Check out Carrie Gates’s recent interview with Notre Dame historian John McGreevy. They discuss his new book Catholicism: A Global History from the French Revolution to Pope Francis.
In the book, you address many of the challenges the Church has faced between the French Revolution and now. What would you say is the biggest challenge for the Church today?
That’s a tough one. Even though we don’t necessarily see it, the number of Catholics is growing worldwide — primarily in the Global South, in places like the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa and parts of East Asia and India. But in North America and Europe, there’s a real crisis of affiliation among young people. And I think we need to find new devotional forms, new institutional forms, that will attract them. So in Western Europe and North America the biggest challenge might be, “What will speak to young people in the 21st century?” And Catholics aren’t alone in that; other religious traditions struggle with that, too.
The second challenge — and opportunity — is what I begin the book with. It’s how to ensure that this global institution continues to thrive. It’s important not just for Catholics, but for everyone that it does.The world desperately needs institutions that aren’t rigidly ideological, that cross national borders. At a time when we see national tensions increasing in our world, along with global crises like climate change that cannot be solved by one nation-state, Pope Francis is strongly urging international cooperation, and he’s right to do that.
You included a quote near the end of the book from Pope Francis, saying that we are not so much in an era of change as a change of era. What does that quote mean to you?
I love that quote. It’s not an era of change. It’s a change of era. And it can be hard in a change of era to figure out where you are, but I hope this book can serve as a baseline. I said in the introduction that Catholicism will be reinvented in the 21st century. I’m sure of that. And we may not be here in 2100 to see that, but I am absolutely confident that it’s happening as it did in the 19th century.
What do you think is next for the Catholic Church? Where does it go from here?
You know, I’m a historian. So, we’re not very good forecasters. So, I truly don’t know, but I’m a strong supporter of Pope Francis, and I hope the direction that he’s set can be followed. In terms of social issues, Pope Francis is continuing a great Catholic tradition of working beyond the nation-state. He is focused on climate change and the environment, which is a global issue — what we do here in the United States affects people in the Amazon. And he focuses on migration and refugees, which is of course a global issue, too.
Read the entire piece here.