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Conversation Not Conflict,
This review is from: Breaking Faith: THE POPE, THE PEOPLE, AND THE FATE OF CATHOLICISM (Hardcover)
Differing religious views cause conflict with greater speed between family and nations than virtually any topic. With his book, "Breaking Faith", John Cornwell addresses trends in The Catholic Church and the circumstances that have resulted. Some will find him courageous, others will condemn his audacity/temerity to question, or to air issues within the church. The Catholic Church is a massive body of persons (est. 1 billion) spread over the globe, it must cope with the many cultures that have embraced Catholicism, a laity more educated than ever before, and tremendously diverse groups found within given cultures. The contemporary church is faced with members/potential members, who like an inquisitive child continually question why. The church is ill equipped to deal with its far-flung membership, for while results of Vatican Two remain the subject of debate, 40 years have passed, and the world has changed at a rate never imagined. Four decades is a brief moment for the church. For the laity it is two generations, a lifetime.
The current Pope is a man of remarkable constitution. He has traveled more than any Pope, he has appointed 159 Cardinals of whom 135 would vote for the next Pope were a new Pontiff required. This latter number is again the highest in church history. He has nominated 2,650 of the church's 4,200 Bishops, has started more individuals toward canonization than any Pope, with 798 beatified and 280 canonized. His Pontificate is noted for its active nature and for one of integrity, of influence, as with the end of Communism in Poland, and the Pope's strength he continues to summon despite illness, age, and the shots of an assassin.
His Pontificate, begun on October 16, 1978, marked the day that a historically young Pope, a Pope many believed would recognize the contemporary church, and while not becoming a liberal Pontiff, would be progressive on issues that were causing difficulty for the church. He has proven to be a conservative who has written widely and stated without ambiguity on issues of great import to Catholics, and the Vatican.
This is where the divergence begins. Authority resides in Rome, and many believe what issues from The Holy Father is the beginning and end of discussion. Being Catholic is not a matter of dining al a Carte, one is either a participant or not. The evidence is there are great numbers who have left the church, and many that remain, but do so on their terms.
The Pope has reminded his flock without ambiguity that issues like contraception, female priests, one's loss of position in the church if divorced, and the conduct required if remarried, has not changed, and to the extent he can, has written so as to ensure they do not change soon. This "time" would likely include that of the next Pope, as 93 percent of those who will choose the next Pontiff owe their position to the current one.
How can a Pontificate be measured? Is this topic one the laity should contemplate? Whatever the answer, they have commented and questioned by leaving the church. Seventy percent of Catholics reside in Third World Countries. Some areas have 1 Priest for almost 7,000 church members; these members may see a Priest once every 2 or 3 years. Catholic ritual has often become syncretic in these areas, as Catholic Ritual mixes with local and regional pagan beliefs. This is a direct result of having no Priests. And few are on the way as new Priests being ordained are fractions of the rates of decades ago, and the decline continues. Studies provided track the decline of many meaningful events critical to the church's survival. Ordinations of Priests and the women choosing to become Nuns have and are declining. Attendance at services is down and declining, as are baptisms, and the decline of Catholic Marriage. The elements rising are destructive also; Church closings, expanding number of issues that widen the gap between the laity and Vatican, increases in the rate of divorce among Catholics. These issues come in addition to the rise of homosexuality in the Priesthood, incidence of pedophilia (I suggest NO relationship between the two issues), and while Priests may not marry, they may leave the church, marry, have children and return, or a minister from a Protestant Church may become a Catholic together with his family. The latter issue is so convoluted as to defy logic. Divorced Catholics may remarry, but per the church the second marriage must remain chaste. Annulments while coming under fire are reminiscent of buying indulgences. Pay a fee and your marriage never happened, and any resulting children are illegitimate.
No Church can thrive by contracting. No Church can survive by maintaining the glacial pace adopted by the church as change. The days of treating the faithful as children ended for the faithful regardless of church recognition. Taking 500 years to state the church erred with Galileo, does not comfort those desirous of meaningful much less momentous change.
Mr. Cornwell may not be ideally Catholic as defined by Rome. He is a scholar, he is a man of faith who loves his church, and is clearly distressed by what he sees as continued intolerance, and the decline of membership. A Church, which states through the highest of offices that there should be respect and tolerance for differing faiths, and then separately states the only true religion is that defined by Rome's Catholicism, appears conflicted.
Mr. Cornwell closes with, what if we had a Pope who genuinely believed that those in trouble, with broken lives, relationships, and faith, are in greatest need of inclusion and love? A Pope who would mend the breaking faith of our Church must love all the faithful without exception; he must trust them, in deed as well as word, and see in the very least of them: the sinners, marginalized, dissidents, and the discouraged: the continued future of the One, True, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.