Is the pope Catholic? The question is sometimes asked rhetorically, a colloquial way to emphasize the obviousness of an affirmative reply, but apparently many people would prefer that the answer were “no.” At they very least, they’d rather have a pope who’s not so exceedingly Catholic as those of the past couple of millennia.
As the College of Cardinals convenes in Rome to elect a successor to the recently retired Pope Benedict XVI, many Catholics and non-Catholics alike are offering plenty of advice. Some are asking for a pope that will take a permissive view of homosexuality, others are calling for a pope from the third world, and some are doing both despite the more theologically and sexually conservative nature of third world Catholicism. A group of women recently bared their breasts in St. Peter’s Square to draw attention to their demand for a more feminist sort of pope, which seems an odd tactic despite its undoubted effectiveness, and we expect that their view is shared by many of the church’s more modest women. According to a poll the majority of American Catholics favor a pope friendlier to contraception, and we suspect an even larger majority of the country’s non-Catholics would agree. The general consensus of the chattering classes seems to be that the Catholic church requires a hipper, more up-to-date pope that the kids can relate to.
So long as everyone is offering opinions, we’ll toss in our own hope that the Cardinals choose a Catholic to be pope. Although we are not at all Catholic, and in fact choose to worship with a very Protestant congregation at the opposite end of the High Church-Low Church spectrum, we nonetheless take a rooting interest in its continued existence. In addition to our shared faith in the basic tenets of Christianity, which can only be sustained in times like these by a collective effort, we also have an affinity for the western civilization that Catholicism has done so much to shape and an aversion for the pervasive modernity that the church has thus far admirably resisted. There is much to be said for traditions rooted in eternal truths which have stood the test of time, and institutions should be careful not to cast them aside for the sake of passing fashion and political correctness.
Whatever its faults, and as an institution comprised of humans it is bound to have a number of them, the Catholic church is one of the last lines of defense against the constant menace of the latest thing. Pope John Paul II played a crucial role in defeating communism, Pope Benedict XVI offered much needed support to the fight against Islamism, and throughout the centuries the church has offered brave resistance to all manner of governmental bullying. Even in the United States the church has been forced to fight in the courts for its right to practice what it preaches about contraceptives, and the effort is of the utmost importance to the religious freedom of all people of faith. The Catholic church’s teachings, especially those that strike the modern sensibility as odd or out of date, challenge an all-too-common belief in sexual nihilism, moral relativism, and the unbound power of man over the individual.
No wonder, then, that the so many are hoping for the first post-Catholic pope.
– Bud Norman