The controversies and excitement surrounding the US election season have obscured trends and issues that are unfolding in world Catholicism—from the rehabilitation of the Jesuits to the growing concerns over the issue of identity in Catholic charitable organizations, writes John Allen in the National Catholic Reporter (Dec. 26).
Allen cites such neglected news stories as renewed Catholic activism and outspokenness on immigration, and October’s bishops’ Synod on the Bible that were virtually ignored by the media due to the U.S. presidential election. Focusing more on long-range developments, he notes that in 2008, Catholic–Muslim relations received a boost in November (it so happens, on election day) when Catholic and Muslim leaders signed a joint statement recognizing the right to religious freedom.
On the Catholic–Jewish front, last year marked a series of setbacks, including Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to revive the Latin liturgy, which included a prayer for the conversion of Jews. While the Vatican removed some of this language, critics were dissatisfied. Soon after, the US bishops removed a line from their catechism on the eternal validity of the covenant God made with the Jews, followed a few months later by the pope’s defense of his predecessor, Pius XII, whom some Jews fault for his alleged silence on the Holocaust.
Other emerging trends include a lessening of the tensions between the papacy and the relatively liberal Jesuit order, evidenced by Benedict appointing Jesuits to key posts. The effort to revive Catholic identity in the church’s institutions may have started with colleges, but in 2008 reached down to Catholic charities, according to Allen. With Vatican support, Denver’s Bishop Chaput threatened to shut down church-run charities if the state barred them from hiring according to religious affiliation.
Later in the year, Catholic Relief Services came under fire for its AIDS prevention program, and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development faced criticism for its links to the controversial community-organizing network ACORN. Allen notes that a generational change may be moderating the course of the Catholic Theological Society, once a bastion of liberal Catholic scholarship. A cohort of younger theologians in the society appear less interested in challenging the church than taking issue with secular culture, and for whom the traditional polarizaton between left and right doesn’t hold much appeal.
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