YOUNG people living in Australia have positive experiences of the Church in youth groups, festivals, Mass or liturgies, and outreach, but still feel dismissed for being “too young” or “too Catholic”, according to findings from a national youth survey.
Youth ministers from across Australia at a two-day research seminar in Brisbane last week heard the results of the national youth survey commissioned by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
The ACBC commissioned the survey to respond to specific questions in a preparatory document for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment in October.
Dr Trudy Dantis, who sifted through the survey results to form a document for the Holy See, presented the findings of the survey at the seminar before 100 youth ministers and Church leaders.
Dr Dantis was appointed in January to lead the ACBC’s Pastoral Research Office and was given three weeks to collate diocesan-specific reports based on the survey and completed a national report in November.
The results reveal both the positive and negative experiences of young people.
Dr Dantis said the ACBC expected to receive between 2000 and 3000 responses, however more than 15,000 people filled out the survey, including 87 young people who were not connected with the Church or Catholic faith.
When asked to rate their experience between 1 and 10 of being listened to by the Church, respondents gave an average rating of 5.9, indicating young people are on the fence about that question.
Both school-aged people and young adults had positive experiences of youth groups, Mass and liturgical celebrations, and youth festivals.
One respondent, who indicated being an atheist, said they had a good experience of their youth group despite having a differing opinion to other leaders and participants.
Young Catholics appreciate all forms of the Mass, including charismatic liturgies and the Latin Mass.
“Generally if you have in a parish a whole lot of different styles of Mass, it is highly likely that these people will be attracted to one sort of Mass there,” Dr Dantis said.
Eucharistic adoration was also important for people between the ages of 19 and 29.
Families were listed as the most influential group when it came to a young person making key decisions in their life.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a 16-year-old or 29-year- old – family seems to be a strong influence there,” Dr Dantis said.
“Family across the board has a lot of influence in a young person’s life.”
On the other hand, the survey showed that in some cases, parish or religious leaders actually discouraged young people.
Young people felt listened to by the Church when they were welcomed in a new parish or a parishioner spoke nicely to them.
However if a young person had a negative experience of the Church, it usually occurred when they were dismissed or not listened to “because they were too young or because they didn’t know much about the faith”.
Some young people also mentioned having a negative experience in confession where they were told they were a bad person for committing a particular sin.
Most young adults said their negative encounters occurred when they tried to defend the faith or Church teaching in a group, especially in a secular environment, and were deemed as being “too Catholic or too churchy or too religious”.
A further group of young people felt the Church was “closed-minded or had biased attitudes” when it came to teachings on sexuality and the participation of women.
When it came to issues young people under 19 faced, the top four responses were mental health, school or study, drugs or alcohol, and body image.
Older young adults are more concerned about friendships, relationships and sexuality.
When asked how the Church could help young people, survey respondents asked for guidance, help and counselling as well as support networks and “safe spaces” to talk through their problems.
Young adults requested more faith formation and help in being a faithful Catholic.
Both groups believed the Church should provide more youth resources to support young people.
Young Australians are also encouraging the Church to embrace social media, in particular to provide content for Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Dr Dantis encouraged bishops, youth leaders and teachers to respond to the survey results and reflect on its relevance in their areas of ministry.
Results from the national survey will be released in Australia soon.