The biggest problem in the Catholic Church in Australia during my lifetime has been the constant search for relevance. One of the most common excuses for change that I have heard for most of my life has been that the Church must change to become more "relevant", especially to the young.
The problem with this is that it ignores the fact that until the late 1960s the Church has been relatively successful at inspiring, enlightening and enthusing people with her undiluted teachings. For nearly 2,000 years, in fact, men and women of all ages, including "youth" had been willing even to die, rather than be untrue to the Catholic faith.
In 1968 two events of some significance occurred, the first was the release of Paul VI's Humanae Vitae, and the second was my birth. While the latter was an event of only small impact on the world, the former was a watershed for open dissent and revolt. Suddenly, all of the Church's "progressive" elements became infallible while the Pope was simply wrong.
"Spirit of Vatican II"
Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb had "proved" that contraception was an urgent necessity, so if the Pope was wrong on such an "obvious" issue, the Church would soon become irrelevant to "modern society" and even be in danger of extinction.
The solution was for the Church to change, to become relevant. After all wasn't that what Vatican II had told us to do? And if Vatican II didn't say that specifically, surely that was the "spirit of Vatican II".
As a result of this I grew up in a time of constant change and innovation. Rock Masses, home Masses and Masses where everyone sat down throughout were all introduced at one time or another in the churches I attended with my family. Almost every innovation was justified (if it was ever questioned) on the grounds that the Church has to change to become more relevant, especially to youth.
One of the other things I noticed was that while the Church was becoming more "relevant", the pews were gradually emptying. However, this phenomenon was not seen as connected with attempts to become relevant, but rather blamed on the reactionary, pre-Vatican II views of the Pope or "Rome".
Catholic children were no longer taught the tenets of the faith in any adequate or systematic way. The doctrine that in communion we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ was thought to be too complex for children to understand so it was replaced by talk of "special bread".
As a teenager I recall that lessons about the faith and morality did not focus on what the Church believes and the basis for that belief, but rather "this is the topic, what do you think?".
I attended Catholic Schools for 13 years in the 1970s and 1980s, I was involved in youth groups that were deemed successful, and even attended the Provincial Seminary at Banyo for a year in the late 1980s, yet at the age of 19 I could not recite the Apostles' Creed. My parents assumed I would learn it at school as they had done; but the school system apparently didn't believe it was relevant to me as a youth.
By the end of the 1980s and in the early 1990s the intellectual elite of the Australian Catholic Church had become "prophets". If the Church was to become really relevant, they believed it was high time past mistakes were corrected.
Firstly, the whole "top down" theology was wrong. Humanae Vitae had proved that. We needed a "democratic model". After all "we are Church"; therefore we should be the power base. The "spirit of Vatican II" lives in us, so the laity (or at least the better-informed among us) should be consulted on such matters as the appointments of new bishops or priests.
These "prophets" remain confident a future Pope will revoke many of the doctrinal and moral teachings of his predecessors. The more progressive among them even want the Church to be so relevant that it doesn't preach Christ so much and devotes more attention to such phenomena as "the great goddess", or "light bearer", or environmental issues concerning "Mother Earth."
In the quest to become relevant to the world, many of the "experts" effectively downplay the Church's distinctive claims to Truth - those very claims past Catholics believed worth dying for - giving up being the Church Militant in order to become the Church relevant.
But if the dogmatic claims of the Catholic Church are true: if the Church was founded by Christ, if the sacraments were instituted by Him as a sure source of Grace, if Jesus is divine, if He did indeed come to save us from sin and eternal death, and if He truly rose from the dead, then the Church's relevance to us is obvious and eternal. We need look no further than the authoritative teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The reason Catholic "youth" do not believe is not because they find the Church irrelevant, but primarily that they do not know what to believe in.
My generation and those that have followed mine have been short-changed. I wish I knew how many times I have heard a contemporary of mine ask upon hearing a doctrine of the Church explained for the first time, "Why weren't we ever told this?" The simple fact is we were never told the Truth, because people in the Church didn't think it relevant.
Much has been made in recent times of the Stolen Generations, and rightly so. But when will we receive our apology from those in the Church who allowed its truths to be withheld from us because they were not considered relevant?
Mark Power is a Network Engineer, a husband and father of three young children and President of the Queensland Branch of the National Association of Catholic Families.