For the first time in almost 600 years a sitting Pope has resigned. The last was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. And unending speculations and analyses have come forth over that. Some claim he this move weakens the church, some claim it strengthens the church. Only time will tell.
The election of a new pope is always a big deal. It is cloaked in grand ceremony and anticipated with great speculation and heavy news coverage. Every pope is different and some are more progressive than others. Pope John XXIII is the first pope I remember. His papacy ran from 1958 to 1963 and signaled one of the biggest changes in the Catholic Church with Vatican II which he opened in 1962. The fact that he did not live to oversee its conclusion has led to speculation as to how it would have been if he had. Nonetheless he was a highly influential leader and was subsequently declared a saint in 2000.
His successor Pope Paul VI and then the short-lived reign of John Paul I. John Paul II, the first Polish Pope, was the first pope in my memory to have an impact similar to that of John XVIII.
Benedict XVI certainly had his share of controversy, not the least of which is his having been a member of the Nazi Youth. And his rule was marked by the peak of the child sexual abuse cases which continue to plague the church.
I am hardly an expert on papal history and will not attempt to comment on the careers of these men save for a few observations. But I have been witness to the impact of some of these changes in my part of the world and am given to wonder what is in store for the next era.
Certainly there are the hopes that the next pope will liberalize the Catholic Church and take further steps to recognize and respect other religions. On another level there is the possibility being discussed of having the first American pope but that would be more of historical interest I think. It seems to me that the discussions of the papacy are largely centered on traditions and deviations from traditions rather than concerns about global and political impacts.
Regardless of who is elected the tasks at hand are great, at least in terms of the role of the Catholic Church and it’s role in the world. But I have to wonder if these tasks are so difficult because the church itself has lost relevance in the modern world. With its stances on the roles of women in the church, gays in the church and its unforgivable refusal to deal with sex abuse the church has lost its credibility for me.
Having been raised Roman Catholic I tried to see beauty in the church and its teachings. I did see some of that beauty but it has since been eclipsed by the wholly inadequate way in which I have seen the church deal with the modern world. I will look to the papal election with the interest I would the election of an official from a distant town whose impact will likely not touch my life.