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Bishops blame ills for decline in believers

Top Catholic leaders have blamed a drop in believers on the Church’s closed and bureaucratic ways and hypocrisy in its ranks, as well as a hostile secularist society.

We have lost credibility
- Italian Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella

Bishops gathered for a synod aimed at boosting the flagging Church and met Pope Benedict XVI for a closed-door session in which they vented their frustration and exasperation over a decline in faith.

“We have lost credibility,” Italian Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella said. “We have closed in on ourselves... we have turned a life of faith and ritual into bureaucracy.”

Mgr Fisichella, head of the Pontifical Council for Evangelisation, told his colleagues they had become “cautious about speaking out”.

After prepared speeches, some of the bishops addressed the Pope.

“It is difficult to find the courage to evangelise. We are afraid,” one European archbishop said. “Christians are afraid to talk to those who have distanced themselves, to those who are hostile.”

While Mgr Fisichella blamed “a world permeated only by scientific culture” for the drop in believers, Philippine Bishop Socrates Villegas said the root of the problem lay with Church arrogance and hypocrisy.

“Why is there a strong wave of secularisation, antipathy or plain cold indifference towards the Church in some parts of the world, necessitating a new wave of evangelisation programmes?” he asked.

“Evangelisation has been hurt and continues to be impeded by the arrogance of its messengers.

“The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry.

“We must punish the errant among us instead of covering up our own mistakes,” he said, in an apparent reference to the widespread child sex-abuse scandal in the Church, which involved bishops accused of protecting suspects.

“Our experience in the Third World tells me that the gospel can be preached to empty stomachs but only if the preacher’s stomach is as empty as his parishioners’,” he said, calling on the Church to adopt “a new face of charity ”.

Bishop Josè Rauda Gutierrez from El Salvador pointed the finger at the clergy, blaming it for a “loss of pastoral enthusiasm and missionary impulse”.

Bishops from Africa and the Middle East said little progress had been made in dialogue with Islam.

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