Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Church in Crisis: Signposts to the Need for Catholic Reformation

And on the topic of reformation (with which I just ended my last posting):

1. The Catholic church still desperately needs reform.

2. And it’s going to be very difficult if not nigh impossible to reform the church, given the current regime and the episcopal appointments the last two papacies have made made (and the regime represented by the last two papacies is, of course, the very reason the church desperately needs to be reformed).

On the need for reform, a selection of articles:

For those who began to argue within days of the current round of abuse revelations that the storm had abated and Rome had weathered it, there’s bad news from a number of fronts.  As Rachel Donadio notes at the New York Times, with its current worldwide manifestations and bishops resigning right and left in a single week, “it is clear the issue [of clerical abuse of minors] is more than a passing storm or a problem of papal communications.”  It’s “nothing less than an epochal shift,” in fact.  Donadio cites Alberto Melloni, director of the John XXIII Foundation in Bologna, who maintains that the church has no way out of its current crisis, until it “confronts the entirety of its problems.”

 A recent op-ed statement “Catholics in Crisis” in The Week magazine echoes a recent editorial of the National Catholic Reporter, which maintains that the Catholic church is now passing through “the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history.”  As The Week notes, Pew Foundation research shows that since the 1960s, four American-born Catholics have left the church for every one who has converted.  In Europe, both the decline in church membership and attendance is even more precipitous, particularly in countries like Ireland and Spain that were previously known as the most devout Catholic nations in the world.

Richard McBrien also cites Pew data in his recent National Catholic Reporter essay on what happens when pastoral leaders ignore repeated warnings pointing to the need for substantive reform.  As McBrien notes, Pew’s data about U.S. Catholics who have left the Catholic church in recent years lead to the following conclusion:

If ex-Catholics constituted a church unto themselves, they would be the second largest denomination today -- second only to the Catholic church itself, which would be a lot smaller were it not for the constant stream of immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world.

The leadership of the Catholic church has thus far tended to ignore this trend. It's almost as if they never heard of the Pew Study, much less studied and discussed it seriously.

The same is true of their response to the greatest crisis ever to hit the Catholic church in the United States, and the greatest crisis to hit the universal church since the 16th-century Reformation itself, namely, the sexual-abuse scandal in the priesthood.
The need for reform of the Catholic church now is crystal-clear, and the signposts pointing to that need are abundant.  In a subsequent posting, I’ll offer readers a selection of recent articles pointing to the challenge of achieving effective reform within the Catholic church, and the systemic problems that both demand reform and make it exceptionally difficult to achieve.