Correction appended: Feb. 24, 2013.
I read the news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation in passing Monday morning — between bites of cereal and sips of orange juice.
The article managed to hold my interest for about its entirety, and then perhaps for a few minutes afterward as I browsed the Internet for some video that analyzed the pontiff’s historical announcement. Twenty minutes later, however, after somehow stumbling upon a recording of Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, giving a speech outside The Catholic University of America in 1979, I forgot about the news entirely and shifted my focus to completing the remainder of my Spanish homework before class.
Later Monday evening, one of my roommates asked if I had heard about the Pope.
I said that I had, and this particular segment of our conversation ended right about there. However, while he went on to prod me about how the Celtics had just ended a seven-game win streak with a loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, I found myself dwelling on the news of the Pope’s stepping down, and what it really meant to me at this stage in my life.
As someone who was raised Catholic, and someone who attended Catholic elementary, middle and high school, as well as Sunday mass fairly consistently during my childhood, I somehow began to feel rather guilty about my indifference to this new, major development in the Catholic Church.
But as a third-year college student who has attended Sunday mass a grand total of zero times during my tenure here at Penn State, I was simultaneously unsurprised by my stoicism.
Obviously I cannot speak for everyone and perhaps such a perspective is the product of religion having such a constant presence within my life up until about three years ago, but I still can’t help but notice what seems to be a steady decline in the interest and time my generation invests in discussing, practicing and living out their own religions in today’s society.
In Catholicism at least, this decline is a measurable statistic.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, two thirds of Americans who were raised Catholic no longer attend church, and of that two thirds, one third has renounced Catholicism altogether, while the other third still calls themselves Catholic, but does not participate actively within their religion. I feel that such a deterioration of faith, specifically among young people, is a derivative of a more progressive generation as a whole.
For in addition to being far more acceptant of different religions, millennials in general are also more supportive of abortion, gay marriage and gender equality — things the Catholic Church has, to this point, made efforts to prevent in the areas under its jurisdiction.
There is also the idea that the Catholic Church’s message, as well as the ever-present traditions alive within a Sunday mass, are just not things many young people feel are worth getting out of bed to see and hear.
And in a world that grows smaller each day, it has grown easier for many to learn about religions other than those they have been brought up within.
And that is really the key in this discussion. My generation is perceived as far more progressive when it comes to the acceptance of others religions — namely for the fact that many of us just don’t seem to care about religion at all. It just isn’t something that comes up frequently in conversation.
As far as many of us are concerned, you can be whatever religion you like — just be quiet about it because most of us care about what you do, not what you believe.
Thus, it was of little shock to me that the news coming from the Catholic Church Monday was passed over rather quietly here at Penn State, as well as, I suspect, on many college campuses across the country.
And though I don’t believe the Catholic Church will do much in the way of adopting a more open-minded, if not less conservative approach to its operation, I do think it might be prudent for Pope Benedict XVI’s successor to at least consider something of the nature if his aim is to bring Catholicism back to the relevance it possessed in an America that has long faded into history.
If nothing else, the next pontiff should take a lesson from his departing leader: If it happens that someone is no longer able to fulfill the job he or she was meant to do — which in the church’s case becomes spurring interest and faith in Catholic teaching among a rising younger generation — then that someone needs to make a fundamental change.
Anthony Bellafiore is a junior majoring in English and economics and is The Daily Collegian’s Thursday columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.