Future of the Catholic Church

June 7, 2013 • Volume 23, Issue 21
Can Pope Francis handle the church's many problems?
By Marcia Clemmitt


Pope Francis, the first Latin American to head the Catholic Church (AFP/Getty Images/Andreas Solaro)
Pope Francis, the first Latin American to head the Catholic Church, faces a long list of problems besetting the 1.1-billion-member church, including slowing membership growth in the traditional Catholic strongholds of Europe and North America. (AFP/Getty Images/Andreas Solaro)

On March 13, the College of Cardinals elected 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, as the new pope — the first Latin American ever to head the Roman Catholic Church. As Pope Francis, he leads a 1.1-billion-member institution that has become a major presence on every inhabited continent. While church membership growth has been dramatic in Africa, Asia and Latin America, it has been slowing in the traditional Catholic strongholds of Europe and North America. Francis faces a long list of other problems, including the church's waning spiritual influence, partly due to the Vatican's lax response to sexual abuse by priests, mishandled funds at the Vatican bank and, especially in the United States, widening rifts between traditional and liberal Catholics over issues such as gay marriage and women's ordination.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 28, 2022  Church and State
May 29, 2020  Christians in the Mideast
Sep. 28, 2018  Christianity in America
Jun. 23, 2017  Future of the Christian Right
Jun. 07, 2013  Future of the Catholic Church
Jan. 2011  Crisis in the Catholic Church
Sep. 21, 2007  Rise of Megachurches
Sep. 14, 2001  Evangelical Christians
Feb. 26, 1999  Future of the Papacy
Dec. 11, 1998  Searching for Jesus
Jul. 22, 1988  The Revival of Religion in America
Dec. 02, 1983  Christmas Customs and Origins
Jun. 10, 1983  Martin Luther After 500 Years
Aug. 08, 1975  Year of Religion
Jul. 26, 1972  Fundamentalist Revival
Jan. 04, 1967  Religion in Upheaval
Aug. 03, 1966  Religious Rivalries in South Viet Nam
Nov. 11, 1964  Church Tax Exemption
Aug. 05, 1964  Catholic Schools
Oct. 14, 1963  Churches and Social Action
Jun. 19, 1963  Vatican Policy in a Revolutionary World
Jan. 05, 1962  Rome and Christian Unity
Mar. 26, 1958  Church-Related Education
Dec. 18, 1957  Church Consolidation
Jun. 05, 1957  Evangelism in America
Jun. 23, 1955  Religious Boom
Aug. 13, 1952  Church Unity in America
Feb. 12, 1947  Relations with the Vatican
Dec. 21, 1923  The New Schism in the Church and the Immaculate Conception
Religion and Politics