Cardinal Ratzinger was a fairly predictable choice for a Catholic Church mired in conservatism and medieval tradition. His uninspired leadership of the Church has ensured that membership of the Church in Europe has fallen and continues to fall, despite the somewhat popularity of John Paul II.
Why the conclave of cardinals took it into their heads to select Ratzinger as Pope, I will never fathom. Despite his being very close to his benefactor and mentor, John Paul, he was elderly, not in good health and did not have much of a following within the Church.
Benedict, like his predecessor, refused to continue the valuable work begun by John XXIII in the Second Vatican Council. John tried to free nuns to seek positions within the clergy, to become ordained as priests or bishops. Many within the Church refused to countenance any changes that they considered part of the tradition of the Church. In other words, women were to be kept in their place, which was mostly barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. Either that, or within the nunnery.
Where John was bold and modern in wanting to modernise the Church, John Paul and his companion Benedict preferred the comfort and exploitation of medieval practises. One of the issues dealt broached by Vatican 2 was the schism between the biblical literalists who insisted on literal biblical truth and those that preferred a more pragmatic approach. In the latter case, many of the biblical stories are seen as parables or allegories rather than historical fact. Benedict has taken the Church back to biblical literalism, which flies in the face of scientific evidence.
Where many modern churches now allow women to serve as priests, the Catholic Church languishes in traditions that are of no value in a modern society. There is no reason that there should not be female bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals, and one day, a female Pope. It is only the misogynistic traditionalism of popes like Benedict that prevents this from happening.
Regarding gays, the Church under Benedict, has still not reconciled itself to their existence, despite the fact that society has moved a long way toward legitimizing their relationships. The Church still cannot accept the genetic reality of homosexuality. The idea that fetuses are not perfectly conceived just does not enter their thought processes.
There is much that does not work precisely as we would expect during the process of mitosis. Mistakes in copying are made, whether the Church likes it or not. There are so many things can can go wrong during reproduction or fetal maturity that may impact a persons sexuality. People are born the way they are, and nothing the Church wants to do is going to change that. It is time for them to accept the science.
The same goes for contraception, which the Church has steadfastly refused to countenance, expecting their parishioners to use the highly unpredictable “rhythm method”. A great deal of poverty and misery around the world would be alleviated if congregants were just allowed to use common sense birth control methods. Benedict continued the policies of his predecessor, continuing to keep millions in poverty, with unwanted pregnancies.
Catholics continue to question whether the Church policies on divorce really accord with a modern lifestyle, in which both partners work, often at distance from one another, and in which people live far longer than ever before. The fact is that people change, and expecting them to stay together for forty years is just not realistic.
Benedict continued to follow the doctrine of celibacy for priests, another anachronism that has probably had some part to play in the pedophilia scandal that has plagued the Church around the world. To deny ones innate sexuality is ultimately a fruitless exercise that has led to abuse and exploitation of children. It would be far more sensible for future Popes to allow priests to marry.
When faced with the sex abuse scandal in the United States, the Pope disingenuously maintained that it was a local matter that should be resolved nationally and not by the Vatican. With the spreading scandal, he was forced to acknowledge the problem, eventually using the judicial system to investigate predatory priests.
Benedict also took very little action against the hierarchy within the Church in holding them accountable for the scandal. Believing himself to be beyond the law and the essential duties of the press in uncovering these scandals, he believed that he could sweep the mess under the rug with impunity.
At no point did he face the public outrage against the abuses of the priesthood, instead holding himself aloof from the fray. While his congregants may be referred to as a flock, they are not mere sheep. People have a right to be outraged at the actions both of predators within the Church, and of the actions taken by the Church hierarchy.
The most egregious violation of freedom is the denial of access to abortion for millions of women. These women are in an impossible situation. They are not allowed to use contraception to prevent pregnancy, other than the aforementioned rhythm method. In addition, men are considered the head of the household and entitled to indulge in their sexual needs, which results in unwanted pregnancy.
The woman cannot get an abortion under any circumstance, leading to large families and growing poverty. For a Church that believes in helping the poor and downtrodden, there is no better way to keep the poor impoverished. Benedict did nothing to resolve this situation.
The reform and modernization promised by Vatican 2 was, for the most part swept aside by this Pope, who has created an Imperial Papacy and not the kind of spiritual embrace advocated by John XXIII. He appears to see himself more as a spiritual imperator, rather than a spiritual guide, which is what the Pope should be.
The net result of the kinds of policies advocated by Benedict, and to a lesser extent his predecessor, has led to a hemorrhaging of the faithful from the Church. Many Catholics now become Jehovah’s Witnesses, or move to Protestant denominations rather than be forced to adhere to the rigid obsolescence of the Catholic Church.
While John Paul II was popular among the faithful, Benedict has done little to encourage a closer bond between the devout and the priesthood. This has caused the Church to lose power within European nations, even while increasing adherents in Africa and Asia. Catholicism will become increasingly irrelevant in the modern world unless the next Pope can change direction.
It is a great shame in some ways that the Church is weakened in Europe. There are, I am certain, many priests that really do care about the poor, the homeless, those without hope. The women that devote themselves to the Church as nuns also do wonderful works of charity, helping the sick and helpless. Unfortunately, further up the hierarchy, the Church appears today as corrupt as it was in Martin Luther’s time.
There is little doubt that the next Pope will be as intransigent and conservative as Benedict. The Papal Conclave will not do anything to modernise the Church by electing a less severe Pope, and a billion people around the world will be left with the spiritual scars to show for it.
Like the Republican Party in the United States and right-wing parties across Europe, the Papal Conclave is becoming more conservative and isolating its moderates. It is better by far to moderate opinions, to compromise and not to impose doctrine by force, whether it is in the secular, or the spiritual realm.
Benedict chose not to face the modern world and adjust the Church’s policies to remain in line with technological advances. Rather they retreat back into fantastical primitivism because they prefer tradition. There is no tolerance for dissent at all, which is all the worse for the future of the Church.
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