When we visited England in September we went to a Sunday evening Mass in the local Catholic Church in Bexhill on Sea. The pastor was an Indian, and he welcomed a dynamic Nigerian priest to the parish. The Nigerian spoke perfect English and was in England to complete his second doctoral degree in theology–his first having been in psychology.
Clearly the composition of the Catholic Church in changing. If you thought the Catholic Church had changed enormously in the last sixty years, buckle your seat belts, because it is going to change much more in the decades to come.
The Catholic Church will be stood on its head from North to South.
Professor Philip Jenkins writes here in London’s Catholic Herald about future direction of the global Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church worldwide is passing through an era of historical transformation, a decisive shift in numbers towards the Global South – to Asia, Africa and Latin America. Many are aware of this trend as an abstract fact, but we are scarcely coming to terms with the implications for Church life, for the composition of Church leadership, and for its future policies. A southward-looking Church may be a vibrant and flourishing body, but it might pose some challenges for Catholics of the older Euro-American world.
The fact of that geographical shift is clear enough. A century ago, the European continent accounted for almost two thirds of the world’s Catholics. By 2050, that proportion will fall to perhaps a sixth. In that not-too-far future year, the Church’s greatest bastions will be in Latin America (perhaps 40 per cent), in Africa (25 per cent) and Asia (12 per cent).
Actually, those numbers understate the southern predominance, because a sizeable number of Catholics living in Europe or North America will themselves be of migrant stock – Nigerians or Congolese in Europe, Mexicans in the United States. A Church born long ago on the soil of Asia and Africa is returning home.
Jenkins is echoing John Allen’s excellent book Future Church Ten Trends that are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church. both authors say the numbers cannot be avoided. The future church will be centered on the South. It will be young, energetic, dynamic and hungry. I have written further on this phenomenon here in the Standing on My Head Patheos archives.
What are some of the implications of the shift? For one thing, the Africans speak with a prophetic voice in the church, and they have little patience with the louche liberalism of European prelates like the super wealthy German bishops. They speak up for the gospel in a Catholic world all to intent to substitute Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism for red blooded Christianity. Jenkins observes:
Geography is not destiny, but it is only natural that prelates from one part of the world will tend to speak for the traditions with which they are most familiar, which might well differ considerably from other regions. We saw early signs of this when the family synod was held in Rome in 2015, when the Church’s (mainly European) liberals proposed adopting a more welcoming attitude to gay Catholics and possibly allowing divorced and remarried believers to receive Communion. Those proposals met fierce resistance from African prelates, and the ensuing conflicts between conservatives and reformists were tainted by mutual recriminations and historical prejudices. Africans accused Europeans of imperialist racial attitudes, while some Europeans implied African backwardness.
This is a fascinating subject for anyone interested in the Catholic faith and I recommend Allen’s book for anyone who wants to explore it further.
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