Although there is room for debate, probably the most significant ongoing religion news story of the past decade has been the revolution that is proceeding along several fronts inside the Roman Catholic Church. In the first half of the decade matters of structure got a lot of attention, mostly by reform-minded activists and leadership ranks. But those issues have been all but silenced of late as the revolution has quietly moved ahead on the spiritual front, engulfing hundreds of thousands of grass-roots Catholics.

These people prefer to call it renewal rather than revolution. In a recent cover story. Time called it “a kind of spiritual second wind” for the Catholic Church, evidenced in such developments as the charismatic movement, prayer and Bible-study groups, a “new spirit of voluntarism,” a vigorous resurgence of student piety, and unusually strong support for Catholic education.

Perhaps the most remarkable of these developments is the rise and rapid growth of the charismatic movement, institutionalized somewhat by its leaders as the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR). The Renewal began in 1967 among a small group of young adults on the Duquesne University campus in Pittsburgh. Today it encompasses between 600,000 and 750,000 in America and maybe that many more overseas. Indeed, within the next decade or two Latin American Catholicism may become predominantly charismatic.

Unlike some sectors of charismatic Protestantdom, the emphasis within the CCR is not so much on spiritual gifts as on nurturing a personal relationship with Christ and on developing Christian community.

For the most part, America’s Catholic bishops have remained aloof, nervously observing from a distance. A few years ago they established a liaison to keep ...

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