The Problem and Promise of Intergenerational Collaboration for Catholics

J Manson 8x10

Jamie Manson

Intergenerational sharing and support is a topic of growing importance within the progressive movement at large. As older advocates step back and younger voices emerge, the dance of collaboration and conflict is one all involved with justice and equality in the Catholic Church are now navigating, too. I am honored to present a workshop with Jeannine Gramick, SL this weekend at Call to Action’s conference that will foster dialogue around these intergenerational issues in the Catholic LGBT and Ally community.

Whether you are in Milwaukee for this conference or not, a recent column  by Jamie Manson in the National Catholic Reporter provides wonderful material for reflection on how people of all ages can move forward together. Manson’s reflection begins in the context of her conversation with a prophetic older friend at dinner:

“At one point during our meal, my hero, an elder prophet, voiced what is becoming a common concern among the older generation: Who will carry on our work? Will the new generation bring our same spirit to the ministry?

“I explained that there are a number of young adult Catholics doing exceptional work in church reform and in ministry to the marginalized who are eager to form meaningful relationships with spiritual and activist leaders from the older generation. One of the most crucial ways to seek answers to these questions is through dialogue. Yet connecting the generations continues to be a challenge.”

Manson qualifies this need of young adults for older spiritual companions and mentors by calling it “acute” due to social and cultural circumstances that have left people in their 20s and 30s with fewer wisdom figures. Pointing to other Christian communities where older leaders raise up newer ones, Manson critiques the Catholic community for having very few of these moments. However, the need for collaboration is critical and Manson notes:

“If our spiritual and prophetic elders mentor and raise the profiles of emerging spiritual leaders and activists to their own audiences, there is a good chance they will also be introduced to a new generation who, though spiritually hungry, are disaffected by organized religion.

“Though they may not be interested in church attendance, many 20- and 30-somethings will likely be compelled by the justice work and the community-building of young progressive Catholics…

“New insights into the future of faith and spirituality will come from collaborations in which the voices of both generations are heard equally.  The wisdom and spirit that emerges from these dialogues will not only be a comfort and inspiration to older generations; it will help form and guide new generations seeking a substantive faith and deeper spiritual paths.”

Within the Church’s LGBT and Ally sphere, these conversations remain largely dormant —  meaning there is room for tremendous growth. When I was organizing on my college campus a few years ago, the LGBTQ student group often sought people who had ‘done this before’ in seeking to make Catholic spaces more inclusive.

Instead of trying anew each time, younger Catholics can gain from the wisdom gained through years of successes (and failures) as they advocate. Yet, the students I worked with were also hindered when older leaders’ failure to listen to our vision and beliefs. Partnerships never lasted because difference was not a source of strength, but division.

One lesson I see from Manson’s piece and my own experience is that the future of the Catholic LGBT movement is assured, assuaging the worries of older Catholics, but it may look, feel, and act differently than in the past.

Here’s two questions to consider: What other issues are present when generations try to work alongside one another? How can we turn intergenerational differences into a constructive force? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

3 replies
  1. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    Two thoughts. I believe we have lost a whole generation of young people already, But I do see young people attending mass on Catholic Student Centers, so maybe there’s still hope. Second Thought: Contrary to some peoples’ belief, young adults do have values. I see it over and over as I work in inter-general programs. And since I have been disabled for the last coupe of years, when I am out in the community, they are the first to help, even when I don’t ask for it.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    Very encouraging and astute observations, Lydia. Here at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the splendid Newman Catholic Center hosts no less than six weekend Masses, which — among all of the attendance opportunities — draw several hundred student worshippers. Of course it helps that the Boston and Worcester regions, where many UMass students come from, are strong Catholic enclaves, to this day. But I dare say that the social norms and values of the University’s Catholic students are not significantly different from those of their non-Catholic peers. They drink, they party with wild abandon, they have romantic partnerships (including sexual intimacies), but they retain the sovereign right to make their own personal judgments about such matters. And even in strongly Catholic countries — such as France and Italy and Spain — it’s not at all uncommon for upstanding establishment Catholics to have ongoing extramarital affairs. Here at home, John Kennedy — our late and legendary practicing Catholic President — was notorious for them. The bottom line is that all people — even Catholics — are going to do what they want to do, and they will typically resist and resent having members of the clergy finger-wagging and castigating them. That’s just the way it is. I think Pope Francis “gets it”, and is doing his very best to work with “the world as he finds it”. Blessings and Godspeed to him. I consider him to be “Santo Subito” — a saint already!


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  1. […] Manson, a Catholic lesbian woman whose reflections on intergenerational companionship this blog recently profiled. She joined a panel on the future of Catholic ministry, and when speaking on inclusivity, Manson […]

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