By Thomas Peters
It's daunting to chart a future that involves over one billion souls across the world. "Catholic" derives from the Greek word for "universal" and it has certainly lived up to its name. It is important to remember how large the Catholic Church is, especially in a media-saturated and domestically-oriented culture such as the United States.
One of the most important trends to watch in the next century is the continuing implementation of the Second Vatican Council, that seminal moment in the 1960s when Catholic bishops convened from around the world in Rome to discuss the role of the Church in the modern age.
Much of the controversy within the Church since the Second Vatican Council has surrounded the debate about what the implementation of the program established by the Council should look like. The two opposing camps can broadly be described as progressive and traditionalist.
I would firmly bet on the traditionalists eventually winning the day, as they have always won the day whenever the Catholic Church confronts questions about its nature and mission in the world. Much of the energy of the progressive vision of the Church has been lost, and when you look at the new blood in the Church, the energy is on the side of those who favor holding fast to tradition. Pope Benedict's efforts to re-establish the liturgical traditions of the Church are a good example of where the successor of St. Peter is steering the ship.
A local example that provides more evidence of this claim is the vitality of the Catholic seminaries in the United States. I studied in one for two years (not as a seminarian, but as a lay student) and noted that these seminarians are becoming priests not to change the Church, but to serve it.
The second major change to expect in the Church has to do with demographics. On the one hand, Europe and the developed nations, while historically Christian and Catholic, are far beneath replacement level. At the same time, those who inhabit countries of the global south -- including the largely Catholic areas of South America, the Philippines, and Africa -- are continuing to have enough children to sustain population growth. I would say they are going through a painful process of deciding whether they will hold fast to the Church's teachings on human sexuality, or suffer the same decline in national moral cohesion as seen in much of Europe today.
If the first issue I addressed is the Church's understanding of itself, and the second concern is the emergence of a new paradigm of Catholic geographical distribution in the world, the third frontier is the internet, where for over five years I have maintained one of the most widely-read Catholic blogs in the world. I'm excited about the potential for the internet to provide non-Catholics with a new way of meeting Catholics and understanding what they believe, and especially for the chance to meet passionately-convicted Catholics (or, as I like to call them, "papists"). Catholics in a global age benefit more from having a global faith. Catholics around the world have easier remote access to our spiritual home in Rome, and the teachings of the pope, our shared pastor.
I believe the future of the Church is bright.
Thomas Peters is a young lay Catholic with graduate degrees in theology, who lives and works in Washington DC. He has been seen or heard on: CNN, BBC World News, MSNBC, The Catholic Channel, Relevant Radio, EWTN Global Radio and interviewed or quoted by: Our Sunday Visitor, The Boston Globe, The National Catholic Reporter, Catholic News Agency, The Denver Catholic Register, News Busters, Inside Catholic, Busted Halo, LifeSiteNews, Holy Smoke, Huffington Post, Catholic Online, Catholic Culture, Opposing Views, LifeNews, Catholic Exchange, DC Catholic Living Examiner, National Catholic Register, etc. Since 2005 he has been blogging about life as a Catholic American at the American Papist.
7/19/2010 4:00:00 AM