An interesting article in the New York Times today about Catholic house-churches. These are small communities of Catholics in Europe that are frustrated (or have lost faith) in the institutional Roman Catholic Church, and are creating their own churches (in this case in Beglium and Holland). Of course, this is strictly forbidden in the RCC since it is a hierarchical form of Christianity. All churches lead to Rome. But in Western Europe, the forms of Christianity that are growing are these independent, break-away churches, while the institutional church is dying on the vine. Why is this happening? From the article:
They are an uneasy reaction to a combination of forces: a shortage of priests, the closing of churches, dissatisfaction with Vatican appointments of conservative bishops and, most recently, dismay over cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests.
This is part of the crisis of European Catholicism. A lack of priests to preside over the Parishes and serve communion---yet women and lay people are not allowed to serve the elements. Then there is the fact that beliefs of the RCC are out of line with what most Europeans believe (whether on issues such as ordained women, birth control, or homosexuality). And then there are the sexual scandals combined with the institutional cover-up in many European countries that are creating mass cynicism and disgust with the institutional church.
But there's deeper issues at foot. One that is striking even Protestant institutions:
“We are looking for ways to live faith in a modern way,” said Karel Ceule, a Lier member. “If you look at the crisis today with Archbishop Léonard, he is a symbol of an old, conservative church. In Flanders, this doesn’t work anymore. We have reached a stage of history where we don’t accept that the priest has to be the go-between. We want to take charge of baptisms and communion.”
There is a push toward de-centralization which we see in Protestantism with its post-denominationalism. We also see a break from the church as it was in an effort to have it relate better to a post-modern culture. In this case, the home-made service uses young people and they bring in something secular into the sacred:
Almost 150 people gathered around him for a service organized by teenage members who picked a theme of peace and music from John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
This also mirrors the route many Protestant churches are taking in the missional/emerging movement.
In France, some of the fastest growing churches are Charismatic Roman Catholic Churches. These, of course, exist throughout the non-Western world, particularly in Latin America and the Philippines. The RCC is not happy about it. But now this phenomenon is growing in Western Europe. This is fascinating because one would expect this charismatic Catholicism in places with a strong indigenous religious presence (like Africa), but not in the heart of modern secularism---France.
The level of spirituality and interest in spirituality in Europe is continually underestimated. What is clear is that the institutional church--particularly the largest--the Roman Catholic Church--is in severe crisis. But that is not the whole story.