The Catholic Church is in a funk.
The resignation on March 1 of Pope Benedict XVI, the first in 600 years, raises theological (Does the man lose his infallibility at midnight Feb. 28 ?) as well as strategic issues for this institution of 1.1 billion followers.
The surprise departure of its leader comes after an 8 year tenure that saw the unveiling of rampant sex scandals in the clergy and, more important, their cover ups; a decline in church going membership (down to 20% in places) and priest rosters, anomalies in the Vatican finances, and a loss of political ascendancy.
The decline of the Church’s political influence is global. In the U.S., the Party Of St. Peter has lost its place in the right wing of the political spectrum to Christian evangelicals and the Tea Party with their broader platform of economic reform (fiscal discipline), social vision (small government) and moral values (pro-life). The American bishops’ ideological alliance with the Republicans in the last Presidential election further divided a constituency still reeling from the sex revelations and their million dollar legal settlements. Church organizations have started running TV ads to bring back the flock.
In Latin America, the Church’s conservatism faces a rising social tide with origins in liberation theology. It is interesting that at a time when an unprecedented number of democratic countries voted in leftist governments (Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and Bolivia), the Vatican elected in 2005 one of its most conservative leaders in Benedict XVI.
In the Philippines, we are witnessing the same kind of disconnect between the Church as represented by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the community.