A Faith in Flux Catholic Church Is Growing but May Also Be Weakening
1997, Boston Globe, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
DESPITE THE enormous popularity of Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church stands at a crossroads as the dawn of the third millennium approaches.
While the number of Roman Catholics is on the rise, particularly in Africa and Latin America, Vatican officials acknowledge that sheer numbers alone do not equal a healthy and dynamic church.
"I don't think the church is on its deathbed; I don't think it has terminal cancer," said Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See. "But we have to keep evangelizing, finding ways to proclaim the faith and not sit back and think everything is all right." The faith has been weakened by a variety of secular and religious forces, Vatican officials say. Those range from the excesses of capitalism to the increasing influence of Islam, the world's fastest-growing religion. In Western Europe and the United States, the church has lost its hold over many Roman Catholics who rarely attend Mass, who ignore Vatican teach ings they disagree with and whose faith has little influence in their daily lives. "There is clearly need for a new type of outreach to those who have become numb to the faith," said Archbishop John Foley, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications. A Lessening Impact In the years since the collapse of Communism, the pope has focused on what he views as the excesses of capitalism, characterized by rampant materialism and a lack of respect for society's weakest members, including the poor, children and immigrants. But the pope's strong moral admonitions, whether in writing or in speeches before thousands, while attracting praise from some followers, have had little impact on pressing global problems, observers say. "Lots of people will still habitually call themselves Catholics, but it doesn't take long for people, especially in a pluralistic world, to decide that it's only a label with no meaning, so that if the label doesn't fit then you can choose another one," said Rev. Robert Christian, vice dean of the Theology Department at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. "I think a lot of people take the voice and words of the pope as just one thing to consider." Movements Hurt Church A rebirth of spirituality, particularly in the West, has actually undermined the Catholic Church because many marginal Catholics have turned to a variety of other religious movements, ranging from evangelical Christianity to Buddhism for spiritual sustenance, Vatican officials and Church observers say. …