Will the Pope's Resignation Propel the Church into Modernity?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI leaves after the mass in St. Peter's Basilica to mark the 900th anniversary of the Order of the Knights of Malta, on February 9, 2013 at the Vatican. (Andreas Solaro/Getty)

Pope Benedict XVI will resign at the end of the month, and he leaves behind a church shaken by sex abuse scandals, funding crises, and declining membership in many parts of the world.

While the pope certainly inherited many of those problems, his doctrinal conservatism alienated some, according to Robert Mickens, correspondent for the international Catholic weekly The Tablet, who was interviewed on The Takeaway yesterday.

"Benedict XVI, over the last eight years, has made a very strong appeal to move back to a more traditional style of church, even if that means people walk away," Mickens said. "So I think that in this kind of context, when even people in his own church are not altogether in line with him, that must be very difficult for a man who is approaching his 86th year."

Charlie Sennott, executive editor of GlobalPost and longtime reporter on the Catholic Church, agrees, adding: "He just did not have the energy to go forward to run a church of a billion Catholics worldwide with the tremendous struggles that it faces." Those struggles include the financial and moral implications of the priest sex abuse scandal and the issue of condom restrictions in the age of AIDS.

Sennott contends that Catholics are divided over Pope Benedict XXIII's approach to these issues, with some admiring his traditionalist drive and others condemning it. "He has really tried to bring the church back to what he has seen as its core."

Sennott does not believe a figure like Pope like John XXIII is going to come along to enact a reformist movement. However, he does believe there are promising progressive elements within some potential successors:"some of the leading candidates really could be very sophisticated on Catholic and Muslim issues and some believe in allowing divorced Catholics to remarry without an annulment and be able to receive communion."

Charlie's coverage of Pope Benedict’s resignation is featured on GlobalPost’s new Belief blog.


Charlie Sennott

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [9]

unkerjay from Puget Sound, WA

I think religion, not just Catholicism, like so many other ideologies, dogmas, theologies, what have you, provides a set of beliefs as a foundation for doing tremendous good and for blinding people into justifying, ignoring or overlooking bad as well.

Ideologies, dogmas, theologies are just like hammers in that regard - tools as a matter of interpretation - how you use them, what you take away from the teachings.

"Institutional racism" describes perhaps unintended harm, unintended consequence stemming from fundamental beliefs and practices. It places no blame on any one person, but, rather, systemic faults and flaws.

Likewise, I think any belief system can be riddled with institutional, systemic faults and flaws. The challenge is to be aware of the possibility, identify the faults and flaws and hopefully correct them.

However, like the institution of slavery, eugenics, and other inherently flawed systems, sometimes identification and correction aren't enough.

Nothing short of the abolition of slavery is sufficient correction.

Some things can be fixed. Some things, like the sexual abuse of children cannot be tinkered with around the edges and corrected.

Certainly it is an ongoing process at the global, local and personal levels to identify, take responsibility for and to the greatest degree possible ongoing corrective action.

Whether it be religion, politics, governance, or personal responsibility.

Institutions are notoriously slow, recalcitrant and resistant to such change. They have the capacity for enormous good and the perpetuation of

I hold the Church nor any religion, dogma, theology, or ideology as wholly or disproportionately capable of right or wrong. They are teachings which individuals bend to their own will, collectively that gives us democrats, republicans, conservatives, liberals, atheists, agnostics, catholics, jews, buddhists, vegetarians, the NRA, Planned Parenthood et. al. Flawed organizations full of flawed members that on any given day have the best of intentions or the worst of outcomes.

I expect no more or less from the Church regardless of who's in charge. There's only so much it can change and still be the Church as it has been recognized for centuries past and to come.

To be a part of it is to accept that.

Any change will be relative to but not unmindful of that. And as such is likely, I think, to be slow and contentious if at all.

Feb. 14 2013 01:49 AM
tom LI

As a former RC, and now a staunch Atheist - due to the brilliant education I received from the RCC education system - I find RC bashing tiresome. So many people expressing nothing but knee-jerk emotionalism, that probably stems from silly "instance" in their RC past.

Has the RCC done some nasty stuff? Sure has, and the sex abuse debacle was at the top of its list. But isn't our own nation guilty of crimes and "sins"...? Immorality and unethical behavior has not gone away because this nation is run by Protys. (And please dont tell me its because the children dont pray in school any longer.)Reality is, we've gotten worse as a nation, most especially in the miasma of immorality and unethical behaviors we call Congress.

Shall we have a fire-sale and close this nations doors too? No! We struggle forward, we find new ways to move forward. As should the RCC.

BUT - (knew that was coming, huh?) the only way the RCC can move forward and shed the "sins" of its past - is to focus on breaking some of its rules of tradition and truly seek to eradicate the superstitions it continues to promulgate, most especially in the developing regions/nations/cultures where its biggest markets lie.

Slowly break and reconfigure the vow of chastity for the priests. Quickly raise the role of women in the Churches and start to feel out a way to include them in the Priesthood. (not overnight!)

They need to truly focus on the education of the regular members, as well as provide resources for non-members to be better informed on the RCC - be it in their schools, or in their Church communities. Reach out and educate! People will come if they see they can actually learn something and not be preached at.

They need to stop promulgating the superstitions that so many people take as needed and part of the worship process - and that happens with education of the "whys and wherefores" of their rituals and ceremonies. Explain away the wives tales that cling to so much of that stuff. Rituals are rarely if ever explained to the worshipers - so they become arcane and spooky filled stuff.

Not easy tasks, but they have the knowledge and the means to be true educators of their pew-sitters and others "looking around" for a place of worship and community.

Feb. 13 2013 05:02 PM
Pattye McKinney from Guthrie, OK

It would be time to join at least the Twentieth Century, but I don't see it happening.

Feb. 13 2013 10:24 AM
CK from Yorktown

I'm always disappointed but not surprised at over the top commentary, likely by people who are not and have never been a part of Catholicism. First: it's unlikely that the church will take some radical turn to please the US or other more liberal countries (many of whom aren't even members of the congregation.) It's not the church's role to please: it's their role to guide. If you don't like the guidance, find another means of worship. 2.) Seems okay to Catholic bash: would you make the same comments about Jews? Isam? I'm not excusing the protection of pedophile priests but this goes beyond. And finally,3.) it's so easy to suggest throwing the baby out with the bathwater (Jamie below and others). To suggest there's nothing to the Church other than sins of a minority of priests and bishops is to deny that 1.6B members have among them, many good and charitable people. The charity, education and healthcare provided would NOT be replaced by others (government? really?) if the Church shuttered its doors.
Let's not be so heavy handed.

Feb. 13 2013 08:46 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I just would love to see what a retired Pope does and what his pension looks like...Also, I could imagine the old Pope bugging the new Pope and telling him what to do. Are two Popes better thqn one?

Feb. 12 2013 04:30 PM
tag from New Jersey

This seems to be the time to dispense with the role of Pope. There should be a consensus of opinion among the Cardinals and they would dictate policy and rules of the church. The pope and the monarchies of Europe are an anachronism. We now live in the 21st century, not the medieval ages.

Feb. 12 2013 01:23 PM

An artifact, if not contributing factor of the Pope's resignation is that he gets to influence the choice of his successor. This seems likely to result in the continuation rather than reevaluation of Pope Benedict's view of church policies.

Feb. 12 2013 12:27 PM
Jamie from dallas

As for replacing the Pope, I think this would be a great time for the Catholic church to call it quits, to close it's disgusting sin-ridden, stuck in past doors.

Feb. 12 2013 12:17 PM

It seems the Democratic Party has replaced the church for many as a sacred institution beyond serious reproach.
The little g of government is replacing the big G.

Democratic Party corruption, scandals, incompetence and a checkered history are willfully and systematically ignored with hypocritical double standards and a flawed political leadership is placed on grand pedestals all in the name of faith in the institution and their good works.
Any serious attempt to call attention to their failings with facts and figures and good faith reform is met with withering demagoguery and derision.

The human pitfall for the idealistic and the faithful is that with great success one eventually runs the risk of turning into what they despise.

Feb. 12 2013 10:08 AM

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