Young Catholics Seek to Restore Old Values on Sex
John Paul II has left behind a generation of committed young Roman Catholics who are already shaping the church in a more conservative mold than did their parents. Church leaders call them Generation John Paul II.We are inherently skeptical of “trends” discovered by journalists in the absence of solid survey data. On the other hand, the issue here is not whether all young Catholics are conservative on sexual issues, but rather whether there is a cohort that will remain active in the Church and shape its direction in future years.
At Catholic universities, these are the students studying the “theology of the body” - John Paul’s theological justification for a conservative sexual ethic that includes opposition to contraception, abortion, premarital sex and some forms of assisted reproduction.
“One of the great shocks to me was how conservative the people younger than me are, and these are Catholics from all over the world, not just the United States,” said James Keating, 40, an American theologian who is spending his sabbatical in Rome running the Lay Center at Foyer Unitas Institute, a guesthouse for Catholic students.
Jennifer Miller, 24, from North Carolina, who is studying philosophy and the “theology of the body” at the Angelicum in Rome, said she has been delighted to discover that many younger Catholics, especially the priests, are theological and cultural conservatives like herself.That the conservatives have the parishes that grow might seem odd. They are the ones whose faith makes demands on people and imposes restrictions on their behavior, yet they gain adherents. After all, as any economist will tell you, demand curves slope to the right. Increase the cost of something, and the quantity demanded will decrease. Religious conservatives appear to be increasing the “price” of religion by their demands and restrictions.
“I was recently living in Louisiana and saw it especially in the priests,” she said. “They’re very conservative, especially concerning the theology of the body. They’re not afraid to preach it. And they have the parishes that grow.”
But this analysis breaks down if the religious liberals are decreasing the quality faster than they are decreasing the price. Somehow, it’s hard to believe that, if there is a God, He doesn’t care much about how people act on fundamental moral matters. One can hardly imagine Moses going up to Mt. Sinai and saying “Lord, have you any commands for us?” and God responding “Do whatever you wish, my children.”
Thus liberal relgion makes it very easy to remain in the pew, but hard to feel that the exercise has any significance. Eventually, remaining in the pew also ceases to matter.