April 16, 2005
Predictions for the Catholic Church
No one has any inside
knowledge about who the Catholic Cardinals will choose to be the next Pope,
but I'll make two predictions.
First, I believe the new Pope will be from Africa or
Latin America and the man with the
best prospects is Cardinal Francis Arinze, a 72-year-old Nigerian, the first
black pope in 1500 years.
Second, I predict that the next Pope will permit
married men to become priests.
These two predictions are interrelated.
According to Father Tom Reese, a Jesuit priest and
editor of the magazine, America, the church's biggest internal problems is
"the shortage of priests. The time for denial is over. There are
not enough priests now, and the situation is only going to get worse. A
church without sacraments is not Catholic," he writes in an editorial
published this week.
"The next pope must acknowledge that providing the
Eucharist and other sacraments to
the Catholic community is more important than mandatory celibacy."
In the United States, there were 53,800 priests to
serve 42 million Catholics in 1960.
Today there are only 44,000 to serve 67 million. In the old days there was
one priest for 780 Catholics, but now one priest serves 1,425 parishoners. Their average age is nearly 60.
Result: Boston closed 83 churches last year, a third of
its total. Milwaukee fell from 265 churches to 219 and that diocese
wants to shrink to 175. "We should be moving
to 275 churches, and expanding the pool of people allowed to be priests,"
said Fr. David Cooper.
He was one of 166 Milwaukee priests who signed a letter
to the President of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops asking that the priesthood "be open to
married men as well as to celibate men." When the Catholic bishops met
last fall, 11,000 letters were
given to them urging that mandatory celibacy be reconsidered. In fact,
two-thirds of priests in 53 dioceses pled with the bishops for an "open
discussion of the mandatory celibacy rule."
There are 25,000 former Catholic priests who left
ministry to marry in America. Russell
Ditzel, head of a network of former priests, estimates two-thirds would love
to return to ministry.
The church's position on this issue is contradictory.
St. Peter and many early priests,
bishops and popes were married. Celibacy began to be required because
married priests allowed their children to inherit church property. While celibacy is required by most priests, John Paul permitted 200 Lutheran
and Episcopal priests who were married, to become U.S. Catholic priests. And
there are thousands of "Eastern Rite" Catholic priests in Eastern Europe who
are married. Why? Centuries ago, the church made the change to compete with
Orthodox priests who are allowed to marry.
What about the competition by Protestant clergy, who
are not only allowed to marry, but can offer better pastoral service since
the average pastor serves 100 people? No
wonder Protestant churches are growing rapidly in Latin America, home of 483
Catholics, double that of Europe.
There is only one priest for 4,000 Catholics in Africa
and one per 8,000 in Latin America. Millions can attend Mass only once every
few months. Global South cardinals feel the shortage even more acutely than
Therefore, I predict that U.S. cardinals will support a
Global South prelate willing to call for optional celibacy. None have
done so publicly, but the issue will be debated as they vote.
The major external issue facing the church is its
competition with Muslims. In Nigeria,
the Philippines and India, hundreds of Christians have been killed by
No one has had more experience with this issue in the
hierarchy than Cardinal Arinze. He was born in Nigeria where the issue is
contentious and was elevated to bishop
almost 40 years ago. He has served in the Vatican for 20 years, and led the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1985-2001 where he had
many contacts with Muslims.
He is respectful of them but orthodox. "The other
religions are expressions of the human soul seeking God, with some beautiful
spiritual insights. Christianity is rather
God seeking humanity," he asserts. While Arinze believes the church is
salvation," he says non-Christians can be saved if they are sincere in
seeking God and "follow their conscience in all matters of right and wrong."
Cardinal Arinze speaks many languages. He has
traveled widely and is well known to
most cardinals, who may see him as a natural successor to Pope John Paul II.
If elected, coming from Africa with its acute shortage
of priests, I believe he will allow a
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