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.