The sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is likely to have a major impact on younger generations, such as Generation X, according to observers. At a recent conference on anti-Catholicism in New York [see last month’s RW for full coverage], historian John McGreevy remarked that just as Vatican II was the defining event in the church for baby boomer Catholics, the sex abuse scandals will be just as momentous for Generation Xers.
In America magazine (June 3-10), Tom Beaudoin writes that for the post-Vatican II generations, “this is our first major church crisis. We do not remember the birth control debates of the late 1960s . . . The daily news of the manipulation and control, seduction and rape of boys and girls, young men and women by some of our priests is the first major test of our fidelity to the church. This is our Catholic Watergate….”
Beaudoin, a chronicler of the spiritual journey of Gen-Xers, writes that in observing young adults around the country, he finds a changing relation to the Church that was already in place before the scandals broke. The effect of these events is to “render passé any practical adherence to traditional Catholic understandings of the necessity and centrality of the institutional church for salvation, such as indefectibility, infallibility, even the hierarchy itself.
Thus, this crisis is moving young Catholics closer to a more classically Protestant understanding of the church as deeply sinful, as ever in the need of reform and, most important, as ultimately something to be set aside if it interrupts one’s relationship to God.” [Neither McGreevy nor Beaudoin cite surveys to support their views (although Beaudoin suggests that many of the sex abuse victims are of the Gen-X age). Most of the available surveys do not provide age-breakdowns on attitudes toward the abuse crisis.
But surveys do suggest that young adults are not necessarily the only ones to be most affected by or critical of the scandals. Polls from Gallup and Beliefnet/ABC report that it is Catholics with children who are the most angry at the church over the crisis. At the same time, those not attending Mass regularly are also found to be among the most angry — a category to which Gen-Xers belong.
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