Church must help youths escape U.S. moral ambiguity, bishop says


NOTRE DAME, Ind. (CNS) — The church must help Hispanic youths “escape from the morally ambiguous environment” of U.S. society, said Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto of Orange, Calif.

They want a solid religious education that allows them to live according to “human and Christian criteria,” he said in Spanish June 10.

Society’s moral ambiguity is especially acute for young people who cross the border into the United States, he added.

Bishop Soto, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee on Youth and Young Adults, spoke during the June 8-11 National Encuentro for Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry at the University of Notre Dame.

The “encuentro,” Spanish for “gathering,” was the first national meeting of its kind. Its theme was “Weaving Together the Future.”

The bilingual event was organized by the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (of Hispanic Youth Ministry). It was co-sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Hispanic Affairs, the USCCB Subcommittee on Youth and Young Adults and the University of Notre Dame. About 2,000 Hispanic youths and people involved in Hispanic youth ministry attended.

Hispanic youths “arrive in this country, with or without their families, and fall into a very ambiguous state,” the bishop said.

“By necessity, many seek anonymity to avoid problems without realizing that an anonymous life creates its own problems,” he said.

These youths are made to feel powerless and useless, he said.

The church can perpetuate these feelings when it does not allow for significant participation and does not develop a sense of co-responsibility in church life, he said.

Hispanic youths see a society in which “a person is considered an object of an action but not as the subject,” he said.

Much of the public school system has an “agnostic mentality” that “denies to the young Latino an ethical orientation” that helps him understand information in a way that fosters a sense of community, he said.

This mentality is especially true of sex education in many public schools, the bishop said.

Sexuality is discussed as a “scientific issue without moral guidelines,” he said.

The decision about how to express sexuality is often left to youths without offering them the tools for making critical and ethical judgments about it, he said.

The church has failed on this issue by keeping quiet, he said.

“Our silence has left a hole which other cultural influences have taken advantage of to distort the meaning of human sexuality, reducing it to a form of recreation in accordance with personal preferences,” he said.

The bishop also told the youths that they have an important role to play in the increasingly multicultural U.S. church.

Hispanics’ mestizo culture and ethnic makeup “should make us better appreciate the possibility to live in communion” and to help shape “the new mix of cultures and people” in the U.S., he said.

“At the same time, we must recognize that there are certain barriers and walls that we have raised against other members of the church,” Bishop Soto said.

He cited arguments, suspicions and ill will that arise among different parish groups.

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