The role of the Catholic Church in young people’s lives has been a topic of much discussion and concern in recent years. It is clear that the Church is facing a significant challenge in retaining and engaging young people, as many of them are leaving the Church and identifying as “nones” – those who profess no religious affiliation. This article will explore the reasons behind this trend and examine the role of the Catholic Church in the lives of young people today.

The Church and the Hemorrhaging of Young People

It is widely acknowledged that the Church is experiencing a loss of young people. The demographic of “nones” is rapidly growing, and a significant portion of them are coming from the Church. This trend is concerning and requires attention and reflection from the Church leadership.

The Controversy Surrounding World Youth Day

The controversy surrounding Cardinal-Designate and World Youth Day (WYD) organizer Americo Aguiar’s remark about the focus of the event being “fraternity” rather than “conversion” has sparked heated discussions. Aguiar’s statement has been met with backlash and attempts to clarify his intentions. However, amidst the controversy, one key element seems to be missing – the mention of Jesus.

Identifying the Root of the Problem

While the focus on the Christological aspect of WYD is essential, it is crucial to recognize that the issue at hand extends beyond this event. The declining engagement of young people with the Church is indicative of a more significant problem within the Church itself.

The Sacrament of Confirmation and Ecclesial Exodus

Confirmation, often seen as a sacrament of initiation, has become a significant turning point for many young people in their relationship with the Church. Unfortunately, it has also become a point of departure for many, as they disengage from the Church after Confirmation. The reasons for this disengagement are multifaceted, including delayed marriage and a cultural shift in the perception of marriage.

The Primacy of Elementary School Catechesis

In many parishes, the focus of catechetical attention is on elementary school students. The preparation for First Confession, First Communion, and Confirmation takes center stage, while post-Confirmation catechesis in high school is often neglected. This discrepancy in emphasis leaves young Catholics ill-prepared for the challenges they face in college and beyond.

The Role of Catholic Colleges and Universities

Catholic colleges and universities have the potential to play a significant role in the faith formation of young people. However, many institutions fall short in promoting and supporting orthodox Catholic religious programs. While some Catholic student groups and organizations provide a more robust religious experience, the responsibility often falls on the students themselves to seek them out.

The Failure of Catholic Higher Education

The failure of Catholic higher education in the United States to fulfill its evangelizing mission has been a topic of discussion for some time. The focus on rankings and institutional goals, rather than the spiritual formation of students, has contributed to this problem. Catholic universities must prioritize their role in the evangelization of young people and provide a clear and robust Catholic identity.

Religious Illiteracy and the Need for Theological Formation

Many young Catholics lack a solid foundation in their faith beyond the sacraments of initiation. Their religious education often ends after Confirmation, leaving them ill-equipped to engage in critical theological inquiry. The presence of dissenting voices within religious studies and theology departments further perpetuates religious confusion and misinformation.

The Role of College in Religious Identity

The college years are a crucial period in the formation of young people’s religious identity. College provides an opportunity for intellectual, social, cultural, and spiritual growth. However, many colleges, including Catholic ones, neglect the spiritual aspect of this formation. This neglect leaves young people with a fragmented understanding of their faith, susceptible to adopting a “spiritual but not religious” outlook.

The Absence of Clergy in Higher Education

The absence of clergy in colleges and universities exacerbates the challenges faced by young people in their spiritual development. Many bishops hesitate to support campus ministry or provide priests for this vital role. The lack of clerical presence sends a mixed message about the importance of faith and reason in the Catholic Church’s teachings.

Rethinking the Approach to Engaging Young People

Instead of focusing solely on the watering down of events like World Youth Day, it is essential to take a broader perspective on the challenges faced by the Catholic Church in engaging young people. Reevaluating the Church’s approach to catechesis, youth ministry, and higher education is crucial in preventing further loss of young Catholics.


The role of the Catholic Church in young people’s lives is a complex and multifaceted issue. The Church must address the challenges of disengagement and disaffiliation by reevaluating its approach to catechesis, emphasizing the importance of theological formation, and providing a robust and clear Catholic identity in colleges and universities. By doing so, the Church can work towards retaining and engaging young people, ultimately leading to their conversion and growth in faith.