First of all, one of the recurring themes in contemporary research is the idea from Dean Hoge's Young Adult Catholics: Religion in the Culture of Choice. He and his co-researchers suggest that one of the formative identity characteristics among young Catholics is "Catholic glue." Many of the young Catholics in their study either don't attend Mass as often as older Catholics and/or don't profess allegiance to parts of Catholic teaching. Yet a stunning majority of them continue to call themselves Catholic and don't anticipate changing their religious affiliation.I find this class of people interesting. Protestants don't have them. They seem to have the idea that there is something about the Catholic church they want to be associated with but they don't want to commit to accepting it all. One of the keys to the future of Catholicism is whether or not it finds a compelling way to propose the fullness of the faith to people like that. They feel in their hearts the holiness of the church. They know God is there so they can't just reject the faith and call themselves atheists or agnostics. But the faith has not been presented to them as a source of joy. They have a notion that the church wants them to do or not do a bunch of things that will interfere with their fun. But they don't understand why those things will connect them with God and ultimately lead to a much greater joy.
What are those things? They boil down to sex and sacraments. They don't follow the church's teaching on sex because they don't understand it. They don't connect what they do sexually with their relationship with God. Same thing for sacraments. They don't go to mass or confession because they don't get how going will make them holy and closer to God. You might think they are just being selfish and faithless. They are. But they have the kernel of faith. They see the church as a gift from God. They need to understand that God didn't give us the Catholic church to torture us. He gave it to us because He loves us. That many things about the church they would love to see changed are actually the wisdom of God and not the foolishness of some grumpy old men.
To me it all flows quite trivially from the fact that the church is really from God. That is the part I was struggling with for years. Once I accepted it was from God then it's wisdom needed to be listened to and it's authority needed to be obeyed. That part was pretty obvious to me. These folks seem to have accepted the first part in some form and yet not arrived at the second. It seems to be a matter of logic. Contemplating the reality of God and what that means.
Now if the Catholic glue crowd never come to the fullness of the faith it will just die out. These writers seem concerned with how much of the faith these people will teach their children. It does not matter. If they retain an irrational and meaningless connection to the church their children will decide they don't need that. Liberal Christianity cannot be passed to another generation. So they either need to come into the faith fully or the church will lose them completely. Ultimately the church will be more orthodox. As Catholicism becomes less and less fashionable people will either leave completely or get more orthodox. But there is a window of opportunity where they will listen to Catholic voices. If we can find the right story to tell we can bring amny souls home.