Papal Resignation: A Time for Change

pope

The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists. ~ Japanese Proverb

Pope Benedict XVI stunned Catholics and non-Catholics across the globe yesterday when he resigned saying, “I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of bishop of Rome, successor of Saint Peter.”

Like so many others, I was surprised by the news after all Pope Benedict was the first pope to resign in nearly 600 years.  The last time a pope resigned was Gregory XII in 1415.

There are many who believe that his resignation marks a great disservice to the Catholic Church because his exit comes in the midst of crisis and discord. In fact, some say the pope’s decision has as much to do with infighting within the Vatican walls as it does with his age and failing health.  Of course, everyone has heard about the widespread clergical sex abuse scandals and the Vatican’s alleged cover-ups.   But the Catholic Church has also faced much criticism for its rigid stance against gay marriage and homosexuality in general.  In fact, the Catholic Church spent a considerable amount of money on anti-gay marriage campaigns.  The pope’s spokesman even compared gay marriage to polygamy.

The Church is losing the battle and, in my opinion, will continue to lose the battle. I am happily married and straight but I’m also for gay and lesbian equality.  I have some close friends who are gay and I’m proud of that. To me, the most important thing is love and happiness, not gender.  If you find it with a member of the same sex, then fine.  God is not going to stand before you and say, “OK, you’re gay and now you’re going to hell.”  How can you on one hand say that you believe in an all loving God and then on the other hand say that He is going to condemn you to hell just because you love someone of the same sex?  The only thing that will matter is the good that we did while on this Earth and the love that we gave.

My point in telling you all this is that I believe in God and was raised Roman Catholic, yet I don’t believe in some of the teachings of the Church.  And I am not alone; the majority of today’s Catholics, according to a study by the Public Religion Research Institute, don’t believe in many of the Catholic Church’s policies and teachings.  For example, 54 percent of Catholics are in favor of allowing gay marriage.  Also, although most Catholics agree that abortion is wrong, the majority still believe in a woman’s right to choose.

Of course, the problems facing the Catholic Church go far beyond gay marriage and abortion. Some argue there is corruption within and rumors persist that Pope John Paul I was actually murdered because he was about to reveal financial disgraces involving the Vatican. Is this true?  I don’t know and perhaps we will never know the truth.  But what I do know is that for such a rumor to circulate in the first place things can’t be all that good.

The study goes on to show that most Catholics believe the Church has its priorities all wrong. More than 60 percent believe that more time should be spent focusing on helping the poor and social justice rather than arguing about gay equality and abortion issues.

Others argue that women should be allowed to become priests and marriage should be permitted amongst the clergy.  Allowing priests to marry, many believe, would decrease incidences of sexual abuse. Of course, nobody knows what the outcome of such radical changes would be but what we do know is the status quo, which has held for centuries, is outdated and does not work anymore.

Having said this, I’m not one who believes that Pope Benedict XVI’s departure marks a great disservice to the Catholic Church.  I have a great deal of respect for not only the pope but also the papacy.  I admire Pope Benedict for all the good he has done and certainly appreciate his willingness to step down.  I’m sure this was an extremely difficult decision for him and one he pondered for quite some time.

The Pope remains the single most respected and universally recognizable religious figure in the world, with over 2.3 billion Christians globally of which over half are Catholic. Popes through the ages have done immense good throughout the world.  Undoubtedly, however, changes need to be made, and they need to start with the papacy, or we may someday see an end to the Catholic Church.

It’s ironic how Pope Benedict’s resignation comes just before the Season of Lent, which is seen as a time for faith, renewal and reflection.  Hopefully, the Catholic Church is finally listening.  Hopefully, it will seize this opportunity for much-needed change.

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