Church in Europe: Benedict’s problem child

At heart, most Catholics are Protestants, and even in Poland religion has become less important: Does the Vatican still stand a chance in Europe?

Until the 15th century, the Catholic Church practically existed only in Europe. So how to measure today’s faith in the most secularized of all continents, the problem child of the resigning Pope? (To take an extreme example: In an international survey in 2012, almost 60 percent East Germans stated, to have never believed in God, in the U.S. only four percent.)

According to the statistical yearbook of the Vatican, Europe is currently home to nearly a quarter of all Catholics in the world, and its share on the total European population has changed only slightly in recent decades. But what is a “Catholic”?

According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Vatican, Europe is currently home to nearly a quarter of all Catholics in the world, and its share on the total European population has only changed slightly in recent decades. But how to define a “Catholic”?

Baptized equals Catholic?

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, there is the so-called Church-tax, i.e. a federally registered membership, including the option to leave the Church. Which is reflected in the declining number of members (of which by the way, Protestants are affected equally or even more, despite missing celibacy and woman priests).

Elsewher, however, anyone who is baptized counts. Therefore in Poland 90 percent of the citizens are still considered Catholics, in Spain and Italy about three quarters. There, as in Ireland, the Church has a great public importance, and there are many practicing Catholics. But even in the traditional Catholic strongholds, polls show strong mental changes: For instance in Poland,  religion ranks only in seventh place on the priority list, behind other topics like work and family.

Should one measure the strength of Catholicism by the number of church goers? In France, where two-thirds are cosidered Catholic, only a tiny minority regularly attend a service. And even in Spain, with officially up to 80 percent Catholics, only about 20 percent go to church.

Or should one measure it in regards to faith? It appears that most “Catholics” are rather Protestants in terms of their beliefs. In Austria, only 13 Prozent believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, and equally only 13 percent of the regular French church goers believe in heaven.

“Attendance no indication”

Still, many state to somehow believe in God. So are they candidates for an anticipated new evangelization? Only a few months ago the “largest Synod of modern times” took place, with a lot of talks about to communicate Catholic faith via social media.

However, the enormous changes have not been recognized accurately enough. The upheaval is enormous, all institutionalized forms lose importance, even in politics, and we do not yet know what these new forms will look like. You can not measure religiousness through church attendance numbers: Some instead, adjourn in a monastery for a week, while others practice mindfulness in everyday life.

An example of how one can successfully respond to the changing mentalities, might be the “order for a time”, offered by the Franciscans in the Netherlands. It reminds of Buddhist countries, where a young person lives a monks life for a certain period. For sure one will carry with him a lot of this way of life. It’s about finding these new forms.

3 thoughts on “Church in Europe: Benedict’s problem child

  1. am an african who was chritianised buy europeans, if they have lost faith how shall I continuebelieving? Priests devise new ways of evengilising people who find no meaning in religion. This is achallenge to a new pope who I hope will be an African where.there is still faith.

  2. Hi Sylvester I have same experience as you had. If we have true faith whoever our new Pope we gladly to accept him. I was in Africa too for some years and I loved it… Ciao

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