The bishop responsible for evangelisation in England and Wales has questioned the Pope’s decision to create a New Evangelisation council.
Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme, appeared to say that the Pontifical Council for New Evangelisation, which focuses on re-evangelising Europe, is superfluous.
He also said he was not convinced by the notion that secularisation lies at the heart of the Church’s decline in Europe.
He said: “I think the Church has a problem in its own proclamation of the Gospel and you wonder why you’d set up this office for evangelisation anyway, because the whole mission of the Church is evangelisation, the proclamation of the Gospel. I don’t think we’re doing that terribly well.”
Bishop Conry said that the Church had become “simply irrelevant” for many people.
He said: “My own personal opinion — I would stress that this is a personal opinion — is that I am not entirely convinced by this secularisation argument. It suggests that the Church’s problems are external, in other words society has gone wrong, but the Church is fine.”
The Church, he said, had “failed to put across its own message in a way that’s accessible enough”, because many people in Britain felt “spiritual”, but not “faithful”, and did not “have a belief in a personal God”.
Bishop Conry said: “It’s authoritative. It’s intolerant. It’s demanding. It’s exclusive. I think the Church has got to re-present itself rather than simply blame everything on the ills of society.”
He said he thought it needed “to become a little more tolerant, accessible, welcoming, compassionate. All the things that, for many people, it is not.”
When he was asked whether the new curial department had been created because of a fear that Islam might overtake Christianity as Europe’s religion, Bishop Conry said: “That’s interesting. When I met the Pope recently – I met the Pope in January – I was talking about the state of the nation, as it were, and I mentioned in this part of the country there were growing numbers of Muslims wanting to get into Catholic schools, for instance, and his only question was: ‘Is there fundamentalism?’
“And I said, ‘No, no. Muslims want the same as us: they want schools. They want housing. They want jobs.’ I don’t know what concern there is there. There may be, but I suspect it’s simply the fact that numbers in the west appear to be declining quite radically. Numbers of Catholics that is in church on a Sunday.”