Dr. Tia Noelle Pratt gave an intriguing lecture at UVM on Tuesday for the Religion Department’s month(ish) of lectures and panels for Religious Literacy. Her lecture, entitled “Catholic Young Adults and Pro-life Teachings: A Bellwether for the U.S. Catholic Church” pinpointed on ideas of how college-aged Catholics felt about the Roman Catholic Church’s pro-life teachings, and how the pro-life teachings of the church have come to only translate to the argument of “abortion” (even though the church has an expansive assemblage of what “pro-life” means).
Dr. Pratt’s lecture started off with discussing why she got into this work, which I believe is the most amusing part. Her main “hustle”, she describes, is systemic racism and the Catholic church. But she states that no one would even touch her work, let alone publish it, because it was “too edgy.” So, she decided to take a more conventional and boring path (in her words not mine), pro-life teachings of the Catholic church, thus creating her “side hustle.” I love her use of the term hustle here, mostly because I’ve never heard a scholar call their work this, and it’s always more entertaining when a lecturer can gather a laugh when talking about a serious topic.
Throughout her research, Dr. Pratt noticed that the buzzword “pro-life” lacked usage in peer reviewed articles and studies, which seems strange because how can they be discussing pro-life without actually using the term? Until she stumbled upon Dr. James R. Kelly, who had published a mile-long list of public scholarship writing on pro-life related issues and the movement itself. This included an article from 1987 that discussed how the HIV/AIDS epidemic was a pro-life issue, which was monumental for the time. She joked, though, for students 1987 might as well be 1776.
Her main focus of her lecture was on Catholic young adults, for which she included her methods and results of her research. As a sociologist, her study heavily relied on focus groups. She asked these groups about their feelings of pro-life issues, the church, and other specifics as well. Dr. Pratt’s discoveries included that abortion was overwhelmingly focused upon, and nothing else was getting through the “sieve” (she used the metaphor multiple times throughout her lecture). Her evidence gathered that most of the people in the studied agreed upon a “live and let live” mentality, meaning that they wouldn’t get an abortion themselves, but they believed the option to have an abortion should be available for those who seek it. Although, when Dr. Pratt asked about the death penalty, she was met with a contentious debate. The question here is why are other facets of pro-life messages from the church being lost in translation? Dr. Pratt presents that young adult literacy is limited because the teachings itself are limited. The more prolific issues, like capital punishment, murder, war, stem cell research, were simply not sticking with the public.
What I found quite funny was that the disaffected Catholic youth weren’t mad about the church’s issues, but instead were mad about their personal childhood experiences. Dr. Pratt humorously stated, “They were mad about things that happened in second grade!” Which was indeed true, her study showed that these folks were angry that religion was forced upon them by their parents, and that they had to go to mass as punishment. So, what Dr. Pratt found was that the Catholic youth wanted civil courtesy and felt more connected to Pope Francis rather than local leadership, due to his statements of support for the LGBT community.
But the problem here, according to Dr. Pratt is that the Catholic church is a global religion, which is lived locally and can only thrive when there is local engagement. Dr. Pratt contended, that in order for the Catholic the church to continue to see people in the pews in the future, they must adapt to the ideals of the younger generation. If these catholic young adults are seeing mass as a punishment, then they’ll be less likely to bring their own families to church in the future. She stated that the expanded language around pro-life must move past just abortion, not only for political expediency, but for the survival of the church. Overall, Dr. Pratt’s talk was insightful and gave a new perspective in religious literacy regarding the Catholic church.