It Takes More Than eBooks

Recently, I read this article about the Vatican’s venture to begin publishing Pope Benedict’s weekly addresses in eBook form. While expanding the Vatican’s teachings further into the digital realm seems like a worthwhile endeavor, its reasons for doing so gave me pause:

The Vatican’s goal in this venture is to reach an as-yet untapped younger demographic. They recognize, Ganesan explains, “that new audience wants digital, good imaging, and iPod apps.”

Except it’s not really that simple. I’m not sure exactly what “younger demographic” is meant to encompass (younger than the Pope?), but eBooks are not a sure-fire way to reach “the young folks.” In May of 2011, less than 15% of adults in the U.S. owned e-readers at all, with teenagers being amongst the slowest adopters. The largest demographic of e-reader use falls within the 30 – 64 age group–an age at which many people’s spiritual identities are already beginning to solidify.

My suspicion is that the Vatican isn’t having trouble reaching the “untapped younger demographic” because of their content delivery. My suspicion is because of … their content. Any observant young person may notice, rightfully so, the places that official Church teaching and their experiences of what’s “right” don’t match up:

  • While the Church emphasizes Natural Family Planning, young people wonder why families who use it often end up with far more children than it seems most “planners” would want. (Some recent research into this showed me that the issue seems to be more a lack of willpower to abstain during fertile phases than failure of the science behind NFP; but if such is the case, young people deserve to hear it addressed upfront.) Moreover, families are told that they shouldn’t have more children than they can support … which means that, the wealthier you are, the more sex with your spouse you’re allowed to have, an essentially classist argument.
  • Young people increasingly have a voice and leadership roles in the institutions that serve them — schools, government, extracurriculars, publishers, product creators, and marketers all actively seek youth input. The Church blatantly ignores all input that is not in line with its official teachings, which are mostly decided by “old White men” (and there’s not much that looks “less relevant” to a young person than that.)
  • While the Church claims all children are a gift and abhors abortion, it shames girls and women who are unwed and pregnant to the extant that they can be fired from their jobs if they find themselves in this position. In other words, an “unwed (potential) mother” could disregard Church teaching, have an abortion discreetly, and keep her job — or carry the child, and lose it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Catholics are more likely to seek abortions than Protestants. Young people scorn nothing more than the hypocrisy of their elders.
  • While the Church justifies its teachings against homosexual relationships by citing “natural law,” research continues to reveal that homosexuality is, in fact, a natural state.
  • Young people know that it’s illegal to discriminate in hiring according to sex, sexual orientation, and family/marital status in most places … except the Church.
  • Young people speak and write in abbreviations, colloquial English, and slang … while the Church reverts its language so that it more closely resembles a dead language that never was spoken by the Patriarchs, Jesus, or those close to him.

While young people formulate their values based on their experiences, their consciences, and their religious upbringings, the Church funnels its energy into making sure Catholic employers don’t cover birth control, that no one speaks up too loudly about clergy sex abuse, and that women with priestly callings are promptly and publicly ex-communicated. While young people are chomping at the bit to change the world, the Church is doing its best to make sure it never bends. The priorities of the Church are not the same priorities as those of most young people. And it’s going to take more than e-books to bridge that gap.

10 thoughts on “It Takes More Than eBooks

  1. Your article really speaks to me. As a 22 year old Catholic. I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to what is driving young people away. I am having a very difficult time with my faith due to the stance that the Church takes on many issues. It’s really comforting to know that there are other young Catholics out there who feel similarly to me. As you have stated, it is not the way in which the content is presented, it is the content itself. This is an excellent blog!

    • Thank you for stopping by, and for leaving your comment. I share your struggle with Catholicism in the light of how vocal it is on a few very divisive issues (it seems like we hear a lot more about how to govern our sexual lives than how to love as Jesus did, for example.) You’re definitely not alone, and I hope this blog offers you a way to “bridge the gap” between your identity as a Catholic and your discomfort with some official church teaching. There are many of us standing in this sometimes tense, uncomfortable space!

  2. Terrific! This from a not so young Catholic. I don’t think church leadership gets it they are perceived by many to be hypocritical. They really think they are right in everything they say. They ought to go out and have a beer with the young adults and really listen. Keep going!

  3. Pingback: The Vatican and eBooks « LL Word

  4. I can’t help but laugh, remembering a bit on The Daily Show a few months ago about the Pope’s Twitter account and his failed attempt to make his message more relevant to young people…

    Thank you for giving young Catholics a place to voice their frustrations and concerns – as someone who as always struggled with the Church’s political agenda, yet feels strong ties to the Catholic faith I was born into, it is wonderful to find a community of like-minded people.

    Lacey, I’d be curious where your research on the ineffectiveness of NFP came from – it seems there are so few sources that do NOT present NFP as a wonderful cure-all.

    • Although it’s a pro-NFP article, it quotes a woman who gave me good insight into the “failure” reasons of NFP: “That’s why NFP is a challenge for the most faithful couples I know, let alone those decidedly less faithful. Few are able to use it to space births with the same precision the manuals promise. Not because the methods don’t work. But rather because wills are weak and temptation is tempting. If a tiny tasty brownie can almost fell us, what can love and desire do?” This download presents a similar view:, as well as this one:

      So I haven’t found any good, hardcore “statistics” about why NFP seems to lead to larger-than-usual families, but the anecdotal evidence seems to point toward trouble with self-control. I began to research it in earnest as I’ve studied FAM (fertility awareness method) as a form of birth control. FAM and NFP are essentially the same thing — EXCEPT that FAM allows for the use of barrier contraception (condoms, diaphragms, etc.) during a woman’s fertile period, whereas NFP requires abstinence during that time. As I understood how scientifically “sound” the principles of FAM are, I began to wonder anew at NFP’s high “failure” rate. It may not be that it doesn’t “work” per se, but that it is very difficult to obtain. Not surprisingly, FAM has a higher success rate.

      I feel this spiraling off into what could be a whole new post, so I’ll truncate the discussion there — you did, after all, as for some sources, not for a diatribe about them from me. ;)

      Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. You are definitely not alone in that place of tension between the Church’s political agenda and your soul-deep connection to your faith.

      • “that place of tension between the Church’s political agenda and your soul-deep connection to your faith.”
        This is a terrific line! It fits well in a chapter I’m reading right now in Michael Crosby’s “Repair My House”. Thanks again.

  5. “My suspicion is that the Vatican isn’t having trouble reaching the “untapped younger demographic” because of their content delivery. My suspicion is because of … their content. Any observant young person may notice, rightfully so, the places that official Church teaching and their experiences of what’s “right” don’t match up” – except that where authentic Church teaching is followed and taught, in Latin Mass communities, and in the charismatic movement, there are plenty of young people, and religious vocations. Where what you are pushing is promoted, the Church is losing member’s and has no vocations. Young people do not want to be bad Catholics, they generally either want to be true Catholics, or they do not practice Catholicism at all.

  6. I am really sorry that you seem to equate a good life or marriage with how much sex you can have with your spouse. Why do you feel that sex is the most important aspect of a marriage?
    And numerically, I somehow doubt that a husband and wife with more children will over time have more sex than a husband and wife with fewer children.

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