Is Catholicism a brand?
Don’t take me as heretical with this question. I ask it because the power of any brand is measured by the amount of personal identification an adherent has to that brand. With this definition, it is only fair to talk about religions in terms of branding.
People identify with religions and sects. “I am a Quaker, I am a Buddhist, I am a Muslim… Hindu, Sikh, Protestant, Catholic…” While all are religions, they are brands too. But, historically, the religious brands have sought to influence the adherents rather than adapt to changes in those adherents in an attempt to remain vital and important.
Are there exceptions to this? Absolutely. The rise of the protest movement centuries ago gave birth to Protestantism. Even Henry the VIII sought changes in doctrine that sent the Church of England (Anglicanism) scurrying away from Catholicism and separating itself from Martin Luther’s new doctrines. Buddhism has many sects that respond to local norms. Tibetan Buddhism is different from Zen for example.
But in so many ways, Catholicism has adapted to change more than other Christian sects. It might be difficult to see, considering the conservative doctrine often associated with this Church. But it’s true. In many ways, the Catholic Church has trod the fine line between traditional values and modern pressures. Think of Vatican ll. The very conservative church embraced an ecumenical tide and even halted Mass in Latin. Changes like that reflect a changing congregation.
Proof that Catholicism is adapting to change.
Just today, Pope Francis set up a special commission to study whether women should be allowed to become deacons in the Catholic Church. Deacons, for those who are not Catholic, are just a step away from priesthood. They are able to officiate at weddings, etc. The only real limit to their official Catholic status is that they cannot perform Mass.
Pope Francis is a modern Pope with strong adherence to Catholic values. He speaks out clearly on issues of compassion, poverty and service. Sometimes his bold reassurance of these values is interpreted as political. But if you take his role seriously as the Vicar of Christ (a Catholic title), then he can ignore political statements at his own peril.
So what about female priests? My guess is that we will see the ordination of females as priests within my lifetime. The general population of Catholics and new converts to the faith embrace an equality of the sexes. The Church is simply reflecting this change and is in the long process of recognizing that a male-only clergy is not crucial to its fundamental beliefs. As a matter of fact, it might be in opposition to it.
So is Catholicism a brand? We will wait and see.