When a publisher telephones and asks for a new book, written quickly, there is only one response: a high- pitched, only partly controlled “yes.” That the publisher is Random House, who has published my last two books so well and successfully, only emphasizes the experience. I agreed, I wrote it, they and I are pleased with it, and The Future of Catholicism (Signal Books) has just been published. The reason for the request, of course, is that there is a new pope, and one who is shaking things up quite a lot, leading to Catholics and non-Catholics alike to ask questions about—well, the future of Catholicism.
What I have tried to do in the book is respond to common questions and outline how the Church of the coming years may adapt and reform, or not adapt and reform. The latter is important, because—as I explain in a long chapter about same-sex marriage and others about abortion and contraception, female ordination, papal authority, and euthanasia—there are certain aspects of Catholicism that not only will not but cannot change. The moral and Scriptural teaching of Catholicism is precisely that, and morality and Scriptural truth, Biblical teaching, and early Church history do not change.
When Pope Francis was first elected, I was interviewed on various Canadian television and radio shows. The questions were invariably based more on liberal wishful thinking than on any understanding of Catholic theology. One TV morning show host, dripping relativist enthusiasm, asked me, “Will Pope Francis be softening the Church’s stance on gay marriage and women, and will he be less tough on abortion?” I replied: “Oh yes, and he’s going to become a Muslim as well.” The humour was not understood at all. So I followed quickly with, “No, he will not.” The disappointment on the host’s face was tragic.
The pope has obviously beguiled the media, and for the moment they adore him. I predict that the honeymoon will not last. He has also, however, rattled a few serious and devout Catholics out of their comfort zones. I explain in the book how his words have been horribly and clumsily misinterpreted, but also argue that occasionally he could and should have been perhaps less opaque in his statements. Still, the reality is that he has at no point led and will never lead the Church and Catholics astray. What he is really saying is that the conversation has to be moved a little, that if we are to be heard we should not compromise, but we should approach others more empathetically, more graciously and more gracefully.
He’s absolutely correct. We may feel completed and grand when we are attacked or dismissed, but the Gospel is spread not by our inner feelings of martyrdom but by a relationship with those around us. We are Catholic, not to be loved but to love, and we are Catholic, not to keep the truth to ourselves but to shower it over a world that often refuses to listen.
The Church of the future will be a different colour, have its heartland in different places, face greater persecution, and resemble its earliest ages rather than its middle ages. Once again, this will not be comfortable to everybody; frankly, it might not always make me feel comfortable! But comfort is irrelevant. Christ, His Church, His Sacraments, and God’s creatures compose the great, glorious relevance, and it is our privilege and not our tragedy that there is much work to be done.
The Future of Catholicism will not please everybody. Those who demand change and reformation will probably think it too conservative and orthodox. Those who are overly suspicious of Pope Francis and some of his actions may think me too supportive and praising of the Holy Father and his plans. But then, Catholics are supposed to provoke a bit, and I’d provoke a bit even if I wasn’t a Catholic. It’s a splendid time to be part of God’s Church, to be a member of the Body of Christ that extends to the earliest days of history until the end of time. The future is the past; the past is the future; the present is what we have to grasp and shape.
The future of Catholicism. It’s all of us, and all of the world. Oh, and it’s also an extremely good book that will make a truly wonderful Christmas present.
Michael Coren’s website is michaelcoren.com, where he can be booked for speeches and his books can be purchased.