This isn’t just a Catholic crisis. The churches of the so-called Magisterial Reformation are also in trouble: Lutheran, Anglican and Reformed denominations are suffering from the same troubles that afflict the Church of Rome. Many of the problems are familiar elements of the western religious and cultural landscape. Textual criticism has challenged traditional views about the antiquity, accuracy and authority of the scriptures. The social consequences of cheap and easy birth control have opened a rift between traditional religious teachings about human sexuality and the ideas and behavior of many people in the West. The consumer society and the mass media associated with it constantly pull people, perhaps especially young people, away from Christian ideas even as an increasingly secular civil society pushes religion off to the side of the public square. The combination of rapid global communications, explosive church growth in the global South and the deep divide between the conservative social attitudes prevalent in Africa and Asia and the libertarian or even libertine norms of the global North makes it hard for universal institutions to develop a workable set of practices and procedures to cover the whole world.All of this is true and most of it has happened in my lifetime. There are any number of reasons, but for me one of the key reasons is that the Catholicism that I learned growing up in the 1970s wasn't particularly robust. I mostly attended Catholic schools and had religious education throughout my upbringing, but most of what I got was a pretty thin gruel of vague humanism and feelgood bromides. When I entered the secular world of college, I frankly wasn't very well prepared to talk about my faith and wasn't especially interested in doing so, either. I've only started to truly understand Catholic doctrine in the last 10-12 years. And I have a long way to go.
In America the Catholic Church in particular suffers from another acute problem: as the descendants of the 19th and early 20th century mass migrations of Catholics from countries like Ireland, Poland and Italy move farther away from their roots, they are also moving away from an inherited sense of Catholic identity. The ethnic neighborhoods with their parochial schools and civic associations rooted in and centered on parish churches have been fading away since World War Two; increasingly young American Catholics of European origin are emotionally and culturally distant from the Church of their ancestors. If it weren’t for immigration from majority Catholic countries to our south, the American Catholic Church today would be facing many of the issues of dwindling membership that challenge the mainstream liberal Protestant denominations today.
Mead also makes an important point regarding the abuse scandals that have so eroded the Church's moral authority:
Many Catholics object that in some ways the attention paid to the sex scandals in the Church has been unfair. Certainly much of the commentary about these scandals has been. We have been treated to years of unctuous lectures, for example, about the relationship between the Church’s demands for priestly celibacy and the abuse scandals. Yet the wave of scandal has spread well beyond the Church; pedophilia and coverups have been found everywhere from the Boy Scouts to prominent football teams where celibacy was not an issue. If embarrassed commentators have apologized to Catholics for some of the exaggerated and inaccurate attacks, those apologies have not come to Via Meadia‘s attention. Many who follow press coverage in which these scandals are treated as breaking news have missed the point that much of the activity in question took place decades ago, and the pastoral, low key approach of many Catholic bishops to these cases often reflected what many lay psychologists at the time considered best practice. Loyal Catholics who bristle at the unfairness of this coverage have a point.
But with all caveats and reservations duly noted and filed, and with the anti-Catholic bias of some reporters and commentators duly acknowledged and discounted, the scandals are still horrible enough, and the pattern of response so inept and institutionally protective that the damage to American Catholicism — perhaps especially among the Euro-Catholics who in any case were edging towards the door and who find pedophilia scandals the perfect excuse to leave in a huff — will be profound and historic.
Unfortunately, scandals of this kind have emerged in many countries, undermining the Church at a time of religious questioning and social change. It is very hard for an organization widely seen as protecting pedophiles and relegating women to second class citizenship to get a hearing for a moral agenda that in many ways goes against the wishes of human nature and the spirit of the times.
There's more, a lot more, at the link and it's all worth your time. I suspect the next Pope will be transformative, because change is required. As I've argued for some time, the energy of the Church is in what Mead calls the "global south." And I increasingly suspect that is from where the next pontiff will emerge.