The eminent Catholic commentator George Weigel has recently published a book entitled Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Catholic Church, Basic Books, 2013, ISBN 978-0-465-02768-2
Written before Benedict XVI abdicated, its publication now is timely
Here he puts forward one of his central themes of his book:
"Throughout the Western world, the culture no longer carries the faith, because the culture has become increasingly hostile to the faith. Catholicism can no longer be absorbed by osmosis from the environment, for the environment has become toxic. So we can no longer sit back and assume that decent lives lived in conformity with the prevailing cultural norms will somehow convey the faith to our children and grandchildren and invite others to consider entering the Church."
But he is optimistic. He sees great hope for the future in North America, South America and Africa in particular.
However it has to be said he is deeply critical of the Church in Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland
He delivered a speech to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York which is worth while listening to and reading. See here
He does not pull his punches.
Here are some extracts from his speech and answers to questions in New York (2013):
"Cardinal Dolan, whom you all know, here in New York, called me from the Senate of Bishops in Rome last fall, where, like everyone else, he was being bored to tears by endless gusts of ecclesiastical rhetoric, and said there had been a great speech by the Latin rite Catholic archbishop of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, who got up in this assembly of some 300 Catholic bishops from all over the world and said, "What are all these Europeans doing here? The church is dead in Europe. The church is alive in Africa. There are not enough of us and there are too many of you."
The official record of the speech of H. Exc. Rev. Mons. Berhaneyesus Demerew SOURAPHIEL, C.M., Metropolitan Archbishop of Addis Abeba, President of the Episcopal Conference of Etiopia and Eritrea, President of the Council of the Ethiopian Church (ETHIOPIA) is here
It was powerful and insightful speech but you will not find mention of his comments about Europe in the official record.
Of Pope Francis and whither the reform Weigel states:
"When we [Weigel and then Cardinal Bergoglio] met in Buenos Aires last May, we had a wide-ranging conversation about many, many things. It became clear to me that this was a man who understood that a kept church —kept either in the sense of legal establishment, which had long been the case in Latin America, as you know, or now kept in the sense of cultural habit, a church that imagined that it had a future simply because it had a past and a present—was not going to work. The church had to rediscover its evangelical or missionary dynamic if it was going to prosper in the 21st century. That was one impression.
The second impression, which is connected to the first, is that in 25 years of meeting senior Latin American churchmen, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was the first of that group whom I had ever met who did not at some point in the conversation begin complaining about North American evangelical Protestant and Pentecostalist sheep-rustling or sheep-stealing.
On the contrary, I brought the point up, and the cardinal said, "If we are losing faithful, that is our fault. That is because we have not catechized these people, sacramentally empowered them to be the disciples they are called to be." That's a very important sign for the future ...
I said to my friends at 30 Rockefeller Center at the beginning of this whole process in February, "Let us not waste time talking about changing things that are settled."
The Catholic church's teaching on the appropriate way to regulate fertility is settled. The Catholic church's teaching on who can be called to ministry is settled. Those are not things that are going to change.
I said to them it's like saying there's a big argument about whether we should have a unicameral national legislature in the United States. Interesting, theoretically. Get rid of either the House or the Senate, be like Nebraska and have a unicameral legislature. It's interesting theoretically. It's not going to happen. It's not going to happen. And that isn't going to happen here."
Of the situation in Europe he is extremely critical:
" European Catholicism is a disaster area right now. Ireland is beyond-description bad because of abuse issues, failures of leadership. I wrote a column two or three years ago saying every bishop in Ireland should be fired. Wipe the slate clean, start all over again. None of these guys has any credibility, which happens to be true, unfortunately.
Italy, which was making some progress under John Paul II—there was a measurable increase in Catholic practice—has reverted back to its old patterns of Catholic veneer, but not a lot going on underneath, and very little evangelical energy. There's a sense in a lot of the church in Italy that it's a very well-funded and well-supported museum system. But there's not a lot of snap, crackle, and pop there.
I am even worried about the church in Poland. I have spent now probably close to three years of my life, when you aggregate it, in Poland over the last 22 or 23 years. While I don't think Poland is going to go the road of Ireland, Quebec, Spain, Portugal—right through the floorboards—it could be Italy. Fifty years out, 100 years out, Poland could be Italy 2.0. That would be a terrible shame, because there was an enormous dynamism and a culture-forming dynamism in Polish Catholicism in the last quarter of the 20th century that suggested the possibility that this could be an engine of Catholic renewal throughout all of Europe. That is not happening. There are a variety of complicated reasons for that. ...
But if you look at Germany, for example, where the church is immensely wealthy, has an extraordinarily highly educated elite, and nobody goes to church, much less talks about evangelizing culture, shifting public life, et cetera, the only juice there is in various of these renewal movements, running from Opus Dei on the conservative end to the Sant'Egidio community or the Focolare people on the other side of the sensibility spectrum ...
There were very striking demographics, if you will, in the College of Cardinals this time. India had five cardinal electives, France had four, and the United Kingdom had nil, as they would say in the Barclays Premier League. So five to four to zip, India to France to Great Britain. Canada had three. So Canada was in the game more than Great Britain. That, in some sense, reflects the realities of the situation."