Friday, 15 February 2013
Seriously though... In front of them will be a fundamental choice: Should they choose another conservative pope who will further alienate what Catholics remain, as well as the rest of society in places where the church retains a significant presence, or should they try to go for a more liberal/progressive pope who may stem the tide of people leaving the church? The latter could alienate those conservatives within the church and possibly have to declare that the church has (gasp) changed its mind on a thing or two. It's not easy for the church to do this - it took them 350 years to admit that, in the end, Galileo had been right about the earth and the sun.
I've heard many people who are opposed to the catholic church say that they would welcome a conservative pope since he'd hasten the church's demise. However one can't ignore the fact that the church can still exert quite a bit of pressure in some places, and having an ultra-conservative pope would perpetuate the problems being faced by several groups, including gays, women and non-Catholics.
Personally I would prefer a more reasonable, modern church which lasts longer and gets along better with people, than an intolerant church that causes more suffering but has a shorter lifespan.
A conservative pope is made likely by the simple fact that it is the pope who chooses the cardinals who will ultimately choose the next pope - and the current and previous popes were both very conservative and between them selected mostly dinosaurs. At the same time it's hard to miss the fact that the church is getting increasingly out of touch with reality. The pace at which society is changing has speeded up dramatically in recent times. The change from the Roman Empire to mediaeval Europe was relatively minor compared to the last 230 years, in which we've gone from the first human flight in a balloon, to people going out in space and not even making the news. 40 years ago, homosexuality was still a crime in Malta, while in 2011, a majority of the Maltese people - many of whom describe themselves as Catholics - went against the church's instructions (not to mention fire-and-brimstone warnings) and voted to introduce divorce.
In this context, a church that is still arguing against the use of condoms, insisting that priests must possess a penis (but they must never use it except for urination), and that two men or two women cannot possibly love each other just as a man and a woman can, is way out of touch. In fact the only thing that can be said in their defence is that there are churches that are even wackier, which is not exactly glowing praise.
In the meantime, an interesting development is that there is an increased likelihood that the new pope will be, for the first time, African. I've already seen a comment or two from people who are shocked that the pope could be black (isn't God white after all?) - though they generally avoid the B-word. Personally I'm a bit concerned that certain African contenders were behind, or supported, Uganda's new law to make homosexuality a capital offence. On the plus side he might do something about the dreary church music by injecting a few new rhythms from Africa.
In the meantime, while speculation is rife, Facebook users cheerfully share pictures of various people in papal vestments, from Silvio Berlusconi to Tony Blair top Austin Gatt (the pope who will never resign) - all of which reinforce what most people already know - that the Roman Catholic Church has become for many people a comical figure, as anachronistic as a knight in full armour going to work in his office.