The Irish Times today published some short opinions by non-Catholics about Pope Francis.
There are views from Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish, Muslim and atheist backgrounds, as well as the former chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
This is my contribution, slightly edited in the published version.
Pope Francis is a Pope of the global South with good PR in the global North. He is conservative on sexual morality issues, though diplomatic about it. He is progressive on social issues, such as the plight of the poor. And he is theologically regressive, talking frequently about the devil and endorsing an organisation of exorcists.
But the future of Catholicism will be shaped more by world demographics than by the personality of Pope Francis. Religion thrives most where people are focusing on survival values. Two in every three Catholics now live in the global South, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia.
So Pope Francis has to appeal to Catholics with very different values. In the North, Catholic claims about reality are increasingly seen as unbelievable, and Catholic claims about morality are increasingly ignored. In the South, Catholics are more likely to believe in miracles and exorcisms, to be conservative on sexual issues, and progressive on social justice issues.
Pope Francis therefore has four options. He can allow the Church to decentralise its theology, and risk losing the core of Catholicism. He can try to spread different theological messages to different regions, which is not sustainable given global communication. He can focus on salvaging the Church in the North, and risk alienating the South. Or he can focus on building the Church in the South, and risk losing the North.
In the long run, if the World Values Survey is accurate, the South will gradually develop as the North has. And unlike Islamic States, who can impose their religion by force, the Catholic Church would not get away with that. This is all a much wider picture than the sex crimes that the Church has covered up in recent decades.
If you are interested in the demographics and future of the Catholic Church, one very useful source is ‘The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church’ by John L Allen Jnr. published in 2009.
If you are interested in world value demographics generally with religious and secular-rational implications, there is a wealth of information at the World Values Survey website.