The "injured" are young people who experienced a hardship or tragedy in which God seemed to be absent. Despite their prayers, their parents divorced or ill family members died, for example.
One young man told the researchers that he remembers family and loved ones praying for his grandfather with lung cancer, "everyone is praying for him, probably over 150 people. Personally praying for him and still there was nothing done to help him and that was my first skepticism."
The "drifter" is one who typically had trouble connecting their identity as a baptized Catholic to their concrete life experiences in the real world. They struggled to articulate why being Catholic matters, so they just drifted away from the Church.
The researchers noted the influence that parents can have on this drifting away from the Church and that a family unit can drift together when parents feel inadequate to explain why the faith matters.
Reachers encountered a more active rejection of the faith in those in the "dissenter" category. Some of these young people cited disagreement with Church teaching on birth control, same-sex marriage, and sexuality as the precipitating force for their departure.
Notably, only two percent of respondents cited the clergy sex abuse scandal as a reason they left the Church.
Vitek explained to CNA that there can be intersections between these three common categories, saying, "a young person may first have a disruptive experience that causes them to feel hurt or broken in some way, that brokenness might lead the young person to begin to question and doubt their faith, and their unresolved doubt may lead them to drift away."
A final decision?
Before they left their faith, the young former Catholics were involved in the Church to varying extents. Twenty-eight percent told CARA that they rarely or never attended Mass at the time when they considered themselves Catholic. Only 17 percent surveyed said that they attended Mass weekly when they were Catholic. Three-fourths of the respondents never attended a Catholic school.
Eighty-seven percent of these former Catholics said that their decision to leave the Church is final.
Vitek noted that "this is a response given at a particular point in their life and they can't predict the future. So there is always hope for the believing community."
(Story continues below)
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Studies do show, however, that "(m)ore and more, once a person chooses to disaffiliate from the Church they are not re-affiliating later in life," he added.
As for what the Church can do to prevent young people from rejecting their faith, Vitek recommends, "We need to create a place where young people can freely wrestle with their questions of faith, including their doubt…"
"We found that young people want to talk about their faith but they aren't sure if they can without judgment," he said.