"[There] is a...disturbing possibility: namely, that the Catholic church could be failing - yet again - to deal with the challenge of modernity."You don't say. This, however, isn't what caught my attention but rather the following remark that jolted a piece of social history from my long-term memory archive:
"In the 19th and 20th centuries, it struggled to adapt to an increasingly educated and questioning faithful, now in the 21st century, it's in danger of failing the great challenge of how we forge new ways of accommodating difference in a crowded, mobile world."It was the mobility thing. As if this is new. I think she'd find that social mobility played a rather larger part in the demise of the church in the 19th and twentieth century than she thinks - and rather less weight should be given to the faithful becoming more educated and questioning.
It's not her fault, really. It's a sort of Dawkinesque middle-class myth that the poor plebs had their intellectual shackles broken by Darwin. What did for the church as much as anything else was the rapid process of urbanisation in the 19th century. That and the rise of other entertainments. The impact of evolution and advances in Biblical criticism was not as great as these.
This reminded me of one interesting feature of Catholicism: in Scotland, anyway, the Catholic church did much better, and still does, in holding on to its working class communicants than the Church of Scotland. One controversial suggestion I came across was that priestly celibacy may have been a significant factor here. Presbyterian ministers can marry and those that did tended to keep a certain bourgeois distance from their parishioners compared to their Roman Catholic counterparts.
So maybe history will show it was the sexual revolution, rather than the industrial revolution that proceeded it, that robbed the Catholic church of this institution that once gave it an advantage? Because - and if you'll pardon the expression - it seems these days the Catholic church can't find priests for love nor money.