The Church Growth Must Not Deceive Us
If you google a bit around, you will read the reports about the state of Catholicism following the official data released by the Vatican. Whilst there are some positive elements to be stressed, it is very clear there is no ground for triumphalism.
Yes, the Church is growing. She is growing, in fact, more than the world population, which means she is authentically gaining ground. It is also undeniable that vocations have been on the rise pretty much on a global scale, with a robust growth both in Africa and in Asia. I personally add that the Vatican data do not seem to include the underground church in China, which according to sources I have read in the past might already have more Catholics than the United States.
All fine, then? Not really.
This growth is in fact a very fragile one, because the Church generating it is a very weak one. True, there is sincere religiosity in Africa and Asia, but will the V II church be able to stand the test of the times? Are all those singing and dancing faithful going to pass their faith to their offspring? As in many African countries the Church gains influence and becomes institutionalised, how will they avoid going the same way as the churches in the West, worried about popularity instead of about Christianity? Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. If the liturgy is inadequate, how can it give permanent fruits?
Then there is the always important issue of money. The complex and rather unique “global redistribution system” run by the Church means that the growth in Africa and Asia is propelled by the money coming from the West, with last time I looked Germany in the first spot (Kirchensteuer) and United States in the second. Basically, a bunch of abortion supporters with vague notions of Catholicism is defraying the expenses for the planetary growth and for how long this will go on is anyone's guess. Whilst money is not necessary for the Church to grow, it is certainly useful.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the civilisation issue. If you think, as I do, that Western civilisation is the Civilisation par excellence, the crown of human achievement and the powerhouse of human progress, you cannot look at the matter simply as a question of numbers. The West is being de-Christianised, and if you ask me this is a worse tragedy than the two world wars and the Holocaust taken together, both in terms of loss of souls and in the scale of the events involved. As a consequence, the loss of the traditional Christian heartland cannot but be seen as an extremely painful amputation and disfiguration irrespective of the more or less robust growth obtained elsewhere.
Granted, things are not as bad as they used to be. The worst might (Pope Francis allowing) be over, and even in the West the still little plant of sound Catholicism is growing more and more robust, nor will any Pope Francis ever be able to do – more or less intentionally – much against it. Vocations are on the rise, and the average quality of the priests Western seminaries are forming is very probably much better than the one found in the priests who were formed on the Seventies and Eighties, which is in fact not a great achievement at all.
The Church is growing, but it is not a solid growth. It is a growth fuelled with the money of half-agnostics of dubious faith, generally not supported by sound liturgy, and in the main happening notwithstanding – as opposed to because of – the workings of the Vatican. The message sent by the Chinese archbishop last year, saying in so many words he was ashamed of the corruption of the Church in the West, was a good indicator of what really propels the Church in these countries.
I hope the data released in the last days will not be the cause of misplaced complacency. We are in bad shape, particularly in the West, and we must wake up and react before Christianity is wiped out of her historic heartland, and the Papacy forced to move to Africa or Asia.