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Catholic Church in societyEdit

Worldwide distributionEdit

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Map showing Roman Catholic Church membership as a percentage of each country's population.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the Church's worldwide membership at the end of 2003 was 1,085,557,000, about half of the estimated 2.1 billion Christians worldwide. In the case of countries whose census returns include information on religion, these figures report only those who classify themselves as Roman Catholics. Because of obstacles to regular contacts, Catholics in mainland China and a few other places are also not included.

The number of Catholics in the world continues to increase, particularly in Africa and Asia, although the religion has lost much of its political influence in the "First World" (e.g. Europe, USA). The increase between 1978 and 2000 was 288 million. Protestant evangelicals have succeeded in making inroads into parts of Latin America, but remain a small percentage of the population. In most industrialized countries, church attendance has decreased since the 19th century, though it remains higher than that of other "mainline" Churches.

According to canon law, members are those who have been baptized in, or have been received into, the Catholic Church on making a profession of faith. They remain members, even if unfaithful to their obligations or even if excommunicated, unless they formally renounce membership by, for instance, joining another religion or denomination. However, in countries where a question on religion is included in the census, the number given in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church (see above) is that of the census returns; thus, for instance, in the case of New Zealand, where 27.5% of the population classified themselves in the 2001 census as being of no religion, the number of canonical Catholics is doubtless higher than the number appearing in the Statistical Yearbook of the Church.

Perspectives on the Catholic ChurchEdit

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has encountered criticisms for numerous reasons. (Some particular controversies are discussed in separate articles. See, for instance, on the charge of anti-Semitism, Relations between Catholicism and Judaism.) Pope John Paul II acknowledged publicly that certain members (including leadership) of the Catholic Church have sometimes been involved in questionable activities, and asked God to forgive the sins of its members, both in action and omission. See also: Criticism of the Catholic Church

And at the same time, it has been seen by many people of different religions as a great force for good, as an "expert in humanity" and even as a model of management being seen by them as the oldest and biggest existing institution in the world. John Paul II was hailed upon his death as an outstanding world leader esteemed as having helped the world progress towards moral regeneration.

The number of criticisms and persecutions it has received through the centuries and his reading of sacred scripture has inspired John Paul II to suggest that the term sign of contradiction is a "distinctive definition of Christ and of his Church."

Church and civilizationEdit

Enlightenment philosophers perceived the Church's doctrines as superstitious and hindering the progress of civilization. In a famous example, many criticized it for 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei, in which the Church condemned the heliocentric system of Nicolaus Copernicus, in favour of a geocentric system, favoured also by famous astronomers later than Copernicus, such as Tycho Brahe. Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for the Church's actions in that trial on 31 October 1992. The acts of the process against Galileo have been made public and downloadable for free in Vatican secret archive website. Recently, the Church is criticized for its opposition to scientific research in fields such as embryonic stem cell research, which the Church teaches would cause the utilitarian destruction of a human being, or simply put, an act of murder. The Church argues that advances in medicine can come without the destruction of human embryos; for example, in the use of adult or umbilical stem cells in place of embryonic stem cells.

Historians of science including non-Catholics such as Heilbron, Alistair Cameron Crombie, Lindberg, Grant, and Thomas Goldstein have been revising the common notion — the product of black legends say some — that the Church has had a negative influence in the development of civilization. They argue that not only did the monks save and cultivate the remnants of ancient civilization during the barbarian invasions, but the Church promoted learning and science through its sponsorship of many universities which grew rapidly in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries, under its leadership. The Church's priest-scientists many of whom were Jesuits were the leading lights in astronomy, geomagnetism, meteorology, seismology, and solar physics, becoming the "fathers" of these sciences. John Cardinal Newmann used to say in the nineteenth century that those who attack the Church can only point to the Galileo case, which to many historians does not prove the Church's opposition to science since many of the churchmen at that time were encouraged by the Church to continue their research. [1].

While some critics accuse members of the Catholic Church of destroying the art of some of the colonized natives, several historians credit the Catholic Church for the brilliance and magnificence of Western art. They refer to the Church's fight against iconoclasm, a movement against visual representations of the divine, its insistence on building structures befitting worship, Augustine's repeated reference to Wisdom 11:21 (God "ordered all things by measure, number and weight") which led to the geometric constructions of Gothic architecture, the scholastics' coherent intellectual systems called the Summa which influenced the intellectually consistent writings of Dante, and lastly, the patronage of the Rennaisance popes for the great works of Catholic artists such as Michaelangelo, Rafael, Borromini and Leonardo da Vinci.

Catholic Church thinker, Francisco de Vitoria, a disciple of Thomas Aquinas who studied the issue regarding the human rights of colonized natives, is recognized by the United Nations as a father of international law, and now by historians of economics and democracy as a leading light for the West's democracy and rapid economic development. [2] Joseph Schumpeter, a great economist of the twentieth century, in his History of Economic Analysis (1954), referred to the scholastics thus: "[I]t is they," he wrote, "who come nearer than does any other group to having been the ‘founders’ of scientific economics." Other economists and historians have also said something similar: Raymond de Roover, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, and Alejandro Chafuen. Historian Paul Legutko of Stanford University said: The Catholic Church is "at the center of the development of the values, ideas, science, laws, and institutions which constitute what we call Western civilization." Benedict XVI says that the Catholic religion is the religion according to reason (the Logos, Word) and the Enlightenment itself — with its emphasis on brotherhood, freedom and equality — and is an exclusive product of the Christian West who see the fundamental concepts of the Enlightenment as being of Christian origin.

Church and peopleEdit

During much of the late Medieval era, one of the Church's response to heresy was through the Inquisition, for which it has been much criticized on how it has treated people. While Pope John Paul II apologized for certain historic excesses in May 1995, many Church historians, even non-Catholics, have seen that there have been some exaggeration on the role played by the Church in the Inquisition which started, according to them, as a way of protecting Europe from the covert penetration by the Turks who led some violent attacks against Christian coastal towns. These historians say that it is difficult, if not unhistorical, to judge by present day standards the threats, issues and resources which the leaders of that time were faced with.

In recent times, the Catholic Church has sustained criticism from many quarters on the basis of several of its teachings and practices. Its exclusion of women from the ordained clergy, and so from many of the most important decisions, is seen by some as unjust discrimination (at a time when feminism and other social and political movements advocating equal access have removed barriers to the entry of women into professions that were traditionally male strongholds). While the Church is convinced it is not free to change this rule, which it believes can be traced back to Jesus himself, and has declared the matter closed for discussion, the Church has also been praised by many historians as having raised the dignity of women as seen in the sharp contrast on how women were treated in the pagan sphere (e.g. the Roman paterfamilias had absolute authority over them) and how they were treated by medieval knights as ladies, a custom characterized by gentleness and reverence inspired by the Catholic Church's veneration for a woman, Mary, as the greatest of all saints.

The Catholic Church's above-mentioned rule of mandatory celibacy for Latin-Rite priests (while allowing individual exceptions) is criticized for differing from Christian traditions issuing from the Protestant Reformation, which apply no limitations, and even from the practice of the ancient Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, which, while requiring celibacy for bishops and priestmonks and excluding marriage by priests after ordination, do allow married men to be ordained to the priesthood. Some also claim that mandatory priestly celibacy appeared only in the Middle Ages. There are those who see the tradition as unrealistic.

It is argued that abolishing the rule of celibacy and opening the priesthood to women would update the Church's image as more relevant to modern society, and would solve the perceived problem of an insufficiency of candidates for priesthood in Western countries. Some also trace to this rule with the recent criticism of the Church, particularly in the United States, which has centered around the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases. The failure of some bishops to take action against offending priests is reported to have undermined the Church's moral authority among some segments of the public. Others respond that non-Catholic groups that have sought "relevancy" have sometimes been seen as instead "dumbing down" religion, and that, in spite of admitting ordination of women and having no rule whatever of celibacy, mainline Protestant Churches too are experiencing difficulty in drawing people in the same countries to ministry. Within the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church itself, seminaries and dioceses that are more insistent on traditional values and on fidelity appear to be more, not less, successful in attracting vocations to the priesthood. The problems of the sexual scandals says some observers is rooted in the doctrinal confusion created by some Catholic sectors, who misinterpreted the real teachings of the Church during the Second Vatican Council. According to them this is possibly another factor behind the following criticisms: Traditionalist Catholics see the Church's recent efforts at reformed teaching and practice (known as "aggiornamento"), in particular the Second Vatican Council, as not benefitting the advancement of the Church. Some groups claim the Church has betrayed the core values of Catholicism, and reject some of the decisions of the Holy See that they see harmful to the faith. Others go so far as to characterize the current leaders of the Catholic Church as heretics. Several groups, known as sedevacantists, claim that the current Pope (as well, perhaps, as some of his immediate predecessors) is not legitimate. A handful of them have appointed papal replacements: see list of sedevacantist antipopes. On the other hand, some non-Catholic historians have been seeing a clear continuity of the teachings of the Church throughout the centuries, a "handing over" (traditio) of "living faith" which according to George Weigel "inspires innovative thinking."

Some criticize the Church's teaching on sexual and reproductive matters[3]. The Church requires members to eschew homosexual practices (CCC 2357), artificial contraception (CCC 2370), and pre-marital sex (CCC 2353). The procurement or assistance in abortion can carry the penalty of excommunication (CCC 2272), as a specific offense.

Some criticize the Church's teaching on fidelity, sexual abstinence and its opposition to promoting the use of condoms as a strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS (or teen pregnancy or STD) as counterproductive. They comment that it is not realistic to expect a high proportion of people to follow the practice, and so contraceptives and safe sex practices should be promoted. On the other hand, some argue that the Church's insistence on abstinence as practiced in Uganda shows that so far it has been one of the most successful strategies againsts AIDS. [4]

While it is criticized in many places, the Catholic Church also has contributed much to society through its Social Doctrine which has guided leaders to promote social justice and by setting up the hospital system in Medieval Europe, a system which was different from the merely reciprocal hospitality of the Greeks and family-based obligations of the Romans. These hospitals begun to cater to "particular social groups marginalized by poverty, sickness, and age," according to historian of hospitals, Guenter Risse. [5] The Catholic Church as opus proprium, says Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, has conducted throughout the centuries from its very beginning and continues to conduct many charitable services—hospitals, schools, poverty alleviation programs, etc.

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