What a New Pope Means for Atheists

This is a guest post by Dave Muscato. Dave is the Public Relations Director of American Atheists.

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Yesterday, the papal conclave elected a new leader for its crumbling, obsolete, and hateful syndicate.

For the last eight years, a German scholar, Joseph Ratzinger, has been a man whom Forbes Magazine called the fifth most powerful person on Earth. Ratzinger is clearly no ordinary scholar — one estimate puts his personal income at $200 million annually — and here at American Atheists, we are glad to see him step down. His tenure was riddled not only with horrifying sexual abuse of children, but countless deaths attributable to the Church’s stance on condom use in AIDS-ridden regions, in addition to outright uncivilized policies on LGBT civil rights and women’s role in society.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President, America had great concern that, as a Catholic, Kennedy would be under undue pressure to adhere to the influence of the Catholic Church. Kennedy assured the nation by saying, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute… where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials…”

We could not agree more. Our mission at American Atheists is to advocate for the complete and total separation of religion & state, so that no religion — majority or otherwise — can attempt to control public policy. Separation of church & state is ideal for everyone: None of us, regardless of our religion (or irreligion), wants the ideals of a different religion or value set thrust upon us.

Pope Benedict XVI was a terrible leader. Under his direction, the Catholic Church lost incalculable face in light of its revolting cover-up of child abuse within its ranks. If a cult religion in the United States allowed some of its leaders to molest children, there would be rioting. People would be up in arms! It is our position that the size or age of a church does not grant any special immunity to criminals among its ranks. Why are these priests not in prison? In a country where a full 80% of Catholics say they would be more likely to use their own consciences to address “difficult moral questions” rather than follow the teachings of the Pope, why are Catholics so obstinate about clinging to this label?

According to the New York Times, 53% of American Catholics think the Church is out of touch with the needs of Catholics today and a whopping 54% of American Catholics want Benedict’s successor to be more liberal in his teachings than he was. Will they get their wish?

We agree with Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association on this one: It is our position that it doesn’t really matter if the new pope is liberal or conservative. If Pope Francis I is liberal (and all signs currently point to “No”), we could see more civilized policies on LGBT rights, women’s rights, condom use, stem-cell research, abortion & birth-control access, separation of church & state, and science education. If the new pope is conservative, we will see even greater numbers of people leaving the Church. According to the National Catholic Reporter, for every American the Church adds, four people leave. We could not be more proud of them for standing up to injustice.

Will the new pope be more or less of a bigot than Benedict XVI? Time will tell, but in the end, we’re continuing to fight the good fight.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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