Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pope Dreams

It took all of two minutes after yesterday's surprise announcement about the resignation of Pope Benedict for speculation to start in the electronic and social media about the possibility of Cardinal Timothy Dolan becoming the next Pontiff.  The former Milwaukee Arch-Bishop is out-going, engaging, well-spoken, knowledgeable on subjects far beyond theology and a natural leader.  He has become the face of the Catholic Church in the US, engaging the Obama Administration in the fight over mandatory coverage of contraceptives and abortion procedures in the Affordable Care Act.  He has just one thing going against him when it comes to consideration for Pope--he is an American.

The Vatican has no interest is selecting an American to lead the church.  Until recently, we were already the world leader in everything else--so why should we have that position of power as well?  And the Catholic Church in America is in a state of eclipse--with membership on the decline, a serious shortage of priests to serve congregations and an increasingly diminished role in society.  Furthermore, the sexual abuse coverup perpetrated across the country for decades has cost/will cost the Church millions and perhaps billions of dollars in settlements.  And the Vatican doesn't like to part with its money (to outsiders) easily.

There was plenty of talk yesterday about how a Dolan papacy would "re-invigorate" the Catholic faith in the US.  But would having an American Pope really change the attitudes that have led to its decline here?  Would ex-Catholics suddenly say "Oh, the Pope is an American?  I guess I don't care about the role of women in the hierarchy of the Church anymore."  Or "Since Timothy Dolan is the Pope now, I guess I do oppose gay marriage and contraception again."  And it's not like the "lip service" Catholics already in positions of power--like the Kennedys, the Cuomos and John Kerry are suddenly going to change their politics to fit church teachings.

It is far better for the Vatican to focus its attention on the areas where Catholicism is actually growing:  South America, Africa and Asia--societies where the Church's teachings and social stances still fit with societal norms.  And where religion is actually a part of the government structure--unlike the US, where the Founding Fathers clearly spelled out the separation of Church and State.  That being said, will the College of Cardinals actually be comfortable with watching a man of color don the Papal Mitre or the Fisherman's Ring?  I'd be willing they will not--meaning another European white man to head the Church.  I mean, they've only been in business for 2,013 years--no need to rush into any major changes too quickly.

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