For the record, I hold no ill will towards any Christian, progressive or otherwise. The below reflects one man’s observations and concerns. For me, historical Christianity holds the highest of value, a pearl of the greatest price! Jesus truly saved my life. What started out as a simple faith at the age of fifteen developed into a Catholic faith at thirty, which continues to this day.
According to my observations, progressive Catholicism (and progressive Christianity as a whole) attempts to replace historic Catholicism/Christianity with something more reflective on the culture in which it lives. This “Christianity,” in turn, became an image of itself reflected in a cultural mirror dimly. Some progressive Catholics think this move towards “cultural relevance” represents the key to curtailing and replenishing diminished numbers. “Get buns back in the pews,” as it were, by making the Church look more like the culture in which it lives.
However, as witnessed in the West, especially Europe, the movement towards a more progressive and “culturally relevant” Catholicism does not guarantee growth, it accelerates decline. Conversely, in places that embrace historical Catholicism, like Africa, Asia, South America, and parts of North America that stand counter to culture, Catholicism grows. Progressive Catholicism is NOT the answer.
Defining Catholic Progressivism
In September, I wrote an article detailing my take on progressive Catholicism. I listed three things (characteristics) of this current/Western approach to Catholicism.
- A welcoming and affirming Church.
Progressives wish to realign the Catholic Church with modern gender theory and appeal to the Catholic concept of the “dignity of the human person” to support such a realignment. Some in this camp go so far as to push for blessing same-sex unions and the replacement of “disordered” with “differently ordered” in the Catechism.
- An environmental Church.
Many progressive Catholics see environmentalism as THE paramount “pro-life” issue. Like conservative Catholics with their non-negotiable pro-baby stance with politicians, progressive Catholics take this same approach with environmentalism.
- A morally nuanced Church.
Appealing to an misinterpretation of Amoris Laetita, progressive Catholics call for a more nuanced and situational (pastoral) approach to the application of Catholic moral teaching. Moreover, even some bishops, for example Cardinal Robert McElroy, appeal to the “dignity of the human person” for full inclusion of sexually active Catholics who identify as LGBTQ.
- Finally, not in my linked article, is the push by progressive Catholics for the democratizing of the Church with lay decision makers, the end of priestly celibacy, and the advent of women’s ordination, either to the deaconate, priesthood, or both.
Progressives believe, with the implementation of these four points, that a new age of “socially just” Catholic renewal and relevancy will emerge. But does the available date bear this out?
A Failed Progressive Attempt to Save the Dying Church in Europe?
Of any ecclesial region, Germany’s leadership represents the most progressive in the world. With their Synodal Way (GSW), German bishops, in concert with influential lay people, seek to push a progressive agenda. In previous articles, I highlighted my concerns with this “Way,” especially here and here. In official documents, the GSW seeks to transform the Church in Germany into a progressive Catholic paradise. For example, they call for women’s ordination in this document and the blessing of same-sex unions in this document.
Moreover, to justify their positions, the GSW appeals to conscience, discrimination, grace, the perceived ambiguity of Pope Francis, love, an appeal to modern culture and science, and a call for forgiveness and conciliation. Will this move work to “keep Germany Catholic?” Unlikely.
According to The Guardian and National Catholic Register, the German Bishops’ Conferences reported 522,821 Catholics left the Church in 2022. This followed the departure of 360,000 Catholics from the German Catholic Church in 2021 (after Covid). Interestingly, the much-publicized GSW started in 2019 and finished in 2023. So, in the midst of the GSW, the German Church lost a minimum of 882,821 members (not accounting for 2019, 2020, and 2023). And, due to Germany’s Church Tax laws, one must officially remove themselves from Church rolls to receive an exemption. Therefore, in just two years, 882,821 Catholics presented themselves before German officials to declare themselves no longer Catholic.
Clearly, the move towards progressive Catholicism fell on deaf ears.
The Growth of the Catholic Church in the Global South
In his article, Global Christianity: the Future of the Catholic Church. How population and demographic shifts are shaping the future of the Catholic Church, Fr. Dorian Llwelyn, S. J. stated:
Most of today’s Catholics do not live in Europe, or the global North. By 2050, 75% of Catholics will live outside the west. Catholicism, which was born in the Middle East, is — at least at the grassroots — a non-Western religion, and it will be increasingly more so as time wears on. The share of the world’s Catholics who live in Africa has increased from 1.9 million in 1900 to an estimated 236 million today. That’s fully 20% of the Church. While the population of Africa increased from 1950 to 2000 by 313%, the Catholic population increased by 708%. In terms of median age, Africa is a young church — and looks to be the center of its future.
Cleary, the data shows that while European Catholicism shrinks, Catholicism in the Global South continues to gain traction due to its astonishing increase in numbers.
Furthermore, the origin of this increase does not reflect the appeal of progressive Catholics in the region; far from it. Those in the Global South see the tenets of progressive Catholicism as a form of “cultural colonialism.” For example, the final document from the First Session of the Synod of Synodality (SoS) does not use the gendered language of LGBTQ because Catholic representatives in the Global South refused to allow it. Read more about it here.
Earmarks of a Catholic in the Global South
Catholics in the Global South, especially in Africa, reject the tenets of progressive Catholicism listed above. Fr. Llwelyn goes on to observe:
While the global population has increased, the communications revolution has shrunk the world. People in Nairobi, Seoul and La Paz listen to the same music, and see the same movies. Yet the worldwide entertainment industry also channels secular materialism, subtly or blatantly. In reaction to the pressures of globalization on traditional cultures, religious and nationalistic fundamentalism has thrived.
The global Catholic Church inhabits those same realities.
As previously stated, we see this clearly reflected in the final document released by the SoS. In this move, the Global South allied itself with all faithful Catholics who also reject the “cultural colonialism” of progressives and progressive Catholicism.
Moreover, the places of massive growth in the United States also reflect this more traditional/conservative mindset. According to Catholic Extension, four of the top 10 diocese that witnessed the most growth between 2010 and 2020 are in Texas, with two others in Georgia and Florida. Therefore, while dioceses in more progressive areas shrink, others in more traditionally conservative places grow.
As this article shows, the move towards progressive Catholicism represents a move towards oblivion and irrelevancy. Progressives in the West (former Catholics included) need not attach Catholicism to their other beliefs. And, according to the numbers in Germany, they continue to see no need to, despite the concerted efforts by German bishops and lay people to align the Church’s views with their own. The call to stay or return to an inclusively democratic Church continues to fall on deaf ears. The Germans stand as a warning to the rest of the West: push for progressive Catholicism and witness the faith die.
Conversely, the Church flourishes in places that embrace traditional/conservative Catholicism. I personally witness this myself when I attend multiple packed Churches in the diocese of Dallas. Growth comes not from acquiescence to the culture.
Growth comes by offering something wholly (holy) different.
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