As a Latina Millennial I Have to Ask, Does the Catholic Church Stand a Chance?

The papal selfie is officially a thing.

Rather than waiting for digital youth to take to social media spontaneously in honor of Pope Francis’ upcoming Philadelphia appearances, a couple of Catholic organizations ran a widely publicized contest to recruit citizen journalists between 18 and 35 to tweet, tumbl, post, vine and pin the papal visit.

But will a hashtag or two be enough to engage my generation?

Like many Latinos in the U.S., I grew up Catholic. Unlike many Latinos, this was my choice rather than my parents’. They wanted me to decide how I expressed my spirituality, so after taking religious studies (I actually did!), I came to the conclusion that I would be Catholic because Jesus was a progressive political figure who helped others in need.

Later in college, I learned about icons of liberation theology like Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran Catholic priest who was assassinated for his opposition to an oppressive military regime. So I have made a deliberate attempt to accept the Catholic Church for what it can be—a compassionate and welcoming sanctuary,  especially for the marginalized.

But as a Latina millennial who supports sexual and reproductive rights, I find that the Church’s restrictive attitudes make it very difficult for me to remain a committed Catholic.

My generation cherishes autonomy and individualism and rejects rigid identities and roles. Not surprisingly, a recent study from Pew Research confirmed that millennials are less likely to attend church than those in other generations. More than a third of millennials  say they are unaffiliated with any church.  In contrast to their counterparts in 1976, twice as many high school seniors reported “never” attending religious services.  Similarly, college graduates in the 70s were three times more likely to be religiously involved than their counterparts today.   Only 16% of millennials consider themselves Catholic, compared to nearly a quarter of other generations.

A second study, “Generational and Time Differences in American Adolescents’ Religious Orientation,” also noted a decline in religious affiliation and further concluded that young women are the demographic segment driving this shift. The drop among 12th-grade girls who never attend church surged by 125% in the past thirty years, in contrast to the 83% increase among their male peers.

Was this decline inevitable or will millennials (and their children) ever go back to regularly attending mass?

I believe that the Catholic hierarchy’s narrow view on gender and sexuality is a big factor in my generation’s difficulty with the Church. Whereas the Church has taken steps to address other important issues like economic justice and climate change, it still falls short of acknowledging that a broader, more inclusive view of gender roles, sexual and reproductive health, and sexual expression is crucial to the millennial generation.

Laudato si’, the pope’s encyclical on the environment, made global headlines because of its powerful stance against consumerism and its repercussions. Yet, the text falls short of fully resonating with young people’s concerns, resisting policies that protect “reproductive health” (in quotes in the manuscript).

What Pope Francis and his Church fail to understand is that reproductive health and rights are very much an issue of justice for the poor and women of color.  Those who have means and want to end their pregnancies are able to go ahead with their decision, but women struggling financially, who are more likely to be young, immigrant, or women of color, often must carry a pregnancy they don’t want and have to seek clandestine and unsafe measures. And a woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied that right is more likely to fall into poverty than one who can get an abortion.

Moreover it is often poor and young women who have to seek abortions because they don’t have the means to raise a child. Hence, access to reproductive care is as much of an issue of social justice as economic disparity or climate change.

Furthermore, our reproductive health is an issue of integrity and autonomy. As millennials are characterized by our independence and open mindedness, the failure of churches to respect this right will mean that fewer of us will feel comfortable within their walls.

Millennials are delaying marriage and finding alternative ways to form families. With a church that establishes rigid limits on how one should create a family, its impositions collide against a major cultural shift that has no signs of slowing down.

The Catholic Church has shown the ability to evolve.  When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis famously responded, “Who am I to judge?” and demonstrated an inclination to change his position. In this sense, the Catholic Church also has the opportunity to rethink the way it views young women’s reproductive health. It can declare that it is in favor of allowing women to make informed decisions about when and if to marry, when and how many children to have, and how they will take care of their health.

With such shifts, I hope that newer generations, especially women, will again seek the church out for moral and social support. I believe it can again be that place—represented by a figure like Monsignor Romero—that does not judge those who are most in need.


  •' Jim Reed says:

    What does it mean to remain a committed Catholic? Do you decide what it is for you to be a committed Catholic, and decide if you are living that life? Or does the church have to be the one to judge if you are a committed Catholic?

  •' apotropoxy says:


    Not in the long run. No religion does.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis famously responded, “Who am I to judge?” and demonstrated an inclination to change his position.

    It’s one thing for the pope to express compassion informally, but an entirely different matter for the Church to change doctrine. I have yet to see this pope begin to dismantle any of the doctrines around contraception, homosexuality or participation of women in the clergy. Until he does, he’s just another decent but ineffectual man.
    I find it interesting that the author pursued Catholicism because of Jesus’s reputation as a progressive political figure. I see that Church as the promulgator of repression and superstition, with an appalling track record in its ethical conduct over the past two millennia. I guess it just depends on viewpoint.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    A better question is in the short run does the Catholic church stand a better chance than the evangelicals? Does church trump scripture? The church can change, but scripture can only be reapologeticed.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Church judges the clergy.
    Clergy judges the people.
    People judge the church.

  •' Whiskyjack says:

    Based on the Church’s consistent reaction to the pedophilia scandals – hush things up and transfer the criminals – I don’t think that the Church is a very effective judge of the clergy. More like enablers.

  •' TJMacGeorge says:

    “Does the Catholic Church stand a chance?” I suspect that even a non-believing student of history would have to conclude that the answer is a resounding “yes.” The Church — understood both in terms of its institutional character as well as in its theological nature as the Body of Christ — has perdured two millennia of challenges and periods of difficulty or uncertainty. I am a gay man, was ordained a priest (though no longer in active ministry), and still consider myself Catholic. While I doubt that the Church will ever change its perspective (which I share) on “reproductive rights” (i.e. if that is understood to mean acceptance of voluntary abortion), the Church has and will continue to evolve over other issues that make the Church’s doctrinal pronouncements more consistent with an understanding of Sacred Scripture, taken as a whole. Pope Francis is indeed a breath of fresh air, and I firmly believe that he will continue to lead the Church, in its entirety, to being more fully the Presence of Christ in a world so marked by war, poverty, materialism, and systems that undermine the dignity and worth of every human person.

  •' YerNeighbor says:

    Look into a Unitarian-Universalist (UU) congregation – in the huge variety of spiritual leanings and (sometimes) beliefs, you won’t find a set creed, but you will find many “recovering Catholics” who love talking about all these issues.

  •' andrew123456789 says:

    Good and difficult question. While the church can excommunicate, the individual has access to his/her inner self. The church makes self-examination difficult with a moral set of teachings that almost seem defined to create self-doubt. It’s a hard path to walk; I’ve certainly tried many times. Against what will a person make such a judgement, what yardstick? That too is complicated. As I continue to no answer your (good) question, I also continue to fail to shake the RCC off of me.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That’s true. I also don’t see how paper could ever do an effective job of smothering rock.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The individual wants fulfillment, and the church wants loyalty.

  •' jonfromcalifornia says:

    I wouldn’t hold my breath as long as the latter day Pharisees i.e. the conservatives have a stranglehold on the government of the Church, especially in this country.

  •' jonfromcalifornia says:

    For those progressive Catholics who are seeking a church with sacraments similar to their own, I would suggest the Episcopal Church. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I could never see myself in a non-sacramental non-apostolic successive church, no matter how progressive I might be.

  •' andrew123456789 says:

    This pope does seem to be tackling that problem in some way, though I am unfamiliar with the specifics.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    But what value are the sacraments?

  •' Laurence Charles Ringo says:

    Thank you,Whiskyjack…I found myself scratching my own head at the idea of…”pursuing Catholicism(or any kind of-“ism” for that matter) because of Jesus’ reputation as a progressive political figure”…because that is most emphatically NOT the Jesus Scripture presents to us.Certaintly you put your finger on the complete and utter failure of political pseudo-“christendom” as embodied in the roman catholic church throughout history; it’s been a scourge and a plague upon humanity for millenia,as any clear-headed student of ecclesiastical history can attest to.So…again: Thanks,Whiskyjack.

  • 1) You became a Catholic for the wrong reasons 2) Now your thinking about leaving for the wrong reasons. (Picking a church based on your class warfare worldview and leaving because it doesn’t fit your worldview of killing the unborn or picking up the tab for other people’s good time).

  • A church wouldn’t have to “evolve” it’s view if it followed Scripture in the first place.

  • I see academia as a promulgator of superstition (such as macro-evolution-the hocus pocus of modernists) and the secular left (promoted here by the theological left) as the biggest promulgators of repression in America (from assaulting freedom of religion, using the powers of government to prosecute & persecute Christians businesses who don’t participate in gay events, sending of the IRS after political opponents, talk of bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine” so as to silence critics, now talk of net neutrality via an application of the “Fairness Doctrine” so as to regulate political speech of its opponents, pushing for the violation of people’s 2nd amendment rights, the left’s support for abortion and Planned Parenthood, etc.).

  •' TJMacGeorge says:

    Ah… so I presume, then, that you are fluent in the original languages of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? I presume you are an expert in the culture of the day and have an absolutely accurate understanding of what those texts meant by those who wrote them, as well as what they meant to those for whom they were written — to say nothing of what they mean for us today? You seem to have a very literalist, static view of both the Scriptures and life in general.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    These things do a good job of connecting people and their lives to the church, but you probably shouldn’t be overly serious about them beyond that. Especially the Eucharist,

  •' Dennis Mahon says:

    *Sigh* Yet another puff piece on “how the Catholic Church has got to get with the times if she wants to survive”; I’ve been reading about the imminent collapse of the Church for 20-odd years now, and have yet to see anything to make me think that it is going to happen.

  •' jonfromcalifornia says:

    I guess I am referring to people who are better educated about their faith. Most Catholics, unfortunately, are just “cultural” Catholics with absolutely NO understanding of their faith. They are ones who likely fall away at the drop of a hat. Of course, there are some well-informed Catholics who also leave the Church like some priests who disagree over celibacy or women who leave over the Church’s stance on women in leadership, and so on. But from what I have observed they tend to go into churches that are also sacramental in nature, like the Episcopalians.

  •' John Charles says:

    By what objective fact do you believe that Archbishop Romero would support “reproductive health”, your euphemism for the right to kill a kid in the womb. Pure rubbish.

  •' gilhcan says:

    True, as Whiskyjack notes, being unable to change old things in the Catholic Church makes Francis, or any pope, rather “ineffectual,” but that is the condition of the structure. By that I mean all those dictating “celibates” at the top who permit or disallow things a pope might want to do.

    Pius XII had a very contentious relationship with his Vatican bureaucracy and College of Cardinals. It’s politics in the church, too. Popes are not as powerful, not as autocratic as we have been given to believe. They are victims of a system that is ancient, often out of date, and rigidly stuck in old ways that make no sense with what we have learned more recently in science, sociology, and psychology.

    It must be kept in mind that religion evolved from ancient mythology. That ancient mythology was not based on facts like science, sociology, or psychology. Mythology was–and is–the ancient, mental inventions of humans to give meaning to a world. Invention is the lead word.

    That is precisely why religion (mythology) becomes so inconsistent with later learnings in reality, proven learnings, learnings that can be duplicated for proof. To any degree that belief meanings in life cease to match reality, we must be ready to change those beliefs or we will be stuck in a past that has become meaningless.

    People who continue to seek meaning with new learnings in their lives are stable people. Those who attempt to hold on to the invented notions of ancient mythology, even when they no longer match reality, lose stability and begin to flounder, become unstable. And that instability has a lot of unspoken relationship with the mental disorder that abounds in troubled people around us. It leads many people to seek artificial highs (stability) in alcohol and other drugs. In that respect, religion can be harmful, very harmful.

  •' gilhcan says:

    The author very apparently wishes recklessness, not freedom, when it comes to sex and marriage. The only way for her to be responsible about sex, pregnancy, and show serious concern for the difference between licentiousness and care would be to advocate measures to avoid pregnancy, condoms, the pill, whatever. Abstinence or masturbation, also.

    The author wants the freedom to behave with abandon regarding the consequences of sexual activity, whether within or outside of marriage. It is not so much a matter of defending abortion as avoiding pregnancy.

    I defend abortion when it is done for health reasons of the mother or fetus, and it should be very early unless the problems are not discovered until later. But this writer appears to defend sexual license, with no concern for responsibility for one’s behavior.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think you just want to judge others.

  •' Ryan Dolan says:

    What about following simple rules of grammar and spelling?

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