Officially, as of today, Pope Benedict XVI will have resigned his Papal title in a surprise announcement he made a couple of weeks ago. This resignation is an act that has not happened in hundreds of years, but more importantly this early retirement leaves speculation as to who will become the new leader of the Catholic Church.
The Pope who preceded Benedict broke a record himself, becoming the first non-Italian Pope since the 14th century, when Karol Wojtył became Pope John Paul II in 1978.
The election of a Polish nationalist to the highest seat in the Vatican was no accident, and his long and productive term resulted in tangible political change, directly in Eastern Europe, and indirectly all over the world.
In picking a new Pope, this is exactly what the Papal Conclave should strive for; a young, motivated leader who will do more than just guide spiritually, but will also lead politically. A leader who can actually change the trajectory of the church (social issues are a whole different issue), and not merely read Latin.
The Vatican made a fundamental mistake picking Benedict to be their Pope for numerous reasons, mainly being his age, and secondly being that he seemed disinterested in politics, or perhaps seemingly so in contrast to his predecessor. Benedict’s political contributions have been sparse outside of demeaning Muslims in a 2006 speech where he quoted Manuel II Palaiologos, a fourteenth century Byzantine emperor who said, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
To elect someone to be more than just a Bishop of Rome would mean picking someone who is knowledgeable about today’s world politics, and willing to do something to affect things for the better. It is well known that people’s religious beliefs easily affect their political outlook, and in this sense the Catholic Church has an advantage that other major religions do not possess. This person would mostly likely be someone from an area of political interest, like John Paul II himself, so this could potentially mean the election of an African or Asian leader.
This naturally leads into the question, is the Catholic Church ready to have a Pope who is not white? This remains to be seen. This question in turns leads to another dilemma.
A chronic problem of all politics worldwide is the exclusion of women, with very few women in executive power positions and only slightly more in positions of less power in various governments. Whatever the reason for this exclusion, the Catholic Church is obviously extremely patriarchal, and this, in turn, directly makes the Catholic Church less effective by cutting their pool of potential Popes in half, and thus limiting the talent that could lead the Vatican. This same argument applies to any government worldwide, to a more or a lesser degree.
Of course, women will not be leading the church anytime soon, because a necessary prerequisite would require women to be active at all other levels of the Church’s hierarchy, starting with being priests and so on and so forth.
According to a 2010 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called “Norms concerning the most serious crimes” priests involved in sexual abuse cases had committed a grave crime, but the document also didn’t forget to clarify that the ordination of women was an equally serious crime.
In this sense, a sexual abuser has a better chance of becoming Pope than a woman.
Photo courtesy of prezydent.pl