So, for the first time in over seven hundred years, a pope of the Catholic Church is voluntarily giving up his crown, red shoes, and scepter. Truly, we do live in amazing times.
As a total outsider, a non-Catholic with only a passing knowledge of how the Catholic Church works, I have to say that I think this may be the best decision the man has made as pope. His time in office has been marked by one scandal after another, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say that any of the scandals are Benedict's fault, my observation is that his instinct has always been to obfuscate and cover up rather than to get at the root of the corruption and clean things up. This attitude has most obviously permeated the church in its reaction to the sexual abuse of children by priests. The institution's primary concern has always been for the welfare of the priests rather than the welfare of children.
Of course, this is an institution which continues to deny that women are equal to men and to refuse to allow them any voice in church affairs. In this country, and indeed around the world, where courageous nuns have chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus in dealing with their fellow human beings rather than following the strictures of the pope and his bishops, they have been in constant conflict with the church hierarchy, even to the point of being threatened with excommunication. Meantime, the church struggles to find enough men who want to be priests and refuses to even consider the possibility of allowing women who would choose that role to assume it.
As for the idea of letting those male priests marry and have families, fuhgeddaboutit! God forbid these people should have any practical experience of what it is like to care for women or children when they advise their parishioners or make choices about how to deal with human problems. And so, in all too many tragic instances, the priesthood has become a haven for pedophiles who are unable to establish and maintain adult relationships in the real world.
Then there is the church's antiquated and unscientific attitudes toward homosexuals. They refuse to acknowledge that homosexuality is as much a part of the human experience as heterosexuality and that people who are attracted to the same sex did not make that choice. They were born that way and deserve to have their sexuality acknowledged as a natural thing.
Do we even need to mention the church's attitude toward contraception? In an era when women around the world, when they have the choice, would choose to limit their families and to have babies only when they are capable of caring for them and giving them a healthy life, the Catholic Church continues to insist that "every sperm is sacred." No contraception allowed, no time, nohow!
Is it too much to hope that the church might elect a new pope who has at least one foot in the twenty-first century and is willing to consider the idea that the values of the Middle-Ages are not what are needed to lead the adherents to their faith, most of whom no longer believe in those values? It probably is too much to hope. After all, the same old men who chose Benedict will be choosing the new pope, along with those other old men that Benedict has added to the College of Cardinals during his tenure. Not exactly a recipe for forward-looking innovation. In which case, it seems very likely that the Catholic Church will continue its decline into futility and oblivion. With apologies to my Catholic friends and relatives, that might not be such a bad thing.