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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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What’s next for the Vatican?

Students discuss Pope’s resignation
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Sidney Hollingsworth/The Daily Campus

The central lodge of St. Peter’s Basilica, where the new Pope appears soon after his election, is seen through a building alley at the Vatican, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. (Courtesy of AP)

Catholic Church in need of direction

At the end of the month, Pope Benedict XVI will resign as leader of the Catholic Church, the first pontiff to end his tenure in such a way since 1415. It is apparent that the pope is not as spry as he once was (and he wasn’t too spry to begin with; he took the position at 78 years old in 2005), so this decision makes sense. Theological infallibility won’t exactly do him much good if he finds himself in geriatric care in the next few years.

I commend Pope Benedict for recognizing his corporeal limits, but his resignation comes at an important crossroads for the Catholic Church. The Church today boasts nearly 1.2 billion followers worldwide. That’s over 10 times the number of adherents from just a century ago, according to The New York Times.

Moreover, demographic trends show that there are over 200 million more Catholics in Latin America today than in Europe. Nevertheless, European cardinals retain half the votes that will choose the next pope come March. If the cardinals elect someone from outside of Europe, we could easily interpret the choice as an acknowledgement of demographic shifts in the past few decades.

While there is no official campaign for the office of pope, several “front runners” have been identified in recent weeks, including Canadian Marc Ouellet, Ghanaian Peter Appiah Turkson and American Timothy Dolan. Whomever the church chooses will likely indicate the direction the Church hopes to go in the next generation. In 2009, Turkson suggested that condom use was worth considering for married couples in which one partner was H.I.V. positive; Dolan, on the other hand, is perhaps most famous for leading the charge against the Obama administration’s rules regarding birth control in the Affordable Care Act. Were the Church to select someone like Dolan over Turkson, it would no doubt indicate a desire to move in a theologically – and, perhaps politically ­-conservative direction.

The Catholic Church is facing an identity crisis. Last year, we watched as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops derided the Obama administration for requiring employers to provide birth control when over 97 percent of Catholic women surveyed have admitted to using birth control. We watched as Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller led an investigation into alleged “radical feminism” being taught by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (or nuns, as they’re referred to in everyday parlance). We even witnessed Pope Benedict during a pre-Easter homily give a scathing indictment of reform-minded priests seeking to end priestly celibacy in spite of continued sexual abuse scandals within the Church’s highest ranks.

There appears to be a huge discrepancy between the Church’s ivory tower leadership and its followers; this division becomes even more evident when one looks at different priestly orders within the Church. I recall being derided by fellow Catholics when I was in high school for studying under the tutelage of the Jesuits, an order that was supposedly “too liberal” and didn’t speak out enough on hotbed political issues like abortion. The Catholic Church is the single largest religious organization in the world (as well as its most charitable), but in the next few years it desperately needs to come to terms with what it wants its mission to be.

If the Church wants to continue to grow in the next century as it did in the last one, it ought to stick with the reform principles first espoused in Vatican II 50 years ago. It might try changing its rhetoric toward homosexuals and women, and it might consider addressing the financial woes that Catholic schools have been facing internationally. Alternatively, the Church could continue its hardheaded stances and ignore the material conditions in which its adherents live today. If it continues down this path, then I suppose its dogma will remain unsullied, but it will also have to settle for a much smaller and much more ideologically rigid congregation.

Bub is a junior majoring in English, political science and history.

Hope for the pope found in unity

When I found out Pope Benedict XVI was resigning from the Vatican, I was just as shocked as everyone else. No one alive can remember when the last time the pope resigned (try 1415). Of course, the pressure now is on the College of Cardinals to decide on a successor.

As much as every journalist writing on the big news at the Vatican likes to pretend they understand what is going on and who the next pope will be, let us not forget that the pope is supposed to be ordained by God. I suppose that makes journalists prophets.

Instead of making predictions or casting prophecy, I would rather discuss what I would like to see in the new pope.

In particular, I want to discuss my hopes for increased dialogue and unity between all Christians in addition to increased interaction between the Vatican and leaders of other faith traditions.

Roman Catholic dialogue with Islamic clerics was closed after Pope Benedict made controversial statements about Mohammed in 2006.

Later, dialogue was reopened in 2009 but was quickly closed in 2011 after the pope called for protection of Christian minorities in Muslim countries.

What does this say about the new pope? Not much.

Clearly dialogue is a two-way street, so both the Vatican and Muslim clerics have to speak to one another with decency. They must not only make personal connections and friendships across religious lines, but also talk candidly about interactions between Islam and Christianity, which is really what is at stake.

The pope must refrain from making disparaging comments about other religions in order to avoid closing dialogue, but of course, dialogue might be closed by the other side of the talks, whoever that side happens to be.

While the pope is the leader and representative of God and the Roman Catholic Church to the world, I am not certain that entails that he is the chief apologist for the Catholic Church.

While he must certainly articulate Catholic positions of faith and doctrine, perhaps the task of defending the faith from criticism and leveling critiques against other groups should be left to others.

While I hope that the pope will engage in interfaith dialogue, if we see a continuation of the policy of Benedict, then we will probably not see interfaith dialogue.

However, I am optimistic about unity between Catholics and the other sects of Christianity (Protestants, Coptic, Eastern Orthodox, etc.).

While I can only speak for myself as a Catholic-turned-Protestant, there are plenty of things to agree upon between Catholics and Protestants. While the two groups may disagree about the veneration of saints, the Virgin Mary and other important aspects of Roman Catholicis
m, anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic sentiments only further the disunity between Christ’s Church.

When I look at the greatest twentieth-century apologists, two men that stand out to me are G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Chesterton was a Roman Catholic; Lewis was an Anglican. Both of these men have presented “mere Christianity” (or Christianity stripped of the contentious context of tradition) in order to communicate the truth of the Christian faith to generations of people.

The new pope (and Protestants of every stripe) should look to contend for the faith by distilling the essentials of our faith as the great apologists have done in order to present the person of Christ in unity to others.

I do not mean that the various denominations should abandon those things that make them unique, but in working together, it is helpful to put aside those elements that have caused strife in the past. In doing so, we cannot only create a greater sense of unity within the Church, but can continue on the mission given to all Christians.

Dearman is a junior majoring in political science and philosophy.  

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