In March 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope Francis. The first non-European pope has his work cut out for him. Any article on the huge problems facing the Catholic Church in the 21st century would at least list the:
- Need to reconcile Church doctrine and practice with the modern world without alienating Catholics in traditional societies that now make up the bulk of Church membership.
- Loss of moral authority stemming from the worldwide sexual abuse and cover-up scandals.
- De-Christianization in Western countries, especially in Europe and especially among young people.
- Loss of authority over American Catholics.
- Shortages of priests, nuns, and other church officials.
- Challenge in developing countries posed by other religions, particularly evangelical Christianity, including Pentecostalism and Mormonism,
The list goes on. On Monday night, I’ll open with a quickie portrait of the changing global Catholic population and a list of the bigger problems facing Francis and his church (especially as it becomes essentially a developing world church). Then, I’ll summarize what is known about Francis and what signals conventional wisdom says he is has sent about reform with his initial actions as pope. In our discussion, I’d be especially interested in how people have personally experienced Catholicism (and Catholics) and what that may tell us about the faith’s future.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Who are the world’s Catholics these days? Where do they live, what is their socio-economic status, what do they believe, etc.? How has that changed recently? How does/will this change their what they need and want from their church?
- What are the biggest problems the Vatican and rest of the Church faces in the next, say, 20 years? What are their causes?
- Who is Pope Francis? What is known about him and what early signals about reform is he sending or not sending?
- How much freedom does Pope Francis have to institute changes within the Church? What is the job of the pope, anyway, and how flexible is it?
- What changes do you think need to be made to Catholicism in terms of (a) social issues (like divorce, sex, women) and (b) economic doctrine (social gospel, role of government, politics)? What changes will be made?
Problems Facing Catholicism –
- Good short list of the many problems besieging the Catholic Church.
- The last pope tried and failed miserably to re-catholicized Europe, and there is not much he could have done. Recommended.
- Loss of moral authority in the West from the sex abuse scandals.
- Christianity is moving South and it will fundamentally change. Note: This is a long 2002 article that I linked to the last time we talked about Catholicism’s future in 2010, but it’s really good if you have the time. Click on my post to find some other good articles on Catholicism’s future.
Francis and reforms –
- Can Francis “bring the Church back from the dead” by focusing on the global poor?
- Is he an “austere modernizer?” Recommended.
- Why it may matter a lot that he is a Jesuit.
- He created a reform commission.
- But, is his “honeymoon with liberals” over because of his embrace of traditional Church doctrine on sexual matters? Or, do his several criticisms of capitalism’s more predatory aspects and support for the environment auger a more progressive economic message?
- [Sunday UPDATE: If you really care about this topic, I recommend this series of blog posts, “Francis Emerges,” by Andrew Sullivan, an American Catholic who really loves his faith but longs for reform. Some great insights, IMO.]
Oh, and I’d like to end this meeting by having us compare our discussion of Catholicism to our debate about Islam at our last meeting. I’m betting it going to be very illuminating to contrast them.