Besides the Catholic youth festival expected to draw a million faithful from around the world, the Pope is concerned about the decline of interest in Catholicism even in staunchly religious countries like Ireland where church attendance has dropped to about 50% in 2011 from 85% in 1990; and Spain where more than 80% declare that they are Catholics, but more than two-thirds rarely attend services.
Are the numerous scandals from sex to money responsible for low church attendance, is it the deep recession and the lack of upward mobility opportunities, is it secular education and secular culture (especially TV and web) undermining the church, or is it the realization on the part of more and more people that there is a connection between the hypocrisy in political and economic elites linked to the religious elites; hypocrisy of 'do as I say and no as I do'; hypocrisy of values and 'myths' of hope for this life or the next that no longer appeal to many among the masses?
Does the world need a Catholic 'World Youth Day celebration' or answers to the realities of what is confronting the youth, Catholic and non-Catholic alike? In Spain, for example, the youth are experiencing 40% unemployment, and collectively have no hope of life better than that of their parents. Do the 'Indignant' masses of Spain need to pray? Absolutely they do, but for good paying jobs, social services that are cut, social security system, and a material life that is not hell on earth.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has eased divorce laws, restrictions on abortion, legalized same-sex marriage and allows gay couples to adopt children, all policies the Papacy opposes. But such measures are not enough to appease a country that has adopted austerity measures to keep bond speculators from raising interest rates and making it difficult for the government to borrow.
To his redit, the Pope denounced the 'unethical practices of the market economy', but not the market economy that is by nature unethical. His suggestion that market needs to have an anthropocentric (humanist) orientation that aims toward the 'common good' is inherently and diametrically opposed to the market economy.
More telling of the Pope's message to the youth at this world conference was his advice that young people must 'keep the faith', which is like telling the undergraduate who just failed the test, 'don't worry, God loves you!' The 'feel good about yourself by keeping the faith' mindset that the Pope tried to inculcate is hat he should be doing, but is this all the Vatican can offer amid a structural socioeconomic and political crisis that plagues the world? Is everything a matter of ethics, and religious ethics at that, to the exclusion of material life itself?
At the risk of sounding Lutheran, although I was educated by Jesuits, the Vatican needs to reform itself and then propose possible reforms for secular institutions. The Pope needs to find his own moral compass and then share his humanist vision with the faithful. The Catholic Church needs to join with the indignant masses in the struggle for social justice on this earth and worry less about spiritual salvation in the next world. Only then will the faithful have confidence in the institution and accept its spiritual leadership. Only then will the numbers of Catholics attending services rise as the Vatican wants. The same holds true for all religions throughout the world.