Those Catholics who regard a moderate progressive like Barack Obama as the enemy -- despite the fact that his already unfolding social and health programs, including support for impoverished women, will do more to reduce the number of abortions in America than the glibly pro-life George W. Bush ever did -- have so purged ethical thought of any capacity to draw meaningful distinctions as to reduce religious faith to blind irrationality. They have so embraced a spirit of sectarian intolerance as to undercut the church's traditional catholicity, adding fuel to the spreading fire of religious contempt for those who depart from rigidly defined orthodoxies. They are resurrecting the lost cause of religion's war against modernity -- a war of words that folds neatly into the new century's war of weapons.
If the Catholic reactionaries succeed in dominating their church, a heretofore unfundamentalist tradition, what would follow? The triumph of a strain of contemporary Roman Catholicism that rejects pluralism, feminism, clerical reform, religious self-criticism, historically minded theology and the scientific method as applied to sacred texts would only exacerbate alarming trends in world Christianity as a whole, and at the worst of times. This may especially be so in the nations of the Southern Hemisphere where Catholicism sees its future. It's there that proselytizing evangelical belief, Protestant and Catholic both, is spreading rapidly. Between 1985 and 2001, for example, Catholic membership increased in Africa by 87 percent, in Europe by 1 percent.