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Cardinal: Pandemic may have accelerated secularization of Europe by 10 years

The Church, says Cardinal Hollerich, “must be inspired by a humility that allows us to reorganize ourselves better, to be more Christian, because otherwise this culture of Christianity, this only cultural Catholicism, cannot last over time, it has no living force behind it.”

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union, is pictured in a file photo during a news conference at the Vatican. Cardinal Hollerich said he expects that even after the COVID-19 pandemic, "the number of people who come to church will diminish."(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNA Staff, Sep 4, 2020 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A cardinal has suggested that the coronavirus pandemic may have accelerated the secularization of Europe by 10 years.

In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano Sept. 2, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said he believed that the number of Catholics going to church would decrease as a result of COVID-19.

Asked whether he thought the Church in Europe would emerge stronger or weaker from the pandemic, he said: “I think about my country: we will be reduced in number. Because all those who no longer came to Mass, because they came only for cultural reasons, these ‘cultural Catholics,’ left and right, no longer come. They have seen that life is very comfortable. They can live very well without having to come to church. Even First Communions, the catechism for children, all this will decrease in number, I am almost certain.”

“But it’s not a complaint on my part. We would have had this process even without a pandemic. Perhaps it would have taken us 10 years longer.”

Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham, in the U.K., noted that he had made a similar point to Hollerich in his recent eBook “Catholicism in the Time of Coronavirus.”

“At least in terms of church attendance, we’re almost certain to see a ‘jump forward’ along the long-set downward trend,” he told CNA. “Lots of dioceses have done forecasts in previous years along the lines of ‘if present trends continue, we’ll have X number of active priests for Y number of Massgoers by 2040,’ or whatever. Well, they’re going to have to bring those forward.”

“Whether I’d guess at ‘10 years’ myself, I don’t know — but it’s not outside the bounds of the plausible.”

Hollerich, the Archbishop of Luxembourg and president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE), said that the Church in Europe needed to respond to its weakened condition with humility.

He said: “But at this point, the Church must be inspired by a humility that allows us to reorganize ourselves better, to be more Christian, because otherwise this culture of Christianity, this only cultural Catholicism, cannot last over time, it has no living force behind it.”

He continued: “I think it is a great opportunity for the Church. We must understand what is at stake, we must react and put in place new missionary structures. And when I say missionaries, I mean both action and word. I also think that in the world after the pandemic, the West, the United States, and Europe, will be weaker than before, because the acceleration brought by the virus will make other economies, other countries, grow.”

“But we must see this with realism, we must abandon the Eurocentrism present in our thoughts and with great humility we must work with other countries for the future of humanity, to have greater justice.”

Public Masses were suspended across Europe for several months in order to restrict the spread of COVID-19. While public liturgies have resumed, anecdotal evidence suggests that attendance is well down compared with before the crisis.

In some countries there are strict limits on the number of Catholics permitted to attend Mass at any one time due to concerns about virus transmission.

There have been 2,304,846 cases of COVID-19 reported in the European Union/European Economic Area and the U.K. as of Sept. 4, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, with 182,358 deaths.

Hollerich, a Jesuit, was appointed Archbishop of Luxembourg in 2011. He received the red hat on Oct. 5, 2019, becoming the first cardinal from Luxembourg, a country with a population of only 626,000.

Hollerich told L’Osservatore Romano that the positive reaction to Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ showed that Christian culture was still alive in Europe.

“There is a great openness to these messages, especially from the Holy Father, even in a lay Europe. Sometimes this lay or secularist Europe also presents itself in Christian clothes. But they are only clothes. It is not the elements of Christianity and the Gospel that are at work, it is only a carnival,” he said.

“Solidarity, the fact of sharing, of wanting to share riches with the poorest, of respecting human rights: these are the distinctive elements of Christianity. But unfortunately I also think that Christianity is becoming weaker in Europe. Even after the pandemic I believe that the number of people going to church will have decreased. We must always think about the evangelization of Europe.”


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14 Comments

  1. The fragrance of solidarity is in the air. Day by day people of goodwill are becoming sensitive in a variety of ways. It’s possible to build and dwell in a new world.

  2. I’m hoping this is genuine conversion of heart for Cardinal Hollerich, one of the most left wing Cardinals in the Church that has long promoted a strategy of maximization accommodation with worldly sexual morality and fashionable political thought. The cynical part of me thinks his version of being more Christian is in fact doubling down on dead end on “Who am I to judge” Catholicism

  3. More accurately the papal election of 2013 accelerated the secularization of Europe, the world, the Church.
    Just because a bishop is “woke” has no bearing on whether they are “awake.”

  4. “Because all those who no longer came to Mass, because they came only for cultural reasons, these ‘cultural Catholics,’ left and right, no longer come. They have seen that life is very comfortable. They can live very well without having to come to church. Even First Communions, the catechism for children, all this will decrease in number, I am almost certain.”
    .
    Well, I don’t know about Europe, but the Bishops cancelled Mass (and all the other Sacraments inc. Last Rites) around here, so honestly, the bishops really have no one to blame but themselves.

  5. Frankly I find the cardinals observations ultimately depressing. My parish stopped all masses. The priest put a scrappy note on the church door at the start and no further communication. I am unlikely to return. I am the mother of a large family, have struggled to keep the faith alive, but in the light of what has been revealed I intend to keep the faith with private prayer. My PP is a celebrity, he has appeared on TV and seems to love the limelight. He represents all that is vacuous, although Christ alone can judge. The cardinal in the article talking about faith in Europe being alive because of peoples response to the Popes writing shows how far the institutional church has lost it. People do not want politics, we are being literally starved because what we seek is the teaching of Christ. A plague came and the shepherds fled, not all, but enough to make those of us who have defended the church over abuse, money scandals and in_fighting, say finally enough is enough.

  6. “These ‘cultural Catholics,’ left and right, no longer come. They have seen that life is very comfortable. They can live very well without having to come to church”. Cardinal Hollerich, with good intent unable to visualize beyond the stultifying haze of Modernism. Sacramental life and the mysterious was long left at dockside. A new horizon beckoned. Laudato Si. Planetary, voluptuous. Why would they wish to return when all that needs to be done is already present. Here in small town Southern Tier New York a few good men faithful sentinels have fed the sheep good food. Enclaves of vivacious faith in a morbid sea. Aghast at a Governor and legislature that howled danced for joy when partial birth abortion was made legal. Here they believe what the sacraments offer. Unlike Luxembourg, NYC, Chicago, even once very Catholic Bayern Germany. Prophet theologian Benedict XVI foresaw the future, envisioned precisely what is occurring. A smaller remnant will remain. Perhaps from here we may reclothe Europe. Perhaps with the best of dreams and virtuous hope the new growth of a future Catholicism.

  7. They collaborated with the government and chased everyone out of the Church instead of standing up to the tyrants and the prevailing anti-social culture, so is it any wonder that people aren’t returning? They made it clear that Mass and the Church were “non-essential,” and now that people got the message loud and clear, why should anyone be surprised at the result? The cardinal is right in a sense, but really, Western culture was already secularized, and what we had was nothing but a façade. Even now, all they do is say, “we’re safe, we’re safe, come on back,” instead of confronting the whole “stay safe” attitude. No one will ever go back to church because it’s “safe,” when they can just stay home and be even safer. They may as well give up on safety and start preaching the Gospel (which has nothing to do with safety unless being nailed to a cross is one’s idea of staying safe) and maybe some sensible people will start returning when they have something worthwhile to offer us.

    • The goods of the body always are less important that the good of the soul. Comparatively speaking, they are less essential. Grace is more essential than food. There have been miracles where holy persons have lived on the Eucharist. Perhaps this was a way that God used to indicate its importance.

      Secularization is largely a function of a lack of sufficient witness to the truth of the Gospel by Catholics. The problem is that the truth isn’t being told because it has no speakers and/or no widespread platform.

  8. Note well that “His Eminence Hollerich, SJ” could not manage to mention Jesus.

    It is a wonder of unintended irony that well-fed viceroys like “His Eminence H” speak “prophetically” that Catholics are too comfortable “to return” to Mass.

    I mean: “Why on earth wouldn’t comfortable, cultural Catholics want to come to Mass every Sunday morning to hear “the Gospel according to men like His Eminence”?

    McCarrick is pleased…as is his paymaster General Secretary Xi.

  9. He had me til I reached the part about Laudato Si.
    There are some European bishops who have some fight in them.
    This guy isn’t one of them.

  10. “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in their midst.”

    Our parish sprays after every Mass, and the varnish is even coming off the tops of the pews. It’s safer there than a large store. They even let us participate in ‘limited singing.’ 🙂

    Monica, keep the faith and pray for your PP to see the light. Sometimes in their loneliness, the clergy want to be part of ‘the in crowd,’ which is understandable but not what they are there for – they are there to preach the Word and Truth. With our longer life spans, we have lost sight of the end of the time spent in this world, and sometimes act like it.

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