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"Theologians, myth, & religious peace"
A Change of Pope |
The Pope has passed on, and we may know within the next month whether the new emerging leader of the world's Roman Catholics will belatedly take this major faith into the modern world, or leave it as at present, wallowing in the hopeless doctrines and practices of the past.Abstract:
We have seen a Pope during the past 26 years traveling the world and encouraging his flock with smiles and blessings. He will rightly be remembered for the great value of these public relations trips; they have nearly all been brilliantly staged, and may have helped to stem erosion of morale in the Roman Catholic church during a difficult period. John Paul II has thus appeared the most accessible Pope since John XXIII, though also the most authoritarian.
What should we hope for in the new Pope? What should he do to rid his church of its medieval cast? What are the difficult issues where he can make a positive difference in the world, in contrast to the harm and social backwardness that the church has often been identified with? At least four major issues readily suggest themselves, where the new Pope could bring the church around to the modern world, and thereby do the world a world of good.
The world must hope that the new Pope, a man, of course, will have the fortitude to apologize for previous Popes and for the Roman Catholic hierarchy, to say forthrightly, "We have been wrong", and to change the church's noxious policy barring women from equality in the church.
And where has the Pope and the Roman Catholic church been on the critical need to limit our population growth? Again on this issue the Roman Catholic church has been – again largely because of the intransigence of the Pope – the most obstructionist organization on Earth. And it has been successfully obstructionist. The Pope has repeatedly admonished Roman Catholic believers that they must avoid any meaningful measures to limit their childbearing; that, on the contrary, their mission is to bring as many souls as possible "to the table of life". As a result, population growth, which has been reduced and stabilized in non-Catholic western countries or regions, continues unabated in Roman Catholic countries, aggravating the predictable social ills associated with crowding and poverty. Not to mention that the Pope's adamant prohibition on Roman Catholics' use of condoms has prevented church members from making use of this most effective, universally accepted prophylactic measure against AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. This in itself is a damning indictment of the social harm – illustrated by the needless, painful deaths of hundreds of thousands – that the most recent Pope directly caused.
We can only hope that a new and less regressive Pope will use his position to countermand the self-serving (makes more Catholics!) but unfortunate guidance given by recent Popes, and permit his church's believers to take modern measures to control their fecundity and protect themselves from disease, and thereby give their countries hope for a more stable future.
During the settling of the Americas by Europeans, most of the continent – actually all of the Americas south of the US – was settled by Roman Catholics and became societies that reflected the moral philosophy of the church as well as its autocratic organization. In these societies, the Roman Catholic church was the moral voice. The history of those societies give an indication of the church's and the Pope's commitment to human rights and democracy.
While John XXIII and other Popes have committed the Roman Catholic church to reducing poverty, and have declared it a "right of man" to have adequate provision of food, housing, health care, and education, the millions of poor of the Roman Catholic world have for centuries been urged by the church to contribute what little they could to build and maintain the gilded magnificence of the church's power structure. On his ornate throne, in his gold-encrusted church, looking out over the church's billions of $$ of gratuitous excess wealth, do the Pope's words about economic rights and equality for all sound hollow to his many desperately poor followers?
One can hope that a progressive new Pope will take the Roman Catholic church back to its 2000-year-old common roots. A good start would be to sell off the church's obscenely vast financial holdings, including palaces, art, gold, land, and the Vatican itself; to return this fortune to the poor from whom it was taken; and to set up its administration in a simple monastery, where the Pope may enjoy a vow of poverty rather than his present gilded cage.
The criminal church
What brought on the crimes by the American Catholic priests and the complicity of the bishops? We can't pretend to have the answers, but can there be much doubt that the requirement for a celibate priesthood has played a role? One result of this requirement is of course that men who are inclined to marry stay out of the priesthood. But the priesthood gets thereby, not asexual men, but sexually frustrated men, of whom a goodly proportion would be expected to have homosexual tendencies. When such men are placed in charge of young acolytes, who may be the very object of their sexual desires, and when such men are represented to their young charges as being the holy servants of God and their authoritative moral guides, is it not predictable that sexual abuses result? Characterization of Roman Catholic priests, monks, and friars as sexual rogues goes back to the Middle Ages; not much seems to have changed.
Our hope for the new Pope must be that he will cancel the celibacy rule for the priesthood, and welcome psychologically healthy family men and women into the priesthood. And that he will vow that the Roman Catholic church will report all evidence of abuse or other crime by church employees to civil authorities, and fully cooperate with criminal investigations and proceedings against violators.
We must wish the new Pope well. He has a lot to straighten out in his church. The effort to change its reputation from callousness, criminality, and autocracy to one of caring, morality, and democracy is daunting. May his God give him guidance.
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