The Catholic Millennials We Aren’t Hearing About

Image from Catholic Memes

When I first saw this meme, I was confused.  I, as a 22-year-old Catholic Millennial, enjoy the rich tradition the Church has, but in no way do I feel attracted to the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass and had no idea why anyone my age would. That was all before I dove headfirst into the “Liturgy Wars” when I started working for Pray Tell.

Growing up in the greater Seattle area, I was always surrounded by diversity: diversity of ethnicity, religion, and sexuality. My friend group throughout the latter years of grade school consisted of a Catholic (me), two atheists, an agnostic, a Muslim, and a Mormon. This diversity was not only expected in Renton but also welcomed. And that diversity was all the more encouraged when I started my undergraduate studies at the University of Portland (sponsored by the Congregation of Holy Cross).

It wasn’t until three weeks when I started my graduate assistantship here at Pray Tell blog that I realized there was a very different way to live out the Catholic faith. My fellow students in the School of Theology spoke about all the young, pious, Catholics back home pushing for the traditional Latin High Mass setting. Instead of Millennials pushing to understand and implement Catholic Social Teaching like I was used to, they were spending their time more worried about chapel veils and calling for a reform of the Vatican II liturgical reform.

I had been Catholic and studying theology for years and never heard of this ultra-conservative movement going on among the youth. I studied theology and went to Mass with other Millennials my age and never once did this come up. How is that the case?

I believe this is because this ultra-conservative youth movement is such a small faction, there was no way for me to know anything about it. For years I had been spending my time deep into the theological texts of Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and others. Because of that I never listened to the obnoxious voices coming from the small yet loud group of Millennials that make people think the up-and-coming Catholic generation is going to ruin all the great work Pope Francis is doing. It seems like all my generation does is exalt cardinals who hold fast to the outdated theology of the past and call Fr. James Martin a heretic for his work with the LGBT community. Don’t let the small population of ultra-conservative Millennials shouting on the internet fool you, that is not the case.

I call for Millennials like me to become more vocal. Let us not let our generation be defined by short-sighted traditionalists who have a narrow understanding of our Catholic faith. Let us not let the younger members of our generation growing up under us be indoctrinated by the pious missionaries who are more interested in spreading their rigid traditions than Christ’s all-enveloping unconditional love.

It is time for the term Catholic Millennials to no longer mean “terrifying youth traditionalists.” It is time for Catholic Millennials to mean the upcoming generation striving for the inclusive, engaged, forward-looking Church that we are called to become. Speak up, fellow Catholic Millennials!

Want a place to share your thoughts here on worship? Submit a post to the YouthSpeak contest!

Matthew Nelson is an M.T.S. student at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, and a Graduate Assistant for the Pray Tell Blog. Matt graduated from University of Portland in May of 2017 with a B.A. in Theology and minors in Education and Mathematics.


  1. So very happy to see this. I am profoundly saddened by what is happening to Fr. Martin. More than anything, I am bothered by the hypocrisy.

  2. Thank you for sharing your perspective. To read many internet message boards (a self-selecting group of people who spend hours per week posting and commenting on Catholic liturgy sites), you might conclude that there is a wave of neo-traditionalism among youth and young adult Catholics. Yet my experience as a parish music director just does not bear this out. In the large suburban parish where I serve, I could name a long list of youth and young adult parishioners who have advocated for more contemporary music, more guitars/drums, more music from CCM FM radio. But I could not name a single parishioner under the age of 65 (and few of any age) who have spoken in favor of expanding our use of traditional music. One parishioner famously commented, “honestly, if I never heard that organ again it would be too soon!” I am at least a competent organist, following in the footsteps of my predecessors who were excellent organists, so it’s not a problem with how traditional music has been presented in this parish.

    I aim to lead a well-balanced repertoire of liturgical music using a variety of musical styles and periods. But if I announced a plan to eliminate all chant, all polyphony, and all Latin from our liturgies I doubt any of our parishioners would object. If I made that same announcement on certain liturgy blogs, I would be excoriated.

  3. I am not a Millenial by a long shot. In fact I am one of those ” old grey-haired, horrible, progressive, Vatican 2 Catholics” that I was told by one of the young Rad Trads he hoped would soon be dead so they could have the church they wanted! I pointed out that we older folks were living longer and that he would be a very frustrated 40 year old by the time we all die off and that we are very vital and active in our parishes! So, I applaud your efforts to reach out to other Millenials but what do we do with this small, very vocal group who want to cling to this way of being church? Btw…they are the very reason neither of my two kids want anything to do with the Church. They were subjected to the outright bigotry of a small but influential group…their parents were wealthy..when they attended a Catholic high school. I think of this “fringe”, a not quite charitable way to describe them, as one of the “peripheries” of the Church that we need to reach out to that Pope Francis talks about. He refers to those who are on the existential peripheries as well. Thinking of them that way, they are also then a social justice issue. There has to be a way to reach them otherwise their influence will continue. You mentioned the attacks on Fr Martin. That is evidence of how thier outsized influence has done damage. On twitter in the last few days the comments were loaded with ones from just such young millenial traditionslists.

    1. Thank you for your comment Reyanna and I am sorry for what your children have gone through. I think the best way to help the Church not have people against it simply because of this small group appears to be the dominant group is to really make sure we, as Catholics, are always showing the radical love of Christ and really speak up about that love. It is fairly obvious that we are the majority, we just need to band together and make sure that Christ’s love is what we preach and have that drown out the hatred spoken by others.

      1. Thank you for speaking up, Matt! We don’t hear enough from people who have your perspective, and as a consequence the stereotypes prevail.

  4. As another millennial (26 y.o.) Catholic, the dichotomy presented in this article seems overly simplistic and does not match my experiences. Millennials, or anyone for that matter, cannot be described by compressing together liturgical preferences, social/political views, and theological beliefs into a single axis running from ‘ultra-conservative to ultra-progressive’. I grew up in the Midwest, prefer traditional liturgical art and music, and have been known to attend Latin Mass. However, I also keep company with a religiously diverse group of friends/colleagues, care deeply about Catholic social teaching, and don’t think Fr. Martin is a heretic. Reading this article, I’m unsure which of the two options provided I’m supposed to ‘side’ with. I don’t think that simplifying experiences of faith into two opposing sides engaged in a ‘liturgy war’ fully captures the breadth of viewpoints people have, and certainly doesn’t foster charitable conversation.

    1. I mostly attend the Latin Mass, but otherwise would describe myself as you do. However, I’m on the oldest end of the “Millenial” generation (some people now want to characterize us as being a “micro-generation” separate from the true Millenials). I’m curious how much this author has been exposed to the Latin Mass and the very diverse people who attend it – particularly in urban areas. The traditional Mass loudly speaks to me of “Christ’s all-enveloping unconditional love,” and its strong communal nature is what initially appealed to me. Perhaps the author would find a world of rich, rather than rigid, traditions if he made an effort.

      PrayTell seems overly interested in promoting stereotypes about traditionalists with little effort to understand – it’s the biggest reason I don’t visit as much as I used to.

  5. I found it interesting that a traditional Catholic would lift an image from an article discussing unfaithfulness in dating relationships. That’s not very JP2TOB of them. But to be sure: I encountered many students like Matt in my time in campus ministry. The waves of leadership we would see in music ministry were fascinating. One year they bought Spirit & Song. Three years later the books gathered dust in the music room and a group of student leaders were doing the LH In Latin. Three years after that they were projecting P&W lyrics on the wall.

  6. I have found that some parishes are pushing a Catholic form of fundamentalism as a way of trying to replicate in the Catholic church what they see as the mega church formula of success. I do remember years ago seeing some almost cult-like Catholic Marian groups of youth at the Youth Day in Denver when Pope John Paul II came, so there was the undercurrent of this before millennials were glimmers in their parents’ eyes. What is troubling to me is the over-emphasis on personal piety and a lack of perspective provided by knowledge of church history and teachings including those of the 20th and 21st century which are more directed at the discipleship of the laity in the world not separated from it.

  7. It’s important to have these voices raised, on the theory that iron sharpens iron. Certainly there are traditionalists who need to be reminded that corporal works of mercy (and thus issues of justice and care for the poor) are an integral part of our sanctification; our liturgy isn’t an end unto itself, but should send us out into the world to care for those around us and strive for just treatment of others. Rerum Novarum was in 1891, after all.

  8. I think, by the somewhat puzzling term, traditionalist means Latin Form only. I have always joked, for I am not one to strictly demand Latin Mass only, to make Mass Aramaic again.

    Why? The Last Supper, that was the first gift of Mass, was said in that language by Christ himself : )

    Tradition affirming Truth is greatly important, but it can and probably should be spoken in different languages.

  9. We’ve got to stop it with this false dichotomy of “WE care about social justice and THEY only care about chapel veils!” It’s not true. Some of the most liturgically traditional students I worked with at Notre Dame were also the most active in mission/ministry, and some of the most “progressive” were some of the most selfish. There were also plenty who were the other way ’round. CST vs. Liturgy/Doctrine/etc. ISN’T TRUE and I’m not sure it ever really was.

    1. Thank you, Fr. Waugh. I am reminded of Pope Francis’ history of working with the SSPX in Argentina, because of their commitment to serving the poor. While I appreciate the zeal of the author, I caution about gross generalizations. I have some of those mantilla-wearing families involved in my children’s choir program. We have a “high” sung liturgy with some Latin (typically only the Communion chant at the present), but we are committed to serving the Novus Ordo Mass in English. The nice thing is that the choir includes kids from various persuasions, ethnicities and social backgrounds, who just want to use their gifts to serve the liturgy. I may be out of touch with millenials, but many of my colleagues of the “Reform of the Reform” movement (we really need a better name), myself included, are as equal in their zeal for social justice as they are for beauty of the liturgy. It’s only the American political system that tries to force us into those false dichotomies.

    2. Fr. Jarrod,
      You raise a very good point. I’m sure at the ground level, the human personalities are diverse and don’t fit into neat categories.
      But the stereotypes have arisen for a reason. I think the problem is the internet, which apparently doesn’t reflect the real world or the real church. Some of the websites promoting the unreformed Latin Mass, including those with a very wide readership, are unbelievably nasty and uncharitable. Conservative Catholicism in the internet is oftentimes pretty repulsive.
      If conservative or traditionalist Catholics really aren’t like that, then they need to police their members, and rise up to occupy the blogosphere, and work on their image problem.
      We don’t have accurate sociological data and it’d be hard to get it. We don’t know that traditionalist Catholics are just as interested in social justice, or just as charitable, or just as tolerant and respectful. Somehow, I doubt it. In the absence of data, I think the defenders of young conservatives should be careful in the claims they make.
      Pope Francis has had some pretty negative things to say about young traditionalists and conservatives. I don’t think he’s making things up – there is some real world experience of a pastor behind that.
      Fr. Anthony

      1. Then is the corollary true, that the stereotypes of “liberal Catholics” not caring about doctrine or tradition true? I tend to think not, though confirmation bias is a universal hazard. But I agree, Fr., that the Catholic internet is too often an ugly place where brothers and sisters tear down one another. Advancing false dichotomies is part of that problems, though, not part of the solution. Thanks for hearing me out.

      2. Do liberal Catholics care about doctrine? Yes. They speak a different language at times from their conservative counterparts, but they care a lot about the truth, which is what doctrine is supposed to teach. That is my experience.

      3. Fr. Anthony,
        It would be just as easy to make a similar comment deriding any possible group using the same line of reasoning. (“Yes, but. Stereotypes have validity. Form conclusions from internet commenters. Why don’t the ‘good ones’ speak up? Sure we don’t have data, but if we did, it would match my conclusions.”) Pick any religious or ethnic group and see how well it flows.

        I think it’s perfectly valid to criticize the posts and comments on the websites you refer to for being nasty and uncharitable. But the best way to combat these negative sources is by setting an example of a charitable, respectful conversation. In my mind, applying broad, unfounded dichotomies and casting aspersions about people’s faith, as done in this article, is the incorrect approach.

      4. This “my group is purer than yours” stuff needs to stop, it’s just a lazy way to dismiss other’s opinions without doing any real work. It’s unhelpful and unChristian. Unless you know factually what a group of people is like, you should never judge them to be less than your own group. Liberal Catholics can be just as charitable, and also far less charitable, than traditionalists – both online and real life. I’ve seen some pretty repulsive behavior here at PrayTell – some from the moderators no less. People are people.

        As for “policing our members,” could someone direct me to the club with the official roster? What about the nice tradition-oriented websites, like New Liturgical Movement (which no one can say is any more negative than PrayTell).

      5. Father, take a look sometime at the comments sections of articles from the National Catholic Reporter. You’ll see some pretty deplorable stuff from the left. Nastiness is not the particular preserve of either crudely defined “side” in the liturgy wars. Neither “side” has a monopoly on nastiness.

    3. Thank you for your comment Fr. Jarrod. I might not have made this very clear in the post itself but I’m not trying to put every Catholic in two separate categories. I’m just talking about the differences between these two groups of people I have experienced, the very social justice Catholics I experienced at my time in Portland and now the radical ultra-conservative folks and I am engaging by working on Pray Tell. I 100% believe that the majority of conservative Catholics care very much about CST and I have done theology with them and respect them very much. The biggest problem I have is when certain groups of people take certain traditional views and put those above our call to love our neighbor. By no means am I saying that this is every conservative Catholic out there, I’m just trying to show that this radical ultra-conservative group seems much bigger than they actually are.

      1. Thanks for sharing more context, Matthew. I hope you aren’t feeling like your observations aren’t appreciated! People are passionate about these topics, and I hope that that is also one reason why you are interested in studying and writing about them. It is certainly why I am interested in reading about them, and am grateful to be able to engage in conversation with other people who care about them as much as I do…not to say that questions liturgical are the most important questions, but they ARE important even if they aren’t most important. Go Pilots!

      2. And understand that there are people who put progressive liturgical desiderata ahead of CST as well. I’ve worshipped with them and seen the dynamic at work. Once people feel they have a prophetic call to witness about [X], it will tend to trump everything, and they will have a quiver full (pun intended) of powerful rationalizations for it, and you will not easily disarm them.

        Another thing I’ve learned over the decades: never assume that people’s liturgical desiderata neatly maps into their socio-political views in ways you’d expect. While it can and does, it’s far from a formulaic correlation.

        The more telling problem among Catholics is the division between those who (A) believe Church People Should Be Nice and therefore stifle themselves, ask others to do their speaking for them, and/or engage in a fair bit of passive-aggressive behavior, and (B) have trained, or been trained, to relish an openly agonistic disagreement. While it can be fun to watch, say, Group B people like Mary Hunt and Ted Cruz go hammer and tong, meanwhile the Group A people try to work around them or just stop working and start sniping about them.

        One thing I really detest is watching empowered Group B people cherry-pick information and arguments to mow over or stifle Group A people. This is especially detestable among progressives, because it privileges progressive ends over progressive means – doing Vatican III in a Vatican I way, as it were. This is where progressives need to call out our own, because this kind of thing, in the long run, is a powerful solvent of any gains made.

        Whether you call it original sin or something else, it never hurts to always mind the many ways we humans can and do get in our own way – often with the best of intentions.

  10. Does anyone else see the irony of a “woke” and oh-so-tolerant Millenial having a rather intolerant and bigoted view against his more traditional co-generationals?

    Second thought: it’s certainly possible that the more traditional direction of Catholic Millenials is all just an internet mirage. But if that’s the case, where is the counter-forces? The author is quite right to call them out. If there is a “silent majority” of pro-Fr. James Martin millenials out there, I certainly haven’t seen them.

    1. I don’t think there really is said majority; or rather it is a melting majority because the plurality of that cohort doesn’t attend Mass any more, and hasn’t since Confirmation. Why this is the case, and what we can do about it, is why most of us are here…at least so I think!

      1. The biggest reason millenials and genxers want nothing to do with the church is the hypocrisy they see or they have had personal experience of it. They also hold tolerance of diversity as a high ideal. They see the Church as very intolerant of some, such as their LGBT friends. They see too that women’s roles are limited with women often not taken seriously by clergy and hierarchy. And some have had very bad encounters with the Rad Trads. That is what happened with my two kids. There were some very traditionalist kids in the Catholic high school they attended who though not numerous were powerful because mommy and daddy had money. My kids described their experiences of these kids as “being hit over the head with a bible” on an almost daily basis. The church has an important kairos moment in which to really make a difference with these 2 generation. They admire Pope Francis and seem to listen to his message. But they also see the pushback that can be quite nasty towards the pope and they wonder if they really want to be part of a church that has people in it who talk that way. It will be interesting to see what will come out of the Synod on youth next fall.

      2. An underside of hypocrisy as a summum malum, as it were, is that it also serves as a convenient out: when the summum malum of a cohort is hypocrisy, that allows the it to embrace a handful of relative shallow principles that means, given shared cognitive blindspots of a cohort, they don’t challenge selves to change much – moral condemnation is more easily outward-directed rather than inward-directed.

    2. In my opinion the article addresses the fact that the rigidity and narrowness of ultra traditionalists drive others away until none are left to speak out. This has been my experience in parish life as well as online. A small group non pants wearing homeschooling Latin Mass advocating mothers were allowed to in essence shame several young families away from our community. Seekers were not welcomed or nurtured, their life choices and motives questioned. As a pastoral council member, I had conversations with a few of the young couples who were drawn to Christ but repelled by the attitudes of this small but vocal group. They have the support of our bishop, who hold groups like this up as examples of Catholic living. I find some bishops are too easily swayed by the appearance of piety.

  11. Matthew, likely you never heard about these “scary” traditionalists because many seminaries are the religious equivalent of the secular political/media establishment. You know, that so smart group that was completely baffled by the election of our current president, the ones who all predicted a very different outcome that didn’t come to pass. Maybe you “progressive” Catholics should come down from your Ivory towers once in a while and meet more actual people rather than burying yourselves in (disproved) Marxist ideology.

  12. I want to make a quick point about my post that people are missing. I’m not putting every Catholic into two radical groups. I’m simply pointing out the radical difference between the two groups I experienced from going to the University of Portland and then working on Pray Tell. I’m not saying all conservatives fit in one view and all liberals fit in another.

    The main point of my article was to prove that though it seems like the radically uncharitable ultra-conservative group is growing in my generation, that is only because they are talking louder than the rest of us. That is why I am calling all the other Millennials who identify as conservatives, middle ground folks, or liberals to start speaking up more.

  13. So let me understand the author. Diversity is good as long as the others are not different (traditional) than me. And if we are to discuss how some traditionally minded Catholics have been nasty and uncharitable, then let us also discuss how they have been treated by their progressive and liberal co-religious for the last 50 years. Nastiness and lack of charity is hardly a monopoly of traditional Catholics. Even today how hard it is for traditionally minded Catholics to find a welcome and place to worship in the Church. The way to stop the liturgy wars is to stop the liturgy wars and acknowledge and accept the broad range of options that are now approved by the Church, all in conformity with Vatican II. How many “liberal” parishes would be liberal enough to welcome a traditional Mass in their church?

  14. I really appreciate this article, I was raised rad trad and chose to prioritize diversity for myself after that awful experience. It’s refreshing to hear/read other liberal Catholics my age who haven’t just given up & left – not that I can blame those who do

  15. The Latin Rite was reformed and renewed following Vatican II. The New order of Mass has been in place ever since and is followed by somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% of Catholics. Pope Benedict, risking disunity, offered a concession to those drawn to the former rite. I am truly happy for them but wished they would leave well enough alone. Francis, the Servant of the Servants of God, has declared the new Rite as irreversible and has directed the discontinuation of the term reform of the reform. Could that change in the next papacy? Highly unlikely I would think save for those who long for the election of Cardinals Burke or Sarah.

    1. Francis can’t declare any liturgical trend or form “irreversible” any more than Pius V could declare his Missal sacrosanct. The whole “irreversible” argument works both ways.

      1. Trent and 1570 use strong language because they couldn’t imagine a Vatican II. When Vatican II happened, it became clear that the 1570 could be substantially revised as the Council fathers called for.

        I think Pope Francis is exactly right that the liturgical reform is irreversible – if, that is, one accepts Vatican II. I can’t predict the future. But I can predict that the only way the Vatican II liturgical reforms are *reversed* is if a future Council formally reverses Vatican II and uses language to overturn Vatican II – language as strong as the language Vatican II used when it made its way known.


    2. There are now, without precedent, 3 forms of the Roman Rite, and one of those forms (the Ordinary) with its many options splits almost into two; borrowing Protestant terminology a “low Church” and a “high Church” form of the Ordinary Form.

      The Extraordinary Form itself is not experienced as old-timers describe it. Externally there’s a lot more dialoguing (I’m told that that is due to the influence of Marcel Lefebvre) and many more high Masses than in the old days, and internally the emphasis is, per Vatican II, on participatio actuosa (actual participation).

      Francis didn’t declare the Ordinary Form “irreversible” but rather the liturgical reform “irreversible”. The existence of the Anglican Use under a new official missal put forth during Francis’s papacy and the nomination of bishops to serve the Anglican Use communities bounds the extent to which we can consider the liturgical reform and the Ordinary Form one and the same thing. With that in mind it’s not wild at all to say that the Extraordinary Form is a Mass that has experienced the liturgical reform and the practice of which now accords with what was taught at Vatican II.

      1. “It’s not wild at all to say that the Extraordinary Form is a Mass that has experienced the liturgical reform and the practice of which now accords with what was taught at Vatican II.”

        No. This is simply an unsustainable claim, and repetition of it online will not make it true. It is rather clear in Sacrosanctum Concilium, in black and white, that the 1962 missal is to be reformed and that is to be the only form if the Roman rite. Vatican II simply did not foresee a better celebration of the 1962 missal.

        That Summorum Pontificum is canonically valid is clear. That the pope had the authority to readmit the old rite is clear. That this is compatible with Vatican II, or what the fathers of Vatican II intended, is a very difficult case to make.

        “Without precedent” is the most true part of your post. It’s a clear break (I’d say ‘rupture’ but it’s become a loaded term) with all precedent.


      2. Excellent post.

        The question really comes down to, I think, who “owns” Vatican II and SC in particular?

        Was Paul VI/Bugnini the only one qualified to interpret the “true intent” of the Council document? Or was John Paul okay to do so too? Benedict?

        (One trivial case in point. Under Paul/Bugnini, the Polish bishops petitioned to raise one Polish saint to obligatory status in the 1969 Calendar. Answer: no, and…speaking of “irreversible” things…with the comment that there should be no changes in the new Calendar for the foreseeable future.

        The first liturgical change of the Polish pope was to elevate Stanislaus to obligatory status. The second was to mandate the Baptism be observed on the Monday after Epiphany in countries where Epiphany fell on Sunday, 7-8 January.)

        Were John Paul and Benedict not able to interpret Vatican II as legitimately as Paul? I think a troubling trend in the “mainstream” liturgical establishment today is to see Paul-Francis as a legitimate continuum, and John Paul-Benedict as an aberration. History may judge differently.

        Just as history may one day consign Vatican II to the same dustbowl to which other Councils have been consigned (something Benedict, with his profoundly historical views, has hinted at). Given no dogmas were proclaimed…as Benedict has also noted…that consignment is entirely possible.

      3. Lee, I agree: the question is how to interpret the Second Vatican Council.

        I think the most important legacy and contribution of Benedict XVI and Summorum Pontificum may be precisely in calling that question.

        I’m confident that, on the strength of the arguments, SP will not hold up well. It may take decades to sort if out, and those drawn to the power of a mistaken movement may well increase in number. But the cause is not really compatible with Vatican II at the deep level of argumentation.

        I’m also confident that a future Council will not reverse Vatican II. Perhaps redirect or correct or advance, but broadly within the trajectory given by the Council.

        I’m also confident that the alternative – consigning V2 to the dustbin of history – would mean sectarian fundamentalism as the basic stance of Roman Catholicism. I have to hope that the Holy Spirit, and the wisdom of the entire Church, would not allow that sort of marginalization.

        I respect that others disagree with me. It’s probably not useful to hash out all the arguments around what I just claimed, since they are already known. I hope that this exchange has helped clarify for all of us what the issue is.


  16. Thanks to Matt for raising an issue that definitely needs to be discussed. Having recently completed 20 years serving in campus ministry at a public university in a part of the country significantly more conservative than Seattle, I would say my experience echoes his. The great majority of the young adult Catholics I have served and keep in contact with (both Millenials and younger Gen-X) are much more solidly in line with Pope Francis than Pope Benedict. However the small segment who are more traditional (not necessarily obsessed with chapel veils and the EF – although I have encountered that segment too) are more vocal and visible. As a result, my bishop would see the above meme and think it represents reality. He has said as much in conversations. This is not an insignificant factor, because it is influencing church policies and priorities. And this influences how welcome the majority of young adult Catholics feel in the Church.

    I am reminded of Dean Hoge’s 1997 study of young adult Catholics (Gen-X). It tracked down people based on confirmation records to make sure it was representative of that generation rather than relying on those attending church or who might come forward for such a study. As part of an ecumenical group connected with the Presbyterian Church, and since it was a follow-up to a companion study of young adult Protestants, I got to be part of his initial presentation of the results. I remember clearly his statement that the researchers expected to see a conservative swing in the Catholic group but were surprised that the data didn’t show that. He said that the one segment of young adult Catholics who did show that swing were the clergy. And he expressed the fear that the Church in the US was going to end up with a cohort of clergy who were out of step with their own generation. Those are the clergy now influencing church leadership as to what young Catholics are seeking. We need the voice of the majority like Matt to speak loudly, but also to be listened to.

    1. Out of curiosity, in your experience what would make some be classified as a “traditional catholic”? (exclude the chapel veil and EF people)

      1. In Hoge’s study it shows up in questions such as assent to Church authority, need for lay involvement in Church decision making, the role of women in the Church and in society, sex outside marriage, acceptance of LGBT persons, use of birth control, mass attendance, confession, etc. On those types of issues there is a significant difference between those who came of age during and immediately after Vatican II and the generation before. There was a perception that Gen-X Catholics had swung back in the direction of pre-Vatican II Catholics in their belief on those issues, but the data showed them tracking closely with the Vatican II generation. There has not been a similar study of Millenial Catholics that I am aware of, but my anecdotal experience is the same would also be true of them. So “traditional” would be the name for that minority whose beliefs on those questions track more closely with the pre-VII generation than their own. In the area of social teaching I also see them placing a higher priority on works of charity than working for social change. More often than not, preference for a more “traditional” style of worship is characteristic of members of that group. Like Matt I also experience them as being far more visible and vocal. (I also experience more members of this group as likely to take vocal positions on who is or is not authentically Catholic. Not exclusively, but there is nothing close to equivalence that I have seen.)

        The problem I think has been developing for some time is that, because they are actively visible to Church leadership, the leadership tends to universalise their experience as being what is most desirable and attractive to young Catholics as a whole, when they are actually a relatively small minority.

      2. By the definition of your survey, it seems that Pope Francis himself would be classified as traditional , but perceptions are another thing of course. As an upper millennial, I noticed a similar trend when I was at college as you described. I was perhaps the only “traditional” catholic there but now in the current young adult setting, I am one of the least.

        That may be due to moving to a more conservative area, but also after graduation, it seems that many of the Catholic students who were non-traditional became less engaged. In my area, the 24 to 35 year olds who are very active (attend events outside of weekly mass) seem to be more traditional. While when all in one place, we seem like a big group that is easy to forget how small we really are. And if you were to add to the numbers the other young adults who just attend weekly mass, the group doesn’t get much bigger.

        It seems like confirmation, college graduation (among those who attend) is another time when people say goodbye to the Church. Do you have any idea of how many of your former students remained active post graduation?

    2. Why should we take into account the cohort of confirmed Catholics who can’t even be bothered to fulfil the minimum obligations of the baptised when talking about what “the Church in the US” is thinking?

  17. C’mon, go easy on Matthew Nelson. He’s a young guy. He’s just finding out about Catholic traditionalists. I daresay these comments already have been an education.

    Blessed are the young, for they’re spared the conflicts of their fathers.

  18. I’ve got to say I find a number of these comments disheartening in the extreme. On the one hand, the author of the post is dismissed as “a ‘woke’ and oh-so-tolerant Millenial” and told he “should come down from your Ivory towers once in a while and meet more actual people rather than burying yourselves in (disproved) Marxist ideology” (not sure where the Marxism in the post was but…oh well). On the other hand, more traditional catholics are described as “pushing a Catholic form of fundamentalism ” and “cult-like.” Bleh.

  19. This young man paints with too broad a brush to the point where it seems like he’s engaging in reviling.

    Could it be that his peers who prefer a more prayerful, reverent, and traditionally grounded Ordinary Form or who are attracted to the Extraordinary Form are also interested in Catholic social teaching and in living the Faith in fullness? Signs point to yes, especially if one takes the time to talk to them. They’ll be the first to tell you that good liturgy and striving to live an integrated Christian life aren’t “either/or” propositions. Maybe the author should put aside his snobbery and ask!

    These kids have so much to offer if we let them. I was catechized in the 80s when things were at their nadir, left, and didn’t return until much later. The typical FOCUS or Theology on Tap Catholic had the benefit of being intellectually engaged Catholics during their college years–and of not seeing the Church through the lens of past conflicts. I learn something new every time I meet them. But this because unlike Mr. Nelson I do not let it trouble me that they are enthusiastic for things I am not.

    1. Bennett Kalafut is right on with his reference to FOCUS and Theology On Tap; other movements, like NET Ministries, St. Paul’s Outreach, the Steubenville youth gatherings, are sending to college young Catholics who are pro-active and who already have significant formation in faith and prayer. They are likely to seek out the Newman Center or campus ministry and get involved. They bring with them influence from the movements that attracted and formed them.

      1. A couple of years ago when a blizzard stranded students en route to the Walk For Life a Mass in a hotel bar was all over the Catholic news on the Web. 250 high-schoolers, about Mr. Nelson’s age, and their chaplain/chaperone plus a few Dominican sisters chanted the Ordinary Form, Mass VIII.

        The instigators among the high-schoolers were a group from St. John Cantius.

        Cantius isn’t where I go to make my Sunday duty when in Chicago (the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Cross is…) but I try to drop in on a weekday evening when I’m in town. It’s evident that people there are on fire for the faith, especially the youth!

        Per Mr. Slusser’s remarks, when youth formed by these newer groups and movements go elsewhere they bring their spirituality with them. Not always as dramatically as when stranded by a blizzard, but there’s no escaping it. Since their experience is different than Mr. Nelson’s he may not understand this spirituality, but if he were to ask in that community, the source of their zeal for the faith in its fullness is the Mass itself.

        We’re hardly “catholic” if when we encounter difference in charism, spirituality, or formation we spend 800 words writing what amounts to “not our kind dear”, or set liturgical devotion against social teaching.

  20. “Let us not let our generation be defined by short-sighted traditionalists who have a narrow understanding of our Catholic faith.”

    Translation: We accept all – and anyone who disagrees can just get the heck out of here!

  21. So I’m one of these “rigid, hatful, young traditionalists” that you all keep talking about. And I’d love to open up some discourse. I do take offense to much of what you seem to be pushing as fact here when it is simply not the case with the most conservative youth of the church. There may be a minority of what we call Rad Trads(radical traditionalist) that might fit your stereotype, but painting millions of young Catholics with that same brush is wrong. But feel free to reply and ask me things, I want to talk to you.

  22. This is truly hateful. I’m a Baby Boomer, born at the tail end. I grew up with diversity, not in Catholic Schools though, because my parents wouldn’t allow it due to their own horrible experiences. I do not attend a TLM, although I’ve gone to one twice with my mother, and twice with my daughter, for a total of three times. It was interesting, but I probably won’t go back. Yet, I recognize no fruits of the Holy Spirit in your words. Have some charity. It’s not a war. And if you think all the TLM community is interested in is tradition and chapel veils, you’re too sheltered and myopic. I shall sign my full name, including my Confirmation name. My Patroness is known for telling it like it is.

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