The Catholic Church is a global church.
And for the 1.2 billion adherents to the faith worldwide, it is a decisive moment. The faithful are looking to a new pope to bring a time of healing — and better governance — to a church tarnished by scandal and deeply divided.
Some would argue that the priest sex abuse scandals have cracked the moral and financial foundation of the church and weakened its structure to a point that lends itself to historical comparisons with the Protestant Reformation.
Throughout Europe and North America, the Catholic Church is seeing attendance slip, priests are aging and dying off as the church struggles to be relevant as a moral voice.
But many other Catholics are hopeful, knowing that the church is resilient and as important as ever particularly in caring for the world’s sick and poor. The church runs a vast global network of hospitals and schools and for many of the world’s most destitute it is priests and nuns who provide a lifeline of support.
Indeed the church is growing rapidly in the global south.
Over the last century, the distribution of Catholics has shifted from Europe to Africa and Latin America. In 1910, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, about 70 percent of all Catholics lived in Europe and North America. But now, the Pew data reveals, that the statistic has completely reversed. Today nearly 70 percent of the world’s Catholics live in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
In this GlobalPost Special Report, we are taking a look at “A Global Church” and the challenges that lie ahead for a new pope.
Our coverage is led by GlobalPost religion writer Jason Berry, who is in Rome covering the conclave and assessing what this historic papal transition means for the church.
Berry has been reporting on the church for more than 30 years, and is widely credited as one of the first reporters to break open the priest sex abuse scandal and how the corruption and moral failings led to the highest levels of the church. Berry, who is himself Catholic, also sees the strength of the church in the good works it does in many places around the world.
GlobalPost correspondents in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia will be filing stories to provide context and enlightenment on the biggest issues facing the global church.
This project and our overall coverage of religion is funded in large part by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and other foundations that provide valuable support for GlobalPost Special Reports. As with all of our foundation-funded Special Reports, GlobalPost maintains complete editorial independence in its reporting.
We hope you will follow our coverage as it unfolds from the white smoke as it appears above the Sistine Chapel signaling the election of a new pope to the smell of incense in the largely empty churches of Ireland and Canada. We hope you’ll follow our reports from the teeming streets of Manila to the poorest villages of Nigeria and the favelas of Sao Paolo as GlobalPost and its correspondents set out to understand what is truly a global church.
By Charles M. Sennott
Executive Editor and co-founder