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Millennials are leaving religion in droves, recent surveys find. Churches are roiled, but it appears Pope Francis isn’t worried he may accelerate the exodus.

The “Who am I to judge?” pope recently told an interviewer that he has a hard time understanding why so many young Catholics worship in Latin on Sundays. “Why so much rigidity,” Francis asked. “This rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else.”

That represents an ugly departure from his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who allowed for wider use of the pre-Vatican II Mass in 2007. “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too,” the pope emeritus wrote, “and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

Then only a little over 200 Latin Masses were celebrated in the United States. That number has since more than doubled. The Massgoers aren’t a bunch of old anoraks, either. It’s millennials and hipsters who tend to prefer the smells and bells.

Yet this isn’t the first time Francis has wondered why a growing number of Catholic youth reject the hand-holding and modern music in favor of a more solemn and sacred form of worship. When the pope received bishops from the Czech Republic in 2014, he reportedly said attraction to the traditional liturgy “is rather a kind of fashion. And if it is a fashion, it is a matter that does not need that much attention.”

Now, perhaps in an attempt to further dilute the 2007 letter, Francis called the Latin Mass “an exception.”

That might alarm many young people who flock to Assumption Grotto on Detroit’s east side for its classic liturgies. Or Archbishop Allen Vigneron, who recently invited the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest to establish St. Joseph Oratory in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood because of the high demand for the Latin Mass.

But if Francis would ditch his habit of insulting faithful millennials, he might begin to see more of them in the pews.

nhahn@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @NGHahn3

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