This has been a dreadful year for the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. Across the continent, churches are suffering from sexual scandals of a kind long familiar in the United States. European media commonly present the picture of a systematic church crisis and ask how—or if—the church can recover. Will the scandals irreparably destroy Catholic authority? Will they drive millions away from the church? Will they lead believers to divert their giving to secular causes, devastating church finances?
Actually, these questions confuse cause and effect. While abuse scandals may well thin church numbers and subvert the Vatican’s political influence, they are symptoms of secularization as much as causes. If the Catholic consensus had not been so badly undermined already, stories of clerical abuse would not have appeared in the media and would have had nothing like the effect they did.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.