Catholics Are Leaving the Faith by Age 10 — So What Can Parents Do About It?

Catholics Are Leaving the Faith by Age 10 — So What Can Parents Do About It?

Researcher Mark Gray at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate stated the ‘whole concept of faith’ is losing credibility in the young, who do not see God or religion measuring up to science.

[Follow Cardinal Burke’s advice in the same NCReg daily posting:]


His response to the falling numbers attending Mass and seeking Confession, and many children’s religious illiteracy?

“[T]he way to turn things around is to have confidence in what the Sacred Liturgy has always taught and practiced,” he began. “One of the things that I found in the time since actually I was in the seminary, but especially as a young priest, there was always this idea that we had to find some new program, some new foolproof formula which would set people on fire with the faith, which would respond to the question of the tremendous secularization of society. And what I’ve found the answer to be is to teach people the truth of the faith and their integrity and with some depth. For instance, in the programs of the catechesis, which I knew in my early years as a priest, the children at the end of it would have been left with nothing if the teachers, or priests included, hadn’t gone way beyond what was presented in the books.

“And I remember one time interviewing a young Catholic man for a position when I was Bishop of La Crosse, and he told me about his own catechesis, and he was a bright young man and ended up going to Yale University, and he said, ‘I arrived there in which many of the professors were constantly attacking the Catholic Church as backward and so forth,’ and he said, ‘And I was armed with crayons and construction paper.’ Well, that’s maybe an exaggeration, but a lot of it was just that — the young people weren’t taught anything of substance and so they believed that maybe all there was about their Catholic faith was just that well, we’re all good, we’re all wonderful, but nothing more than that, no deep understanding of why it is that we’re good. Who is God? He made us in his own image and likeness, and so forth.”

We finds many “young people are craving so much, they don’t want facile answers, some new flashy program or whatever; they simply want to learn the truth which Christ teaches us in the Church.”


WASHINGTON — Young Catholics are leaving the faith at an early age — sometimes before the age of 10 — and their reasons are deeper than being “bored at Mass,” according to the author of a new report.

“Those that are leaving for no religion — and a pretty big component of them saying they are atheist or agnostic — it turns out that when you probe a bit more deeply and you allow them to talk in their own words, that they are bringing up things that are related to science and a need for evidence and a need for proof,” said Mark Gray, a senior research associate at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

“It’s almost a crisis in faith,” he told CNA. “In the whole concept of faith, this is a generation that is struggling with faith in ways that we haven’t seen in previous generations.”

Gray recently published the results of two national studies by CARA, which conducts social science research about the Church, in the publication Our Sunday Visitor. One of the surveys was of those who were raised Catholic but no longer identified as Catholic, ages 15 to 25. The second survey was of self-identified Catholics age 18 and over.

In exploring why young Catholics were choosing to leave the faith, he noted “an emerging profile” of youth who say they find the faith “incompatible with what they are learning in high school or at the university level.” In a perceived battle between the Catholic Church and science, the Church is losing.

And it is losing Catholics at a young age. “The interviews with youth and young adults who had left the Catholic Faith revealed that the typical age for this decision to leave was made at 13,” Gray wrote. “Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed, 63%, said they stopped being Catholic between the ages of 10 and 17. Another 23% say they left the faith before the age of 10.”

Of those who had left the faith, “only 13% said they were ever likely to return to the Catholic Church,” Gray wrote. And “absent any big changes in their life,” he said to CNA, they “are probably not coming back.”

Church vs. ‘Science’

The most common reason given for leaving the Catholic faith, by one in five respondents, was they stopped believing in God or religion. This was evidence of a “desire among some of them for proof, for evidence of what they’re learning about their religion and about God,” Gray said.

It’s a trend in the popular culture to see atheism as “smart” and the faith as “a fairy tale,” he said.

“And I think the Church needs to come to terms with this as an issue of popular culture,” he continued. “I think the Church perhaps needs to better address its history and its relationship to science.”

One reason for this might be the compartmentalization of faith and education, where youth may go to Mass once a week but spend the rest of their week learning how the faith is “dumb,” he noted.

In contrast, if students are taught evolution and the Big Bang theory at the same school where they learn religion, and they are taught by people with religious convictions, then “you’re kind of shown that there’s not conflicts between those, and you understand the Church and Church history and its relationship to science,” he said.

With previous generations who learned about both faith and science as part of a curriculum, that education “helped them a lot in dealing with these bigger questions,” he explained, “and not seeing conflict between religion and science.”

Youth Ministry Challenge

Legionary of Christ Father Matthew Schneider, who worked in youth ministry for four years, emphasized that faith and science must be presented to young people in harmony with each other.

A challenge, he explained, is teaching how “faith and science relate” through philosophy and theology. While science deals only with “what is observable and measurable,” he said, “the world needs something non-physical as its origin, and that’s how to understand God along with science.”

“It was the Christian faith that was the birthplace of science,” he continued. “There’s not a contradiction” between faith and science, “but it’s understanding each one in their own realms.”

How can parents raise their children to stay in the faith? Father Schneider cited research by Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, who concluded that a combination of three factors produces an 80% retention rate among young Catholics.

If they have a “weekly activity” like catechesis, Bible study or youth group; if they have adults at the parish who are not their parents and who they can talk to about the faith; and if they have “deep spiritual experiences,” they have a much higher likelihood of remaining Catholic, Father Schneider said.

Parental Engagement Required

More parents need to be aware of their children’s’ beliefs, CARA’s Gray noted, as many parents don’t even know that their children may not profess to be Catholic.

The Church is “very open” to science, he emphasized, noting the affiliation of non-Catholic scientists with the Pontifical Academy of Science, including physicist Stephen Hawking.

There is “no real conflict” between faith and science, Gray said.

“The Church has been steadily balancing matters of faith and reason since St. Augustine’s work in the fifth century,” he wrote.

“Yet, the Church has a chance to keep more of the young Catholics being baptized now if it can do more to correct the historical myths about the Church in regards to science,” he added, “and continue to highlight its support for the sciences, which were, for the most part, an initial product of the work done in Catholic universities hundreds of years ago.”

Get AQ Email Updates

5 comments on “Catholics Are Leaving the Faith by Age 10 — So What Can Parents Do About It?

  1. Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Perhaps the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University could look into the question of how Catholic identity on Catholic colleges campuses relates to Mass attendance in the parishes. Father Walsh was always something of a stickler for Mass attendance, as was Father Bunn, but, of course, that was a different era when Georgetown was still actually a Catholic college….

  2. if they have “deep spiritual experiences,”

    But … but that’s what the Novus Ordo is supposed to be!

    These “experience” advocates give me the creeps. And who’s decrying evolution? Fake saint Wojtyla, Ratzinger, Francis are all on board! You liars! You teach evolution in Catholic schools, to be hip! You don’t give them honest science. Good grief. And you wonder why they leave!?

  3. I think that unless a five year old is already being raised in a solid Catholic family (which DEFINITELY excludes the Nervous Ordeal, EWTN, etc.) it is more than likely that, because of the carelessness and grotesque spiritual ignorance of his parents, they will already have seen and heard enough to corrupt them, even at the most basic levels, and make his spiritual life a truly dicey proposition.

  4. Children don’t un-hear or un-see things.

Leave a Reply