Monday, December 15, 2008

The Great Catholicity of Catholic Colleges Debate might be the last place you'd expect to find good, orthodox Catholicism, but I really enjoy Scott Richert's posts. The weekly emails from bring good articles to my attention, this being one of them: Are Catholic Colleges Really Catholic?

The main focus of the blog post is a new survey of current and former students at Catholic colleges by the Cardinal Newman Society, with some very sad results. According to the survey, 60% of these students believe abortion should be legal, 60% believed premarital sex was not a sin, 57% supported gay "marriage" and 57% said the experience of attending a Catholic college or university had no effect on their participation in Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation. 1 in 5 students knew another student who had or paid for an abortion. The survey reported that “Most respondents say that the experience of attending a Catholic institution made no difference in their support for the Catholic Church or its teaching or their participation in Catholic Sacraments."

The numbers look pretty bleak, but I wanted to know whether the whole story was being told. The article did not say whether the students surveyed identified as Catholic. Clicking through to the Newman Society's web page, I found the PDF of the survey report. According to the report, 58% of students surveyed were Catholic in college and are still Catholic now. (Sadly, not many non-Catholics were inspired to convert by their college experience - only 1% were not Catholic in college and are Catholic now.) The survey identified "sacramentally active" Catholics as those who attended Mass at least once weekly and Confession at least once yearly. Just 48% percent of the survey takers fell into this category (vs. the 65% who identified as Catholic while in college).

Did being an "active" Catholic make a difference in attitudes and behavior? Not really - the sacramentally active Catholics were only slightly less likely to have gotten drunk or had premarital sex in college, and were just as likely to have viewed pornography. They were only slightly more likely to agree with Church teaching. A full third of the sacramentally active Catholics did not believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist!

Did the study turn out to be just as depressing as I thought it would be? Well...yes. There was a shockingly large number of active Catholics who did not know or disagreed with Church teaching. If we Catholics don't take our doctrine seriously, how do we expect anyone else to, really? But are Catholic colleges to blame for this state of affairs? I'd argue that by the time students get to college, their views are well-formed. It's hard to meet an age group more opinionated - and more steeped in the morally relativistic culture - than high school and college students. When it comes to forming Catholic values, the seeds are planted long before students ever reach college. I wonder how many of these students come from homes where Mass is a once-weekly event that doesn't really impact our lives at all. From the way even the practicing Catholic students seemed to compartmentalize their faith, I'd say a lot of them do.

I also wonder how much of this is a crisis of catechesis vs. a crisis of faith. I used to think, smugly, that "they just don't KNOW" Catholic doctrine. But watching what happened with the election, and so many Catholics voting for Obama, I think the reality is that young Catholics know church doctrine and just don't care. The encounter with Christ is what seems to be missing here. The good news is, we young Catholics can do something about that. A Catholic college gives us the unique opportunity to wear our Catholicism on our sleeve, so to speak. Bringing Christ to our peers is an important mission for serious Catholics on campus. How can we do a better job?

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