May 12, 2005

When in Rome

Boise Weekly


By now, everyone knows that the Roman Catholic Church lost a pope and gained a pope in recent weeks. Likewise, there are few who aren't aware of the public relations trouble the Catholic Church has been having in recent years-and not just long-running sociopolitical issues such as birth control and abortion, but also sexual abuse scandals and apparent concealment from high up, both globally and locally.

The bright spotlight of attention-with both genuine interest and schadenfreude-has raised questions about the direction and future of the Catholic Church. Public perception, from within the church and without, and the short- and long-term outlook of this powerful church are in question.

In the last 35 years, the church's demographic has drastically evolved. The largest percentage of the world's Catholics is in Latin America, the smallest in North America. The greatest increase in Catholic population in that time has been in Africa, which, while making up only 13 percent of the world's Catholics, has more than doubled its percentage in the past three decades. Numbers are up in that same period in Asia (at nearly 12 percent) and Latin America (43 percent), and down in Europe, Catholicism's traditional home turf.

According to Father Ronald Wekerle, vicar general for the Diocese of Idaho and pastor for St. Jerome's Parish in Jerome, numbers of Catholics in Idaho are holding and perhaps slightly increasing. As the population grows, Wekerle told BW, the percentages may decrease, but the numbers haven't. Last year, nearly 500 people were brought into the Catholic Church in Idaho, and as of 2004, the in-state congregation was 146,000 strong.

This past February, it came to light that Deacon Robert Howell, formerly a lay minister at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Northwest Boise, pled guilty last November to the charge of possession of child pornography (and received an 18-month prison sentence). What had St. Mary's parishioners upset was that the bishop of the Boise diocese, the Rev. Michael Patrick Driscoll, did not disclose Howell's crimes until nearly four months after the guilty plea. Predictably, Catholics in St. Mary's and beyond were angered at what they perceived as being kept in the dark.

Posted by kshaw at May 12, 2005 05:30 AM