Monday’s Mtg: Can Pope Francis Revive Catholicism?

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.



  1. 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?
  2. What are the biggest problems the Vatican and rest of the Church faces in the next, say, 20 years?  What are their causes?
  3. Who is Pope Francis?  What is known about him and what early signals about reform is he sending or not sending?
  4. 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?
  5. 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 –

Francis and reforms –

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.


5 responses

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    It is hard for me to imagine how the Catholic church, or any church, could really make itself relevant to the modern world.
    They belong in the historical museum.
    Perhaps Francis will be the last Pope? (Wishful thinking, no doubt.)

  2. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    For those not familiar with the Magdalen laundries, the castration of boys in Holland, and other crimes of the Church, you might read this:

    We might go back as far as Pius XII, “Hitler’s Pope”

    The Church always wants to investigate itself. Trust us!

    But I say, serve them with a criminal subpoena! Let’s have a real investigation and a real trial if warranted.
    Why should they be exempt?

    Should I ever meet Pope Francis, my first words will be, “You have the right to remain silent…”

  3. Whenever any organization or movement becomes more concerned with its own power, resources, and survival than in its mission, its purpose, its very raison d’être, then it becomes sick. Witness the reforming congressman “turned” by the lobbyists in order to get re-elected, bureaucrats running amok, drunk on their own power, and churchmen more concerned with reputation than with justice. In order to get an idea of where Pope Francis is coming from on reforms, see

  4. In dealing with the Roman curia, Francis faces one of the most conservative, not to say reactionary institutions in the world.
    Thus I would be willing to be that he won’t get very far, even if his intentions are good.
    He might even end up like his predecessor, John Paul I (found dead in bed one morning)

  5. If the Roman Curia (translation: the collective court of ministers and officials) attempts to obstruct reforms to how they operate, they are not likely to succeed. Pope Francis saw what happened before, and will not let it happen again. JP II and Benedict were elderly men isolated in the Papal Apartments — not this guy: He is moving with both radical speed (on the Vatican timescale) and deliberate care (to make sure he doesn’t break anything that shouldn’t be broken). Remember that within the Vatican City State, there is no three-way U.S. James Madison-style division of governmental power: the Pope has absolute power to hire and fire and transfer and promote and demote. Those who don’t get with the program will be gone. . . . This situation sort of reminds me of General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff in WW2 — another leader who had a vast job to accomplish and not much time to get it done and a stodgy bureaucracy in the way.

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