The departure of Pope Benedict XVI, aka God’s rottweiler in red pumps, has been greeted with rejoicing. And with good reason: besides stoking the Vatican’s homophobic hellfires, Benedict presided over the moral meltdown of the Church in the face of its wholly inadequate (some might say intrinsically evil) response to the pedophile priests scandal.
So anyone else is bound to be an improvement, right?
The Vatican is a lot more like a club than a corporation. In a corporation, when things go wrong, the CEO leaves and the new CEO comes in with a different or better management style to shake things up. But in the Catholic Church, all of the new papal wannabes owe their privileged status to the guy on the way out (and to John Paul II, his predecessor).
The cardinals got to be cardinals because they think like Benedict and follow the strict conservative line he’s been laying out for the Church ever since he became head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s doctrinal purity league) in 1981. In short, the cardinals are wholeheartedly behind Benedict’s philosophy.
They may think he wasn’t a great leader or administrator, something even his most ardent admirers admit. But they don’t think he was a failure. If they did, they’d have to admit they were failures, too.
So now the club elects a new president from within its own ranks. And, as any high-schooler can tell you, if you don’t fit in you’re not going to be the club president. In fact, you’re probably not in the club at all, because the members won’t let you in.
The sad thing is that for a brief moment in the 1960s and 1970s, the Catholic Church had a chance to embrace modernity and understand that applying its doctrines to a changing world didn’t degrade the faith. That’s what Pope John XXIII hoped when he opened the window of Vatican II to let some fresh air in. Unfortunately, the conservatives thought it was too drafty and quickly slammed the window shut. What we’re left with now is a Catholic Church hierarchy that is resistant to understanding the world in which we live and that fiercely denies anything that might challenge its ossified policies. In essence, the Republican party in church vestments—and with the same demographic problem.
Of course, individual clergy keep proving Catholicism can still spring from a real generosity of spirit. Unfortunately, those folks aren’t running the show. So when the white smoke goes up from the Vatican chimney, it will signal more than just the election of a new pope.
It will signal the burnt hopes of a lot of Catholics for a fresh start.
Photo: Sergey Gabdurakhmanov