Conclave 2013: A Chance For the Church to Change For the Better

No conclave date has been set as Cardinals await the arrival of 12 others who are allowed to vote. In total, 65 more Cardinals are expected to arrive in the coming days. The conclave will convene in the Sistine Chapel behind closed doors and under strict secrecy. The hope is to have a new pope chosen by Holy Week, which begins March 24. 

During Monday's meeting, much of the discussion centered around the mounted problems that seem to be facing the church. Monday, Cardinals expressed interest in being briefed about the secret "Vatileaks" report that was sent to Pope Benedict XVI. The report — prepared by three cardinals — indicated that the pope’s butler was guilty of releasing papal documents to the news media detailing mishandling of funds and other bureaucratic failings of the church hierarchy. 

“We must not exaggerate the problems the church has had.”

That’s what Turin’s archbishop Emeritus Severino Poletto said in an interview with Euronews in response to a question about the church's pedophilia and "Vatileaks." The problems facing the Catholic church are far from exaggerated. 

The world's 1.2 billion practicing Catholics face a church that is unequivocally at a crossroads. 

The church could use this unprecedented opportunity to join the 21st century. There are those within the church that would like to see the role of women increase, like Argentine Cardinal Leonardo Sandri. Sandri recognizes that this is a church in crisis and that the next pope must be prepared to face these crisis head on.

There is also the crisis of a divided Catholic church in China. China is home to some 12 million Catholics, only half of them belong to a non-sanctioned churches. The Vatican's absolute rule when it comes to choosing bishops appears to be one source of contention. The other is what Chinese foreign ministry official Hong Li, refers to as ‘interference in internal affairs.’ 

Then there is the obvious elephant in the room. The sex abuse scandal which has been at the forefront of nearly all news regarding the Catholic church for the past few years. Prior to being named pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was privy to information about allegations of sexual abuse. He was responsible for issuing some Vatican orders that moved accused priests.

U.S. Cardinal Francis George has called for a "zero tolerance" policy on sexual abuse by the next pope. The church already has a zero tolerance policy against sexual abuse, so this is largely feels like a signal to the next pope to do more to combat the never ending scandal. Cardinal Francis George came under considerable fire in 2008 after transcripts were released detailing his defense of an accused child molester. 

What the church needs is not more secrecy, but less. It’s time for the church to expose its secrets and air its dirty laundry. Cardinals have a rare opportunity to admit their own fallibility when it comes to their mishandling of issues facing the church. 

They have before them an opportunity to elect a pope who is willing to admit that reproductive health in the face of HIV/AIDS, and a litany of other diseases, is not the work of the devil.

That homosexuality is not a sin, after all how could two people expressing love and care for one another be considered sinful? The church should not shirk away from its responsibilities to lead its faithful, and part of leading is to adapt to the needs of those you seek to lead. Changing, adapting, does not weaken the church. Instead it would strengthen its resolve to face the challenges that lay before it.