“How did the Vatican arrive at that figure?”, asks BBC. Vatican’s “Statistical Yearbook” pinpoints data-gathering gaps. “Parishes make guesstimates from those who come for rites of passage” like baptism, etc..” Lapsed or deceased Catholics may still be tallied, University of Essex ’s David Voas notes. “There are more than a quarter of a million Catholic parishes. This problem faces every religion.”
Pew Research Center uses different yardsticks, including migration, Of 75.4 million Catholics in the US , three in one were born outside the States., the Center’s Conrad Hackett points out. The result is a count of 100 million fewer Catholics.
“Still, you've got four or five thousand self-identified Catholics on average per parish”, BBC adds. “If they all turned up for Mass Sunday, there’d be a bit of a squeeze to fit them all in the pews.”
The new pontiff’s in-tray is stacked with problems that range from sex scandals to a curia resistant to change. But “few issues rival the bitter, in¬trac¬table relationship between the Vatican and Beijing over Catholics in China ” notes Washington Post.
Nearly half of 12 million Chinese Catholics worship in state-backed churches. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association keeps them on a tight leash. State priests skirt subjects that’d upset government. Others slip into “underground churches”, in remote buildings or private homes. Is this a replay of “church of the catacombs?
To escape persecution, early Christians prayed in Roman catacombs. Christian martyrs were venerated there too. They emerged when their faith was recognized Catacombs fell into disuse as cathedrals soared: from Notre Dame in Ile-d-France, Cathedral of Chartres to the Benedectine Abbey on Mont St Michel .
Vatican and China inched towards a compromise when Benedict became pontiff. In a 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, he stressed the church didn’t seek overthrow of China ’s leaders. He raised the possibility of moving Vatican ’s diplomatic offices from Taiwan to Beijing . China sent it’s Philharmonic Orchestra to play at the Vatican .
When Benedict resigned Thursday, relations were at rock bottom. And the skid stems from disagreement on which side has final say over who gets ordained in China?
The pope has sole authority in appointing bishops, who can ordain priests, the Vatican says. Only China can select church leaders, the regime counters. It “can render unto Ceasar what belongs to God.” In 2010, it rammed through ordination of Guo Jincai of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. This inflicted“ a painful wound upon ecclesiastal communion.”, Vatican protested and excommunicated Guo.
By coincidence, Benedict’s successor will be named about the same time for China ’s own grand conclave. Habemus Papam, China’s ruling Communist Party declared November, the Economist reported. . It introduced seven officials that will lead a nation of 1.3 billion in the next decade, Unlike the Rome’s papal conclave, there were no surprises Xi Jinping, 59, is the party’s new general secretary. Xi & Commissars take control of government March.
That’ s “an opportunity for the two sides to restart,” said Ren Yanli of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing . “Both sides are new,” he said. “They can move forward without historical burdens on their shoulders.”
Isn’t coincidence in dates of taking office too thin a peg for highest hopes? In 2011, Beijing and Rome agreed on Bishop Thaddues Ma. Daquin, who was ordained in Shanghai . But the new bishop stunned everybody by announcing he was quitting the state church.
“His words, captured on video, were met with applause from the audience’ Hong Kong papers reported.. Soon after, he was detained by authorities. In December, the state church stripped him of his title.
In 1920, Writer Hilaire Belloc proclaimed: “The Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.” Not anymore. Over the last century, the church has been moving south, New York Times observes. Due to work by religious orders, new conversions, for instance, surged in Africa . Populations grew modestly in Europe but boomed across the global south—and Catholic numbers grew apace.
Today, the world has 900 million more Catholics than it did in 1900. But only 100 hundred million of those new additions are Europeans By 2050, Europe will account for perhaps 15 percent of Catholics. Many will be immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America .
The “ Vatican is now 2,000 miles north of its emerging homelands”. Will secularism and indifference turn Notre Dame in Ile-d-France, Chartres cathedral to the Benedectine Abbey on Mont St Michel into museums?