Church must ad­dress chal­lenges

Pon­tif­i­cal Year­book pro­vides data about Catholi­cism around the world

Cape Breton Post - - In Memoriam/Religion/Games/Advice - Robert Cole­man Dioce­san Voices Robert. F. Cole­man is a per­ma­nent dea­con with the Ro­man Catholic Dio­cese of Antigo­nish. Or­dained in 2011 he is cur­rently as­signed to St. Mar­guerite Bour­geoys Parish, serves as chap­lain at the Cape Bre­ton Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre

The cen­tral of­fice of church statis­tics at the Vat­i­can has re­cently re­leased the 2017 edi­tion of the Pon­tif­i­cal Year­book, an an­nual doc­u­ment that shows the state of the Catholic Church glob­ally.

Con­cur­rent with its pub­li­ca­tion was the re­lease by the Holy See press of­fice of a sum­ma­tion of the main sta­tis­ti­cal find­ings. It states, “The data shown in the Pon­tif­i­cal Year­book en­ables some new de­vel­op­ments to be in­ferred in re­la­tion to the life of the Catholic Church in the world, from 2016.”

The Catholic Church is both hi­er­ar­chi­cal and sacra­men­tal. Its prime re­spon­si­bil­ity is to tend to the pas­toral needs of the faith­ful through teach­ing, gov­ern­ing and sanc­ti­fy­ing. To do this ef­fec­tively the church needs suf­fi­cient or­dained min­is­ters.

Do we have that ca­pac­ity at the present time? What about fu­ture ca­pac­ity? The Pon­tif­i­cal Year­book and the Holy See press of­fice synop­sis give valu­able in­sight.

Be­tween 2010 and 2015, the num­ber of priests world­wide in­creased by less than one per cent. How­ever in 2015, there was an ac­tual de­cline in the num­ber of priests from the pre­vi­ous year. Whether this de­cline in­di­cates the be­gin­ning of a trend is a mat­ter that will need to be de­ter­mined through fu­ture in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

The Pon­tif­i­cal Year­book also shows a con­tin­u­a­tion of the de­cline in the num­ber of men dis­cern­ing a pri­estly vo­ca­tion. How­ever, over those same five years the num­ber of bish­ops in­creased glob­ally by nearly four per cent. This is in re­sponse, at least partly, to a con­tin­u­ing in­crease in the num­ber of bap­tized Catholics world­wide.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that the num­ber of per­ma­nent dea­cons glob­ally in­creased by more than 14 per cent be­tween 2010 and 2015. The Holy See press of­fice re­lease rec­og­nizes this to be “a sig­nif­i­cant evo­lu­tion­ary trend” and one that “is im­prov­ing on ev­ery con­ti­nent at a sig­nif­i­cant pace.” This is hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly pos­i­tive im­pact through­out the Amer­i­cas and Europe.

As the press of­fice state­ment sug­gests any num­ber of things can be in­ferred from these statis­tics. It is not enough to just in­fer how­ever. We must also dis­cern. That in­volves another di­men­sion of in­sight en­tirely.

Cer­tainly we can in­fer that the church will need to ad­dress the pas­toral chal­lenges pre­sented by a priest­hood that is grow­ing min­i­mally or at the worst in de­cline.

We can even in­fer that the sig­nif­i­cant and sus­tained growth in the per­ma­nent di­a­conate may be telling us some­thing about the value and need of hav­ing mar­ried clergy in the church.

The rel­e­vancy and ef­fi­cacy of the church, how­ever, will be de­ter­mined by its view of mod­ern cul­ture.

Does the church wage a cul­ture war against sec­u­lar­iza­tion or en­gage the cul­ture? A few in­ter­est­ing in­sights can be ex­tracted from a re­cent An­gus Reid In­sti­tute sur­vey that was car­ried out in con­junc­tion with the Car­dus think tank’s Faith in Canada 150 pro­gram, part of a se­ries of sur­veys as­sess­ing the role of re­li­gion and faith in Cana­dian so­ci­ety to­day.

It de­ter­mined that 21 per cent of Cana­di­ans are “re­li­giously com­mit­ted” mean­ing that they take an ac­tive and com­mit­ted role in their re­li­gious tra­di­tion and teach­ings. At the other end are the 19 per cent of Cana­di­ans who be­lieve nei­ther in a tran­scen­dent re­al­ity nor in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized re­li­gion. The re­main­ing 60 per cent is di­vided equally be­tween the “spir­i­tu­ally un­cer­tain” who con­cede that there are spir­i­tual re­al­i­ties but choose not to en­gage a par­tic­u­lar creed or re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion and the “pri­vately faith­ful” who hold that faith and faith com­mu­ni­ties can con­sti­tute a per­sonal and so­ci­etal good but that be­long­ing to such is just not their thing.

Car­dus co-founder and ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent Ray Pen­nings in­ferred two things from this sur­vey in his com­ments to The Catholic Reg­is­ter, “We live in a re­li­gious so­ci­ety and we may have a sec­u­lar state but our so­ci­ety is not sec­u­lar.”

He is able to in­fer such be­cause the sur­vey shows that 81 per cent of Cana­di­ans con­sider them­selves to be re­li­gious, spir­i­tual or faith-filled.

And here again the church needs to dis­cern what this means for its mis­sion. It has often com­plained that Canada has be­come a thor­oughly sec­u­lar so­ci­ety and has aban­doned its Judeo-Chris­tian her­itage. But can this be sup­ported in light of the find­ings of the An­gus Reid sur­vey? If it can­not then to con­tinue to en­gage in a cul­ture war is a counter-pro­duc­tive and even point­less ex­er­cise.

Is it not time to dis­cern the need for a new mind­set, one which rec­og­nizes that this is the mo­ment to en­gage a so­ci­ety which is more open to re­li­gion and its place in the pub­lic square than we had thought?

What we need, as a take-away from both the Pon­tif­i­cal Year­book and An­gus Reid In­sti­tute/ Car­dus re­ports, is to dis­cern whether we are will­ing firstly to adopt a new model of be­ing church and se­condly whether we have the courage to im­ple­ment such for a cul­ture that ap­par­ently still over­whelm­ingly em­braces the spir­i­tual, al­beit in some non-tra­di­tional ways and yearns for its rel­e­vance.

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