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Religion and Politics – The Catholic Church in crisis and fallout for the West


(Perspective: An iconic Western religious institution, once hegemonic, now struggles with 21st century post-modern relativism and grievous self-inflicted wounds.)


Its new wave of sexual abuse revelations is deepening the most serious crisis the Catholic Church has faced in 500 years. And the crisis portends major implications well beyond the Church itself.


That’s the contention of Massimo Faggioli, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University in his commentary, “The Catholic Church’s Biggest Crisis Since the Reformation”.

Professor Faggioli defends what some may find a hyperbolic analysis of the humbling developments of the long-powerful global religious institution (with an estimated 1.2 billion adherents) by citing similarities between the church of circa 1500 and the church today.


“Like the Reformation”, Faggioli contends, ” the current crisis unfolds against a backdrop of pervasive institutional corruption. Then and now, the institutional church, specifically the papacy, had pushed back against key reform proposals in the decades before the crisis broke.”

To his credit, Faggioli addresses the current scandals devoid of the sensationalism and virtual schadenfreude in some current media. He is an academic, a historian practicing his profession:


“As during the Protestant Reformation, the theological divide has extended beyond the clergy to the laity and the common faithful in the pew. The debates are not over obscure doctrinal questions for specialists, but issues such as sexuality, which are part of lay people’s everyday lives …


“The Protestant Reformation was the beginning of a process of political nationalization, where the faithful became subjects not only of a church, but also of nations [italics added]. The rise of the nation-state marked the decline of the Roman Catholic political doctrine that held … supreme over that of imperial rulers.


“In a similar way, the Catholic crisis today is about deeper political rifts within the church over the correct teaching of social-political issues … abortion … unrestricted right to bear arms for civilians … the death penalty … size of governments …


” Like the Reformation … today’s crisis has geopolitical dimensions. Pope Francis has, for the first time, turned the gaze of the papacy away from Europe and North America and toward global South, especially Asia [rapprochement with China] … Many of the pope’s critics in the West … see the current abuse crisis not only as a moral-theological failure, but also as the Catholic Church’s failure to remain the soul of the West.”


And, in a jaw-dropping new flash (at least for this reporter), Faggioli tells us that former White House strategist and Breitbart News Chair Steve Bannon is “helping  to build up the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a right-wing Roman Catholic institute in Italy whose founder describes it as an ‘academy for the Judeo-Christian West.'”


As to what happens next, the professor dismisses the possibility of a Reformation-like schism and suggests that it’s somewhat more likely that the Roman Catholic Church ends up  with a structure similar to the Eastern Orthodox Churches  — an international faith community in which  some individual churches have very strong national identities [italics added].


The Russian Orthodox Church and its relations with the current regime there comes to mind. (Currently, the church is feuding with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.)


Most likely, however, according to Faggioli: “Catholics will remain formally obedient to one pope and one episcopal hierarchy. At the same time, neo-Catholic groups — with their own parishes and seminaries — will continue on a different course from the rest of the church …


“It would be a great irony if, once the Vatican heals the wound in China, a new an deeper wound opens up in the West.”