BY ANDREW M BROWN
IN THE WEEK WHEN
hundreds of thousands of young Catholics filled Paris for the World Youth Day, a comprehensive new investigation into the Mass-going habits of the young in Southampton has produced a striking contradiction to the commonly-held view that young people do not go to church.
One third of Catholic teenagers interviewed for the survey, which was conducted throughout the 11 parishes in Southampton, claimed they attended Mass every week, and a further fifth go at least once a month. This contrasts with an estimated 18 per cent of the Catholic population as a whole attending Mass regularly.
Fr Ray Lyons, parish priest of Waterside, who co-ordinated the survey for Southampton deanery, said: "These results demonstrate that our young people do believe in God and that they are happy to be part of the Church provided the Church recognises them and their contributuon to the community.
"We ignore them at our peril, but if we recognise the important part they can play in our communities we will no longer have to worry about decreasing congregations. For me, the results are very welcome news."
Fr Lyons and Judy Kimber, the Secretary of the Deanery Pastoral Council, decided to conduct the survey after a pastoral visit by Bishop Crispian Hollis in 1994. Questionnaires were distributed to parishioners attending Mass throughout the Deanery and to pupils in the two Catholic secondary schools.
However, in an interview with the Catholic Herald, Fr Lyons admitted that the results may be favourably skewed because enthusiastic churchgoers were more likely to respond.
"There may be an element of self-selection, but in the Catholic schools alone almost 500 teenagers responded, and very few said they went to church because they were forced by their parents," he said.
Overall however, less than a quarter of the sample of people aged 14 to 21 thought they might attend church regularly in the future.
Views on the Church's teaching tended to differ along gender lines. Some 80 per cent of all the young respondents disagreed with the Church's teaching on birth control, with the highest level of disagreement being 93 per cent of those pupils at St Anne's girls' school who responded. And 43 percent of boys thought same sex relationships were wrong, compared with only 18 per cent of girls.
Fr Lyons said: "There is strong evidence to suggest that coming to Mass weekly has a powerful influence on their beliefs and acceptance of the Church's moral teaching."