The Catholic Church is not in crisis. The haste with which most commentators are stumbling over their casuistical feet to explain the sudden abdication of Pope Benedict XVI as the beginning of the end of the Catholic Church is an inexcusable screed.
The 85-year-old Pope’s decision to step down for reasons of human, bodily frailty cannot be overemphasized. Perhaps he is tired; perhaps he wants to try to get closer to his God; perhaps he wants to turn the job over to someone with more energy and vision. It is a very personal decision and should be respected.
In truth, acknowledging one’s inability to fulfill divine mandates seems more like an old-fashioned Biblical virtue. So it is unfortunate that the horse has already left the barn: The world at large (non-Catholics) already judge the Church, at least in part, on the Pope’s human qualities. The Pope is both a theological arbiter and the leader of the church. These commentators tend to string together a series of in-the-news memes and then draw a conclusion based on nothing more than vapor. Excuse me for saying so. Having your own opinion is fine, having your own version of history makes you nutty.
I am puzzled how most commentators holding brief for Catholicism do not understand the church, and that they condemn what they do not understand … condemnant quod non intellegunt. It reminds me of the years, as a student in Europe, of the endless reading of what people thought was going on behind Kremlin walls during the Cold War.
Yes, as is true with any large organization, the Catholic Church has its problems, but how many more decades have to pass before the sexual abuse scandals are placed in perspective? The Catholic Church is arguably one of the greatest sources of good in the world today; its charities give more to the poor and hungry than any single organization, including the US government. Catholic schools educate children worldwide, not only in religion, but also in reading, writing and arithmetic.
Journalists depict the Catholic Church as an oligarchy ruled by a bunch of domineering old men who are obsessed with control of their congregation’s behavior, but that story line doesn’t fit the truth. There is a huge difference between advising and controlling. Catholics are free to make their own choices. Moreover, the Church is the people of God, not the hierarchy. It is the people of God who continue to labor, pray, love and hope despite all. The people of God read, think, consider and make intelligent decisions. They are not sheep blindly following an errant shepherd.
We know what we are doing because we know in whom we believe. Indeed, crux spes unica. The cross is the only hope.
I remain a practicing Catholic because the Church has sustained the centrality of the teachings of Jesus Christ over the past 2000 years. The call to Love One Another as He Loved animates the personal lives of all Catholics. Such virtues are to be found in the cornerstone of most modern democracies. The church is also where I feel at home when I worship God.
Yes, I am horrified by the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, where figures as inspiring as Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day stand side by side with sexual predators. But for me, and I think many serious Catholics, coming to grips with these forces within the church is a trial, like balancing my own humanity and my quest to follow Jesus’ teachings.
As for a successor, the vast majority of believers today are from the so-called global South. These Catholics subscribe readily to the church’s doctrines and see no reason to hit a system upgrade just because Americans and Europeans are headed for the exit doors.
In that respect, the church may well consider electing a leader who looks like the vast majority of its adherents. Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze … well-read, very outgoing and charismatic, or Ghana’s Cardinal Peter Turkson come to mind.
Whatever happens … fiat voluntas Dei … May God’s will be done.
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