It is no secret that Millennials are losing faith in religious institutions. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 2010 (“Religion Among the Millennials”), 18 percent of individuals under the age of 30 reported being raised within a religion but are now unaffiliated.
This downward trend is something Pope Francis wants to change. Since becoming pope in 2013, he has generated some positive reactions amongst young and old, Catholic and non-Catholic. He is especially concerned with connecting to Millennials and is looking into new ways of communicating with the social media generation—for example, his Twitter account.
In his address to Congress on September 24th, he said, “I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them.”
While I admire his efforts to revitalize the faith in the younger generations, the “problems” of the younger generation have a history of being avoided. The Church still owes reparations to the young people that were harmed by the series of clergy abuse scandals that came to light in the late ‘80s.
I remember first hearing about the abuse scandals when I was eight years old. It was briefly mentioned by a former priest after Mass on Sunday at my church. Around that same time The Boston Globe printed a series of articles covering the cases against priests in the Boston area accused of sexually abusing minors—allegations that eventually led to the accused being tried and convicted.
Now, how do you explain that to an eight-year-old? It’s not like I was reading the Globe those days. And it shouldn’t have been swept under the rug or shielded from the younger parishioners; silence just creates an opportunity for more harm. But how do you explain that a place where you should find comfort and security has been capable of so much damage?
Pope Francis has earned a lot of admiration in the world today as a radical pope, a newcomer who can bring a fresh wave of change to the Vatican. However, while he is valid in calling for compassion in political decisions involving poverty, climate change, and the refugee crisis, these are governmental priorities. Yes, we live in a global society and faith leaders can offer their support and guidance, but the issue of clergy abuse is without a doubt a priority for the Pope and the Vatican.
Pope Francis’s remarks to abuse victims during his trip to the US were met with both positive and negative reactions. Some victims were displeased when he praised the work of the bishops involved in the ongoing effort to make amends. A number of bishops covered up allegations of abuse or were the abusers themselves. And although Pope Francis has created a tribunal for judging bishops accused of negligence, allegations of abuse continue to surface in the United States today. More must be done and more must be said in order to restore people’s faith and trust. Millennials aren’t eight years old anymore, so talk to us like adults. Don’t just tweet at us. Work with us to bring about change.
“Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice… We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good,” Pope Francis said. As a member of this younger generation you hope to connect with, one who has roots in the Catholic faith, I want to see more tangible “hope and healing” in the decades to come.