by Christopher Howse THE AUTHOR of a controversial study of teenage attitudes to sex, drugs and church attendance this week accused stand-by accusations of churchmen's "fear of failure and guilt" in their approach to young people.
Dr Leslie Francis was commenting on an opinion poll of young church-goers on which he has based his book Teenagers and the Church, published yesterday. The original poll was mounted in 1980, but some church leaders refused to take part.
"My belief is that the social sciences can act as a kind of mirror so that churches can see more clearly the reality. Sometimes facing reality is hard. If reality jolts churchmen into action, I don't mind accepting some responsibility for it."
The poll, 49 per cent of whose respondents were Catholics, found, for example, that only 15 per cent of Catholics between 16 and 20 years old disagreed with contraception and 29 per cent thought it wrong to get drunk. But it also showed that while Catholic churches lost 55 per cent of teenage churchgoers by the age of 20, the Church of England loses 75 per cent.
The organisers of the poll had to drop plans to interview young people in Burnley because Bishop Holland of Salford would not give permission for the pollisters to go through the Catholic churches there. The diocese confirmed this week that reservations about the pollisters methods lay behind the decision not to take part.
Among other .things, teenagers who replied to questionnaires were told "There are no right answers." Some Catholic clergy feared that putting questions about the divinity of Christ on a par with attitudes towards smoking might undermine youngsters' confidence.
Dr Francis rejected the fears this week. "I don't think there is any truth in these reservations, because the methods have already been well tested out on different age ranges. They have been thoroughly tested and piloted.
"The image that some Church leaders have of young people is not quite on target. They thought that they wouldn't be able to cope with the questionnaire or that they didn't have views on sexuality. But this form of questionnaire was. devised by Likert in the 1930s, and 50 years of experience have shown it can be appropriate even down to nine-year-olds."
Dr Francis says in the introduction to the book: "We quickly learnt that the church's work among teenagers was an area in which there was so much fear of failure and guilt that some of the church leaders refused to sanction the cooperation of the clergy."
Since the publication of the poll results, doubts have been expressed as to its reliability. More than 1,300 replies of young people between 13 and 20 were analysed. But only nine Quakers were found to take part, so, to make their response statistically significant, it had to be grouped together with responses from other Free Churches.
Whatever else the poll showed, it indicated that some presuppositions were accurate. For example, 74 per cent of Catholics opposed abortion in any circumstances, as against 40 per cent in the Church of England. But Free Church youths opposed marijuana by a resounding 88 per cent, against the less censorious 56 per cent among Catholics.