Catholics who are deciding to leave the Church are doing so at an increasingly young age, a new study has revealed.
While it’s clear that there has been a sharp decline in those practicing the Faith in Western countries, new research has shown that people stop identifying as Catholics at a median age of 13, long before they cease attending a parish.
The 2018 research entitled ‘Going, Going Gone: The Dynamics of Catholic Disaffiliation’ carried out by St Mary’s Press, suggests there is a growing trend of young people rejecting a Church-formed identity.
Despite the study being US-based, Prof. Stephen Bullivant, director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, told The Irish Catholic that the findings reflect, to some degree, the social attitudes towards religion in Ireland.
“The striking thing about this for me is that previous studies have found this has been later, so studies done in the late 1970s for example found that people who were brought up Catholic and left tended to do so in their 20s for example,” he said, noting that it’s not surprising that this age has decreased significantly given an increasingly passive interest in the Faith.
Prof. Bullivant added that young people who are leaving the Church at a higher rate have usually been raised in the Faith in “a very weak way”.
“A large proportion of people who identify as ex-Catholic, who have been brought up to some degree and end up identifying as ‘nones’, aren’t brought up as Catholics in any particularly strong way,” he said, stressing that in many cases they’re living off the cultural Catholicism of their parents’ upbringing, resulting in nothing being able to “stick”.
According to the study about half of those who left Catholicism joined another religion, while 35% became ‘nones’, unaffiliated with any particular religious tradition. Fewer than a fifth of respondents became atheists or agnostics.