Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Ian Fisher writes for the NY Times about the Pope, the Vatican and the Catholic Church. He does so competently, but without the insider's understanding of what is really at stake.

Fisher's article Sunday about Pope Benedict's view of the Catholic Church's loss of membership in Europe is just a little off the mark, in the Exorcist's opinion. Not that I blame him. The only way the media can be expected to cover Catholicism is pretty much the way it does: from a sociological, scientific, demographic, political or 'comparative religions' viewpoint. The outside view differs from the inside view. That is to be expected.

Simply put, Sunday's article depicts a Pope confronted with a quandry: either tighten up the requisites of orthodoxy and lose people, or warm up to the demands of postmodern society and grow in membership.

No doubt, that's how it looks, at least at first glance, to some observers. In response, the case could easily be made that compromising on moral and doctrinal issues does not necessarily promote church growth. Just ask the Anglicans. Or the Presbyterians. Or the Lutherans.

But the true response from the Catholic perspective is that the real issue is not formulated in those terms. Pope Benedict is not deliberating whether to loosen up and grow or clamp down and decrease. Hard as it may seem to believe, numerical growth is not the Church's priority. It never has been. It never must be.

No one in the hierarchy wants to close parishes, downsize staffs, sell properties, turn schools into office buildings or tear down seminaries. It is done, it continues to be done in many places in Europe and North America, but it is always painful and distasteful.

Growth, like that experienced in Africa, Asia and some countries of Latin America, is good. It is definitely an objective. But it is neither the only objective, nor the most important one.

The Church sees itself, first and foremost, as holder and administrator of a gift, a legacy and a Tradition. That gift is preserved and shared through fidelity, living admiration and care, constantly checking and renewing its efforts to respect and honor what it has received. That is priority.

Whether it be as big as St. Peter's or as hidden as a bamboo chapel in the jungle, it's never about the demographics. Christ was no stranger to smallness and insignificance.

It's that whole mustard seed thang.