Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Pope and statistics

The Pope Emeritus, Benedict, conditioned by his experience of Catholicism in Europe, imagined a Church in decline or retreat, so pulling up the drawbridge, the faithful remnant, anchored in a renewed idealized faith, would keep the circulating secular wolves at bay.

The new Pope Francis, conditioned by his experience of Catholicism in Latin America, imagines the Church as an abiding presence in the midst of the world, so Catholics should be confident, outward looking and engaged, after all the secular wolves are, in fact, ineffectually snapping from the sidelines, unable to make significant inroads amongst the thronging sheep!

Neither I expect based their views on the actual numbers but had they done so, Pope Francis would be more nearly right than his predecessor - one in every seventh person in the world is a self-reporting Catholic. If current trends hold, in 2050, one in every seventh person will be a self-reporting Catholic. I know this because on my desk is a thorough piece of number crunching that tells me so (though, of course, past performance is not always an indicator of the future). It is heartening, however, that the researchers themselves were surprised by this (and I am surprised that it is only every ten years or so that anybody asks them to conduct research of this kind, especially since none of it was original. They only used extant sources)!

Now, of course, the figures do demonstrate all kinds of regional variation. Europe does have the flavor that Benedict attributed to the Church as a whole (that only goes to show that, as with other areas of life, the locus of  the world, the engine of its history, is no longer located in Europe. It has gone multi-polar in fascinating and challenging ways - especially if you are a multi-national organization, like the Church)!

Nor do statistics answer the deeper question of if vibrant and vital, vibrant and vital for what?

However, I was struck, as many times before, with our ability to prioritize our 'experience' over evidence; and, how we all build walls around that experience to ensure that it bears only the reality our assumptions wish to welcome.

It is a powerful reminder of the absence in public life of evidence based decision making.

Leaders, to manipulate T.S. Eliot, cannot bear reality any more than the rest of us!

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