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Bishop Christopher J. Coyne

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne

Understanding our young former Catholics: Part I

The numbers are bleak. Roughly half of Catholic teenagers lose their Catholic identity by their late 20’s, and of those who still self-identify as “Catholic,” very few have any connection with the Church. While this is something I think most of us have realized or experienced for quite a while, it is rather stark to see the statistics in plain black and white. It is worrisome -- worrisome for the Church and worrisome for them. 
 
In my travels throughout Vermont over the past two and half years, when I ask people “What are some of the concerns you have?” the top two are almost always, “What is going to happen to our small parishes?” and “What can we do to keep young people and families in the Church?” Both of these are serious topics that will obviously be discussed in the upcoming preparations for and convening of next year’s Diocesan Synod. In keeping with this, during the next few months I will offer some information and statistics that will help educate us about some of the substantial issues involved with these areas of concern.

I recently received a report from Notre Dame University that summarizes an extensive survey of young people who have left the Catholic Church.* The report seeks to understand first the reasons for their leaving the Church, second who these young people are now, and, finally, some implications for forming committed Catholic youth. It does so through the use of six significant findings, the first one of which I will mention here:

They are still believers. Young adults who are former Catholics still (mostly) believe in and interact with (some version of) God. Only 19 percent no longer believe in God. While the practice of prayer is less common, “57 percent of former Catholic emerging adults still pray at least sometimes.”

Implications and opportunity: “Leaving the Catholic Church rarely means becoming an atheist. Many former Catholics still believe in God or some other divine force. ...  This is not fundamentally different from emerging adults who are raised in other faiths. It demonstrates a widespread trend in this generation of moving away from organized religion but retaining a belief in and connection with the divine. These youths (and emerging adults) may be open to discussions about the nature of God that are more sophisticated and inviting than some may imagine.”

So they are “spiritual,” but not “religious.” Perhaps there is an opportunity to convince them that both are good choices: spiritual and religious.

 
*Manglos-Weber, Nicolette and Christian Smith, “Understanding Former Young Catholics: Findings from a National Study of American Emerging Adults,” Notre Dame University, 2017. 

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This article was originally published in the Aug. 26 through Sept. 1 issue of The Inland See bulletin.
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Statement of Bishop Christopher J. Coyne regarding the racial violence in Charlottesville, Va.

I stand with my brother Catholic bishops of the United States in decrying the blatant demonstration of racism that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., this past weekend, "condemning the violence and hatred that have now led to one death and multiple injuries. ... We offer our prayers for the family and loved ones of the person who was killed and for all those who have been injured. We join our voices to all those calling for calm.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, in his remarks on this tragedy, clearly states my own feelings as well: "Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.” You and I as citizens of this great country, and as Catholics, must be constantly vigilant against racist attitudes, words and behaviors within our community. But, this is also especially true of ourselves. To quote Archbishop Chaput once more: "If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts and an insistence on the same in others."
 
 
  • Published in Diocesan

Thoughts on Vacations, Virtue and 'Playfulness'

I will soon be heading off for a summer vacation. Those of you who follow me on Facebook have seen my posts over the years from Pine Point, Maine, complete with photos of sun and rain, surf and turf, and long walks at the water’s edge. I’m fortunate enough to be able to spend time with a large number of family and friends, to relax and recharge. I always make sure I use all of my vacation days. After all, that’s what they’re there for. And believe it or not, I even think I am being a bit virtuous in this.
 
“What?” you might say, “Taking a vacation is virtuous? Surely, the bishop jests.” Not at all. I am sitting-on-a-beach-chair-reading-a-good-book-drinking-a-frosty-beer serious and I offer the encouragement of the saints themselves for your consideration.
 
St. Augustine in his treatise “On music” wrote, “I pray thee, spare thyself at times: for it becomes a wise man sometimes to relax the high pressure of his attention to work." 
 
St. Thomas Aquinas draws upon the writing of Aristotle and even promotes relaxation as virtuous, “Just as man needs bodily rest for the body's refreshment, because he cannot always be at work - since his power is finite and equal to a certain fixed amount of labor - so too is it with his soul, whose power is also finite and equal to a fixed amount of work.” The remedy St. Thomas offers is the virtue of eutrapelia, the virtue of “playfulness” or “fun,” intended to refresh the person in both body and soul.  Now, Thomas does place some guidelines on this: the “play” must not be immoral or “wicked,” it must be in moderation, and it is intended toward a good end, namely to renew and refresh. But, it really is intended to be fun and playful as well.
 
So, here is my encouragement: Even if you can’t get away to the coast of Maine or the lakeshore or any place at all for a vacation right now, make sure you try and grab some downtime to relax and refresh body and soul and practice the virtue of eutrapelia, so as to be refreshed to go out and take care of all the other duties of life and faith. A good balance between work and play is good for the soul. 
 

Bishop's Mother's Day message

I won’t be going to visit my mother today for Mother’s Day; she still lives in the family home in a suburb of Boston, and I will be on a parish visitation in Vermont. My brothers and sisters along with her grandchildren will spend time with her for Mother’s Day, and I’ll make sure she gets flowers and her regular Sunday phone call from me.

And I will go to see her next weekend.

Most women of her generation stayed at home and raised their family. She had seven children, and at one point we were all under the age of 11. She somehow managed to take care of us, handing us off to my father when he was free from work and other chores. There were a lot of other large, two-parent families in my neighborhood; we had lots of friends and lots of adult eyes keeping track of all of us.

Mother’s Day usually meant handmade cards and some flowers but not too much else – it was too expensive for all nine of us to have brunch or dinner at a restaurant.

If the weather was nice enough, it was Dad at the grill.

Such was Mother’s Day then.

Things are different now, not so much in the love and care that mothers give their children but more in the circumstances and culture of the family. There are a lot more “blended” families (children of divorced and remarried parents), more unmarried parents with children, more mothers who work a job or two outside the home, more grandparents raising their grandchildren and more single parents – mainly women. These new realities often lead to unintended difficulties and outcomes for children and parents. Even though most are doing the best they can, personal and familial circumstances are often difficult.

Such is Mothers’ Day now.

Though times have changed, what remains the same is a mother's enduring connection with her children. And as women take on not necessarily more responsibilities -- just different ones -- they continue to be mothers, a role that they alone can hold, a role worth celebrating.

So as I offer a prayer in thanksgiving for the gift that my mother has been to me and my family, I offer a prayer of intercession for all our mothers, grandmothers and surrogates that in this time and culture, they may love their children with a mother’s heart and receive the help and support that they need from all of us.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.
 
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