As we all know, the leader of the Catholic Church, known by the rather self-aggrandizing title of Pope, has resigned effective 28 February 2013. One can have good fun laughing at the incident as Cobert and Stewart did on Comedy Central. Or make the standard jokes:
When his exit interviewer asked, “Reason for leaving?” did the former pope answer, “No opportunity for promotion?”
Pope Benedict’s decision to live in the Vatican after he resigns will provide him with security and privacy. It will also offer legal protection from any attempt to prosecute him in connection with sexual abuse cases around the world, Church sources and legal experts say.
There has also been serious discussion about what that means for the future of the church, to which most agree is nothing. That is, the church will remain the same institution, refusing any movement on the inclusion of women or openly GLBT in the priesthood. The non-married men in charge of the church will continue to oppose contraception with no understanding of what it means to raise a family or face the financial burdens of multiple mouths to feed without the backing to a multi-billion dollar institution that all Cardinals enjoy.
And, why? The stock answer is because of tradition. One commentator summed it up on the P-G website with the comment that “Jesus chose men to lead the church” so that is what we are stuck with. It is tradition.
Let’s think about that tradition for, oh, two seconds. For centuries, in every western democracy, it was “traditional” that women could not vote. In the US, it was “traditional” that African-Americans could not play Major League baseball. Times change and it seems impossible to imagine having lived in a society under those absurd rules just one or two generations ago.
There were also traditions, long dropped, that were much more evil. Slavery was supported by the Catholic Church for over a thousand years.
Dum Diversas is a papal bull issued on 18 June 1452 by Pope Nicholas V, that is credited by some with “ushering in the West African slave trade.” It authorized Afonso V of Portugal to conquer Saracens and pagans and consign them to “perpetual slavery.” Pope Calixtus III reiterated the bull in 1456 with Etsi cuncti, renewed by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481 and Pope Leo X in 1514 with Precelse denotionis.
Marriage to girls as young as 8 was officially approved by the church in Decretum Gratiani, a collection of Canon Laws that remained on the books until 1918:
In the 12th century Gratian, the influential founder of Canon law in medieval Europe, accepted age of puberty for marriage to be between 12 and 14 but acknowledged consent to be meaningful if the children were older than 7.
Even the imprisonment of Galelio was determined to be a mistake by the church, 350 years after he died in prison for being a heretic for claiming the Earth circled the Sun and not the other away around.
The dispute between the Church and Galileo has long stood as one of history’s great emblems of conflict between reason and dogma, science and faith. The Vatican’s formal acknowledgement of an error, moreover, is a rarity in an institution built over centuries on the belief that the Church is the final arbiter in matters of faith.
But what about religion practices? Just fifty years ago, it hard to imagine why the Pope would ride around in a Popemobile (especially given the utmost protection of an all-loving God). Fifty years ago, the Pope did not use twitter or email, but now he does. Using the same logic that Jesus did not communicate by email, you wonder what justification is there for the Pope to use it today.
But the biggest tradition is that Popes do not resign. They serve until death. There is no retirement plan. It has been tradition for 600 years!!! But perhaps the tweeting, emailing, Popemobiling pontiff can give up the charade that tradition is everything. The world has changed. Communication has changed. Society has changed. There is no good reason left to not to allow women priests, not to allow married priests, not to allow GLBT priests, and not to allow atheist priests. (Ok, perhaps not the last one, but one can still dream).
The point is societies do change. Standards do change. And until the popedom rejects all modern developments, he needs to stop rejecting the ones that hurt society the most.