The Life & Faith of Young Catholics in England & Wales Today. Complex Catholicism

Catholic young adults are more devout, but also more stressed, than a decade ago.

Study of 1,005 15-25 year old Catholics points to an increase in belief and Mass attendance, but also in stress and concerns, particularly amongst females.

In advance of Pope Francis’ Synod on Youth this autumn, research released on 12 June highlights shifting dynamics in the faith and life of Catholic young adults in England and Wales. The results show a decrease in agnosticism and atheism of 7 percentage points over an 8 year period (from 49% in 2009 to 42% in 2017) and an increase in those attending Mass regularly* of 11 percentage points (from 25% in 2009 to 36% in 2017).

The online polling, conducted by Research Now on behalf of the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation and strategy consultancy Camino House in Sept-Oct 2017 also found:-

  • Around 10% more young adults in 2017 are likely to have experienced stress across a range of factors than the comparable group in 2009.
  • Female young Catholics are more likely than their male peers to have felt anxiety in the past week on every factor measured, most notably ‘about how I look’ (79% female vs 54% male) and ‘about having enough money for myself / my family to live on’ (66% female vs 50% male)
  • Young Catholics in 2017 are much more likely than those in 2009 to view ‘helping others’ as both an aspiration and an expectation of their life – despite showing little change in charitable activity, volunteering or campaigning.
  • Female young Catholics say that they have taken more action on social issues in the past year than their male counterparts, whilst young male Catholics are more likely to say that they attend Mass (either regularly or irregularly at 82%) than females (71%).

The findings are released in a report titled ‘Complex Catholicism’, which also highlights issues around young Catholics’ willingness to identify as Catholic/Roman Catholic, beliefs about Jesus, and maintaining contact with young Catholics through life transitions. The report also finds a huge array of spiritual experience amongst young Catholics, with 10% claiming to have sensed the presence of an angel.

Commenting on the research findings, the report’s author, Matthew van Duyvenbode said: “Through this research, young Catholics have articulated a strong openness to Christian belief, to social action and to belonging to the Catholic community; but they are also living complicated lives with some perhaps paralysed by pressure. The Church today has an opportunity is to follow the call of Pope Francis to reach out to those on the peripheries and demonstrate an authentic, dynamic and humble expression of Catholicism for the 21st century.”

Fr Demott Donnelly, Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Chair of the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation commented: “This research points to the complex landscape young Catholics are operating in. Heightened thoughts, beliefs and emotions characterise this cultural moment. The question for the whole Catholic community is how we best respond to the challenges of increased stress and fragmentation, and how we seize the opportunity of renewed openness to belief and faith.”


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