Turmoil within the Catholic Church
By M.J., AAI NEWS TEAM
Recent activities in and by the Catholic Church indicate significant challenges for and struggles within its leadership, as the Church attempts to define a way forward in the modern world, which is often at odds with many of the traditional messages of the Church. Sexual and financial scandals have eroded confidence in the Church and contributed to the tide of people leaving the faith. These and other issues of concern to the Church will be discussed here in light of recent events.
The Church knows something needs to be done. Recent meetings held by the Catholic Church in Europe highlight issues of high concern to the Church in the region, issues which greatly affect the influence and the future of the Church: Secularization, Youth and Islam.
Europe is largely secular, and as the Church seeks to maintain a strong influence on politics and society it knows that is has to learn to deal with that fact. A meeting was held by the Council of European Bishops (CCEE) in Bratislava, Slovakia to discuss the issue of secularization, the separation of Church and State, how these threaten the church, and how the church should move ahead.
Youth are of course of immense importance to society, for they will be the future leaders, voters, consumers, and in the case of the Church, they will either be followers, or they won’t. The Church knows full well that if the young do not accept religious teachings then the church will fail. The meeting in Bratislava highlighted that evangelizing and winning the youth into the religion is both a high priority and a significant challenge.
At the Slovakia meeting Cardinal Peter Erdo stressed that “Secularism does not exclude religion”, and expressed concerns regarding the right to and respect for religious freedom. The Church believes that secularism produces indifference to the Christian heritage of Europe and is concerned about religion being displaced from the public sphere to become a private matter.
Secularism does promote freedom of religion. However this is a double edged sword for the Church, for the very freedom of religion that the Church wishes to ensure and strengthen has given relatively equal standing to all religion, not just Catholic or even non-Catholic Christian denominations, including the religion that Christians most fear: Islam.
Islam is of significant concern to the Church as it is perceived to be gaining ever stronger influence in Europe, even as the influence of Catholic Church is in apparent decline. The influence of Islam is indeed growing: as reported by the Deutsche Welle, the estimated population of Muslims in Europe in 2011 was 44 million, and is expected to rise to 58 million by 2030.
So how does the Church intend to tackle these problems? One task, as indicated above, is fighting for the Church to be considered important to society, indeed to combat the notion of separation of Church and State. Another option is reform, to make the Church more attractive to an ever less conservative and more critical society, especially its youth.
Pope Francis has proven to be a reformer, giving softer messages regarding homosexuality, atheism, and contraception, and hinting at being more accommodating of women in the Church. He has also been combatting the excesses of the Church, refusing to wear extravagant attire, and recently suspending a bishop who led a very extravagant lifestyle.
Some within the Church are eager for reforms, considered as too eager even, with some bishops being warned not to implement reforms faster than the Pope. Others within the Church are against reforms. Since the Church has a long history of extravagance, the Pope will face internal battles as a result of his efforts to reduce it. Also Pope Francis’s comments regarding homosexuals, atheists and contraception were quickly ‘clarified’ by other Church officials.
The Church is clearly struggling with its position in society. While it recognizes its need to adjust to the times if it is to remain influential in a secular society that treats all religions equally, it continues to send mixed messages, continues to be the subject of scandal, and continues to lose followers. And all the while Islam is making slow but sure progress in a society which, through policies of freedom of religion, and equality, is thus equally tolerant of all religion.
No wonder the Catholic Church is worried.