New generation of lapsed


Often, when I talk to priests from Catholic countries, or countries that formerly had a strong Catholic life, I have a sense of déjà-vu, as though they are sincerely and earnestly addressing problems that we faced in England 30 years ago.

Some of the things that Pope Francis has said strike me in the same vein. It is great to hear that he told priests not to turn away unmarried mothers who bring their children for Baptism. When I was newly-ordained (nearly 30 years ago), in the inner-city parish I first worked in, more than 50% of the children that we baptised were of unmarried mothers. Sometimes these were single mothers but increasingly over the years “unmarried mother” has become a quaint expression. Many are cohabiting, and many nowadays have got married in a hotel or on a beach without any inkling that this is not what Catholics should do.

At funerals, when saying the Our Father, we used to get distracted by some in the congregation continuing with “For the Kingdom...” as is the Anglican custom. (You would let it pass without comment.) Now we often find that there are only a few in the congregation who actually know the Our Father. The BBC commentator on the announcement of the new Pope was ridiculed for this, but his ignorance is not by any means unusual. How would people know the Our Father if they do not say it in school, do not say prayers at home, and don’t go to Church?

It is no longer a question of being kind to the “lapsed” but of trying to get something across to the generation who do not know the "Our Father", people who have no contact with a Church at all, and no knowledge of the Christian faith beyond the distortions that they have seen in the media. On Catholic blogs we often highlight these distortions. We have to remember that for many people those caricatures of Christianity are all that people have in the way of religious education. If we don't give a considered and accurate account of Catholic teaching on "difficult" issues such as abortion, contraception and same-sex unions, we will leave people with the caricatures.

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