At First Things, there is an essay cum review by Richard Rex (professor of Reformation history at Cambridge ) of Ross Douthat’s recent book: To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism
I wrote about Michael “Wile E. Coyote” Winters’ ACME-powered reaction HERE. His sputterings confirm it as a good buy.
Rex does a bit more than review the book. He offers some strong commentary of his own about what’s going on in the Church today and what Pope Francis is doing about it.
A Church In Doubt
It is beyond question that the Roman Catholic Church is currently in the throes of one of the greatest crises in its two-millennium history. In human terms, its future might be said to be in doubt for the first time since the Reformation. The broad contours of the present crisis are the onward march of secularization in Europe and North America, the purging of Christians from the ancient heartlands of the Middle East, and the erosion of South American Catholicism by the missions of the Protestant and prosperity gospels. More specifically, the horrific and continuing revelations of the sexual and physical abuse of the vulnerable by the clergy, and of the failure of the institutional Church to identify and address the issue, have in some places turned a Catholic retreat into a rout. The dramatic and utterly unforeseen collapse of Catholicism in Ireland in little more than a generation, for example, harks back to the tectonic religious shifts of the early sixteenth century. Only in Africa is there much by way of good news, and it is not always clear how good that news is.
In the face of this crisis, Pope Francis is seeking a rapprochement between the ideals of Catholicism and the realities of contemporary social norms by some softening of the traditionally hard lines of Catholic sexual and matrimonial morality.
Rex – and Douthat – write about contours and and edges of the ongoing “Francis Effect”
I recommend the First Things piece and Douthat’s book.