, also share the responsibility.
Why would anyone want to join a group like this? How could we take seriously the call to love one another, to love our enemies, when this is the example we set?
We, the Catholics of the benches, also share the blame. On my own Twitter thread, Catholics questioned my faith and told me that I am more loyal to politics than to Jesus. Just last week my wife and I were ridiculed by another Catholic in a thinly veiled criticism of our lack of children. If a person questioning their Catholic faith, or considering joining the church, encounters a comment mocking someone in that same church for not having children, why would that person want to join a church? organization like this?
Young people encounter hypocrisy in the church every day on #CatholicTwitter. A tweet, post, article, or email can make all the difference in bringing someone to Christ or sending them back for good. It’s easy to throw a witty retort and try to win the argument with someone. It is much more difficult to meet them authentically. Only one of these paths can evangelize.
The disunity of our church is not solely the fault of our bishops, and it would be unfair to lay all of the blame at their feet. There are a lot of complaints. Those who, on social media, identify first with a political party or with a “liberal Catholic” or a “rad trad” are as responsible for our current state as anyone else. I continually discern how my own actions can contribute to the situation.
If you don’t believe me, just ask St. Paul. Our current dilemma is not as unique as you might think:
I urge you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree with what you are saying, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you are united in the same spirit and for the same purpose (1 Corinthians 1:10).
The good news in this scripture is that we can all share the solution. We must begin with unity and be rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Only then will we become credible in the eyes of young and old alike. Only then will they take seriously our message of Christ’s love, solidarity with the poor, and universal brotherhood as a member of one human family, no matter what platform we take. let’s share.
We must be a model for the world. Only then can we make disciples of all nations.