These are obviously dark days for the Roman Catholic Church. For over a decade, the U.S. church has been assailed by abuse charges and devastated by the resulting litigation. The Vatican used to console itself with the belief that this was a peculiarly American crisis, but, this year, similar abuse cases have arisen all over Europe ...
It appears it was easier to take, when it was viewed as "those Americans"--and then we find coverups at all levels, in all countries. This just exacerbates an ongoing tension.
For years, [the Catholic] core has been migrating away from Europe, heading southward into Africa and Latin America. Some Church observers have remarked that the Vatican is now in the wrong location: It’s 2,000 miles too far north of its emerging homelands....And the converts are always more fanatical than those who converted them. We see some of this in the US. Catholicism is on the decline in the northeast, for example, where the names are Irish, and the only thing that keeps its numbers robust is a steady stream of third world migrants.
In part, European Catholicism has been declining because of a general trend toward secularization and religious indifference. ...Media coverage of the abuse and the Vatican's mangled response will also provide ample ammunition for those who want to keep religion out of the political realm. European opponents of the Church will find it much easier to silence the Vatican's voice in future legislation concerning issues like abortion, gay marriage and adoption, or reproductive technologies.... Indeed, as the crisis quickens the wane of Europe's Catholic influence, it will help solidify the Church's new roots in the south. Membership there will continue to burgeon, and Church's hierarchy will increasingly be paved with southern clerics.
That smaller, purer church Pope Benedict wanted is unlikely to be European. The next Pope will probably be Latin American, maybe even African. Just as seen in the Anglican Communion, this will lead to a distinct religious fervor that is culturally at odds with the historical home of the faith. But this will affect Roman Catholicism differently, given its hierarchical structure. The awkward splits in the Anglican Communion will look positively graceful compared to the likely feeling of liberal American Catholics when they find themselves holding a Global South lion by the tail. How will the Roman Catholic faith and its practice change when the Roman history and western culture become irrelevant to those in charge?