Pope Francis gave an address today to a group gathered in Rome to figure out what to do with churches and religious buildings that nobody is using anymore. Excerpt:
The observation that many churches, which until a few years ago were necessary, are now no longer thus, due to a lack of faithful and clergy, or a different distribution of the population between cities and rural areas, should be welcomed in the Church not with anxiety, but as a sign of the times that invites us to reflection and requires us to adapt. It is what in a sense the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium affirms when, claiming the superiority of time over space, it declares that “giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return” (223).
Our Church has been hemorrhaging members for decades now. The closing of churches is a symptom of a serious pathology. Yes, reflect on the causes. Certainly think about how to adapt. But for God’s sake be anxious, because souls are at stake!
Like St. Rex of Mottram says, it’s the New Springtime, only Phil is too sinful to see it.
I can’t speak for my friend Phil, of course, but I don’t think he would say that losing people is wholeheartedly a bad thing. A church that tries to be all things to all people, so as to lose as few as possible, will end by being nothing much to anybody. If a particular parish was serious about Catholic orthodoxy, and that drove lukewarm Catholics away, I don’t think that would be a bad thing. Or rather, I think it would be a bad thing, for the sake of those fallen-away Catholics’ souls, but I think the worse thing would be to compromise the Truth for the sake of popularity. I could be wrong, but I imagine Phil thinks the same way. Certainly I believe this about my own church, the Orthodox Church.
Phil is absolutely correct, though, to point out that the collapse of Christianity — especially Catholic Christianity — in the West is something about which every believer should be deeply concerned. In France, for example, hundreds of historic churches are being demolished because the government, which owns them (it’s a French thing) cannot afford to maintain them, and the congregations have withered to nothing. It’s happening across Europe.
The city is burning down, and Pope Francis is inviting those who live in it to come warm themselves by the fire. Unbelievable. No wonder The Benedict Option is selling so well in Europe. Nobody is coming from Rome to save you. In Rome, they don’t even see the problem (well, one old man and his secretary do, but they’re on the margins today).