Wednesday, March 19, 2008

John Allen: Megatrends in the Catholic Church Today

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In a fact-filled talk in Denver on March 4, journalist-author John Allen spoke about mega-trends facing the Church and tied them to Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming U.S. visit. The pope will visit Washington D.C. and New York City April 15-20.

Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and also a CNN correspondent. He spoke before a sizeable crowd of 250 people in Bonfils Hall at the John Paul II Center. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., invited Allen, a close friend, to speak.

Allen spoke about the Catholic Church becoming a world church, evangelical Catholicism, the biotech revolution and globalization. A book he is writing on mega-trends facing the Church will be published this year.

Hemispheric differences - The first mega-trend facing the Catholic Church, according to Allen, is the transition to a “world church” due to growing Catholic populations in Africa, Asia and South America. Allen calls this “Southern Catholicism.” In the past, the Church has been dominated by Europe and North America.

This population shift, he said, will move Church leadership to a more global focus.

Allen noted several common characteristics of “Southern Catholicism,” including that most priests are morally conservative, but politically liberal. This is because the priests and the Church are often the only voice for the people to defend the common good in non-democratic and often tyrannical governments. For example, priests in Zimbabwe wrote a letter to the President Robert Mugabe telling him it is time for him to leave.

Southern Catholicism is also biblical and not speculative. The supernatural is “very palpable and real,” Allen said. Miracles and exorcisms are the “meat and potatoes” of a supernatural spirituality.

Southern Catholicism also has a problem of growth, not decline. [snip]

The battle against secularism - The second mega-trend facing the Catholic Church is evangelical Catholicism. There is a strong emphasis on a traditional Catholic identity as a reaction against secular humanism, which has eroded Catholic institutions. Evangelical Catholicism includes a strong public proclamation, and faith as a matter of personal choice rather than a cultural influence.

Contemporary Europe is very secular, Allen said. According to a recent poll, only 27 percent of Italians think religion is very important. In comparison, 59 percent of Americans think religion is very important. This growing secularism is a major concern for the current papacy, he said. [snip]

Bioethical concerns on the rise - The third mega-trend is the biotechnology revolution, which includes cloning, in vitro fertilization, embryonic stem cell research, end of life issues, genetic engineering, genetically modified organisms, and justice and health care issues. [snip]

Globalization - The fourth mega-trend Allen sees is globalization. Worldwide, more people are enjoying prosperity, but most people worldwide still live in poverty.

Possible echoes during the pope’s visit might include developing human rights beginning with religious freedom and the growing ecology movement complementing natural law.

Allen concluded that American Catholics will need to emphasize the things that bring us together and not the issues that divide us to successfully meet and overcome the challenges facing the Catholic Church. Catholic OnLine

An audio recording of Allen's talk is on the webpage of the Archdiocese of Denver: Here1 and Here2
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