Re-Christianize Europe? Really?

I read with some interest and head-scratching the story on that the sex abuse scandal exploding in Europe will likely imperil Pope Benedict’s project to “re-Christianize” Europe, and help it reclaim its Christian heritage.

I don’t disagree with the premise; a scandal of this magnitude will not send people flocking to the church. But I’m not sure what Pope Benedict was been doing before this scandal erupted to “re-Christianize” Europe.

I know there were attempts to name the Christian heritage of Europe in a draft of a European Constitution (which were defeated), and I’m sure he meets with plenty of Europeans to promote his message.

But “re-Christianizing Europe” -- as a concept -- means a lot more than that. It implies making Christianity exciting to follow, breathing new life into the ancient tradition. I frankly can’t think of anything this Pope has done to make Christianity so exciting and compelling that unchurched Catholics would stream back, or others would seek to join the church. On the other hand, I can think of lots of things he has done that drive people away… even before the current scandal. Trying to turn back Vatican II, re-admitting a holocaust-denying bishop, approving an unwarranted investigation of American nuns… just to name a few.

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Actually, when I hear this phrase “re-Christianizing Europe,” I think of the hundreds of active Catholic Europeans that I have known over the years. What would make them excited about the Church again would be a strong program to promote human rights and economic justice in the world. Revive the social justice message of Catholicism… promote peace, and organize young people to do all that. Wow! Now that’s worth talking about.

And oh yes, a few fundamental church reforms would help as well: optional celibacy, women priests, the election of bishops, etc.

But without a vibrant emphasis on justice, a spirituality of justice and peace, and a recognition that the church needs fundamental reform, it’s all just more of the same…

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