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Bishop Robert Barron, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, speaks in a USCCB-produced video released April 21, 2020, about 'Outreach to the Unaffiliated'USCCB / Youtube

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June 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. bishops’ ambitious plan to reach out to lapsed young Catholics and bring them back into the Church can only result in disastrous failure.

A video posted in April by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) highlights the real crisis of young Catholics fleeing the Church in droves.

To its credit, the video gets the problem right that young people are leaving the Church while offering a perspective on what they’re thinking: “They just say ‘I no longer believe.’ What they're really struggling with this belief and God, in general. The church is failing to engage young people. They are not moving someplace else, they’re just disengaging. There's the pain, there's the doubt, [they ask], ‘Was this ever authentic to begin with?’ They're mostly ambivalent. They're mostly indifferent. They simply drifted away. They just don't see why religion matters.”

Unfortunately, the solution offered by the bishops will only keep young people away and result in more of them leaving.

Led by Bishop Robert Barron, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, the video proposes what it calls “effective avenues” for reaching out to young people and bringing them back – avenues, which we are told, largely come from listening to young people. 

“We don't really have to guess [why young people have left],” says Bishop Barron. “Lots of people have told us precisely why they've left. We should listen to them, as Pope Francis has urged us to do.” As an aside, why are young people in their brokenness and sin allowed to set the agenda and not the Church with her 2,000-years of wisdom and experience of how to succor sinners?

Barron makes it clear that “there is obviously no one answer, no magic bullet” to solve this problem.

Listening to young people and to those who have worked closely with the “unaffiliated” has resulted in the bishops highlighting five avenues that they hope will help them reach out to young people and bring them back. These consist of:

  • Highlighting the church's commitment to “social justice” as a carrot to get young people involved and thereby draw them back in.
  • Using the “way of beauty” as a “thread” to draw young people back because, the video states, “people respond to beauty where they find it. It is often the only way to reach the truly disaffiliated.”
  • Taking advantage of the “new media,” e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc, to put the Church in “contact with the unaffiliated, the former Catholics, the atheists, the agnostics” so they can see the “good things that the Catholic Church is doing.”
  • Stopping “dumbing down the faith.” The video rightly states that “young people do not want ‘Catholic lite,’ nor do they want a watered-down version of anything.”
  • Getting people who are currently in the Church “out” to evangelize. “Every single person is called to be a missionary disciple-maker, an intentional disciple-maker.”

All this looks good on camera, but this plan can only result in utter failure. Why? Because the bishops’ plan fails to take into account the sole reason the Church exists in the first place. The video gets it right that “[young people] are asking about ‘why should I take religion seriously at all, why should I believe God is there?’” The Catholic Church exists not only to answer that question, but to provide an answer that means the difference between life and death, love and hate, heaven and hell for each and every one of these young people.

The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ to provide man the only road to an eternal life of happiness with God after death. The Catholic Church, by means of God’s saving grace working through the sacraments, is the only road to heaven, an eternal life of happiness in communion with the Triune God. This is the sole reason for the Church’s existence and the reason she does what she does. Outside of the Church there is no salvation. Outside of the Church there is only suffering, misery, loss. Outside the Church there is only isolation. Outside of the Church there is hellfire and damnation.

“Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life,” Peter once told Jesus. The same holds for the Catholic Church. The Church alone of all religions, institutions, organizations, has the words of eternal life and offers the road to eternal life. Until Catholic shepherds get this message right, there is no reason for anyone to belong to the Church.

Do Catholic shepherds want to get young people going back to Church? Start preaching to them about what will happen to them if they leave the barque of Peter. In Noah’s time, only those on the ark were saved. The same holds for our times: Only those in the Church will be saved. Hell exists. Those who die in a state of unrepented mortal sin are condemned to hell by Divine justice for eternal punishment. If our shepherds don’t believe this, then they are false shepherds who don’t hold the Catholic faith. And, they are certainly in no position to be teaching young people about why they should return to the Church. It was because Catholic shepherds were off message in the first place that young people left in droves.

Bishops must be clear that the Catholic religion, as founded by Jesus Christ who is the Incarnate Son of God and only Savior of man, is the only religion positively willed by God. It is the only religion that offers the way to eternal life with God. It is the only religion that gives man a sure hope and means of arriving at a life after death. It is the only religion that teaches man truthfully about a God who is love, but also a God who judges us and holds us responsible for our actions.

In responding to the five points raised by the U.S. bishops, it must be said that the Catholic Church does not exist to promote social justice, although such justice is certainly part of the Church’s good works. The Church does not exist to express beauty, although beauty will naturally flow from believers who want to give glory to God through the works of their hands. The Church can certainly make use of the new media to spread its message, but it must spread the message of why she exists – to save souls. It’s true that the Catholic Church must stop dumbing down the faith and implore young people, for the sake of their souls, to heed its life-saving message. The Church today must be like the prophets of old, preaching that if evil lives are not changed, if bad habits are not corrected, if people do not turn away from sin, if people do not return to the Lord via the Church he established, then there will be a terrible price to pay, a dreadful day of reckoning, a day of wrath. Shepherds must preach about the last things that every soul, every person, young and old, must one day experience: death, judgement, heaven or hell.

About half way through the USCCB video, Bishop Barron states that the “central question” for Catholic shepherds is “how do we get [young Catholics who have left] back?”

The answer is rather simple: Start prophetically proclaiming the truth of our faith that the Catholic Church is the only means of salvation and that without her in your life, you will die in your sins and suffer for all eternity. “Fear of the Lord” is a path that opens to “love of the Lord.” And once someone loves the Lord, they are delighted to follow his ways, including attending Church regularly: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Shepherds will find their voice once they start preaching this truth. This is the “magic bullet” that Bishop Barron and every bishop needs to start using from every pulpit, every platform they have.    

Until the bishops get this right about why the Church exists, all their programs, all their efforts will move from disaster to disaster. 

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Pete Baklinski is Director of Communications for Campaign Life Coalition, a Canadian pro-life organization working at all levels of government to secure full legal protection for all human beings, from the time of conception to natural death. He has a B.A. in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College and a masters in theology (STM) from the International Theological Institute.