The new pope will have his work cut out for him as he faces declining numbers in Europe:
[A]cross Europe, Catholicism is withering after decades of steady erosion from the forces of secularism, consumer culture, and the fallout from priest sex abuse scandals.
In some of Catholic Europe's largest dioceses in Germany, France, Italy, and Ireland, the percentage of Catholics who attend Mass regularly has slipped to as low as 20 percent, and in a few cities, like Paris, has reached as low as the single digits, according to figures compiled by the church.
The new pope, Benedict XVI, who hails from Germany, has said that the erosion of the church in Europe is one of the greatest challenges facing his papacy. He has called on Catholics to resist ''a dictatorship of relativism" in the modern, secular West that he believes has damaged the Christian foundation of Europe.
In his just-published book, ''Values in Times of Upheaval," the pope, who was then still known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, ruminated on the besieged soul of Christian Europe. ''In order to survive, Europe needs a critical acceptance of its Christian culture. Europe seems, in the very moment of its greatest success, to have become empty from the inside. Crippled, as it were," he writes.
My opinion on this is very mixed. As someone who is not a Catholic and who views it as a false way to Christ, I certainly do not support a flourishing Catholic Church. At the same time, for cultural reasons I would much rather see a Catholic Europe than a relativistic atheistic Europe. My opinion is that Europe must sink further into decadence before it will be interested in being redeemed again. That's a process likely to take a few more hundred years. Right now the doors of opportunity seem to be in the second and third worlds rather than in the first.