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14 CES Open Forum Series

The Catholic Question in Contemporary Portuguese Civil Society: A Case of Muted Vibrancy?

Feb 19, 2013 Paul Christopher Manuel


The 'Catholic question' in contemporary Portugal obliges us to consider whether Catholicism will remain a force in Portuguese associational life in the next century, or whether it faces a future of slow and steady decline. On the one hand, an overall statistical drop of church membership, and the lack of religious practice by almost half of self-identified Roman Catholics, suggests that the future of the Catholic Church in Portugal will probably be very different than the past. On the other hand, the church’s support for democratic processes, the important social services it provides, and its educational establishment, have certainly been a positive factor in Portuguese associational life, and helped the larger process of democratic-regime consolidation since the Carnation Revolution of 1974. This paper suggests that social scientists need to move beyond the lens normally applied to the question of Catholicism in contemporary Europe (i.e. it is a dying, anti-modern, anti-rational, conservative institution), and instead consider the complex interplay of its demographic challenges combined with the popular sources of its theological and spiritual strength, as well as its vital societal contributions, to assess whether or not it will remain a force in Portuguese associational life in the future.