The Roman Catholic Church is still a powerful institution, but its influence and relative weight in the world have been steadily diminishing in the last 100 years or so. This is not strange if one considers that religion in general has lost much of its power in all advanced countries: separation of church and state, religious freedom and the spread of education and science have made people more critical, freethinking or skeptical.
Catholics seemed more resilient at first, but this was only a false impression. Today, even former strongholds like Spain have become increasingly secularized, and though laws and government still offer certain advantages to the church, practicing Catholics are few, and the prestige and credibility of the clergy is minimal.
Spain is a perfect example because it used to be staunchly Catholic until well into the 19th century, and when this was changing the 1936-1939 Civil War opened the way for a long dictatorship that had Catholicism as one of its defining characteristics, and the Catholic church as an enthusiastic collaborator. Religion was again imposed on the whole of the population, and not until the 70’s were there many possibilities to escape this situation. But then the backlash was so quick and strong that one can say real Catholics are just a minority today.
This is also a perfect example of how the Catholic Church has preferred to deal with problems: when your flock goes away, use political pressure and the force of a sympathetic government or party to make them stay. The church had a difficult passage from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and it has never really adjusted to modern secular and free societies. No wonder it reacts badly to the massive indifference of so many people, sees the waning of its privileges as persecution, and gets more on the deffensive each day.
The present pope goes along with the trend. The lifting of the excommunication to the ultra-conservative,anti-semitic, anti-freedom Lefèvre priests and Bishops, and the repeated declarations against gay equality and other rights are more stones in the building of a fortress church, closed to any new development and constantly revising the timid innovations of the Second Vatican Council.
Fortresses keep their dwellers secure and protected from unwanted external attacks, but their ramparts are excellent deterrents for anyone wishing to know what’s inside. Along this way, the church will have an obedient and increasingly fanatical flock, but it will be a very small and alienated one in the midst of the indifferent majority.