Catholics Grapple with Pope Benedict’s Resignation
by The Milton Measure on Friday, March 8th, 2013
The announcement last month of Pope Benedict’s resignation from the leadership of the Catholic Church sent the Catholic world into a frenzy. The pope cited his health as the reason for his decision, believing that his frailty was holding him back from performing the duties expected of the leader of the Catholic Church. The 86 year old becomes the first pope in nearly 700 years to end his papacy before his death, testing even the most devout Catholics with how to proceed. After delivering a final sermon on February 28th, Benedict has adopted the title of pope emeritus to honor his former status. However, this period of uncertainty has ushered in an opportunity for the Catholic Church to reevaluate its future in a gradually less pious world. The search for a new pope will bring to light the priorities of the world’s largest faith that represents 1.2 billion people, and perhaps bring change to the incredibly traditional ways of the papacy and other institutions that have been called outdated by voices inside and outside the Catholic community.
Part of the politics of electing a new pope will be the new pontiff’s home country. While there has never been a pope from outside Europe, many Catholics feel that the demographics of the Church’s followers call for a change. According to the BBC, currently more than 41% of Catholics come from Latin America, with more than 150 million followers in Brazil alone. Perhaps a Latin American cardinal is best suited to adopt the holiest position held by man in Catholic theology. A case could also be made that an African should assume the title, given that the continent represents the fastest growing Catholic population in the world. The church’s leaders would show an unprecedented open-mindedness in electing a truly “foreign” pope, given that Europe is no longer the Catholic heartland.
Perhaps the bigger issue yet to be resolved, as the Catholic faith tries desperately to attract followers and keep current believers, is how the church will accommodate social developments in modern society. Catholicism remains insistent that women cannot be priests. The religion also shuns homosexuality, refuses to offer communion to divorced persons, and stridently opposes all forms of contraception, along with abortion. While gender equality has become a norm in most First World countries, the Church’s outdated views on divorce, which exist solely for the purpose of preserving tradition, have been brought into question. Additionally, in recent years, the excuse of religion as justification for homophobia and the oppression of gays has become much less socially acceptable. The global community is still disturbed by the hypocrisy of promoting tolerance while condemning those who stray from what is expected of them. Lastly, marriage does not hold the permanence that it used to, and as divorce has become commonplace, the Catholic Church has faced an uphill battle to hold onto the sacredness that was once intrinsic to matrimony. These calls for equality as we move into the 21st century are becoming more and more prevalent, and such a broad-based organization as Catholicism must be aware of and adapt to them.
As society becomes less reliant on religion to govern individuals’ lives, the Catholic Church must adjust to accept the evolving morals of its believers. If holding onto tradition is more important than having plentiful and devoted believers who will spread the messages of tolerance and kindness, as Catholicism promotes, then the Church will struggle to remain relevant. The Catholic Church must take this opportunity to update its traditions and balance them with an ever-changing world that calls for equality, justice, and tolerance—just as Christianity demands.
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