As one might imagine, most of the comments on this website – and for that matter, all other British and Western European websites – will be couched in a healthy dose of cynicism and/or disdain and disillusionment, but personally, I’m optimistic, albeit not being Catholic or even Christian myself. Look, I realise it’s naive to expect the church to change its stance on homosexuality or premarital sex or women priests or abortion or priests’ being able to marry. At the same time, I realise that the church is still quite an extraordinarily powerful organisation, and if its leader is going to champion the poor and the most vulnerable, especially at a time when the world is in the throes of one of the worst economic crises of recent times, then I’d say more power to his elbow! It’s really a breath of fresh air to have a pope from the developing world who has likely seen poverty’s most ugly face first hand.
I’m also inclined to believe that there’s more than meets the eye behind Benedict’s resignation. Given the Francis gets to form his Curia from scratch now that the former Curia has been disbanded, let’s also hope he weeds out the rot that has set in at the very heart of the Church.
Plainly put, I don’t see why one should throw the baby out with the bathwater and write off the Church simply because it won’t change its stances on social issues. As someone who works with charities which tend to the poorest and the most vulnerable, most of them tend to be overwhelmingly Christian charities. Christians in action make a world of difference and I’ve seen this first hand. The Catholic Church still wields an extraordinary amount of clout, especially in the developing world – and if it can make even a small difference in alleviating poverty, I’d take that over the all mouth and no trousers type keyboard warriors.
Here are some figures from the 2012 Church book of statistics:
In the field of education, the Catholic Church runs 70,544 kindergartens with 6,478,627 pupils; 92,847 primary schools with 31,151,170 pupils; 43,591 secondary schools with 17,793,559 pupils. The Church also cares for 2,304,171 high school pupils, and 3,338,455 university students. Compared to the previous year there has been a slight increase concerning kindergartens (+2.425) and a decrease concerning pupils (-43.693); a slight decrease in primary schools (-124 and an increase in pupils (+178.056); increase in secondary schools (+1.096) and pupils (+678.822); there is also an increase in secondary school pupils (+15.913) and university students (+63.015) who are monitored.
Catholic charity and healthcare centres
Charity and healthcare centres run in the world by the Church include:
5,305 hospitals most of them in America (1,694) and Africa (1,150)
18,179 dispensaries mainly in America (5,762); Africa (5,312) and Asia (3,884)
547 Care Homes for people with Leprosy mainly in Asia (285) and Africa (198)
17,223 Homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability mainly in Europe (8,021) and America (5,650)
9,882 orphanages, about one third in Asia (3,606)
15,327 marriage counselling centres mainly in America (6,472)
34,331 social rehabilitation centres
9,391 other kinds of institutions, mostly located in America (3,564) and Europe (3,159).
One more statistic – in the vexed area of AIDS, one in every four AIDS victims world wide receives care in a Church-run facility; in Africa, that figure is between 40% and 50%. In 2011, there were “117,000 Catholic medical facilities, from clinics in the deepest jungle to large urban hospitals in the developing world, that are involved in treating both people that are already infected with AIDS and trying to prevent the transmission to at-risk populations.” [PBS News]