This past Tuesday, 110 Roman Catholic Archbishops left public view and entered the Conclave and stay there with no contact with the world until they choose a new Pope. Personally, I have no problem keeping these old men locked away until they decide to enter the 21st Century, new Pope or not. But two days after they went in, after two puffs of black smoke, there was a puff of white smoke and a new Pope was chosen and this time it’s a Woman! Sorry, that was just fanciful thinking!
The new Pope is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Bishop of Buenos Aires, who will now be known as Pope Francis. Pope Frances is also a Jesuit. So I suppose there will be lots of intellectual debate and scotch drinking in the private quarters after hours. I wonder if the New Yorker magazine will be showing up at the Vatican. There is no great surprise that the next Pope came from a Latin American country. Latin America is home to the largest Roman Catholic population on the earth. And the new Pope is from Buenos Aires! Even saying Buenos Aires is a party in my mouth! It makes me think that maybe the Vatican will be full of Samba, Rumba and the sounds of expensive liquor being poured over tickling ice with a backup of mojitos! I almost think this could be a good thing for the Church.
But then I remember, it’s the Catholic Church. The Church that makes fossilization seem like a rush job. Outside of Twitter, the modern world has barely seen inside of the Vatican. Women are still second class citizens. Well third class because even Altar Boys can get closer to the Altar than a measly nun. This is the Church who does not believe women are fit to serve. Not as deacons, lay ministers or even Altar Girls.
I would think after two decades of sex abuse and outright pedophilia running rampant in many dioceses, these holy men might take a second look at doing something to show they are not the same old boys club.
And Old Boys Club it is. Pope Francis takes his seat at a time when the average age of a priest in the United States as of June 1, 2012, has risen from 35 in 1970 to 63 in 2009. And with fewer men going into the priesthood, many priests cannot retire at the age the church recommends, 75. And according to Catholic News, the number of priests went from 410,593 to just 412,236, increasing everywhere except Europe. Now for many Catholics, this is good news. The report also states:
In the last five years, the number of seminarians rose more than 14 percent in Africa, 13 percent in Asia and 12.3 percent in Oceania. Numbers decreased in other regions of the world, particularly Europe, which saw a 10.4 percent drop in the number of seminarians between 2005 and 2010.
So, while the number of new priests is growing, it is interesting to note where this growth is taking place. Not North America, Europe or surprisingly Latin America. This is a problem for the new pope, how does the church keep attracting new blood into the priesthood. Why not allow priests to get married? The argument I hear is that the priest is married to the church. Okay. But does that mean that every single other religious leader of the Jewish faith, the other Christian faiths, the Muslim faith, or almost any other faith is not as committed to God as a Catholic priest? I find that arrogant and smug.
Who says a man cannot be a strong spiritual leader while also being a family man? Once upon a time, I was married. To get married in the Catholic Church I had to go through pre-cana. The first priest was actually pretty good. He was older and spoke with us as adults, gave us personality tests, made some good jokes and was more a councilor than a priest. Now the second guy, young and still wet from the seminary showers, was the opposite. Here is a man who has never kissed anyone else (as far as I know), will never fall in or out of love, will never have children, will never know the problems or joy marriage can bring into life. He will never understand the bond and heartbreak of a marriage. He and I will never have anything in common.
Why would I listen to anything he had to say? What would have helped would have been to have a married priest and his wife spend an evening hashing out what marriage means in the Catholic Church based on their experience. Questions and answers are more personal, commonality easier to find, trust instinctively given. The married couple we got to talk with at our pre-cana were as sad to me as the wife’s eyes were dead. Seriously this woman should flee her life before her womb falls out after bearing 13 children! And men, sending an emotionally dead woman with 13 kids to talk to me about marriage is just stupid. So I propose letting priests get married!
And because there are no women in power in the church, there is no talk of women’s issues such as child-bearing and contraceptives. Since priests are not supposed to engage in sex, they have no need for it! But in the real world, according to a Guttmacher report, among all women surveyed who have had sex, 99% have used a contraceptive outside of the Catholic Church’s laughable method of “Natural Family Planning.” This is another reality the Catholic Church will not accept.
So Pope Francis, what about women’s roles in the Church? What is their role in the 21st century? Last summer the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) reprimanded the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for being outspoken champions of social issues such as poverty and economic justice and not sufficiently dutiful in espousing the church’s (male) written doctrines regarding homosexuality, abortion and contraception. The Vatican has actually appointed an archbishop to essentially act as an overseer of the nuns and make them see the error of their ways. How insulting to the intelligent and compassionate women who have dedicated their lives helping the poorest and neediest among us.
Since these nuns and NOT priests spend their days working directly with disadvantaged women and their children, I would think the church would leave them to their good works grateful they still have nuns to do this kind of work. Look at their website and try to understand why the Catholic Church wants to shut them down because of “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” This is the kind of backward, sexist thinking by the Catholic Church that keeps independent women like myself far away from the religion in which they were raised.
So as the world welcomes a new pope, I wonder what will actually change? I suspect not much. I live in the 21st century. I believe that the Church has to do a complete about face to overcome the obstacles they created. The problems are numerous: abusive priests, the leadership that protected pedophiles, the lawsuits from the coverups, the sordid partying at the Vatican, the bank accounts, and claims of money laundering and financial mismanagement and their complete disregard for women. I can find no element of Catholicism that appeals to me or the world I inhabit. I want no part of a church that feels they need to silence outspoken women and nuns.
My hope is that Pope Francis, a simple and seemingly compassionate man of the poor can find a way to bring the church into relevancy. I don’t hold my breath on doctrine issues, that will never change. But if I see movement to include women in liturgical duties, allowing priests to marry, cleaning house with pedophilic priests and putting their financial house in order, I will believe that Pope Francis could actually be the savior of the 21st Century Catholic Church.