Thursday, April 21, 2005

The New Pope

All the hoopla over Pope Benedict XVI's conservative leanings is a collective waste of breath, print and electronic data bits.

The Pope may be the titular head of the Catholic Church, but he cannot force any church member to abide by his rulings. So why spend all of this time worrying that Benedict XVI will be even more conservative when it comes to implementing church doctrine.

The recent CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll that showed most American Catholics will follow their conscience and not the Pope's wishes is indicative of the situation worldwide. Few Catholics follow to the letter church doctrine. Decrees from the Vatican concerning contraception, homosexuality, proper church services, etc. are routinely ignored or considered impractical not only by the average person, but priests themselves frequently bend the rules.

For this reason the new Pope deserves the world's compassion. Nobody can make 1.1 billion people happy. Just consider the breadth of opinions that bombard the Pope. Liberal Catholics want to allow priests to marry, while conservatives like Opus Dei or Mel Gibson would rather see a return to the pre-Vatican II days of Latin masses and dogmatic ritual.

The Pope must come to the realization that his power to command is nonexistent. However, his ability to sway is quite strong.

What Benedicti XVI should do is treat the Catholic Church as a whole more like a parish. A parish pastor has to cater to his flock in a manner that not only keeps them coming back for more, but helps put money into the collection basket. For example, during one Pre-Canna exercise the priest came to the topic of pre-marital sex and contraception. He knew that in all likely hood the couples arrayed in the church basement were probably not very celibate. And he was aware that not all of them wanted children immediately upon being married so most would be making a trip to the local pharmacy for some form of birth control device.

This priest could have railed on about the evils of premarital sex or that birth control was as bad as abortion, but he played the game very intelligently. He explained the church's official teachings on these subjects without imparting any judgement on what the couples were actually doing with their evenings. He then handed out a pamphlet on the church's preferred method of birth control, the infamous rhythm method, and simply asked everyone to consider it as an option. Maybe some were convinced, maybe not, but the important point was nobody was offended or considered the priest totally out of touch with reality.

If local priests were to demand total allegegiance to church rule then they would find themsevles preaching to either a very cynical audience or empty pews.

Would any Pope be happy with these decisions? Probably not, but that is because the Pope does not deal with people, but with philosphical ideals.

Benedict XVI needs to face certain facts. Either insist that church law be adheared to and punish the offenders with excommunication or through a burst of divine interpretation of the Bible, which he alone in the world is capable of having, come to the realization that ancient rules have to be altered to meed the demands of modern Catholics.


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