March has been payback time for some of the
media’s favourite Catholic theologians. Long before Joseph Ratzinger became
Benedict XVI, he was christened “God’s Rotweiler” and the “Panzer Cardinal” for
supporting orthodox Catholic teaching. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, his theological
foes are treating the current controversy as a chance to press for their own
vision of the Church. The prominent dissident Swiss theologian Hans Küng has
used the National
Catholic Reporter
to argue for a relaxation of the law of celibacy
for Catholic priests. The American theologian Richard P. McBrien, of Notre Dame
University, wrote in Newsweek
this week that the media frenzy spells the end of the Pope’s conservative
vision of Catholicism.

But is there any substantial evidence that
people have been so scandalized by the revelations of clergy sex abuse that
they have turned their backs on the Church? A quick look at Google Trends,
which compares internet searches shows that “Benedict” is about five times more
popular than “sex abuse” and that “Catholic” is about 50 times more popular. Perhaps
this is too rough and ready an index, but it suggests that the current controversy
may be driven more by media hype than by real concern.

In any case, it doesn’t seem to have
affected conversions to the Catholic Church in the United States, especially in
the South and Southwest. At Easter, a popular time for converts to enter the
Church, thousands are going to become Catholics. According to a press release from
the US Catholic bishops
, 3,000 will become Catholics in the diocese of
Dallas, 1,100 in the archdiocese of San Antonio, and 1,000 in the diocese of
Fort Worth. About 1,800 will join the Church in Atlanta, and 2,400 in Los
Angeles. Somehow Küng and McBrien’s message has been lost on them.