Towards implosion?: this is the title (the question mark here is only there for the form) of a book, a compilation of “interviews on the present and future of Catholicism”, between Danièle Hervieu-Léger, sociologist of religions, Head of Studies at the École des Hautes-Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), and Jean-Louis Schlegel, sociologist of religions, former Director of the review Esprit.
The pair discusses Hervieu-Léger’s long time diagnostic saying that an “exculturation » of Catholicism took place: the relation between Catholic culture and common culture has broken apart and the fault lies with what is old-fashion in Catholicism: the Church of Vatican II, after having opened a breech to bring Catholicism closer with the modern world, afraid of her own audacity, suddenly stopped. Hervieu-Leger and Schlegel, both pessimistic, consider that the reforms they see as necessary (married clergy, women priesthood, among others) will not happen and that it is actually too late now. Catholicism will simply not survive an internal crisis, they say, which saw the collapse of the three pillars of Catholicism: monopoly of truth, territorial coverage with a network of parishes, and centrality of the priest as a sacred person.
For them, the fracture between two types of Catholicism – what Hervieu-Léger calls “a line of schism” – is between two distinct Catholic populations, yet both shifting. The reality is rather about “diversity, plurality, rupture”. Catholicism, they say, is experiencing an increasing phenomenon of “diasporization », but which does not fall within the same logic of the Jewish, Armenian, Lebanese etc. diasporas, with their small communities established on foreign soil. In their analysis, the small Catholic communities have become diaspora communities right here, on a land which has so to speak become estranged to them, and this happened as they stood there. We are told, they will have to deal with the many internal tensions, and it could actually be an “opportunity” – at this point, the projections of the authors become vague – as long as these “diasporic” communities reinvent a “widely creative” tradition where episcopal authorities would only be retained to show sign of “communion”, a rather weak one probably. In short, if we understood well, since the Vatican II dynamic though energized by Francis (hindered by the “Curia”, as we know…) has failed institutionally, then success will now come in the form of an implosion of Catholicism.
Except that… Except that both Hervieu-Léger and Schlegel give a lot of attention to the “conservatory” sphere, speaking like Yann Raison du Cleuziou (Qui sont les cathos aujourd’hui, Desclée de Brouwer, 2014) which to a certain extent, has resisted the internal secularization of Catholicism. They agree that the existence of this particular sphere forces sociologists of their generation to correct their analysis. But, according to them, the most obvious of the resistance put up by this conservatory [and most exasperating for those who support the attacks of Traditionis custodes], that is the continuous “traditionalisation” of the candidates to the priesthood – the traditionalist leaning clergy and the Saint Martin Community will represent 20 to 40% of the French clergy in 2050 – makes almost no difference, because this represents a minimal clerical addition. Minimal, sure! But only relatively, because Catholicism has itself become minimal in society, a reality the authors hammer home to us.
Don Pio Pace