The Pope has figured out what he’s giving up for Lent. Last week Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world by announcing his resignation from the papacy due to what he described as “advanced age.” Cardinals are now tasked with the duty of electing a new pope, so what better time than now to make dramatic change within one of the Western world’s oldest institutions?
Breaking tradition is certainly not a trait the Catholic church usually possesses, but the pope’s resignation was radical enough to shake even some of his inner circle’s zucchetto caps. This is primarily because he is the first pope to resign in almost 600 years and every other pope who has served has stayed in his position until death.
He is not a man of progress, though. Pope Benedict leaves behind a papacy marred by numerous sexual abuse cover-ups, allegations of human rights abuses and insensitivity towards Islam and Judaism. Not to mention much more archaic ideas about gay rights and birth control than held by his predecessor John Paul II, or many of his followers.
While some believe it is noble of Benedict to quit a position he feels unfit to run any longer, others believe the resignation, which will take effect Thursday, is simply an easy way out. Once out of his position he will distance himself even farther from his numerous cover-ups. In fact, Vatican sources announced that he will continue to live in the mini city-state of holiness for “protection.”
The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland reported on Feb. 15, “The child abuse scandal in the Catholic church has spread to some 65 countries, with victims estimated to be in the many thousands.” Rather than pay for his actions of covering up so many of these during his decades in the clergy, Benedict will hide away in lavish comfort until he dies. No matter how old Benedict is and how important his influence goes, he should still answer for his actions.
At the moment the more pressing matter for the Church is appointing a new pope.
Perhaps now is the time to consider getting rid of the papacy altogether and instead urge the Church to focus its efforts on more important advances by easing bans on birth control and contraceptives, removing its oppressive hand from people’s personal lives, and investigating and prosecuting those at fault for ruining the lives of thousands of innocent children.
But of course it is not that easy to simply end almost 2,000 years of tradition, especially for a religion that is so culturally rich and significant for more than 1 billion people. So if tradition must continue on, let it at least move forward in a progressive direction. There are currently two men of color in the pool of top contenders from which an assembly of 118 cardinals will choose the new pope.
The papacy has been dominated by white European men since its creation, failing to represent Catholicism’s massive presence in Latin America, Asia, the Philippines, rapidly growing numbers in Africa, and of course, the culturally diverse United States.
A non-Caucasian, or at least a non-European, pope could bring a new perspective to the papacy. Since we won’t see a female pope any time soon, let’s urge the Church to make the progressive steps it can now to give Catholicism a new face and perhaps a more positive impact for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.