The ultimate beneficiaries of Pope Benedict’s reign may well turn out to be less authoritarian denominations, such as the Episcopalians or the ELCA. And more than a few Catholics will simply stay home on Sunday, joining the ever-growing class of the religiously unaffiliated. Even my own UCC stands to pick up some members: we’re strong in places like Massachusetts, where there are lots of disaffected Catholics looking for a change. But we’re also in places like, well, rural Wisconsin, where there aren’t many liberal-to-moderate alternatives.
In any case, what should be apparent is that Ratzinger has no idea how to respond to the many crises facing his church. His stock solution – tighten up on the controls – only exacerbates the other problems, particularly in the US and Europe. I’d hate to put numbers on it, but my guess is that Catholicism is in for a rocky few years, perhaps decades, if its leaders don’t get the idea that people just aren’t that into heavy-handed autocracies anymore.