Thank God for small miracles. Or, in this case, huge ones.
Pope Benedict’s decision to resign has given the Catholic Church an unprecedented opportunity to save itself. Whether the conclave of Cardinals takes advantage of this blessing or blows it all to hell remains to be seen.
As one of the Catholic faithful, I desperately want to believe it will choose wisely, and that it:
- will do whatever is necessary to rebuild the greatest, most benevolent institution the world has ever known.
- will admit that its hard times — the scandal, corruption, and genuflecting at the wrong altar (that of political correctness) — are sins of its own making.
- has finally learned to practice what it preaches, that humbleness will replace arrogance, and that it appreciates the value of not just forgiveness, but asking to be forgiven.
- will understand the most powerful tool in the 21st century: public relations.
- will grasp that it must adapt, not in ways that undermine its divine theology, but by approaching its critical “earthly” issues with a fresh perspective.
And I want to believe that the Church will cease being a paper tiger, resurrecting its once mighty political power.
But like Thomas, I have my doubts.
Given recent history, the Church does not exactly inspire confidence that it has learned from its mistakes and gained the wisdom to embark on the path to growth. While it would be a good bet that the next Pope will be Business-As-Usual, it would be a losing hand for the Church, relegating it to a house of cards.
Here’s what the Cardinals can do to ensure the Church’s survival:
1. Don’t pick another frail, white-haired pope.
Pope Benedict makes John McCain look downright boyish, so picking another old man is a surefire way to completely lose the middle-aged-and-younger generations. Fair or not, appearance matters.
However, choosing a pope primarily on ethnicity would be a huge mistake, as it wouldn’t actually address, let alone solve, the Church’s problems.
2. Select a charismatic Pope who, in both perception and reality, can communicate that he is in touch with the rank-and-file. The new pontiff cannot afford to be aloof or insulated since those traits have significantly contributed to the demise. How bad has it become? One in 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic, and the 30 million who have left would be the third-largest denomination in the country. Vocations are miniscule, and the stigma associated with entering the seminary keeps even more away. And within a decade, Catholic education will be largely gone, leaving churches that much emptier.
3. Ensure the new Pope apologizes in an unprecedented, straightforward manner, not just for the scandals but the cover-ups. And that apology should extend down to every parish, since countless Catholics are still waiting for a genuine apology. Praying in mass for the pedophile clergy is one thing. But the many priests who still view the scandals as overblown makes the sin mortal, as the Catholic exodus and dwindling coffers attest.
4. Pick a Pope who understands that public relations can help restore the credibility shattered by years of sex scandals, shredded documents and cover-ups. The Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world (second in America behind only the government) and administers the world’s largest nonpublic school system, yet most people are unaware of those phenomenal achievements — a massive PR failure. It’s time to tell that magnificent story and educate the world (again) on what it really means to be Catholic. Unequivocally, pride in Catholic identity leads to fuller schools.
5. Find a Pope who can flex political muscle. From keeping its schools open (which saves billions in taxpayer money) to fighting government healthcare insurance mandates for abortion and birth control, success in the public arena occurs only when muscle is flexed. But that means playing hardball, unabashedly making its issues front and center in elections.
6. Allow priests to marry. And yes, consider allowing women to enter the priesthood, which would ease the resentment felt by many women who feel the Church treats them like second-class citizens. If these changes do not occur, there soon won’t be a Catholic Church in the traditional sense. The clock is ticking.
Notably, an all-male, celibate clergy has its origins in human, not divine, history. Forget Dan Brown theories about Jesus being wed. Priests were married for centuries (and possibly even a Pope or two), a practice halted because of property rights issues.
“Keep the faith but fight the corruption” should be the ultimate factor in choosing the next Pope. If that leader can preach a positive message, modernize without compromise, and wield a political sledgehammer, then prayers for a reinvigorated flock will be answered, keeping Christ’s Church alive far into the future.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, Freindly Fire Zone. Read more reports from Chris Freind — Click Here Now.
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