Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rome Resurgent

Rupert Shortt, Religion editor of the TLS has written a review entitled Resurgent Rome: There are now almost as many Roman Catholics as citizens of China – why?

It is a review of Ian Linden GLOBAL CATHOLICISM Diversity and change since Vatican II 256pp. Hurst. Paperback, £14.99. US: Columbia University Press.

I do not agree with a number of points but I found some of the article fascinating.

Here are a few snippets:

***"A generation ago, mainstream Christianity was widely dismissed as démodé. This verdict itself looks old-fashioned today. Whether you view recent developments with relief or unease, it is clear that the Catholic Church, in particular, remains remarkably robust. There are now almost as many Catholics as citizens of China. Secularists might be surprised to learn that the Church is the largest single supplier of health care and education on the planet, the principal glue of civil society in Africa, the strongest bulwark of opposition to the caste system in India, and a leading player in global campaigns for sustainable living. It provides almost the only charitable presence in Chechnya, and other blackspots often forgotten by the rest of the world."

***"A Protestant view of the papacy is likely to concentrate on the damaging effects of Vatican authoritarianism. As is often pointed out, the absolute power enjoyed by popes over the past 150 years was only made possible by the railways. Before the spread of modern communications, ideas about the universal reach of papal jurisdiction could be more a matter of theory than of practice. On the other hand, Catholics might reply with some justice that a major part of papal history in recent centuries has consisted in a necessary and reasonably effective bid to protect the Church from secular interference. The example of Russia and other Orthodox countries, where religion has long been locked in a suffocating embrace with nationalist forces, goes some way to vindicating Vatican policy. "

***" The author was formerly director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations, a respected think-tank, and has a fund of knowledge to put the concerns of Europeans and North Americans in perspective. As he remarks tartly at one point:

The bioethics that matter [in the developing world] are not stem-cell research but whether governments will find enough money to put in their health budgets for mothers to survive childbirth and their children to reach the age of five years old. Preoccupations are more mundane: clinics too far away with no drugs, police and officials who are crooks, land reform, drought, dirty water and crop failure. "

***"Two further points add texture to Linden’s discussion. The first concerns the ongoing contradictions within Joseph Ratzinger himself. He did not simply mutate from warm liberal to chilly conservative. Even as the “German Shepherd” of popular mythology, he sometimes displayed a wholly different private face. One of his sillier statements, issued in 1989, warned Catholics against yoga and Eastern meditation practices.

But it is still little known outside academic circles that in 1992, the then Cardinal donated a large sum from his personal resources to finance a German translation of the Lotus Sutra. The sentiment behind this initiative was underlined when he told an interviewer that Hermann Hesse’s great Buddhist-inspired novella Siddhartha was one of his three most treasured books alongside the Bible and Augustine’s Confessions, and that there are as many paths to God as there are human beings.

As Pope, operating as pastor rather than policeman, he has made some positive moves. The cult of personality associated with his predecessor has been jettisoned, he has avoided witch-hunts, and revived a more traditional papal style. This has caused sufficient consternation among hardliners for one American pundit to have complained that the cardinals “voted for Ronald Reagan, but ended up with Jimmy Carter”.

The shrill source of this comment could not see that Jimmy Carter has been more effective as a man of God than as a politician."