I’m not Catholic, but I’ve still been very interested in the Church’s selection of a new pope. I watched in awe as the cardinals assembled for their conclave in the Sistine Chapel, with the sublime five-hundred-year-old paintings of Michelangelo adorning the west wall and ceiling. I hoped that these men would be led by a higher wisdom to choose a new pope who would usher the Church and its “flock” of a billion souls into the world of the 21st Century, where women, homosexuals, the desperately poor and oppressed, and interfaith dialogue would receive a fair hearing.
However, I was hardly surprised by the choice the cardinals made of a man who seems poised to keep the Church mired in the psychology, theology, and ethics of the Middle Ages. Old institutions and old men tend to respond to change and challenge with a fearful clinging to tradition, no matter how flawed it might be.
In summarizing the reactions of more progressive minded Catholics to the new pope, gay Catholic Andrew Sullivan probably said it best when he wrote:
I was trying to explain last night to a non-Catholic just how dumb-struck many reformist Catholics are by the elevation of Ratzinger. And then I found a way to explain. This is the religious equivalent of having had four terms of George W. Bush only to find that his successor as president is Karl Rove. Get it now?
Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI will surprise or even astonish us with a mind and heart transformed by his new office and the “Spiritus Sanctos” into loving and compassionate openness to the realities of today’s world and to adversities and sufferings Thomas Aquinas could have hardly foreseen or understood 750 years ago. But if he doesn’t, maybe it will be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps untold numbers of Catholics who earnestly seek to know God and Truth will finally realize that neither is to be found solely within the tired myths and dogmas of institutionalized antiquity, but must be realized through a newer, more vital, more integral approach that honors, embraces, and combines the best understandings and practices of the past with those of the present from every wisdom tradition and discipline.