Moral Lifelines: Do Young People Call Priests For Advice?


The online magazine Busted Halo’s “Moral Dilemmas” series got the attention of one USA Today columnist not with what it said, but with what it didn’t. When Busted Halo polled readers on what to do about a sticky moral situation, talking to a priest was not among the possible options.

Seemingly flabbergasted, the columnist, Cathy Lynn Grossman, asked a good question — one she seems to have thought had a “duh” answer for Catholics until now:

“Do you bring your real life moral questions to your clergy? Do folks under 35 actually know any clergy? Do you have a pastor, priest or rabbi you might sit down with and mull a problem?”

These are important questions. I don’t think many young adult Catholics do know a priest at all, let alone one well enough to call up and say, “Father, can we grab coffee? I gotta ask for your help on something.”

First of all, when we left home for college and adulthood, a lot of us left a parish community where we may have known the priest, maybe even well. Growing up, my parish priest joined us for holiday dinners and family events. At college there was campus ministry, and the campus minister — who, at my alma mater, was a priest — was around campus, and we knew it was part of his job to offer counsel.

But now that I’m beyond college and in the working world, I’m a bit priest-less. I’ve moved around town, which means I’ve switched parishes a few times, and right now I rotate among three different parishes for weekend Masses. As an undergrad I had a lot of friends in the seminary, but now they’re busy with their own parishioners. Working for the Catholic press, I know a lot of priests, but not one of them is my pastor.

The thing is, most of us don’t realize we need a priest until there’s a crisis, like a family member’s death. And at that point, it feels kind of awkward to call up the pastor of one’s parish and say, “Hey, I know we’ve never talked before, but I need to talk now.”

Probably most young Catholics don’t do it — especially for stuff that seems too trivial to require bothering a priest, most of whom seem stretched for time the way it is.

And that’s assuming a Catholic has a parish she attends regularly. Young adult Catholics are notorious for parish-hopping or not registering in their parish. They figure they’ll do it when they’re married or engaged. Yet I think some Catholic singles would like to know their pastors better but aren’t sure how to go about it.

Some people will argue that we don’t need a priest for counsel, that a layperson can offer just as good (and sometimes better) advice than a priest. I get what they’re saying.

Yet as a Catholic, I view the priest himself as a sign of God’s grace, and there’s comfort in that. It’s not crazy that I would want an ordained man of God to be there for life’s toughest times — and maybe even when life is just normal.

So, I pose Grossman’s questions to you: Do you bring your real-life moral questions to your clergy? Do folks under 35 actually know any clergy? Do you have a priest, seminarian or sister you might sit down with and mull a problem?



  1. Cat S. October 28, 2010 Reply

    Amusingly, I just made an appointment with my old spiritual director from college. I thought about taking my issue to my parish priest, but I’m so new to the parish, that I decided to meet with a priest who knew me well in college.

    I agree, it’s good to get to know your parish priest so you can go to him in a time of need.

  2. Japz D. October 27, 2010 Reply

    Indeed, it’s true that not many young people know their pastors. Like sheep who do not know their shepherd. And vice versa. Many factors have brought this distance. Cant blame one side. But let this be a challenge and task for priests: to reach out to the young pepole through parish programs and activities like the Youth Encounter. Likewise, let the young know that we priests are very willing to listen to juvenile woes and concerns. No one would ever be refused an ear. As Jesus said: “Let the children come…” so priests could or should never shun the young, but welcome them…

  3. Jacqueline-198 October 27, 2010 Reply

    About 10 years ago I was having a relationship dilemma and sadly those that I asked for advice were so biased that I went to my parish priest for advice…first and last time I ever did this, frankly, if I were suicidal I’d had been close to ending it all because my encounter with the priest left me worse off than before I went in for some advice….sad but true. That’s why now whenever I have a dilemma or want a listening ear, I will speak to someone that I know is Godly and spiritually grounded and who I respect. I do have two local priests I can go to should I need to…but that’s because I’ve been involved in their Bible studies…if folks don’t get involved in their parishes it’s difficult to get to know their priests especially in larger communities…first thing I did at college was to check out the local parish and attended the local mass on campus by the Newman Center…I urge kids to get involved either on campus or at home if you commute, or find a spiritual advisor, it does make a difference.

  4. Jacob-440943 October 26, 2010 Reply

    I have a couple of priest friends and deacon friends that I can and do talk about issues with. I’ve even gone wine tasting with one.

Post a comment