La Civiltà Cattolica: Contemporary Challenges for Global Catholicism

Contemporary Challenges for Global Catholicism

by Thomas P. Rausch, SJ

Jesuit Father Karl Rahner was one of the first to recognize that the Second Vatican Council had transformed the western Catholic Church into a world Church: “For the first time a world-wide Council with a world-wide episcopate came into existence and functioned independently.”[1]

Bishops from non-western countries were certainly present at Vatican I, but they were largely missionary bishops of European and North American origin. At Vatican II, the bishops came from 116 countries, most of them native born: 36 percent from Europe, 23 percent from Latin America, 12 percent from North America, 20 percent from Asia and Oceania, and 10 percent from Africa. By the time of the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome, 74 percent of the bishops came from countries other than Europe or North America, as do more than 70 percent of the world’s Catholics today.

The world’s oldest institution, the Catholic Church, is truly a global Church.[2] With 1.3 billion members, it represents more than 50 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion Christians. Its enormous numbers and international organizations make it a transnational actor. Recent estimates put Protestant numbers at roughly 37 percent, with another 12 percent belonging to the various Orthodox Churches. Other communities, less mainstream, include Christian Scientists, Mormons  and Jehovah’s Witnesses, representing about 1 percent. Today the Pentecostal, Charismatic or Renewalist communities, with over 682 million members, are rapidly growing.[3]

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One Comment

  1. “The bipartite image of a teaching Church (ecclesia docens) and a learning Church (ecclesia discens) is no longer appropriate, if it ever was.[21] The Church needs also to listen to its theologians, its scholars and to other Churches.”

    This from Thomas Rausch SJ seems especially apposite in Ireland just now – where rhetorical expressions such as ‘church teaching’ and ‘the deposit of faith’ can still find their way so glibly into official pronouncements.

    The implication that ‘teaching’ and ‘faith’ can exist as merely verbalised and disembodied entities, irrespective of the necessary process of frank interaction needed for both learning and faith formation, is a huge part of our logjam.

    That authoritarianism discourages both learning and faith formation has still to be acknowledged frankly by our own ecclesia docens. Would not such an acknowledgement be an appropriate initial step along the ‘synodal pathway’ – if the ecclesia discens is to turn up?

    As Rausch implies, that bipartite image could be replaced by an agreement that all of us need to be learners, and listeners, now.

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