Perhaps the week in which Al Gore turned green into gold by winning an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth" offers an appropriate moment to say that I've finally been persuaded to include "Ecology and Natural Resources" in my list of the top ten "Mega-Trends" shaping global Catholicism.
All Things Catholic
Normally I love writing this column, but this week I need to say something that gives me no pleasure at all. Here it is in a nutshell: Reporting on religion in the mainstream British press is not only sometimes dreadful, it's dangerous, and something needs to be done about it.
Journalists are forever asserting that something "stands at a crossroads," and, truth to be told, often it's just a rhetorical device to lend drama to whatever follows. Chronic overuse of the image, however, doesn't mean there are no real crossroads, and today one can make a very good case that Jewish/Catholic relations are fast arriving at one.
For some time, the politics of bioethics in the West has fueled deep ideological polarization between a permissive left and a restrictive right. That was the dynamic when the front-burner issues were abortion and birth control, and it's still true of today's most agonizing debates, such as embryonic stem cell research and end-of-life questions such as those surrounding the Terry Schiavo case in Florida.
A political decision in England this week marks a further step toward what can only be called the criminalization of religious opposition to homosexuality, a trend that poses deep challenges to the Catholic church -- not only in terms of legal exposure, but its capacity to articulate a positive message on sexuality and the family.
I have no sociological data to back this up, but I'm convinced that there's a strong correlation between someone's implied ecclesiology and their overall attitude toward the Catholic church. More often than not, when people complain about "the church" -- no matter what their ideological or theological slant, whether they're inside the church or outside -- what they mean is the hierarchy. Sometimes it's actually just a handful of members of the hierarchy whom they find especially irritating.
Given that the 2008 American presidential campaign is now in full swing, with the formation of exploratory committees and announcements-of-intent-to-announce, perhaps it's not too early to begin thinking about the next papal election either.
In most quarters, when something goes wrong with a bishop’s appointment, there’s a natural tendency to blame the pope. After all, since the 19th century, the appointment of bishops in the Western church has been the near-universal prerogative of the Roman pontiff, so the buck stops on his desk. (The fact that the pope did not directly appoint most bishops prior to the 19th century is, alas, a subject for another time).
In 1998, Pope John Paul II issued a document titled Ad Tuendam Fidem, which generated no small amount of discussion by underlining a second category of infallible teachings, i.e., doctrines not formally revealed but regarded as necessary to safeguard and defend revelation. In an accompanying commentary, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger cited the ban on women priests and the invalidity of Anglican ordinations as examples.
Last week, I presented a draft list of ten “mega-trends” which I believe are shaping the future of the Catholic church, and asked for reader reaction. I was stunned by the response. In addition to the public comments on the NCR site, I received scores of personal messages, most of them deeply thoughtful and well-informed. Though I can’t respond personally, please know that I am grateful, and I hope my forthcoming book is equal to the quality of your contributions.