History of Church: Late Modern 1789-2009

John Francis Broderick, Frank J Coppa, William Roberts. New Catholic Encyclopedia Supplement 2010. Editor: Robert L Fastiggi. Volume 1. Detroit: Gale, 2010.

The centuries from the Age of Revolutions (the French and Industrial Revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century) to the opening of the third millennium ushered in profound economic, social, and political changes. Although the effect of these developments has been uneven, with the passage of time almost every corner of the world has felt their impact. The widespread technological innovations flowing from the Scientific Revolution, giving rise to urbanization and secularization, influenced religion in general and the Roman Catholic Church in particular.

The Church has found some external changes beneficial, others harmful. Western civilization, increasingly secularized in its ideals and practices, has continued to drift away from the Church that was largely instrumental in creating it and to which it had been intimately united for centuries. The problem of adjusting to the radically new conditions of civilization remains critical. Throughout this entire period, persecutions have persisted, never more violent and destructive than in the twentieth century. Despite this, indeed partly because of it, the Church has become a more spiritual and more closely knit organization, under the primacy of the popes.

In civil society, nationalism swelled to ominous proportions; it has been extolled as a kind of religion, but its fruits have often been hatred and bloodshed. Ecclesiastical particularism, on the other hand, shrank to minimal proportions with the disappearance of Gallicanism, Febronianism, and Josephinism, which in the eighteenth century had been the bane of the universal Church. Inner threats to unity in the form of heresies and schisms were few and gained few adherents. Religious indifferentism within the fold and leakage of individuals from it have, however, been sources of great concern. Counterbalancing these losses there have been great numerical gains as the Church spread worldwide as the result of large-scale emigration from Catholic Europe and of unparalleled missionary activity.

The more important developments and the most characteristic trends are outlined here. (For the ecclesiastical history of individual nations, see the entries on each country of the world.)

From 1789 to 1815

France has for centuries played a significant role in the Church’s life, but never before or since has it monopolized the stage to the extent that it did between the outbreak of the French Revolution and the downfall of Napoleon I. As a political and social upheaval, the Revolution was of major importance in world history. From the religious viewpoint, it was scarcely of less moment for the Church, both in France and elsewhere. Fittingly, therefore, this event is selected as inaugurating a turning point in the Church’s history. After abolishing clerical privileges, nationalizing Church properties, and suppressing religious orders, the Constitutional Assembly enacted the civil constitution of the clergy, which created a SCHISM and split France religiously into two hostile camps. As time went on, leadership in the Revolution fell into the hands of men bitterly hostile to the Church, more intent on destroying than reforming it. An attempt was made to dechristianize the country by violent persecution, wholesale iconoclasm, reorganization of the calendar, imprisonment and deportation of the clergy, separation of Church and state, and propagation of a series of naturalistic, patriotic cults as substitutes for Christianity. As their crowning attack on religion, the revolutionists stripped Pope Pius VI of his temporal power, seized him, and marched him captive to southern France, where he died a prisoner.

Victorious revolutionary armies swept into the Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, where they imposed the French innovations. Throughout the nineteenth century, the aspirations of the Revolution kept spreading through Europe and the New World. The French Revolution afforded, then, a preview of what was in store for the Church. Reconciliation with the principles of 1789 posed for the Church a major problem that was not solved completely a century later. Even this span of years did not suffice to close the rift in French society opened during the revolutionary decade. The heirs of the great Revolution were the republicans, liberals, and anticlericals of the nineteenth century. Loyal Catholics tended to link democracy with godlessness; in good part their politics were conservative and monarchist. They resisted the ralliement and formed the backbone of action Française.

When Napoleon Bonaparte gained control of revolutionary France, he turned it into a military dictatorship and an instrument of his boundless ambitions. After his military genius had subjected most of western Europe, he introduced into the conquered territories the ideology of the Revolution, whose devotee he claimed to be. Napoleon, a man of little or no Christian faith, utilized religion to promote his state policies. Since political considerations counseled the restoration of religious peace in France, he concluded with the Holy See the Concordat of 1801, which regulated Church-state relations for a century, and which served as a model for numerous other concordats during the nineteenth century. Many of the benefits accorded to the Church by the Concordat of 1801 were withdrawn as soon as they were given, by Bonaparte’s unilateral action in publishing the Organic Articles.

In Italy, Napoleon arranged a concordat on similar terms. He was mainly responsible for the vast secularization of ecclesiastical territories in Germany. Had Napoleon attained his goals, Paris would have replaced Rome as the center of the Church and the pope would have become his chaplain. When the first consul decided to become emperor, he humiliated Pius VII by inviting him to Paris to attend the coronation ceremony in Notre Dame as simply a spectator who had to watch the emperor crown himself. In retaliation for the Holy See’s refusal to ally with France and join the Continental Blockade, the emperor seized the states of the church and held Pius VII captive (1809-1814) until military reversals sent Bonaparte to exile in Elba.

Ecclesiastical Restoration

Following the Battle of Waterloo (1815) came a period of restoration for the Church, as well as for European governments. At the Congress of Vienna, attended by Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, the papal secretary of state, the victorious powers undertook to revive, as far as possible, the ancien régime. In their endeavor to stabilize conservative monarchical governments in power, they disposed of thrones and territories on the principle of legitimacy. Political considerations predominated; but the Church, particularly the papacy, became a major beneficiary. The statesmen at Vienna were well aware that the absolutist rulers who had weakened the Church in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had unwittingly undermined their own thrones in the process, as events after 1789 demonstrated.

The conclusion was that throne and altar are best united. A much more benign attitude toward religion came into vogue. As a result, the allied powers that had watched unmoved when Pius VII was deprived of his temporal power and detained as a prisoner decreed the return of most of the States of the Church. Not all the decisions at Vienna were of this tenor, to be sure. Catholic Belgium was united with Holland and subjected to the Protestant House of Orange. Most of Poland passed to Russia. German lay rulers, generally Protestants, were allowed to retain their recently acquired ecclesiastical principalities.

In this changed atmosphere, Pius VII restored the Jesuits throughout the world in 1814, soon after his release from Fontainebleau; he was able to take this step without objection from the royal courts that had exerted strong pressure on Pope Clement XIV to suppress the Jesuits in 1773. The situation allowed the badly disrupted Church to reorganize itself in Europe and in the mission fields. It was very significant that the papacy, the authority of which had been much weakened since the mid-seventeenth century, took the lead in this process. From this point, there was an upswing in papal spiritual power, a pronounced trend toward centralization of ecclesiastical administrative power in Rome, and an unquestioned exercise of papal primacy of jurisdiction throughout the Church. These were among the most significant developments of the century. The concordats and other agreements that were concluded by the Holy See were an important part of this reorganization.

Not surprisingly, the Church regarded the Restoration regime with favor, just as it had looked askance at the French Revolution and what it represented. The alliance of throne and altar had serious disadvantages that became more apparent in succeeding decades. After 1815, the Church was identified in many minds with the reactionary Restoration; the reorganization of the States of the Church along the lines of the ancien régime did nothing to dispel this notion. Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773-1859), the leading exponent of the political Restoration, hoped that this edifice would be an enduring one; yet revolutionary outbreaks in Latin America in the 1820s and in Europe in 1830 soon weakened its foundation. It could not withstand the explosions of nationalistic and constitutional furies of 1848, promoted by the liberals, to whom belonged the future.

Church and Liberalism

Liberalism and its manifold relations with the Church provided the main themes for nineteenth-century ecclesiastical history. Liberalism is a broad but vague term that defies precise definition; its connotations varied in different countries and in different decades. In general, the liberal outlook favored a minimum of restrictions on individual liberty in private and public life, and defended a maximum of freedom for the individual in his social, economic, and religious existence and in his relations to the state. This viewpoint was rooted in rationalism; it was based, therefore, on an ideology sharply at variance with the Catholic one. The liberals upheld the ideals of the French Revolution and abhorred those of the Restoration.

The trend in the nineteenth century was toward constitutional regimes, popular sovereignty, broadening of the suffrage, complete religious liberty, equality for all citizens, abolition of established churches and of clerical privileges, separation of Church and state, and assumption by the government of functions formerly exercised by the Church. Thus, the civil power came to claim control over marriage, charitable endeavors, public welfare, and education. The tendency was to view the Church as a society within the state, part of it and subject to it like other societies, inferior to the state even in the religious sphere. This trend found its strongest supporters among the liberals, who looked upon the Church’s conservatism as a major obstacle to their victory. Religious and philosophical propositions fundamental to doctrinaire liberalism attracted the ire of the Church in the Mirari vos (On Liberalism and Religious Indifferentism, 1832), the Syllabus of Errors (1864), Quanta cura (Condemning Current Errors, 1864), and other notable papal pronouncements.

A group of Catholic liberals (or democratic Catholics), particularly in France, quickly foresaw the perils to the Church in aligning itself with forces destined for proximate oblivion. Hugues Félicité Robert de Lamennais was the pioneer in seeking an accommodation with the new order developing out of the French Revolution. His program advocated freedom of education, of association, and of the press. Still more revolutionary to the Church of his day was his advocacy of complete religious liberty and complete separation of Church and state. Among his principal disciples, Lamennais counted Olympe-Philippe Gerbet, Thomas-Marie-Joseph Gousset (1792-1866), Prosper Guéranger, Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire, Charles-Forbes-René de Montalembert, and René François Rohrbacher. In some respects, Lamennais was a man of prophetic vision. Unfortunately, he advanced his proposals in exaggerated fashion and mixed them with a good deal of unsound theology. The conservative Pope Gregory XVI solemnly condemned them in Mirari vos (1832) and Singulari nos (On the Errors of Lamennais, 1834).

In France, the hierarchy and the majority of the laity sided with the pope, and the cause of liberal Catholicism accordingly suffered a serious but not universal setback. In Belgium, Catholics joined forces with liberals to win independence in 1830 and to draft a liberal constitution. Daniel O’Connell, who led the successful struggle in Great Britain for Catholic Emancipation (1829), and who then started an unsuccessful drive to repeal Ireland’s legislative union with England, represented a decidedly liberal outlook.

Liberals, drawing their strength mainly from the middle class, came to control several countries, particularly from the mid-nineteenth century to World War I (1914-1918). In Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Latin America, their rule was hostile to the Church and characterized by anticlericalism, sometimes of the most extreme type. In Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, they supported the Kulturkampf.

Political Organization of Catholics

A striking modern innovation has been the organization of Catholics for political purposes. The Catholic Association, started in 1823 in Ireland by Daniel O’Connell to win emancipation, was a pioneer. With the growth of representative government and of political parties, along with the need for Catholics to band together to further their rights, Catholic political parties were formed in several western European countries, notably in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. These groups were not always professedly confessional; this was true of the best known of them, the Center Party in Germany, which was succeeded after World War II (1939-1945) by the Christian Democratic Party. Christian Democracy became more prominent after 1918. In France after 1945, the Mouvement Républicain Populaire became important.

Political Developments after 1918

Following World War I, a series of national and international political upheavals confronted the Church, with new and delicate problems of the first magnitude replacing those associated with liberalism. Exaggerated nationalism was a major factor in the outbreak of two world conflicts a quarter of a century apart, separated by a great economic crisis, and followed by the division of the globe into two violently hostile ideological groups with an “iron curtain” between them and by the increasing importance and independence of non-Western peoples in Africa and Asia. Western Europe became less prominent in the Church, although the gradient of this descent by no means paralleled the steepness of the political, economic, and intellectual declines.

Particularly significant was the rise of fascism in Italy under Benito Mussolini. This dictatorial regime laid to rest the Roman question, yet it kept relations with the Holy See in a state of uneasy tension for two decades. National Socialism, under Adolf HITLER, was much more hostile to religion ideologically and subjected the Church in Germany to severe persecution. More important for the Church in the long run was the rise of Socialism and communism.

Socialism and Communism

The spread of the Industrial Revolution, along with the shortcomings of prevailing liberalism, impelled the formulation of plans to reorganize society that were far more radical and sweeping than those propounded by the French Revolution. Progress in preventing and controlling diseases resulted in rapid population increases. Technological innovations sped the multiplication of factories, one of the effects of which was urbanization. To the industrial centers came masses of poorly educated persons who settled in squalid slums. There, the labor of men, women, and children was ruthlessly exploited by members of a greedy middle class, indifferent to the welfare of their employees and intent on accumulating for themselves maximum profits under a capitalistic system that favored fierce, open competition, minimal state control of individualism, and slight governmental efforts at social legislation. The disparity in wealth and political power between the minority who owned the means of production and the proletarian majority of wage earners was glaring and became ever more irritating.

Socialism arose as a solution to the evils connected with private property. In general, the Socialists aimed to improve society on the basis of public ownership of the means of production, but they differed widely among themselves in principles and, still more, in the application of them. In addition to contriving theories, Socialists became active in politics and in the labor movement. Socialist political parties rose to prominence in several European countries in the second half of the nineteenth century and continued to be important thereafter.

Some Socialists were Christians, but very many of them ignored Christianity or attacked it. Neither Claude Henri de Saint-Simon, the father of French Socialism, nor his leading disciples considered themselves Christians. Pierre Proudhon (1809-1865) assailed all religions, and Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) preached atheism. Communism evolved out of the theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as a completely materialistic and militantly atheistic system. Pius IX, Leo XIII, and succeeding popes condemned the basic errors in Socialism and Communism. In return, both of these groups regarded the Church as their most stalwart foe and entered into bitter struggle against it. For huge numbers in the working class, Socialism served as a substitute for Christianity or as a religion in itself; it caused large-scale defections from Catholicism and, even more, from Protestantism. After World War I, Communists established themselves in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Subsequent to World War II, they came to rule several countries in Eastern Europe as well as China. Persecution of all religion, particularly of the Catholic religion, was the usual aftermath of these victories.

Social Catholicism

Catholics recognized the implications of the French Revolution much more quickly than they did those of the Industrial Revolution. They became actively concerned about the political and religious aspects of liberalism long before they became fully aware of the novelty, magnitude, and complexity of the problems treated by economic liberalism. Socialism thereby gained a considerable head start on Catholicism in attempting to solve the social question.

After its beginnings in predominantly Protestant Great Britain late in the eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution spread to the Continent, reaching different countries in different decades. The material distress and moral abandonment of the industrial proletariat became known quickly and roused sympathy and the desire to alleviate them. Poverty was a problem older than Christianity. It was widely believed that the traditional method of private charity, applied on an enlarged scale, was the proper and sufficient solution. Only gradually did it become clear that social justice as well as charity was involved and that structural changes in the social order were required.

Eventually a program in conformity with Catholic teachings was framed and put into practice. By that time, unfortunately, the industrialized proletariat of western Europe had become in great part alienated from the Church. The dechristianization of this group was branded by Pius IX as “the great scandal of the nineteenth century.” The result was that an entire generation or more passed its life out of contact with the Church. Valiant efforts were made later to regain them, but even the heroic sacrifices of the worker priests met with partial success at best.

Catholics did not meet the problem simultaneously everywhere, nor were their responses the same in all lands. German Catholics were among the first to resolve the question, although the Industrial Revolution penetrated Germany after reaching France and Belgium. Adolf Kolping and Bishop Wilhelm von Ketteler acted as pioneers around midcentury, and the Center Party was an early advocate of enlightened social legislation. As a result, German Catholics did not desert the Church en masse as did Protestant industrial workers, who flocked to the Social Democratic Party and adopted its Socialist, irreligious ideas. French Catholics, on the other hand, remained wedded to social conservatism, and French bishops and priests were slow in displaying interest in or comprehension of the problem; for some time, they disapproved of labor unions. Belgium also was tardy in meeting the new situation. The Church in Great Britain and the United States escaped the calamitous results visited upon France and Belgium, even though men of farsighted social vision, such as Cardinal Henry Edward MANNING of Westminster and Cardinal James GIBBONS of Baltimore, were not common.

Pius IX was preoccupied with liberalism’s political and doctrinal aspects rather than with its social and economic consequences. In Quanta cura, however, he outlined the program that Leo XIII developed much more fully in Rerum novarum (On Capital and Labor, 1891), the first thorough papal pronouncement on the subject. With this famous encyclical, the papacy assumed the leadership in supplying the Catholic solution. Succeeding popes have on many occasions amplified Leo XIII’s teachings and applied Catholic principles to new situations, most notably in the encyclicals Quadragesimo anno (On Reconstruction of the Social Order, 1931), Mater et magistra (On Christianity and Social Progress, 1961), Laborem exercens (On Human Work, 1981), and Centesimus annus (On the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum novarum, 1991).

The Popes

The recent life of the Church has centered in Rome to such an extent that an understanding of the development of the papal office and of the course of papal history is essential for a comprehension of Church history. One of the most remarkable phenomena in the entire history of the Church is the rapid change in papal fortunes subsequent to 1815. After a period of declining prestige and effectiveness that extended from the mid-seventeenth century and reached its nadir in the misfortunes of Pius VI and Pius VII, the papacy took advantage of the changed external situation and asserted effectively its spiritual authority over the universal Church to a degree never before equaled.

Once the stormy revolutionary era closed with Napoleon’s downfall, authority tended to be centralized increasingly in Rome. This trend, which became more pronounced after midcentury, reached its culmination in 1870 at Vatican council I, when the papal prerogatives of primacy of jurisdiction and infallibility were solemnly defined. Especially from the time of Pius IX, the popes have been active to an unprecedented extent in the exercise of their teaching authority. Papal temporal power, on the other hand, kept declining, until in 1870 it disappeared with the loss of the States of the Church. The Lateran Pacts (1929) resurrected this power on a very limited scale when they solved the Roman Question by creating the State of Vatican City.

After Pius VI (r. 1775-1799) and Pius VII (r. 1800-1823) came Leo XII (r. 1823-1829), Pius VIII (r. 1829-1830), Gregory XVI (r. 1831-1846), Pius IX (r. 1846-1878), Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903), Pius X (r. 1903-1914), Benedict XV (r. 1914-1922), Pius XI (r. 1922-1939), Pius XII (r. 1939-1958), John XXIII (r. 1958-1963), Paul VI (r. 1963-1978), John Paul I (r. 1978), John Paul II (r. 1978-2005), and Benedict XVI (r. 2005-). As a group, the popes from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries have been dedicated, industrious leaders, whose intellectual and spiritual qualifications were outstanding. (For the history of these pontificates, see the entries on each pope.)


Wide variations, quantitatively and qualitatively, can be observed in the inner, more important, phase of the Church’s life in various parts of the world. On the whole, there has been a decided improvement in the caliber of the clergy. The loss of ecclesiastical wealth, clerical privileges, and lofty social status, along with the democratic spirit of the recent period, have changed for the better the character of the hierarchy; it has become more plebeian but more knowledgeable and more intent on fulfilling its duties as the shepherd of souls. The day has passed when the upper strata of society monopolized bishoprics, canonries, and other higher posts, which were too often esteemed as sinecures. Much more attention has focused on ameliorating and standardizing the intellectual and spiritual training of priests in seminaries. The Holy See has made the seminary system the object of continual solicitude and of watchful supervision. Priests of the twentieth century were better prepared than their predecessors in the nineteenth century to meet the problems created by vast economic, social, and intellectual upheavals. Pastoral vision in the nineteenth century was too often narrow, and pastoral methods adjusted themselves slowly to a rapidly changing society.

Religious Institutes

One of the most conspicuous indications of the restored vitality of the nineteenth-century Church was the extraordinary progress made by religious orders and congregations. Only the thirteenth century can be compared with the nineteenth in this respect. Yet the century opened very inauspiciously for religious institutes. The age of the ENLIGHTENMENT had been one of decline for the orders, whose most conspicuous loss came in 1773 with the suppression of the Jesuits. So much religious property was seized and so many orders were dissolved in whole or in part after 1789 that most institutes had to make a fresh start after 1815.

Subsequently, the growth of existing orders and of new foundations has been steady, despite several attempts by anticlericals to stunt it in Germany and in Latin countries, notably in France. Some older orders never regained their former importance or numbers; others succeeded in doing so, only to later suffer decline. Monastic orders, which were hardest hit by secularization, were the slowest to recover. Thus the Benedictines verged on extinction for a while, but after the mid-nineteenth century they began to prosper once more. The Dominicans and Capuchins diminished greatly in numbers until a reversal set in late in the nineteenth century. The Vincentians declined to a few hundred, increased in the 1960s, and subsequently declined again. There were only a few dozen Christian Brothers left at the opening of the nineteenth century, but membership swelled in the mid-1960s. However, they proved no more able to sustain this growth than the Jesuits, who witnessed a similar resurgence and decline. Older orders of women, such as the Ursulines, Visitation Nuns, and the Daughters of Charity of St. Paul, went through similar experiences.

Numerous new congregations appeared, more so in the nineteenth than in the twentieth century. Most frequently they originated in France, Italy, or Spain, but much of the growth of the larger ones occurred outside these borders, even outside Europe. In the vast majority of cases these new institutes engaged in the active apostolate, predominantly in education, hospital work, and missionary endeavors. Several groups were founded explicitly for work in the missions. To an unprecedented extent, religious women traveled to foreign missions. The trend favored centralized, mobile, international organizations.

Among the new congregations for men, those that became best known include the Assumptionists, Blessed Sacrament Fathers, Claretians, Consolata Missionary Fathers, Divine Word Society, Holy Cross Congregation, Holy Ghost Fathers, Immaculate Heart of Mary Congregation (Scheut Fathers), La Salette Missionaries, Mariannhill Missionaries, Marianists, Marist Fathers, Montfort Fathers, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, Sacred Hearts Missionaries (of Issoudun), Sacred Heart of Jesus Priests (of Saint-Quentin), Sacred Hearts Fathers, Salvatorians, Stigmatine Fathers, Verona Fathers, Viatorians, and Xaverian Missionary Fathers. Members of John BOSCO’s Silesians and Silesian Sisters have spread throughout the globe.

Societies of men who live a common life without vows included the African Missions Society, Pallottines, Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, Precious Blood Society, and White Fathers. The Columban Fathers and St. Patrick’s Missionary Society were founded in Ireland; the Mill Hill Missionaries, in England; and the Josephite Fathers, Maryknoll Missionaries, and Paulists, in the United States. The Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle was the creation of Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston.

Several congregations of brothers were founded. Among the more prominent ones were the Brothers of Christian Instruction of Ploërmel (La Mennais Brothers), Brothers of Christian Instruction of St. Gabriel, Charity Brothers, Immaculate Conception Brothers, Lourdes Brothers, Mercy Brothers, Our Lady Mother of Mercy Brothers, Sacred Heart Brothers, and Xaverian Brothers. The Marist Brothers grew to a membership exceeding ten thousand. Ireland was the place of foundation of the Irish Christian Brothers, Patrician Brothers, and Presentation Brothers.

Congregations of women far exceeded those of men in the number of new foundations and in total membership. Women came to constitute a higher percentage of all religious than in earlier centuries. The number of groups of Benedictine sisters alone is large; so are the numerous groups of Charity, Dominican, Franciscan, Good Shepherd, Notre Dame, Precious Blood, Providence, and Sacred Heart sisters. The Society of the Sacred Heart, founded by St. Madeleine Sophie BARAT, became famous for its educational work. The School Sisters of Notre Dame blossomed into a much larger organization. The Little Sisters of the Poor greatly endeared themselves by their care of the aged and impoverished. The Mercy Sisters, founded in Ireland by Mother Catherine Mcauley, became the largest ever established in the English-speaking world. (See the entries on each of the above congregations).

Secular institutes represent a new direction in the religious life that has become more prominent since the mid-twentieth century.


Leakage and dechristianization processes have drained large numbers of the faithful. The careful surveys of religious practice that were made in the mid-twentieth century usually confirmed widely held opinions about the sizable, sometimes alarmingly high, percentage of nominal Catholics. Yet the laity have become more prominent in the life of the Church. After World War I, this became one of the most significant phenomena in the Church. Much attention has been devoted to the lay state as a special vocation and to a type of spirituality best suited to this state.

Catholic Organizations

The multiplication of flourishing Catholic organizations was another striking feature of this period. Some arose to foster particular devotions, others to promote the Church’s rights, to aid the poor and the sick, to cultivate social life, or to unite Catholic workers, tradespeople, professional persons, war veterans, students, teachers, colleges, hospitals, and other groups. Prominent among these associations were the Holy Name Society, the Legion of Mary, and the National Federation of Sodalities of Our Lady.

The vast expansion of missionary activity, now dependent on private charity for material subsistence, has given great importance to mission aid societies, such as the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Pontifical Association of the Holy Childhood, and the Missionary Union of the Clergy. Antoine Frédéric Ozanam initiated the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the charitable undertakings of which branched into numerous countries. Pax Romana and the Newman Apostolate were intended for students and intellectuals. The Görres-Gesellschaft fostered Catholic scholarship. Catholic political parties have been noted above. Catholics formed their own labor unions in addition to numerous other organizations devoted to the causes of education, access among rural Catholics, and betterment of the lives of Catholics in general. Leading fraternal organizations in the United States included the Knights of Columbus, Catholic daughters of america, and daughters of Isabella. Other countries have Catholic organizations suited to their own needs and desires. The National Catholic Welfare Conference was formed to coordinate the efforts of American Catholics to carry out the Church’s social program.


Traditional forms of piety did not vanish, but new trends and emphases emerged. Jansenist Piety, with its moral rigorism, gave way gradually to a more sentimental type of devotion, associated with Italian Catholicity, that stressed external practices and frequentation of the Sacraments. This interior transformation of Catholic inner life north of the Alps has been termed the “real triumph of ultramontanism,” more so than the definition of papal infallibility.

Late in the nineteenth century, another trend developed and gained momentum in the following decades: Catholic spirituality became predominantly Christocentric in its orientation. Evidence of this trend appeared in the widespread devotion of the Sacred Heart. The nineteenth century has been called the “century of the Sacred Heart,” but this devotion retained its popularity in the twentieth century. Pius XI extended the feast of the Sacred Heart to the universal Church. Equally Christocentric are the devotion to the precious blood and still more to the Eucharist, manifest in the common practice of perpetual adoration, frequent Communion, and the development of Eucharistic congresses. Relaxation of the requirements for the eucharistic fast served to increase this practice, but this modification was in line with the general trend observable in the laws concerning fast and abstinence, censures, and other disciplinary regulations.

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary on a worldwide scale was also characteristic of the period. It was promoted by the solemn definitions of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption of Mary (1950), and by progress in the study of mariology. As a result of the visions of St. Catherine Labouré, devotion to the miraculous medal gained many adherents. The apparitions to St. Bernadette Soubirous have made lourdes, France, one of the most frequented SHRINES in the world. Fátima, Portugal, and, to a lesser extent, La Salette, France, also have become goals of international pilgrimages.

A third characteristic trend in twentieth-century lay piety was its biblical orientation. Relatively few Catholics in the nineteenth century read the BIBLE with any regularity, and the modernist crisis early in the twentieth century deterred ecclesiastical authorities from seeking to alter this situation. biblical theology received more attention in later decades. Catholic scholars worked with greater freedom after the appearance of Pius XII’s encyclical Divino afflante spiritu (On Promoting Biblical Studies, 1943), and they produced numerous scholarly works. The availability of good vernacular translations of the Sacred Scriptures and of worthwhile popular literature on the subject, as well as the urging of the hierarchy, gave great impetus to this movement.

The liturgical movement progressed during the nineteenth century after the pioneering efforts of Dom Guéranger. In the following century, it became one of the most impressive developments in the Church, one that promoted notably the role of the laity in liturgical services and that increased interest in the liturgy.

Intellectual Life

The Church confronted an enormous task of ever-increasing magnitude in solving the religious problems posed by discoveries in the natural sciences and in many other fields of learning and by new directions in thought and letters. An explosion of discoveries in physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and biology vastly expanded knowledge about the natural world. These findings raised numerous questions about traditional religious beliefs, and the reconciliation of science with faith. So successful was the method of the natural sciences that many became convinced that that was the sole adequate method. The writings of Charles DARWIN on EVOLUTION, popularized by Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), were enormously influential; they were accepted enthusiastically by scientists and thinkers and came to be applied to widely diverse fields. Their impact on religion was great and for some time destructive. Scientific investigations into the workings of the mind by psychiatrists and psychologists resulted in great advances in the understanding of the human mind, but they also led to mechanistic, deterministic views and supplied many with substitutes for Christianity.

Modern philosophers have been much interested in religion, and their writings have had a profound influence on theology, more on Protestant than on Catholic theology. Many leading thinkers ceased to believe in Christianity, and some were openly anti-Christian. Their philosophical systems differed widely, but they tended directly or indirectly to portray Christianity as irrelevant or harmful.

The Bible was subjected to an enormous amount of critical attention, especially in Germany. Basic to the outlook of many of the more prominent critics was a denial of all supernatural faith and a habitual contesting of the truth of Sacred Scripture. The problem of the historical Jesus gave rise to dozens of theories. David Strauss and Joseph Ernest Renan, who published two of the best-known nineteenth-century lives of Christ, were skeptics and passed on to their readers their own disbelief in the Gospel narratives. Historical study of the origins and early development of the Church was another favorite field for scrutiny and resulted in a number of theories derogatory to Catholic claims. The comparative study of religion was a well-tilled field, but its products proved injurious, in many cases, to belief in Christianity as the sole road ordained by God for salvation. Literature served often to disseminate in wide circles these new ideologies in the form of novels, plays, and poems impregnated with naturalistic outlooks and disdainful of Christian standards.

Catholic scholarship was for several decades ill-prepared to surmount these challenges. The closing of numerous Catholic universities, theological faculties, and monastic schools during the revolutionary and Napoleonic periods and the disastrous infiltration of the Enlightenment and Kantian ideas into Catholic thought, even in seminaries, left Catholicism at a low intellectual ebb. Recovery was slow until the mid-nineteenth century; after that, progress was rapid and continuous.

Signs of renewal became apparent first in France early in the nineteenth century, with the influential, if not profound, writings of François de Chateaubriand, whose Genius of Christianity (1802) was a sensational success, and those of Joseph de Maistre and Louis de Bonald. Apologetics was cultivated extensively, most notably toward midcentury by John Henry Newman, Victor Dechamps, and Jaime Balmes. Church history, patrology, and the history of dogma also received much study at this time, especially in Germany, where Johann Möhler, Johannes Ignaz von Döllinger, and Carl von Hefele were outstanding. German emphasis on historical theology caused tensions, however, with the theologians in Rome, who were traditionally attached to scholasticism.

The key problem of conciliating faith and reason produced several solutions, not all of them acceptable. Thus hermesianism, as evolved by Georg Hermes, traditionalism, ontologism, and the systems advocated by Franz von BAADER, Anton Günther, and Jakob Frohschammer met official Roman disapproval (see Denzinger and Hünermann 2005, pp. 2738-2740, 2751-2756, 2765-2769, 2833, 2841-2847, 2850-2861). Vatican Council I supplied an impetus to ecclesiastical scholarship. The renewal of scholasticism and thomism gained strong encouragement from Leo XIII in 1879 in his encyclical Aeterni patris (On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy). When Americanism, Reformkatholizismus, and, more importantly, modernism arose around the turn of the twentieth century, the exercise of the papal magisterial power sufficed to quell them speedily. The same fate befell new theological trends in France after World War II subsequent to the publication of Pius XII’s Humani generis (Concerning Some False Opinions Threatening to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine, 1950).

Heterodox movements after 1789 that resulted in lasting group separations from the Church were rare. Deutschkatholizismus, initiated by Johann Ronge and Johann Czerski, the old Catholics, the Los-Vonrom movement, and the Polish National Catholic Church were the most sizable schisms, but their followings were relatively limited even at the height of their popularity. After 1918, Catholic ecclesiastical scholarship, centering in western Europe, became very active and prominent and moved out of the position of secondary rank it occupied earlier. The Catholic press spread its influence throughout the world.


Emigration and missionary evangelization after 1789 established the Church in almost every corner of the globe and greatly increased its numbers. Millions of emigrants from Catholic countries in Europe were the main factors in building the Church in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; they also augmented the Catholic populations converted earlier in Latin America.

By 1789 the missions were in a sad state after a century of stagnation and decline, hastened by the heavy loss of personnel when the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773. During the next four decades and longer, this situation deteriorated further as the religious orders suffered dissolutions, confiscations, and diminution of numbers. It has been estimated that in 1800 the vast territories in both hemispheres entrusted to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith had only about five hundred priests (about half of them natives), a few dozen sisters, and somewhere between 1,400,000 and 5,000,000 faithful. Not until the pontificate of Gregory XVI was it possible to begin improving matters.

After 1878, progress was remarkable. So extraordinary were the subsequent activity and accomplishments that these decades constitute one of the most flourishing periods in all mission history. No similar length of time recorded anywhere near as many converts. The revival of the religious orders was mainly responsible for this growth. Gregory XVI, the leading mission pope of his century, and all his successors helped enormously by taking keen interest in the missions and by assuming a far more active leadership than their predecessors did or could. The huge expenditures involved in evangelization have been met by the charitable contributions of the laity, who have carried the material burdens once assumed by the Catholic governments of Spain, Portugal, and France. External factors helped. Travel became easier and safer. China, Japan, and Siam (Thailand) reopened their doors to foreigners. Regions such as inner Africa ceased to be inaccessible.

Almost all missionaries until the twentieth century came from Europe; they suffered, not always without justification, from having their work regarded as merely one phase of European colonialism. Their reluctance in some areas to prepare native clergies gave added substance to the charge, but their outlook was severely disapproved by Rome and has disappeared. With the multiplication of precise papal directives, with attention focused on mission science, and with improvements in training for missionaries, the proper function and activity of the missions came to be more perfectly understood and practiced. Disadvantageous also to the missions was the tarnished image of Christianity furnished by the arrogance, greed, immorality, and religious indifference of many transplanted colonial officials, merchants, and adventurers. By the mid-twentieth century, European prestige had dimmed, and a blaze of anti-Europeanism had erupted, fed by rising nationalisms and demands for independence. Missionaries also faced serious competition. Protestants began to spread the Gospel with great zeal and success in the nineteenth century. Islam became a serious rival in Africa and elsewhere, and in lands where anti-Catholic or atheist ideologies gained political mastery, Christian missionaries were persecuted and expelled.

Despite all this, statistics leave no doubt about the tremendous progress of the missions. By 1957 there were some 30,000 priests, 8,000 brothers, and 60,000 sisters—about half of them native—in the territories allotted to Propaganda alone, not counting the areas dependent on the Congregation for the Oriental Church, the Consistorial Congregation (in North Africa), or the Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (Portuguese possessions). There were also 4,000 native seminarians and 150,000 catechists and teachers. One in six of the 683 territories under Propaganda was confided to native bishops, a development that progressed rapidly under Pius XI and his successors. About fifty million Catholics inhabited mission lands. Nearly half of them were in Africa, the scene of the most spectacular gains, since the total in 1800 approximated 50,000, and in 1900, 500,000.


Unity of faith and unity of the church are ideals that the Catholic Church has always sought. For centuries, the Catholic Church worked to mend the break with the Orthodox churches, and on a few occasions the attempts seemed to verge on success. Practical as well as theological considerations heightened the urgency in the twentieth century to promote these aims, resulting in a far greater readiness to engage in interfaith dialogue.

Interfaith movements became extremely prominent and well-received. Catholics and Anglicans conducted the Malines Conversations (1921-1926) to try to resolve their differences. Important attempts to restore Christian unity were undertaken by the Protestant World Council of Churches and Vatican Council II. Through the decrees and efforts of the council, as well as the Unitas Association, the Una Sancta movement, and many other ventures, Catholics demonstrated a growing spirit of cooperativeness. The sincerity with which the task was faced improved the relations between religious bodies that had been intolerant of one another in the not too distant past.

The Contemporary Church

The Catholic Church entered the contemporary age with the election of Giovanni Roncalli as Pope John XXIII on October 28, 1958. John XXIII recognized the need for updating, or aggiornamento, of the Church, as well as aperturismo, or opening up to the outside world. Perceiving synods and councils as the constitutional means to institute change, he called the Twenty-first Church Council to effect the necessary aggiornamento.

The Pontificate of John XXIII. John’s vision was global and catholic as he selected Cardinal Augustin Bea to head a new Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. It prepared the way for the participation of observers from other Christian communities in the council and for the promotion of ecumenism within the Roman Catholic Church. The secretariat also proposed a statement denouncing the age-old discrimination against Jews. Pope John XXIII set the example by meeting with the non-Catholic observers and receiving the archbishop of Canterbury.

Pope John XXIII also sought an accommodation with the Eastern bloc, drawing a distinction between Communism as an atheistic creed with which the Church could not compromise and Communism as a social, political, and economic reality, which had to be confronted. Rather than continuing the Church’s anti-Communist crusade, he was prepared to adopt a pragmatic approach to the Communist regimes, letting Moscow know that the Vatican sought improved relations. Later, he reached agreements with a series of Communist governments, enabling the Church to secure the liberation of a number of ecclesiastics from Eastern Europe while filling some vacant bishoprics there. In turn, the Yugoslav government permitted the public funeral of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in 1960. Other dividends ensued as the Soviet Union permitted the participation of the bishops from Eastern Europe in the Church Council.

During this pontificate, the Church did not neglect social questions. On May 15, 1961, the encyclical Mater et magistra, on the Church as mother and teacher of all nations, was issued, emphasizing the Church’s role in social progress. In John’s view, Rerum novarum represented a compendium of Catholic social and economic teaching, insisting that work was not another commodity, but a specifically human activity, and while private property was a right, it entailed social obligations. Although the Church could not accept Communism or Socialism, the objectives of which did not transcend material well-being and preached atheism, it recognized the lawfulness of state and public ownership of productive goods, especially those that exercise great power. Indeed, Mater et magistra assigned an extraordinary responsibility to the state for providing social security, accepting the welfare state as an expression of the common good, while welcoming the increase in social relationships among nations, peoples, and classes.

Two years later, on April 11, 1963, Pope John XXIII issued the wide-ranging encyclical Pacem in terris (On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty), which was widely heralded in the secular press. Addressed not only to Catholics, the pope called for all people of good will to work together for universal peace. To achieve that goal, government and social structures must be grounded on principles of truth, justice, charity, freedom, and the dignity of the human person. Pacem in terris discussed four major themes: the relation between authority and conscience, human rights, disarmament, and the quest for the common good. It identified three “signs of the times,” characteristic of modern society: the progressive improvement in the economic and social conditions of working people; the emerging prominence of women in public life; and the collapse of colonialism and rise of independent nations.

During this pontificate, the Church called for Catholics to cooperate with Christians who were separated from the Holy See, and even with non-Christians. John’s global vision, reflected in his calling of the council, his social encyclicals, and his support of international organizations, also provided broad support for the work of the missions. In November 1959, on the fortieth anniversary of Benedict XV’s Maximum illud on the missions, Pope John XXIII issued Princeps pastorum (On the Missions, Native Clergy, and Lay Participation) on the same subject. It announced that by 1959 there were sixty-eight Asian and twenty-five African bishops, noting that while the Church had historically been associated with Western civilization, it belonged to no one culture and had to welcome and assimilate anything that redounds to the honor of the human mind. There was also a missionary component in Mater et magistra, which depicted the Church as the mother and teacher of all nations.

When the first session of the Second Vatican Council closed on December 8, 1962, the expectations aroused had not been fulfilled, for no decrees had been approved. John proved unable to see the council to its conclusion; he died on June 3, 1963. He had been awarded the International Peace Prize of the Eugenio Balzan Foundation in March 1963, and had been selected Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” for 1962. Yet not all concurred with his decisions. Likewise, his reconciliation with Jews, Protestants, Muslims, and even nonbelievers and his advancement of the social question spawned critics as well as acclaim. Some decried his opening the floodgates of change. Consciously or unconsciously, this pontificate set in motion changes that led to profound reform in the Church.

The Pontificate of Pope Paul VI. On June 21, 1963, the conclave elected the cardinal archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini, as the new pope; he assumed the name Paul VI. Following his election, he announced that the council would be continued, calling for its resumption on September 29, 1963. The aggiornamento or updating of the Church remained his objective. He cited the need to revise the canon law and reform the Curia, while revealing his commitment to the social justice enunciated in his predecessors’ encyclicals. Thus Pope Paul VI made it clear that the main program for the Church would be the completion, followed by implementation, of the council’s decisions.

Prior to convoking the second session, Pope Paul VI outlined new directives for the council, including the admissions of lay Catholics and an extended invitation to non-Catholic observers. At its opening, he recalled the council’s goals, including Church renewal, Christian unity, and dialogue in the modern world. During this second session (from September 29 to December 4, 1963), Paul struggled to get the Roman Curia and the council to work together. He wanted the bishops to exercise their rights to govern the Church with him, while fostering conditions for ecumenical encounters with non-Catholics. Among its achievements were: the proclamation of the constitution on the liturgy, Sacro-sanctum concilium, and the decree on the means of social communication, Inter mirifica. In reforming the liturgy, the Church fathers sought to adapt institutions that were subject to change to the needs of the age and to foster unity among those who believe in Christ.

In December there emerged a tentative agenda for the third session, scheduled to convene in mid-September 1964, with provisions to have women attend as auditors. By November 21, when the third session closed, three important decrees had been approved, including Lumen gentium, exploring the relationship of the pope, the bishops, the priests, and the laity within the Church; Orientalium ecclesiarum, on the Catholic Eastern Churches; and Unitatis redintegratio, on ecumenism. There were, in addition, other issues confronting the Church, including the reform of canon law, mixed marriages, birth control, and cultural diversity.

Soon after the opening of the fourth session on September 14, 1965, Pope Paul VI established a Synod of Bishops to collaborate with him in the governance of the Church. On October 28, 1965, he promulgated five important council documents: one on the role of bishops in the Church, another on the renewal of religious life, a third on the training of priests, a fourth on Christian education, and Nostra aetate, on the Church’s attitude toward non-Christian religions. Within the last document, it was stipulated that the Church reproves every form of persecution and “deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.” On December 8, 1965, the council closed.

Within the next decade, the difficulties of the post-conciliar age proved almost as troubling as those confronted in the council. Pope Paul VI recognized that the documents promulgated could not affect change in the Church unless they were implemented, and he therefore established postconciliar commissions to continue the council’s work, as well as yearly meetings in Rome to continue the dialogue. The papal directive to the Postconciliar Central Commission provided suggestions for coordinating postconciliar activities and interpreting the council’s decrees.

In January 1967, there was established a Council on the Laity, which sought to integrate the laity into the Church’s official organizations and activities. Subsequently, canonical form was provided to the diaconate, implementing this ministry as called for by the council. Meanwhile, Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Populorum progressio (On the Development of Peoples) on March 26, 1967. Deemed by some to be the Church’s Magna Carta for justice and peace, it revealed concern for those attempting to escape the ravages of hunger and poverty, pleading for social justice for the impoverished masses of the third world. A subsequent encyclical, Sacerdotalis caelibatus (On the Celibacy of the Priest), issued on June 24, 1967, upheld the Church’s traditional position of priestly celibacy. Sharing the council’s conviction that the Church had to draw closer to the world, Paul indicated there was a wrong and right way to do so. In his words, the Church was in the world, not of the world, but for the world.

The limits to conciliation with the modern world were evident in the pronouncement on birth control provided in Humanae vitae (On the Regulation of Birth, 1968), which condemned as unlawful the use of means that directly prevent conception. This position unleashed criticism within and outside the Church, particularly in North America and Europe.

Pope Paul VI convened an Extraordinary Synod at the end of 1969, encouraging it to explore the relationship between papal primacy and episcopal collegiality. In 1970 he ruled that bishops should submit their resignations when they reached the age of seventy-five, and that cardinals after their eightieth year could no longer take part in a conclave. Paul VI died at Castel Gandolo on August 6, 1978, having brought the council to a successful conclusion and having continued the Church’s reconciliation with the modern world.

The Pontificates of Popes John Paul I and II. On August 26, 1978, Cardinal Albino Luciani, the patriarch of Venice, was elected pope and was the first to assume a double name, John Paul, indicating his determination to continue the work of the two previous Church leaders. He did not have time to do so. The challenge of the papacy proved burdensome, taxing his stamina and undermining his health. He died after a pontificate of only thirty-three days. In the second conclave of 1978, divisions prevented the election of a pope until October 16, when Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elected the first Slavic pope and first non-Italian since Hadrian VI of Utrecht in 1522. He took the name John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II continued the work of the council. He reiterated that, in the Christian view, human relations should not be governed by the individualistic logic of profit, and the Earth is to be utilized for the well-being of humanity. He also continued the social program of the Church; in September 1981 he released an encyclical, Laborem exercens (On Human Work), defending the right of workers to organize and calling for a new economic order that avoided the excesses of unrestrained capitalism and ideological Marxism.

At the beginning of June 1979, Pope John Paul II returned to his homeland—the first of three visits (1979, 1983, and 1987)—before the opening of Eastern Europe. The pope’s visit, from June 2 to June 11, was religious but had political overtones. This tour altered the mentality of fear that prevailed in Poland and much of the Eastern bloc, forecasting a united Christian Europe. John Paul expressed his views on the role of the Church in the world in his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis (The Redeemer of Man), released in March 1979, and repeated them in his second encyclical, Dives in misericordia (Rich in Mercy), of December 1980.

In 1984 the Church agreed to a revision of the Lateran Pacts and the Italian Concordat that had been concluded between Pope Pius XI and the Mussolini government in 1929. By the terms of the new agreement, the Vatican recognized the separation of Church and state in Italy. Meanwhile, diplomatic relations with the United States were established. Early in 1984, President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) announced that William A. Wilson (1914-2009) of California would be appointed the first U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Foreseeing the inevitable collapse of Communism and a greater role for the Church in Eastern Europe, the pope in a 1985 encyclical, Slavorum apostoli (Apostles of the Slavs), called for European unity with Christianity as its spiritual center. In 1987 the Warsaw government pledged to reopen a dialogue with the Catholic Church. It did so in July 1989, becoming the first of the Communist-bloc nations to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See and facilitating the dramatic changes that occurred from 1989 to 1992. By 1991 the Communist system in the Soviet Union had crumbled. Near the end of 1991, a synod of European bishops, from both the East and the West, met to assess the opportunities presented by the political changes on the Continent and to promote a new evangelization of Europe.

During the last years of the twentieth century, Pope John Paul II took the lead in focusing on the Church’s global mission, traveling more than all the previous popes combined, and targeting the developing world, where more than half the world’s Catholics lived. In 1992 he visited Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic for the opening of the Fourth Latin American Bishops Conference. Reiterating the Church’s “preferential option for the poor,” as called for by the Latin American bishops at their meeting in Medellín, Colombia, and Puebla, Mexico, the pope cautioned the Latin American clergy not to forget their spiritual mission while battling economic, social, and political injustices. He underlined that the Church’s mission was religious rather than political. In September 1993, the pope challenged moral relativism, which he perceived as a great threat to Western civilization, in the encyclical Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of Truth).

During the course of 1993, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Roman Catholic Church’s collaboration in the enslavement of African men, women, and children. Subsequently, at the opening of the new millennium, the Vatican issued a document titled Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Mistakes of the Past, which catalogued the Church’s historical failures, including the excesses of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and anti-Judaism. Regret for anti-Judaism in the Church was repeated by the pope during his March 2000 visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

At the same time, the Church sought to expand its global perspective. Pope John Paul II explained that Catholicism had to become more universalized, with a different approach to the ancient cultures of non-European peoples. The pope pursued this policy through the creation of new cardinals throughout his pontificate. By the end of 1994, the Italians, once the dominant element in the college, were whittled down to twenty out of 120 cardinal electors.

After 1993, following Veritatis splendor, the reign of Pope John Paul II was highlighted by four more significant encyclicals. In March 1995, in Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life), his eleventh encyclical, he spoke out against abortion and euthanasia, declaring both to be “grave violations of the law of God,” and stating that Catholics have a moral duty to oppose any legislation advocating or promoting either of these immoral practices. The encyclical makes clear the supremacy of divine law over human law.

In May of that same year, in Ut unum sint (On Commitment to Ecumenism), Pope John Paul II reviewed the Church’s role in the ecumenical movement and ecumenism, stating it to be “an organic part of her life and work.” The document also examines the papacy’s role as the “visible sign and guarantor” of unity, while acknowledging that the post of bishop of Rome constituted a difficulty for most other Christians. The encyclical also reviews the history of ecumenism, including dialog, shared sacramental practices, and joint prayers and services, as well as ecumenical translations of the Bible.

In Fides et ratio (Faith and Reason), which was issued in September 1998, the pontiff focused on the “relationship between faith and philosophy,” stating that it is his task to put forth the principles needed to restore “a harmonious and creative relationship” between theology and philosophy. He states that the Church has no actual philosophy of its own, nor does it elevate one particular philosophy above the others. Revelation does not debase reason and its discoveries. The encyclical goes on to examine truth and freedom, human experience and philosophy, metaphysics and theology, philosophy’s value in a scientific world, and the relationship of philosophy to God’s word.

In April 2003, Pope John Paul II issued Ecclesia de eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church). In this encyclical, the pope puts forth that the Eucharist is the center of Church life. He also presents the Blessed Mother as the “woman of the Eucharist.”

In the later years of his reign, in his capacity as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Pope John Paul II continued his extensive worldwide pastoral visits, visiting a great number of sites, inside and outside Italy. In 1993 alone he visited Africa, Albania, Spain, the Caribbean states, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the United States (Denver, Colorado, on World Youth Day). In 1994 he visited Croatia, and in that same year he established formal diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the state of Israel. The following year, Pope John Paul II went to Asia and Oceania, being greeted with great enthusiasm in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. He also in that year visited the Czech Republic, Poland, Belgium, and Slovakia, as well as the Cameroons, South Africa, and Kenya. And again visiting the United States, he addressed the United Nations in New York City. In 1996 the pontiff made pastoral visits to Central America, Venezuela, Tunisia, Slovenia, Germany, Hungary, and France, and, in 1997 Bosnia (Sarajevo), the Czech Republic, Lebanon, Poland, France (Paris on World Youth Day), and Brazil. That same year, he presided over the Twenty-third Italian National Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy. Pope John Paul II made a historic visit to Cuba in 1998, and to Nigeria, Austria, and Croatia. In 1999 he traveled again to the United States (St. Louis, Missouri) and to Mexico, as well as to Romania, Poland, Slovenia, and Georgia. He also visited India.

The year 2000 was significant in that it marked the pope’s historic visit to Egypt and the Middle East, where he traveled to both Israel and Palestine. When in the Middle East, Pope John Paul II made jubilee year pilgrimages to Mount Sinai and the Holy Land. That same year, he made another Jubilee Year pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady in Fátima, Portugal. In 2001 Pope John Paul II made a “pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Paul the Apostle” to Greece (where he prayed with the Orthodox patriarch), Malta, and Syria (where he became the first pope to enter a mosque). That same year, he also visited Armenia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. He made apostolic visits in 2002 to Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Central America, and Poland, and, in 2003, to Spain, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Slovakia. Then, in 2004, the Holy Father visited Switzerland and the shrines of Loreto in Italy and Lourdes in France, significantly marking the closing period of this most exceptional pontificate of the modern era.

The universal approach of Pope John Paul II, whose twenty-six-and-a-half-year reign was one of the longest in papal history, was demonstrated not only by his nearly 250 pastoral visits, but by his creation of World Youth Day and of 1,338 blesseds and 482 saints from around the world (he also made St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church).

The Pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI

On April 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the dean of the College of Cardinals, and a leading scholar, theologian, and intellectual, was elected bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff, taking the name Benedict XVI, chosen in honor of both St. Benedict and Pope Benedict XV. At his inaugural Mass, Pope Benedict XVI demonstrated his desire to be close to his flock by changing the previous custom of the submission of each cardinal. Instead, twelve people, including cardinals, clergy, religious, and laity, greeted him (the cardinals had previously sworn their obedience upon his election). He also chose to use an open-topped papal automobile so as to be closer to the people.

Pope Benedict XVI began the beatification process of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, waiving the usual five-year waiting period for such a process to commence, announcing this on May 13, 2005, the feast of Our Lady of Fátima. Pope Benedict XVI also celebrated his first canonizations in October of that year, marking the conclusion of the Year of the Eucharist. His curial reforms include the merging of various existing Pontifical Councils.

A theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate has been, as he terms it, a “crisis of culture” in the West. In that regard, he has often spoken and written on the role of reason in Christianity and its place in any dialogue between secularists and Catholics. His views are reiterated in his encyclicals. In his first encyclical, Deus caritas est (God is Love), signed on Christmas Day 2005, he puts forth that the life of love is the life of the saints and is the proper direction for Christians. In his second encyclical, titled Spe salvi (Saved by Hope), promulgated on November 30, 2007, he outlines the relationship between hope and redemption, and, citing both philosophers and theologians, speaks of the “new hope” of Christ as a nonpolitical hope, closing with a chapter on “Mary, Star of Hope.”

In his third encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), signed on June 29, 2009, the Holy Father is concerned with the issues of global development and globalization and the primacy of both love and truth in any response toward the seeking of a common good for all humanity. This encyclical, recalling Pope Paul VI’s Populorum progressio, which Pope Benedict XVI called the Rerum novarumof its day, deals with rights, duties, and the environment, and is critical of materialism, consumerism, and capitalism. This encyclical was written in the hope of influencing the July 2009 G8 Summit in Italy in the direction of social justice.

Pope Benedict XVI continued the ecumenical efforts of his predecessors, encouraging dialogue with other Christians, as well as with Judaism and Islam. These efforts, however, have not been without controversy, in part because of his emphasis on the primacy of the See of Peter and what has been viewed at times as a traditionalist stance (he has allowed greater access to the Tridentine Mass, now called the “extraordinary form of the Roman rite”), and especially because of his insistence that Catholic doctrine not be compromised as the Church reaches out to its Christian and non-Christian brethren.

Pope Benedict XVI, in fulfilling his role as Universal Pastor, has made pastoral visits outside of Italy, beginning with his visit to his native Germany (once on World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, and later to the places of his youth). He was enthusiastically received in Poland and Spain, and in Turkey he met with the ecumenical patriarch, with whom he made a joint declaration in an effort to heal the ancient rift between the churches. The pope also visited Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI, during an apostolic visit to Brazil, canonized an eighteenth-century Franciscan priest. In that same year, the Holy Father made a personal pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, and visited the shrine of Mariazell in Austria. In April 2008, the Holy Father visited the United States for the first time since becoming pope and celebrated Mass in Washington, D.C., and New York City, where he also addressed the United Nations General Assembly. In July 2008 Benedict XVI traveled to Australia to attend the World Youth Day in Sydney. In September 2008 he visited France, where he again condemned modern materialism.

Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed a Jubilee Year in honor of St. Paul, to be celebrated from June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This bimillennial celebration commemorated the role of the Apostle Paul to the gentiles. On June 19, 2009, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI announced a Year for Priests (June 2009-June 2010), commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars, St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie VIANNEY. In 2009 the Holy Father visited Africa (Cameroons, Angola) and, in the same year, the Middle East (Jordan, Israel, Palestine). He also visited and comforted the victims of the 2009 earthquake in Aquila, Italy.

Numerically, the Church has progressed both absolutely and relatively. The 130 million or so Catholics in 1789 had increased to about 545 million by 1961 and jumped to more than one billion at the opening of the new millennium, constituting some 18 percent of the global population. In 1999 the Church growth rate was 1.6 percent, slightly higher than the general population growth of 1.4 percent. However, this Church expansion was uneven, increasing mostly in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, while suffering a decline in Europe. Thus, while Europe accounted for 37 percent of the world’s Catholics at the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978, at the opening of the third millennium its share had declined to 27 percent. Meanwhile, the Catholic population of the Americas had come to constitute some one-half of the world’s total. During that same period, the percentage of African Catholics doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent, and Asian Catholics increased from 7.6 percent to 10.4 percent of the global Catholic population. According to Our Sunday Visitor’s 2010 Catholic Almanac, the Catholic world population was 1.14 billion, with the largest Catholic populations found in Brazil (189 million), Mexico (97.2 million), the Philippines (71.9 million), the United States (68.1 million), and Italy (56.9 million). The same source records 12 patriarchates; 600 archdioceses; 2,077 dioceses; 8 patriarchs; 186 cardinals; 982 archbishops; 3,757 bishops; 408,024 priests (272,431 diocesan and 135,593 religious); 35,942 permanent deacons; 54,956 religious brothers; and 746,814 female religious.

Periodic renewal is necessary if the Church, as the Bride of Christ, is to remain ever young and fair despite nineteen centuries of age. During the twentieth century, aggiornamento was the great opportunity and challenge; the chief instrument for carrying it to successful completion was Vatican Council II.