Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Who will be the next pope and does it matter?

On Monday, March 4, 2013, a group of Roman Catholic Cardinals sent Joseph Ratzinger, the former pope, a telegram expressing gratitude for his service.  I read that headline and said, “Telegram?  Telegram!?  People still send telegrams???”  

In my 40+ years, I have never sent or received a telegram and would not know how to do so if my life depended upon it.  I Googled it and still don’t know how to send a telegram because even Western Union stopped transmitting telegrams. 

But, maybe when a guy announces his retirement in Latin, sending a farewell message using Morse code is just what you do.  Carrier pigeons aren’t much used anymore for communication, the Pony Express is defunct and was U.S.-only anyway, and they reserve the use of smoke signals for announcing a new pope.  Perhaps they figured this was their next best anti-modern alternative.

The pope’s resignation speech delivered in Latin screamed, “I’m out of touch!”  The Cardinals sending him a telegram shouts back, “Not to worry!  So are we!!!!”  Yet, meanwhile, back in the 21st century, a February, 2013 survey indicates that the vast majority of U.S. Catholics believe the Church is – you guessed it – out of touch.   And these out of touch Cardinals will soon elect from among their out of touch brotherhood, the next pope.  What are the chances that the next pope will be in touch with the faithful or the modern world in which they reside?

So, while many people question who will be the next pope, I wonder, “Does it matter?”

The same survey indicated that most U.S. Catholics hope the church will do an “about face” on most of the hierarchy’s favorite topics: birth control, married clergy, female clergy, and the treatment of homosexuals.  It also indicated that about 80% of Catholics will follow their conscience rather than what the pope says.  So, again with regards to who is elected pope I ask, “Does it matter?” 

Yeah, that person will get to wear some kickin’ red designer shoes and have quite a collection of fancy hats and robes.  Yeah that person can publish edicts, encyclicals and bulls and even give weekly addresses to thousands of people in a rock-star celebrity atmosphere, but who’s actually listening and more importantly, who’s following? 

Much like England still has ceremonial royalty that captivates the hearts of many a Brit while confusing the rest of the world, is the papacy just another mostly impotent nostalgic ornament?  Yes, yes, the pope will be one of only six absolute monarchs in the world along with the rulers of the esteemed countries of Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland.  But let’s put this in perspective.  As of March 2011, the Vatican had 572 citizens, 220 of whom actually lived in Vatican City while the other 352 were apostolic nuncios (ambassadors to other countries) and their staff.  A person can only become a Vatican citizen through appointment and the overwhelming majority of those appointees are single male clergy.  Despite the hierarchy’s unyielding stance on birth control, a population explosion in the Vatican is unlikely.  How much of a world power can and should a state of 500 or so be?

The media report that the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics are “without a leader.”  Let’s see, 80% of Catholics say they follow their conscience rather than what the pope says. Furthermore, 97% of Catholic women use birth control despite the pope’s edicts.  A majority of Catholics support female and married clergy as well as equal treatment of homosexuals in secular society.  Doesn’t a leader by definition need followers?  Doesn’t the prima facie evidence indicate that most Catholics don’t follow the pope?  So by definition, was he actually ever leader of the 1.2 billion Catholics?

By the way, since a valid bishop in the Apostolic Succession ordained a group of Roman Catholic women priests in 2002, the number of ordained Catholic women has grown each year over the last 10 years by 33%.  In contrast, the number of ordained males grew by a mere %0.06 after years of declining numbers.  Yes, do the math.  Ordained vocations of women are growing at a 550 times faster rate than those of men despite the pope excommunicating people, penalizing people, declaring female ordinations the worst of all sins and saying “it simply cannot happen.”  I ask again, who does the pope lead?

Any power the pope has outside of his little kingdom of less than 600 people is because people choose to give him that power. More and more, people choose not to grant the pope powers which resulted in his frustrated attempts to vociferously assert his power.  It calls to mind a situation I once had in high school where the principal called me into his office to rant at me that he was in charge.  I sat calmly with my head cocked to one side listening to him yell at me – red-faced, arms flapping, stomping around his office.  When he finished I said in an even matter-of-fact tone, “If you were in charge, you wouldn’t need to tell me that.  In fact, you’re not in charge and are worried that I am.” And, I left his office.  I think there’s a fair amount of that occurring in the church these days. 

There are people who have a nostalgic view of the position of pope though they don’t listen to its office holder.  There are also people who make a lot of money from idolizing the pope – the media, the hierarchy, religious goods vendors to name a few.  So, I don’t think the office of pope will disappear anytime soon.  But, I do think the power of the office is changing dramatically.  To what extent it changes depends more so upon the 1.2 billion Catholics and how much power they wish to grant the officeholder than upon what the next person with the custom-made red shoes decides to do in the office.

My mom used to tell me about one of her favorite Mahalia Jackson songs, “Let the Church Roll On.”  After she died a year ago I loaded her Mahalia Jackson CDs onto my iPod but never listened to them until recently when that song played in random shuffle mode.  I was struck by the song’s lyrics, “If a preacher in the church and he don’t preach right, say what should we do?  Well, we won’t do that, we’ll just pray for him and let the church roll on!”

The church is rolling on – with or without the hierarchy.  So while they respond to Latin spouted resignations by sending telegrams into a tweeting world, I on behalf of many in the church offer them as food for contemplation the sentiments in the lyrics to another song about rolling, “Roll with the Changes” by REO Speedwagon.  We are tired of the same old story (lies, manipulation, clergy abuse, lack of accountability, lack of compassion, corruption, ignoring the poor, disenfranchising women, bashing gays, ignorance about human sexuality and psychology, a sexually active clergy that presents a facade of continence, etc...) and would like you to turn some pages to roll with the changes, guys.  Our cup is on the table with our love spillin’ and we’re just waiting here for you to take and drink of it.  But, if you don’t, we’re gonna let the church roll on.  Are you going to join us trying to imitate Christ's care for the poor and marginalized or stay behind enshrouded in your delusions of power, superiority and grandeur, spouting Latin and sending telegrams?

"Roll With the Changes" by REO Speedwagon.


  1. It may be a small point, but the Pope actually doesn't wear Prada. That lede was picked up by the media, but it's wrong. The Pope's shoes are made by the Vatican cobbler. Not sure which is worse wearing Prada or having a cobbler, but at least report the facts as they are not as others report them.

  2. I am privledged to know one of the blessed women priests in her Catholic Church, and was married by a Cardinal of His Catholic Church. My daily contact with my God has been a blessing of by 18 years of Sobriety where I've been blessed to sponsor ministers of many religions, including catolicism and satanism, all of which search as in Merton's Journey. Thanks for doing your part and praying for us all.
    Rob M.

  3. Hi, My name is Fran.
    I've had to pretend to be "anonymous" because I don't know how to post properly!
    Yes it matters who gets to be pope. It matters to the majority of Catholics who are not middle class North Americans or Europeans. The majority church is poor, black, female and, certainly by your standards, poorly educated. Many of these people are ruled by fear from all sides: the male head of the family, the boss, the government,the church.
    Many have died and left behind little children because they tried to carry the burdens tied upon their backs by representatives of the popes.
    I agree that we can be Catholics without being papists but I don't think every Catholic really gets to exercise that right.
    There may be little hope of finding a pope who holds "liberal" views on the "pelvic" matters that have so obsessed the bosses of the church since poor old St Paul, (whatever his problem was).
    However, they do not all hold such conservative views because they just don't care. Many older people find it hard to break habits of thought. Surely there is some hope of finding a man of courage, integrity, compassion and a dash of common sense.
    Some one who could see that there is enough to keep anyone (hopefully more than one) busy: properly addressing the evils perpetrated against children, putting the ecclesiastical finances in order, setting up just and workable church governance. If he wants to do some denouncing, he could concentrate on hunger, war, lazy governments and greedy financiers. A pope with such a sense of priorities simply would not have time to be ranting on about what people get up to in their bedrooms.
    To be fair, many church leaders are concerned about poverty and justice and do speak out but a guy in a dress going on about how gay marriage is going to bring about the end of civilisation is always going to get more attention from the press.
    I'm praying for someone who doesn't want to be pope because he knows it is an impossible job for one man. The Holy Spirit has surely dropped the cardinals enough hints recently about what the most urgent problems are. She just needs to give them a nudge to spot the best person to start tackling them.
    There is always hope.

  4. Another note of clarification or addition to the statistic..."97% of Catholic women use contraceptives"....What percentage of Catholic men use some form of contraception i.e. condoms, vacsectomies, etc.?

    Actually 100%, or I would guess close to that percentage, of catholic couples most likely use some form of birth control..Natural Family Planning is a form of contraception.

  5. The statistics quoted demonstrate the truth of the adage "There's lies, damn lies and statistics".
    By the author's own account she was a smart-a... in high school and obviously has never outgrown it.

  6. @Bill K, I'm not sure how you come to the conclusion that I was a "smart-a" in high school. In fact, I had confronted a grade fixing scheme which resulted in our "valedictorian" having been given grades he did not earn. Thus I had told the principal I was considering not attending graduation since his grade-fixing had demeaned the diploma. The principal pulled me into his office screaming at me that I had to attend graduation because I was the Salutatorian and that there were other people saying they would boycott graduation. I explained that I didn't have to attend graduation and that my parents supported my decision. That was when he launched into how he was the one in charge here.

    You assumed, incorrectly I might add, and you know what they say about those who assume... Or, perhaps, speaking truth qualifies as "smart-a" in your book.

    If you disagree with the statistics offered, please provide yours that are better.

  7. Fran, thank you for your very thoughtful reflections. It is a good reminder that not all people live in societies free from religious coercion.

  8. What difference will it make?
    The Holy Spirit asks
    Why do we expect someone else
    other than ourselves
    to do what is needed
    to make Church Christ-like?

    If We ARE Church,
    The Body of Christ,
    why would we depend on
    some hierarch
    make Church
    all that it can be
    for us?

    Do we not see that
    are created for
    the benefit of
    the hierarchs
    not for those who fund them?

    Just look at how
    the hierarchy has treated abuse victims,
    their abusers, and the relevant laws.

    Just look at how
    the hierarchists have misused donated monies
    for their own personal benefit.

    Is our Faith
    and/or our personal Growth
    on who is atop the hierarchy?

    Do we really think
    the church gone astray
    is solely because of one man?

    What difference will it make
    who is elected the next Chief Hierarch
    by his fellow hierarchists?

  9. Hmm, good job! This is really something!