As we speak the cardinals are gathering in Rome to elect the new pontiff, head of the Catholic Church, trusted spiritual guide to more than a billion Catholic around the globe. There is great anticipation to discover who will ascend the Chair of Peter. It’s always good to remember that the pope is the spiritual guide to more than a billion people and his voice is heard worldwide.
I believe that today, like never before, the election of the new pontiff is of a fundamental importance to the Catholic Church. This must not be an “ad interim” pope. Simply because the Church of Rome cannot afford it.
I hope that a man in possession of the strength and spirit to reform emerges from the Sistine Chapel, where the college of cardinals will elect the new bishop of Rome. A man with the actual courage to look inside his Church with honesty and with openness to the world. A man that understand how to really analyze the wrongs of the temporal -not divine- institution that he has just been called to lead. A real pastor that understands that 21st century catholics are different from those of the middle ages. That the social reality of today is different from that of Idebrando of Soana and Matilde of Tuscany. People need more than just feeble and often unconvincing answers to the problems and challenges that they must face everyday.
The churches are half-empty in Italy just like they are in the rest of the world. Women almost never choose the religious life. After all why should they? Despite what the bishops say, within the Catholic Church, women are still treated as second-class citizens.
Watch the cardinals, and you will notice that they are a bunch of all men that live in a reality detached from the rest of us. Despite what they allege, they live in a world of wealth and privilege, often in magnificent palaces, and above all, they live without ever having to attend to the everyday realities that are fundamental of the so called flock that they ought to administer spiritually.
So then how can these cardinals be effective overseers of the Christian message? Why does the Catholic Church have to be governed by octogenarians instead of men at the peak of their physical and spiritual strength? I believe because the Catholic Church is blinded by extreme conservatism. The affairs of the last ten years demonstrate that the Church is not really under attack by the secularism and materialism on which it is too easy to blame every sin as if it were Linus’ blanket. Instead, I hold that one of principal problems is the growing distance between the head of the Church (pope, cardinals, bishops) and its base: the faithful.
If Christ really did tell Peter to go to Rome to build His church, I hope that He did it for everyone, even for the poor, gays, divorcees, women and molested children. For those that want to be accepted by the Church instead of driven from it. I don’t want to speak for Christ (even I cannot do that!) but I am convinced that He did not intend His church to be an exclusive club where only old men and hypocrites (I believe call them Pharisees) have access and the right to be accepted.
To me John Paul II was a pope that did more harm than good to the Church. He took it back in time, negating the work of John XXIII and Paul VI (who ought to be given more credit). He created bishops, men most often silent and subservient and therefore rewarded, as long as they sympathized with his reactionary fury. He opened doors to ultraconservative religious orders, like Opus Dei, whose powerful funds may have financed Solidarnosc when John Paul II was the primate of Poland, guaranteeing his eternal gratitude in return. And he opened doors for the Legion of Christ, whose founder Maciel as it turns out was a criminal and a proven sexual deviant. He protected Cardinal Marcinkus the former President of the Vatican Bank, whose murky and mysterious affairs have been a consistent source of nothing short of profound doubt in Italian courts. He refused every opening to the modern world, an obstinate and stubborn defender of a Church that kept its distance from the people. The sex abuse were not new under his pontificate. His grand public relations gestures, like the visit to the Synagogue of Rome and his trip to Cuba, created, in our collective imagination, a distorted sense of what the church really was.
The future is already before us.
I hope that the Catholic Church finally finds the courage and the strength to reinvent itself to better serve the world. I hope that it is truly the Holy Spirit who will elect a pope in the Sistine Chapel, and not some old men with slow reflexes or reactionaries locked in an inexplicable conservatism.
I hope so, not because I am a Bolshevik antichrist that eats priests for breakfast.
I do it as a Catholic, because the Church of Rome is my church too.