Several delegates to the 20th annual Catholic World Youth Day, a six-day gathering in Cologne, Germany, of thousands of young Catholics, are raising eyebrows with their vocal lobbying for the Vatican to drop its ban on condom use.
Church experts say there's little chance of a major change in church policy, and they're questioning the motives of World Youth Day 4 All, an international youth coalition sponsored by Catholics for a Free Choice.
"I think that responsible Catholics should be able to decide for themselves what they want to do around sexual health and reproductive rights," said Molly O'Gorman, 24, one of the coalition's committee members.
Brought up as a Catholic and educated in Catholic schools, O'Gorman said she felt something missing from the "official line" and that she admired Catholics who took a stand on social justice based on the reality of life. She and 40 others from 16 countries hit the pavement to get the word out in Cologne. The message: The pope has got to listen to the youth and get the church active in terms of AIDS prevention.
O'Gorman believes that most of her peers and many Catholics believe in the use of condoms, which is why she's pushing for change. "I think the church leaders hold views that are out of touch with most Catholics and [they] promote policies that aren't smart," she said. The group has sponsored an ad campaign, "Condoms 4 Life," with the multilingual slogan "Good Catholics Use Condoms" in the Cologne subway to further the coalition's cause
John Paul II founded World Youth Day in 1985 to give young people an opportunity to connect with fellow Catholics in a mass movement of prayer and worship. Pilgrims since then have traveled to capitals around the world to share their beliefs and discuss their faith. World Youth Day organizers expect up to 800,000 youths, 700 bishops and nearly 7,000 priests at the festival-like celebration with people from more than 120 countries.
The new pope, Benedict XVI, welcomed the pilgrims today and will make two other scheduled appearances. This marks the new pontiff's first visit abroad (and to his homeland) since his election following John Paul II's death in April.
Sister Anne of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops believes it's shameless to promote an agenda at a religious event. Youth Day allows young adult Catholics to experience the Christian community and broaden their experience, she said, using the words "life changing," and "very dramatic" to describe past attendees' reactions.
O'Gorman stressed that the coalition members didn't chant or harangue passers-by or wear their condom T-shirts inside Cologne's Gothic cathedral. For Sister Anne, regardless of the protest, she believes young Catholics are increasingly accepting and promoting abstinence. She claims there has already been a noticeable change in attitudes about abortion in recent years. "The whole abortion-on-demand concept, if you look at young people, they're not accepting of that perhaps like previous generations before," she said.
Alan Schrek, a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, agrees. He believes that the current generation of Catholics wants to embrace abstinence despite the pervasiveness of sex in modern society. "It's not true anymore that most Catholic people are buying the contraceptive agenda," Schrek said.