I got online yesterday morning and couldn’t figure out why so many people were talking about the Pope. I don’t have too many Catholic friends on Facebook. Was he dead? Many of my friends pay attention to religion in some form. What I found was even more surprising.
At this point, you may be aware that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning. From what I understand it’s the first time in around 600 years that’s happened. The last time was during the Schism – a period of time when the Papacy was contested and a second pope set up shop in Avignon, France. It’s not like popes just resign if they aren’t feeling up to the task. This is a job that people keep until they die. So I find Benedict’s resignation many times more interesting and troubling.
Why troubling? The ROman Catholic Church is struggling. And well it should! In the face of widespread injustice and abuse to children it has turned a blind eye and refused to take responsibility. Its avoidance of justice has cost the Church billions and brought added shame upon itself. I can think of nothing less Christ-like than the papacy. If the popes are to be Christ’s representatives on earth, they are doing an abysmal job. How does a lineage of white, hyper-educated Europeans heading an institution wealthier than many small countries represent an illiterate, poor, anti-estasblishment Palestinian Jewish carpenter?
The deepest pessimist in me wonders what new revelations will come to light in the next 12-18 months. I don’t think Benedict himself is guilty of impropriety. I can’t say why, but that’s my gut. I don’t think he is being ‘pushed out.’ But I’m wary. What new scandal is waiting in the wings?
There is a set of prophecies from a 12th century monk coming up in some discussions about Benedict’s resignation. Supposedly he is the last pope and after this the Church will crumble. If this is the case I will both rejoice and mourn. As I am about many things, particularly in the Christian world, I am conflicted.
I have no love for Benedict. As a graduate student studying theology I had to read quite a bit of then Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings (who he was before becoming Pope). He was and is a legalistic conservative. I deplore the direction he has taken the Roman Church. It is increasingly concerned with its image, its institution and its rules over the lives of women, children and the poor. In my opinion, the Catholic Church is failing its flock.
I’ve spent a lot of my adult years reading Catholic theology, from the Church fathers to contemporary thinkers. My academic speciality was the Virgin Mary. I very nearly converted to Catholicism when I was 23 out of a love for Our Lady. The Catholic Church has been the supporter and inspiration for a vast amount of art, music and literature – things I hold dear to my heart. The Church has found a way to incorporate myriad cultures and representations fo the Divine Feminine.
What I’d love to see is the Church revitalized. I’d love to see a much more liberal church. Of course, that kind of radical change takes time and necessarily moves slowly, but I’d love to see the Church even beginning those discussions. I want to see nuns supported, women allowed to be priests, clergy to be married, non-heterosexuals embraced, and extensive humility in the face of and justice for the victims of the sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and others in the Church’s pay.
But that won’t happen. This is an opportunity for that. I see people in the news or on Facebook saying ‘let this be the time!’ But it won’t be. I am pessimistic – realistically so, I think. The Roman Catholic Church has avoided all opportunities for healing and growth. Under Benedict’s leadership the Church has battened down its hatches even more – a defensive position against the modern world.
I also don’t expect the prophecies to be true. I suspect there will be a struggle over identity as the Cardinals choose the next pope. I think there will be a strong push for an African, mostly because that is where the Church is experiencing the most growth (last I read) and because that area is much, much more conservative than just about anywhere else in the Christian world. Ultimately I don’t think the Catholic Church is ready for a black leader. Perhaps a South American? A friend suggested a nice Europeanish Argentinian. That would make a lot of sense.
I’ll be watching and waiting, much like most of the rest of the world. May the ever-loving and always merciful Holy Mother look upon her people with love and strengthen their hearts in compassion and justice. Amen.
(This post was written while listening to Rossini’s Stabat Mater. It is only appropriate that we have a painting and a musical form involving the weeping of the Holy Mother, appropriately melodramatic.)