July 31, 2003

The American Catholic church faces many difficulties (for example, in Los Angeles). An avalanche of revelations in 2002 about church officials protecting priests accused of sexual misconduct has frayed the relationship between laity and clergy. Attempts by the American church to take a tougher stance against sexual abusers in its ranks have been resisted by the bishops. The Vatican has failed to understand the deep anger felt by American Catholics. Financial problems add to the strife.

Internationally, Pope John Paul II has sought to improve the church's profile through his travels and by acknowledging its past sins. But his opposition to "unnatural" birth control, to abortion and scientific developments like embryo research, reinforce an impression of backwardness. So the church's political influence is declining, although John Paul hopes his native Poland may give the church more influence in the European Union.

A shortage of priests and nuns is meanwhile undermining the church's ability to spread the faith and perform its social role. To survive, it urgently needs to modernise. Stemming the decline of priests by scrapping the celibacy rule would be a useful first step.


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