Lethargic IITian
Musings of a 20-something lethargic IITian on India and Catholicism.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003  

Who will succeed JPII?

Following are several main issues facing the next pope.

NORTH-SOUTH RIFT -- The Church's centre of gravity shifted during the last century from Europe to the Third World, with 62 percent of all Catholics now in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

The churches of the "global South" take a more activist stand for social justice and Third World debt relief than Northerners. But they are generally more orthodox on issues such as celibacy, liturgical rituals and the role of women in the Church.

The question now is whether a more "Southern" Church would alienate those "Northerners" hoping for more liberal policies after the long conservative papacy of John Paul II.

DWINDLING RANKS -- Over the next 10 to 20 years, the Church's ageing clergy faces a dramatic drop in its ranks as priests die or retire. The average age of a Catholic priest now is over 60.

The number of parishes without a resident priest is climbing worldwide, most quickly in developed countries. The total in the United States jumped from 702 in 1975 to 3,040 this year.

Liberals say traditional rules discourage vocations and call for reforms including married and women priests. Conservatives blame the drop on modernising reforms and say the Church has to become more orthodox and more Catholic to attract new priests.

CELIBACY -- The clergy shortage and the scandal of priests sexually abusing children in the United States, Ireland and several European countries has prompted reformers to urge an end to the ancient tradition of priestly celibacy.

But the Church values celibacy as a gift from God that frees priests to devote their lives fully to serve Him. It believes personal faults and not celibacy drive errant priests to sin.

While no change of celibacy is expected in the foreseeable future, reformers think the Vatican could agree to ordain "viri probati" (Latin for men of proven character). They would be middle aged or older, with grown-up families if married.

SEXUAL MORALITY -- Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae banning artificial birth control opened a wide gulf between the church and many faithful. Many Catholics now engage in premarital sex, use contraception and get divorced at about the same level as Protestants and Jews, surveys show.

John Paul vigorously preached the virtues of premarital chastity and natural family planning but made little headway.

"He simply has not won people over on birth control," said Father Thomas Reese, editor of the U.S. Jesuit magazine America.

The next pope will also face the growing acceptance in the West of homosexuals, whom the Vatican officially considers "disordered" and unfit for holy orders -- even though there are already many gays in the clergy.

WOMEN AND LAITY -- The increasing equality between the sexes in developed countries has also led activists there to complain the Church has a stained-glass ceiling barring women priests.

John Paul has ruled out ordaining women completely and there is scant prospect of change in the coming decades or more. But a risk of their alienation from a male-dominated Church remains.

This is a key issue since mothers and teachers transmit the faith to young Catholics, among whom the Church hopes to find pious young men ready to become priests. If women become anticlerical, Reese remarked, "then we're in real trouble."

As priests become rarer, lay people have taken over more and more parish tasks. Traditionalists dislike the trend and have tried to reassert the priest's predominant role.

COLLEGIALITY -- "Collegiality," shorthand for devolving decision-making from the Vatican to bishops around the world, became a recurring theme during John Paul's centralised papacy.

Vatican II reforms aimed to involve local bishops more in church decisions, but John Paul went back on several of them. He also barred several liberal theologians from teaching.

A recent draft document showed that Vatican traditionalists also wanted to rein in other innovations such as altar girls and dancing and applauding in church. The proposal baffled and upset many churchgoers and looks likely to be watered down considerably if it is eventually published.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE -- John Paul has arguably been the pope most open to other religions, but his doctrinal advisers have issued statements that other Christians say show a "Catholic superiority complex" contradicting his actions.

Relations with Muslims will be a major issue for the next pope, French Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Vatican's Council for Culture, said. "I think it's the big challenge today...this is crucial for the future."

posted by Kensy | 5:15 AM
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past blogs of interest
Hinduism as a religion
Pederasty and the American Church
Caste in Indian Christianity
Syro-Malabar engagements
Syro-Malabar weddings
Divine Retreat Centre
Varsha Bhosle and Ideological Relativism
Anti-Conversion Ordinance and the Church stance
Self-Righteous Rightism
The Hindutva Attack on St. Francis Xavier
Varsha Bhosle and the Church (U-turn)
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