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Catholic Youth Magazine Looks Ahead

In a mid-1980s religious quest, youth magazine publisher Paul Lauer moved with two friends to the high desert town of Pearblossom to intensify their new Catholic faith with a primitive spiritual discipline made tougher by living in a mouse-infested warehouse.

During those two years, they often drove to nearby St. Andrew’s Priory for the Benedictine monks’ noon Mass.

“But we actually considered them kind of monastic lightweights,” Lauer said. “We’re so on fire, we thought, why is everybody else so lax?”

Sitting in his office this week at Veritas Communications--whose walls are adorned with teen-oriented YOU! magazine covers featuring Brooke Shields, Gloria Estefan, Harry Connick Jr. and Joe Montana--Lauer admitted apologetically that the monks were hardly lax.

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“We were young and had a lot of spiritual pride,” said Lauer, now 35 and heading a Catholic magazine that after 10 years has a healthy 40,000 U.S. circulation, another 25,000 in four overseas translations and related communications projects in the works.

Despite his relative comfort today, Lauer still speaks at times with the zeal of a desert visionary. He talked about convincing more Catholic youths to see themselves as pace-setters at the start of the next millennium--a thousand-year period that he believes will dawn with signs of divine mercy.

“People today are born into a culture where it is more difficult to live a Christian life, and I believe God understands that,” said Lauer. He said he interprets Pope John Paul II’s call for “a new springtime” in the church-proclaimed Jubilee Year 2000 as a harbinger of grace for a world beset with violence, indulgent sex and human indignities.

YOU! magazine last year changed its tagline from “Alternative Youth Magazine” to “Youth for the New Millennium” to reflect Lauer’s vision. But the magazine retains the style of other teen-oriented publications with pages crowded with photos of celebrities, funky headlines, cartoon art and short articles.

“It comes across as almost not religious at first,” said one admirer, Owen McGovern of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., executive director of the Catholic Press Assn. “We need to reach young people and it’s very difficult to do that unless you speak their language.”

Lauer launched the magazine in 1987 after he left his quasi-monastic desert life behind and returned to live with his parents in West Los Angeles.

While attending prayer gatherings with adults and considering the priesthood, Lauer said he found himself talking more with teens about his younger days of competitive surfing, playing guitar with a rock band, trying one religion after another and getting into occasional trouble with the law. He saw the possibilities for a publication blending the perspectives of teenagers with Christian values and specific Catholic teachings.

Years later, with magazine offices in Westlake Village, just inside the Los Angeles county line, and a home in Thousand Oaks for wife Laura and the couple’s four children, Lauer hit upon a way to keep YOU! attuned to current teen culture.

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About a dozen interns between the ages of 18 and 30 “do all the creative work on the magazine--writing, editing and graphics,” said Lauer. Staying one to two years, the interns live rent-free in two homes and receive a modest stipend. Other full-time staffers handle the company’s business side.

Recent issues featured cover stories and centerfold photographs on Hanson, three young brother-musicians; 16-year-old actress Beverly Mitchell of TV’s “7th Heaven”, and Paul Greene, a Tommy Hilfiger model. Their profiles focus on what they say about faith and values.

Sprinkled throughout the magazines are similar quotes from country star LeAnn Rimes, Seattle Mariner pitcher Randy Johnson, actor Denzel Washington and Laker Shaquille O’Neal, mostly derived from other published sources.

What YOU! writes about Catholic beliefs is theologically traditional--one cartoon even defending Roman Catholicism as “the one true Church,” a once-common phrase not heard often in the current ecumenical era.

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“We’re not about dissenting views,” Lauer said. “We toe the Pope’s line is one way to put it.”

But Lauer said the magazine and its related communications ministries are “liberal” when relating to youth culture.

“There are folks who ask why we have a non-Catholic on the cover, or a person they say is really a marginal Catholic, like Brooke Shields,” Lauer said. “But, for the most part, people realize we are looking for the best role models we can find who are people of faith. They may not be perfect.”

If less-than-perfect people are not fit to be on the cover, Lauer said he tells critics, “then I’m not fit to be doing the magazine either.”

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Nor is Lauer hesitant to cooperate with evangelical Protestant ministries such as Youth for Christ or hire musical performers who are identified with evangelical churches. Three years ago, he was able to get singer Amy Grant to appear free in a concert at the large Religious Education Congress held annually by the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese in Anaheim.

Last March in Atlanta, YOU! co-sponsored a Catholic youth rally featuring recording star Steven Curtis Chapman and the group Audio Adrenaline, both popular in evangelical circles.

Lauer said that revenues from the magazine and related projects have increased to the point where only 20% of the budget relies on donations. About $300,000 in donations and grants was raised in 1997, he said.

A Conrad Hilton Foundation four-year grant of $200,000, which began last year, arose ultimately from Lauer’s surfing friendship years ago with Steve Hilton, whose father, Barron Hilton, is an active Catholic parishioner in Beverly Hills.

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Nevertheless, future projects and an imminent move to larger quarters in Westlake Village will require more backing, Lauer said. “We just learned that our move is going to cost $40,000 instead of $20,000,” he said this week.

Ironically, the company had earlier decided against moving within its same building complex to a cheaper office that was leased by a telephone sex company that was going out of business.

“We didn’t really decide against it because of the nature of their business,” Lauer said, “but there were a lot of jokes going around about us performing exorcisms if we took it.”


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