Last Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign at the end of the month, becoming the first pope to do so in nearly six centuries.
Citing old age and declining health, Benedict delivered his resignation speech in Latin to a group of cardinals early Monday morning. Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi announced the Cardinals will meet shortly to choose Benedict’s successor.
This news comes as a shock to the Catholic community, as Benedict leaves behind an institution struggling with severe, reprehensible allegations of clergy sex crimes and accusations that he assisted in covering up such abuse.
With these incriminations still unresolved, and conservative views established on contraception, abortion, homosexuality and other social policy touched upon in church doctrine, it is a strange enigma that Catholicism is such a prevalent entity.
Especially in the United States, where it seems so many of the Catholic Church’s principles clash with what many people want America to become: a place of acceptance and equality.
This outlines a fairly important struggle among Catholics, new and old.
Are you a “true Catholic” if you don’t adhere to every theological teaching of the church?
Are you Catholic if you accept marriage equality, contraception usage and premarital sex? What about pro-choice advocacy or evolution? What about refusing fundamental values such as Jesus rising from the dead — are you a Catholic then?
And data from a survey (taken every six years) by the American Catholic Laity project suggests it’s possible, as well.
Nearly one third of Catholics surveyed said you could be a “good Catholic” without believing Jesus rose from the dead. Researchers also indicated that many Catholics are becoming increasingly comfortable forming their own opinions on issues such as same-sex marriage and “the need to attend mass regularly.”
The older Catholic generation might find it blasphemous, but as a new generation tries to find its place in the church, is it possible for them to transform the traditional Catholic into one that is more moderate, or even, dare I say, progressive?
It should be, but it shouldn’t stop there.
And more appropriately, the change in the Catholic Church should start at the top. The introduction of a new pope could spell much-needed change for an enterprise marred by child-abuse scandals and riddled with intolerance justified by biblical allegories.
Firstly, animosity towards the Catholic Church is strongly rooted in the shameful child-abuse crimes and subsequent cover-ups in archdioceses across the nation and abroad. The leaders of the Catholic Church have proven time and time again that their first priority is protecting their own, exemplified clearly in the 1984 case of Gilbert Gauthe. The Church knew about Gauthe’s sex crimes for over a decade, but did nothing to stop the abuse. He was transferred to a different parish, where he continued to rape little boys, and was only stopped when one of his victims came forward.
Since then, more than 6,000 priests have been “credibly” or “not implausibly” accused of raping or sexually abusing children or adolescents. These crimes are unforgivable, and so far the Church’s unwillingness to step forward and properly handle the allegations is a disaster from which it can never be redeemed.
Even still, the leaders of the Church have an obligation to the victims to practice decency and speak up; evading authorities is and never was acceptable in the eyes of the law, nor, I’m assuming, in the eyes of God.
Secondly, loosening the Church’s conservative approach on social policies would be an easy, though non-accustomed, and very unlikely, way to change trajectory.
In a society marked by its quickly progressing acceptance of liberal philosophies, the church would be wise to start preaching acceptance. Actual acceptance, not acceptance of everyone but homosexuals. Substantiating bigotry or any other forms of exclusion and hatred based on passages in any book is a severely misguided concept.
If the Catholic Church is convinced of the righteousness of their religion, now is the time to prove it; by admitting their own faults, and preaching the ability to hold strong to one’s personal moral convictions while still staying faithful to the church.
In a piece written by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, he makes a resonating statement that Pope Benedict “put far more emphasis on God’s love than on His judgment.” The Catholic Church as a whole should do the same.
Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.