From Dobbs to Ukraine, 2022 religion dramatic and consequential

Religion in 2022 saw the intensification of trends that were visible in the previous year, none more dramatic and traumatic than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its impact on Eastern Orthodoxy. The following review of last year and preview of how these trends may play out in the year ahead is lengthier than previous annual reviews because we not only draw from past issues of RW but also incorporate other sources of information (citing them at the end of each item).

Source: Hello Georgetown.

1) Last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision reversing Roe v. Wade on abortion may have reinjected religion into the public sphere, even if prolife activists make their case in non-religious terms. Prolife protests, legal activism, and movement and organizational dynamics have all had a conservative religious underpinning since the Roe ruling, and this is likely to continue as abortion moves to the states as a legislative issue. Soon after the Dobbs decision, new divisions appeared on the prolife side between conservative Catholic and evangelical “abolitionists” pushing for the strictest anti-abortion laws and “reformists” urging a more gradual approach. But the results of the midterm elections, showing widespread indifference and even opposition to anti-abortion legislation (if not sympathy for prochoice initiatives) alerted the prolife movement that a change in strategy may be necessary to find further support. Already there are plans and proposals for conservative religious groups to focus more on education than protests and confrontation, with some leaders urging greater prolife concern for the lives and conditions of mothers and children. Meanwhile, observers saw an extreme tendency on the prochoice side after Dobbs, with some prochoice activists targeting churches and crisis pregnancy centers with vandalism and even destruction. Next year’s lead-up to the 2024 elections will show whether the abolitionism and extremism on both sides will remain relevant. (see August RW)

2) The Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely to mean the loss by Moscow of a large number of Ukrainian Orthodox faithful who had until then remained in spiritual union with Patriarch Kirill. The leader of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) under the Moscow Patriarchate immediately denounced Russia’s invasion and the church affirmed its independence at an assembly in May, while refraining from using the word “autocephaly.” But the UOC has refrained from joining forces with the rival Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which received its autocephaly from Constantinople’s Patriarch Bartholomew in 2019. Despite its moves, the UOC’s loyalty toward Ukraine is being questioned and its clergy and faithful are being pressured to join the OCU, at the same time that a number of UOC monasteries and churches have been raided by Ukrainian security services. There have also been discussions about a possible legal ban on religious organizations thought to be linked to the Russian Federation. The spiritual dimension is a component of the current war. (May, June, July RW)

3) The transition from the Covid pandemic to an endemic in 2022 allowed researchers and religious leaders to make solid assessments of the health crisis’s effect on participation in faith communities. It was obvious that a fairly significant number of members and attendees were not likely to return to their congregations any time soon, but the rates of loss often hinged on the length of congregational lockdowns and their investment in online alternatives to gathering. The diminishment could especially be seen in particular areas of congregational life, such as Sunday schools and youth groups, where these activities may even become extinct in some congregations, again, often related to their reliance on online resources. That is not to say that online dimensions of congregations cannot be avenues to growth and vitality. But we also saw how congregational shopping and even belonging to multiple congregations were facilitated to a greater extent during the sudden shift to online services, and this may be a lasting aftereffect of the pandemic. (January, November RW)

4) On several occasions in 2022, Pope Francis intervened with varied levels of intensity in the life of important Catholic organizations in order to reform them (and, in some cases, to solve internal crises). On July 22, the apostolic letter Ad charisma tuendum moved the Opus Dei from the Dicastery of Bishops to the Dicastery of Clergy and paved the way for an adjustment of its statutes. In a bold move, a decree issued on September 3 promulgated a new constitutional charter for the Order of Malta and dissolved its governing body while appointing a provisional sovereign council. In November, another decree removed the leadership of Caritas International and appointed a temporary administrator to encourage the renewal of the humanitarian organization and prepare its next general assembly. Pope Francis also wants to prepare the ground for a stronger control of new religious groups within the Catholic Church, with a decree published on June 15 requiring prior Vatican approval for bishops to establish new associations of the faithful (following a similar decree in 2020 regarding diocesan religious orders). (Aleteia, December 19)

5) Last year also revealed how the Jesuits have “surged to the heights of command” in the Vatican and world Catholicism under the aging Pope Francis. Sandro Magister, a veteran Vaticanologist, writes that the leading Jesuit, besides the pope himself, is Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg and also Francis’s candidate “in pectore” for his succession and a leading role in the current synod. Francis has also included on his team Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect for integral human development; Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a seasoned expert in canon law; Fr. Giacomo Costa, former editor of the magazine Aggiornamenti Sociali of the Milan Jesuits and vice-president of the Fondazione Carlo Maria Martini; Fr. Antonio Spadaro, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica and very close to Francis; the Spanish Jesuit Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, who was prefect of the secretariat for the economy until stepping down in November; and Jesuits serving at St. Peter’s Basilica and as auxiliary bishops of the diocese of Rome, of which the pope is bishop. The new prominence of Jesuits, who have the reputation of being the most liberal Catholic order, is likely to add to conservative Catholics’ suspicions about the Francis papacy. The recent death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who was championed and in some cases seen as an alternative spiritual authority by conservative and traditionalist Catholics, may well intensify the alienation and grievances against Francis among conservatives. (The Moynihan Letter, December 1)

6) The election of Archbishop Timothy Broglio as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will likely continue to keep the American church on a more conservative course than that charted by Pope Francis and more liberal Catholics. American church observer Michael Sean Winters says that Broglio was relatively passive in the face of abuse scandals, such as that involving Legionaries of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel when Broglio served as Cardinal Angelo Sodano’s right-hand man. Winters adds that Broglio’s “culture war” mindset will likely continue the polarization in the conference and the wider American church, as seen in the conference’s coolness toward the presidency of Joe Biden, reciprocated by the president’s indifference to meeting with the bishops. (National Catholic Reporter, December 9–22)

7) The elimination of al-Qaeda’s emir Ayman al-Zawahiri and Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in 2022 by will have some impact on jihadist terrorism, but much depends on their successors. Along with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, these events have moved international terrorism to a back burner of American foreign policy concerns. In the CTC Sentinel, the publication of the Combating Terrorism Center of West Point Military Academy, terrorism specialist Bruce Hoffman writes that although al-Zawahiri’s elimination will “likely hinder al-Qaeda’s core operations for the time being, its affiliates remain resilient and strong.” The movement is thought to include some 7,000 to 12,000 fighters in Somalia’s al-Shabaab jihadist group, a few thousand in its Syrian and Arabian wings, as well as a smaller al-Qaeda contingent in India. The affiliated Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) in Mali is growing, and its achievement of a withdrawal of French forces from the country “is an ominous sign of the al-Qaeda movement’s resiliency and strength.” Likewise, forecasts of the Islamic State’s demise have proven premature. Al-Qurayshi’s assassination has not precipitated the movement’s collapse; it has persisted in Iraq and Syria and is gaining traction in Mozambique, still fighting in the Philippines, and setting its eyes on targets in Israel and Jordan. The strategies of both jihadist movements are more regional and local than international, but the West will likely remain a target, whether in efforts to inspire “lone wolf” terrorism or to carry out more coordinated attacks. (CTC Sentinel, November/December)