Monday ushers in the early stages of the election that will usher in a new pope. With Benedict XVI’s retirement now official, cardinals from all over the world are gathering in the heart of the Vatican. The first order of business after all cardinals are marked present in Rome is to choose a date for conclave and to ready the elements involved the process.
The unprecedented retirement of Benedict XVI isn’t the only factor that makes this story relevant to all — Roman Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It’s the imagining of what a new pope can do and possibly reform Catholicism for its millions among millions of followers worldwide.
In midst of scandals ranging from pedophilia to sex, Vatileaks, and prostitutes has situated the church between a rock and a hard place. Its image in the public eye is blemished as a result and the new pope-to-be will have to work hard in terms of damage control as well as prevent scandals. A liberal papacy very be well be the answer for both Catholic and non-Catholic observers to prevent the image of the church from slipping any further. In the headlines, words of a liberal pope have seeped into the frenzy of speculation ranging from the possibility of a Latin American pope to an African one. An American is often left out of the question, since it appears the world superpower isn’t allowed to have it all. The change might be welcomed after the conservative mark Benedict XVI has left.
Britain’s Cardinal O’Brien, who is also facing his own skeletons yet remains highly influential, suggested that Catholic priests ought to be allowed the right to marry as a means of combating issues in maintaining chastity. Going along that vein, the church’s exclusion of its LGBT members forces these members to repress a part of themselves and act out in secrecy before it’s too late. Another gay scandal erupts for the press to publicize as a result, which only heightens the cycle of stigmata and secrecy. Former Dominican friar Mark Dowd, who is openly gay, described homosexuality as the "ticking time-bomb in the Catholic Church." He went onto to guesstimate that at least half of the men that went into priesthood are, in fact, gay.
Another facet of progression yet to be explored is the role of women in the Catholic Church. The numbers of nuns have been on the decrease. In the United States alone, the number of nuns at least the age of 60 was 91% in 2009, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. This reflects of the much smaller number of younger women and recruits delving into the practice. And while the next pope will not be a nun, discussion has brought up the possibility of female cardinals.
Of course, tradition is the name of the game and it is the biggest block from social progression. The purpose of these holy offices have been imbued with chastity for the idea of devoting one’s self entirely to God without distraction. But it is evident that some individuals are better than others withstanding the pressure. A new, open pope has the ability to change how things are ran in Rome and make it easier for those wanting to devote themselves able to do so without as many restrictions.
More freedom and open dialogue within the church should help see a scandal decline. But this is also an "easier said than done" deal — gay rights, sex, and the position of women within the church are all issues that walk a fine line. A line that can set the church further back if another staunchly conservative pope continues to run Rome the same way Benedict XVI has left it.