Sunday, 5 September 2010

'Guardian' surveys Catholicism worldwide

It seems to be booming:
According to the World Christian Database, the proportion of the planet's population professing one or other of its four biggest faiths (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) rose steeply in the mid-1970s and has been climbing rapidly ever since. By 2005, the figure was 73%.

Strong in the developing world where birth rates are high, Catholicism has done well out of the contemporary "faith boom". Whatever problems Benedict may have, numbers are not yet among them. His church's statisticians estimate that the number of baptised Catholics reached 1,166 million at the end of 2008, a rise of 1.7% on a year earlier. Over the intervening 12 months, the Catholic population as a share of the global total edge up too.

The once-a-Catholic-always-a-Catholic method used for the Vatican's count is debatable: it takes no account of those who "lapse". But even by a more rigorous measure of belief and conviction, Benedict's religion is growing. The number of Catholic priests continues to rise, and in 2008 it reached almost 410,000. But while the number of aspirants to the priesthood grew that year in Africa, Asia and Oceania (and remained broadly stable in the Americas), it shrank – and at a striking rate of more than 4% – in Europe.

That points to Catholicism's outstanding challenge – the secularisation of its traditional heartland. This was the issue that weighed most heavily on the minds of the cardinals who gathered in Rome five years ago to elect a successor to John Paul II. They decided that the best man to tackle it would be the late pope's long-time collaborator, Joseph Ratzinger. And to make the point that he too saw the re-evangelisation of Europe as his top priority, the new pope took the name of the continent's patron saint.
Andrea Tonielli, a respected Vatican-watching Italian journalist, author of Attaco a Ratzinger, is quoted:

The pope "does not think of the re-Christianisation of Europe in terms of a military-style re-conquest. It is not a question of numbers". The key to his thinking, Tornielli believes, is his use of the phrase "creative minority". In a speech Benedict made last year in the Czech Republic, he argued that "it is usually creative minorities that determine the future and, in this regard, the Catholic church must understand that it is a creative minority which has a heritage of values that are not things of the past, but a very lively and relevant reality".

Some of Benedict's supporters believe he wants a smaller, but theologically more homogenous (and reactionary) group of true believers who can hunker down and wait for more propitious times. Tornielli thinks that is a misinterpretation. "The idea of a 'hard core' is essentially military and defensive. I think the pope simply believes that the only way to get the people of our times to encounter God is by bearing Christian witness, living Christian values. It is, after all, not so unlike what happened 2,000 years ago."

Faith and the BBC

The Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews has accused the BBC of an institutional anti-Christian bias, deploring what he calls a "radically secular and socially liberal mindset" in its newsrooms. He cites, as an example, a documentary presented by Mark Dowd on 15 September, 'Trials of a Pope', about Benedict's XVI's handling of clerical sex abuse. The documentary, incidentally, also includes an item on Catholic Voices. Dowd is giving a lecture two days before the broadcast. 

Cardinal Keith O'Brien "fears" that the documentary will be biased, but Dowd is a superb producer and close to Catholics; one journalist who is reviewing the film told us it is "not hostile". Best to postpone judgement.

The Cardinal has also backed calls by a Church of England bishop for the BBC to appoint a religion editor, something which the recently retired presenter of the 'Sunday' programme, Roger Bolton, argued for at the Churches and Media Network conference back in July (hear his speech here). The point of an editor -- the BBC has them, for example, for science and the environment -- is to ensure that faith would be properly understood across the network's news programmes. Seems like a good idea.

By happy coincidence, the BBC's Jesuit-educated (and practising Catholic) director-general, Mark Thompson (pictured), has given an interview to the New Statesman in which his faith comes up:
How does his faith affect his approach to the job? "I have lots of colleagues at the top of the BBC," he says, "and had at Channel 4, of religious belief, quite a lot with no religious belief at all, and quite a few committed atheists. I think they've all got values which they can bring to work. But just as we don't have a monopoly of the web, we don't have a monopoly of virtue when it comes to broadcasting, either.

“I do think the BBC is very much - sometimes, frankly, almost frighteningly so - a values-driven organisation. People's sense of what's right and wrong, and their sense of justice, are incredible parts of what motivates people to join. I'm part of that. For me, that's connected with my religious faith but the key thing is: you don't have to be a Catholic."

Ed Stourton: B16 challenges the status quo

Ed Stourton, a lifelong Catholic and the BBC broadcaster who will anchor much of the Corporation’s coverage of the visit, is quoted by Cristina Odone in the Telegraph as being unsurprised by the Theos findings that the Church's social teachings meet with the favour of the British public. Says Stourton:
"People are looking for an alternative to the moral relativism that has become the ideology of today. Benedict is one man who really challenges the status quo: the disillusioned can’t help but be drawn to his words.”

Poll shows British attitudes close to Church on social issues

Catholic Voice Chris Serpell is quoted in the Scottish Herald on the Theos poll:

Chris Serpell, also of Catholic Voices, said the results of the poll gave a “very promising” outlook for the Papal visit. “They highlight a great deal of overlap between the moral outlook of the Catholic Church and that of the population of the UK.

“The concern of the Church for human flourishing and the common good expressed in the Pope’s writings – notably the encyclical Caritas in Veritate –resonates deeply with the heart of this nation,” he said. “At the same time, the findings also reveal that public knowledge of the activities and teaching of the Catholic Church is limited – notably, with respect to the key role that the Church plays throughout the world in addressing these shared concerns.

“Catholic agencies are – on a global scale – providing vital health care and education, working to overcome poverty and restore justice, preserving the environment, and encouraging true respect for human life at every stage.”

Freedom of religion 'vital for civil society'

Catholic Voices coordinator Austen Ivereigh (pictured, speaking at last week's Protest the Pope debate) told John Humphrys on Saturday's BBC R4 Today programme that in recent years the Government had failed properly to balance equality legislation with the freedom of religion which was crucial for a vigorous civil society. Hear the interview here.

Financial benefits of papal visit 'will eclipse costs'

Catholic Voices coordinator Jack Valero has told the BBC that the financial benefit to UK cities will more than cover the costs to the taxpayer of the papal visit. (Hear his interview with BBC Five Live here). BBC Online quotes him:

He said a study for Glasgow City's marketing bureau had worked out that Glasgow and Edinburgh would accrue about £13m because of extra people visiting as well as the "media (and) advertising value" to the two cities.

Archbishop of Westminster on 'Sunday AM' lays out vision for visit

Archbishop Vincent Nichols's interview with Andrew Marr is here at 19:46. He distances himself from a diocesan official's alarmist vision of secular Britain, saying "religious faith is taken quite serious by probably a majority of people in this country". Pope Benedict, he says, wants to remind us that "faith in God is not so much a problem to be solved but a gift to be discovered afresh". He describes relations with Anglicans as a "steady partnership": a strong Church of England, he says, helps the cause of the Gospel in the UK.

Asked about the controversy over the costs to the taxpayer, he said it would be a "sad day" if the UK closed its doors to state visits -- a gesture of isolationism. "This is the leader of the world's oldest international institution which serves humanity in a tremendous way right around the globe." An important part of the agenda, he went on, was the forging of relationships between the UK Government and the Catholic Church.

The Mail on Sunday is reporting that the Pope will meet abuse victims, citing Vatican sources who say such a meeting is "all but certain". Archbishop Nichols tells Andrew Marr that meeting victims has become the normal pattern on foreign trips, but that if it took place it would be private and only announced afterwards.