Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Pope’s resignation: Opportunity for change– Los Angeles Loyolan.
Change can be a good thing, but how can you say that when the supposed reason for the change is anything but good?
It’s pretty grim to celebrate someone’s allegedly poor health, but Monday’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down from his position – the first such resignation in almost 600 years, according to the article “University reacts to the Pope’s resignation” appearing on Page 1 of this issue – isn’t what I’d call “bad news.”
It’s the perfect time for major transition and progression for the often socially conservative Roman Catholic Church, which is, in my opinion, quickly losing touch with young people like myself. Many in my demographic were baptized Catholic, myself included, but quickly became disillusioned with the Church’s outmoded teachings on the role of women in the church and, especially in my case, homosexuality.
The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger took his place as the head of the Church in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II, and since then has managed to remain frighteningly stagnant on social issues, particularly about gay men and women and their relationship to the Church. As recently as last Christmas, according to theHuffington Post article “Pope Benedict Takes Anti-Gay Marriage To New Level In Christmas Speech On Family Values,” Pope Benedict XVI called homosexuality a “manipulation of nature.”
“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” Pope Benedict XVI continued. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”
For the patriarch of a multinational organization to say something so startlingly archaic is, in my opinion, a sign that the Church itself is completely behind the times for most of the Western world. Additionally, there’s Pope Benedict XVI’s inactivity in properly responding to the Church’s sex abuse scandals. According to the Guardian article “Pope Benedict ‘complicit in child sex abuse scandals’, say victims’ groups,” the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) considers the pope’s lack of transparency about sexual abuse by clergymen to be “terrible.”
The general accusation against Pope Benedict XVI, according to the same article, is that despite his knowledge of clerical sex abuses, he has, for the most part, done little to respond to them. As the article quotes SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy as saying, “He knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups than anyone else in the Church, yet he has done precious little to protect children.”
Though all the details in those cases are still being scrutinized, there’s no doubt in my mind that it is all yet another sign that the Catholic Church needs to become more progressive and more transparent. While the Catholic Church is proud of its traditions, they won’t mean much if membership in the Church dwindles – and according to the Slate article “He Didn’t Finish What He Started,” that’s exactly what’s happening.
In my opinion, the Church is in a position to make the biggest sweeping reform since the Second Vatican Council started in 1962. Vatican II changed the spoken language of the Mass from Latin to a colloquial tongue as part of an attempt to make the Church less imposing and more a part of traditional family life. However, it could be argued (as the aformentioned Slate article does) that it wasn’t enough to keep younger people involved. A more drastic shift in the Church could occur should a more progressive figure become pope, wherein things like homosexuality would be brought into a more contemporary context.
However, I’d bet that’s not going to happen. In January of this year, according to the Reuters article “Pope Benedict names new cardinals who’ll choose successor, mostly Europeans,” the retiring patriarch named an additional 18 conservative European cardinals who will participate in the papal election process. This decision raised the number of Europeans among the 125 cardinal electors to 67. This means that instead of a more diverse choice from another continent, we’re likely to see yet another conservative European.
Still, if I could implore the Catholic Church to do one thing, it would be this: Consider Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation as an opportunity to appoint someone new and different. Progress as an organization. Move beyond where you were and into present day.
The Church is quickly losing touch with our generation, and things aren’t going to get any better if the next pope stays the course. This is a changing world, and now is the time to move along with it.