Is the church finished?

In A People Adrift, I warned that the Catholic church in the U.S. faced "thoroughgoing transformation or irreversible decline." Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail but that did not guarantee the church's flourishing or even existence in any given time or place.In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Ross Douthat has raised the question even more bluntly:"For millions in Europe and America," he writes, Catholicism is "finished" -- "permanently associated with sexual scandal, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ." Perhaps the sexual scandal is not the chief culprit, but church leadership's inability to respond adequately is certainly a symptom of something deep seated. More and more I contemplate the possibility that Douthat may be right. What do others think?

Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

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