"For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well." - Hebrews 7:12I am officially announcing my candidacy for pope.
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to resign from the papacy at the end of February - the first pope to leave office on his feet since Pope Gregory XII was forced to abdicate in 1415 – it instantly became the biggest news of the day, if not the year. For some the pope’s resignation was met with dismay, while others greeted the news with cries of “Good riddance!” Whatever your feelings about His Holiness’ decision, I say it’s a golden opportunity to clean house, right some wrongs and bring the Roman Catholic Church into the 21st century. Naturally I believe that I’m the man for the job.
Now, I’m not a cardinal, but Church rules don’t actually say the spiritual leader of the Earth’s 1.1 billion Roman Catholics must be chosen from among the cardinals. Neither am I a bishop or even a priest. Fact is, I’m not even a Catholic. I suppose I could convert, but haven’t many Church leaders been talking about the need to embrace inclusion? What could be more inclusionary than electing the first non-Catholic Pope?
For the record, I am a Lutheran. Lutherans used to be Catholics until a 16th century German monk named Martin Luther had the nerve to ask 95 impertinent questions about such things as why the Church didn’t want regular folks to read the Bible and where the Church got the idea to sell reserved spots in Heaven for money. That act of monumental sass got Luther got excommunicated by Pope Leo X. The Catholic Church eventually came around to agree with a lot of what Luther said, but they never did get around to acknowledging it publicly. When I’m Pope, I’ll formally apologize to Martin Luther, just as Pope John Paul II apologized to Galileo 500 years after the astronomer’s death for claiming the earth revolved around the sun. It’s never too late to set things right.
I mean no disrespect to the office of the Papacy, but just how hard is the job anyway? It’s a lot of waving from balconies, granting audiences to visitors and being serenaded by children’s choirs. I love to travel and think I could do a pretty fair job of pumping up the faithful at cathedrals, stadiums, parades and investitures around the globe. It might even be fun to pop in unannounced at the Vatican gift shop or cafeteria from time to time to chew the fat with tourists. It would be fun to see the expressions on peoples’ faces when I buy a round of espressos for the house. As for giving sermons and leading prayers, I’m always ready to talk anyone’s ear off about what I think is right and wrong with the world.
Just not in Latin. Really, who speaks or understands Latin nowadays? Would anyone who does dare to correct the Pope if his pronunciation were wrong or his grammar incorrect? Maybe I’d issue a papal decree putting an end to the use of Latin in the Church. How are you going to get people to believe you care about the world of today and tomorrow when you’re speaking the language of the day before yesterday?
Although I’d need to brush up on the liturgy, I think I have a pretty good grasp on what the Church believes. Do I believe it all myself? Is that required? Many assume a pope is selected for his spirituality and holiness. Not true. Holiness helps, for sure, but the job is mainly an administrative one. I’ve spent most of my life in middle management. I can supervise people and negotiate the maze of bureaucracy, which makes up probably 90% of a pope’s responsibilities. Character-wise, I’m a decent person; I don’t do unto others what I wouldn’t want done to me. I’ve never presided over orgies like Pope Alexander VI or had people murdered like, well, dozens of popes, and I could never dream up something as nasty as the Spanish Inquisition, as Pope Sixtus IV did. I’d never pilfer from the Church’s treasury as Pope John XV did, but I might put some of the Church’s vast wealth to work feeding and clothing the world’s poor, just as the fictitious Pope Kiril did in Morris West’s novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman. Doesn’t that seem like something a Universal Shepherd ought to do, take care of his flock?
I’m no Bible thumper, but I have read the Bible from cover to cover. It’s a great book, full of profound wisdom, a smattering of history, plenty of action and some outstanding poetry. It’s also filled with guidelines on how to live a good and compassionate life. I’ve also read Confucius’ Analects, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, an abridged edition of the Ramayana and a pretty fair chunk of the Koran. Good books all. I haven’t read anything by L. Ron Hubbard, but let’s keep it serious, shall we? All the world’s sacred texts contain truths for those who seek them out. I think an open and inquisitive mind would be a useful thing for a pope to possess. I’d make it a point to get together from time to time with prelates, archbishops, imams, rabbis, lamas and other leaders of the world’s great religions to discuss matters both sacred and profane. I’m sure we’d find we share a lot of common ground. That could only be a good thing. Who knows? A handful of interfaith bridge nights or poker parties could be the first step to world peace.
A lot of people claim to have read and understood the Bible, but they don’t act like it. Their twisted interpretations of God’s words give them away as bigoted, self-interested phonies. As pope, I won’t stand for any of that. I have no tolerance for intolerance. And backed up by the doctrine of papal infallibility in all matters of faith, who would dare to disagree? Of course, not all those who use the Bible to oppress and demean others are Catholic or likely to pay attention to what I say. On the other hand, far too many popes have squandered the opportunity to use their pulpit as God’s Ambassador on Earth to be at the compassionate forefront of a variety of social issues. What a waste. Popes may no longer lead armies into battle or wield the secular weight of prime ministers and presidents, but their words still carry some worldly heft. If the Papacy is to become relevant again, a pope’s got to realize it’s not the First Century anymore.
How about starting with rethinking the inferior role of women in the Church? One of the most delightful people I know is a retired nun. She always has a smile and a kind word and keeps a supply of candy on hand to hand out to anyone who looks like they need a little lift. She enjoys talking theology, especially with people whose point of view is different than her own. She claims she learns new things that way, something close to heretical thinking to many in the Church. I think she’d make a fine pope. But women can’t even become priests in the Roman Catholic Church. Not yet, anyway. For a religion that has elevated a woman, the Virgin Mary, to a status more or less equal to the Holy Trinity, the Roman Catholic Church has some serious catching up to so in the area of gender equality. As Pope, I’d look into that. The issue of celibacy would likely be next on my list.
Of course, the elephant in the chapel is the ugly matter of pedophilia. The pain that has been inflicted over the years on uncounted innocent children, whether by actual acts of abuses or by the Church’s systematic cover-up and protection of the guilty, is no laughing matter. This is where Pope Benedict XVI has most egregiously failed his flock and his God.
Before he was elected Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the organization that oversees all serious crimes against the Church, including the sexual abuse of children by priests. Allegations have surfaced of numerous cover-ups of sexual abuse that took place during his time there and continued during his tenure as Pope. Memos have surfaced where Ratzinger reminded all priests that reports of a crime and/or sexual abuse were only to take place within the Church; failure to keep it “in house” would be cause for excommunication. These actions were aimed at protecting the Church’s image from scandal rather than protecting the children who were being molested. If you want to know what makes Baby Jesus weep, it’s sick bullshit like this.
The Church may still be stuck in the Dark Ages, but the world around them isn’t. In the age of the internet and 24/7 news cycles, the truth can’t stay hidden for long.
Many are speculating that this, and not old age and failing health, is the real reason that Pope Benedict XVI is abdicating. At this point, it hardly matters, although it would have sent an extraordinary message for a spiritual leader to stand contrite before the world and admit to moral failure.
There's a silver lining here, though, no matter how dark the cloud of scandal.
The Pope’s resignation represents a unique opportunity for the Roman Catholic Church to rebrand itself and evolve. How the Church deals with future allegations and conducts itself is ultimately what will decide its future relevance and any moral high ground it may possibly still have in this world.
It’s no secret that church attendance, north of the equator anyway, is in decline. In an increasingly secular society, fewer people, not just Catholics, feel the need to attend church because they feel obliged to, but rather because they want to. In order to want to, however, one must feel that it's time well spent, that the message is relevant, that it addresses one’s needs, and contributes something important to one’s life. Unless we can become convinced that our lives can become enriched by increased involvement, why bother?
The Church needs a serious shot in the arm. Are any of the mostly elderly, mostly conservative, mostly white men in the running going to be the one to administer that shot? One can hope. Or pray, of course. Or one can support my candidacy for pope.
My name could well be Pope Richard I and I approved this message.