Can anyone doubt there is a God? — what are the odds that lighting would strike the Vatican hours after the announcement the Pope will resign? http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/lightning-strikes-vatican-day-pope-1704295
Is God happy or angry? Certainly it seems time for a change. The Catholic Church has been losing followers in droves in Europe. And in a world where the vast majority of Catholics accept the use of contraception, the gap between the teaching of the Church and the practice of the flock has rarely been greater.
I hope the new Pope will focus more on the moral mission of the Church to improve how people treat each other, and how we treat the planet, and far less on matters of doctrine and doctrinal fidelity.
For far too long, the Church focused on de jure rather than de facto Catholicism: the worst being that priests who correctly delivered the sacraments were excused or protected from blame after sexually molesting young boys, while priests who critized papal doctrine were treated harshly.
The Church has to deal with many changes in today’s world — population pressures, climate change, global inequality, the emerging tolerance of gay marriage, resurgent Islam, competition from Protestant sects that are more current on women’s rights and contraception, and the shifting balance of Catholic congregations to outside Europe and America. (Since this is a blog that focuses on demography, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that there are now more Catholics in Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines than in the U.S., France, Italy and Spain, or that there are more Catholics in Nigeria than in Argentina, and more in the DR Congo than in Poland).
It is time for a major rethinking of the Church’s mission and place in the world.
One thing in the Church’s favor is that theories that modernization will lead to secularism have proved false. Across the world, the search for morality and meaning is greater than ever. But this is a world with a global marketplace for religions and philosophies, not a world in which Emperors and Kings can command their subjects to follow the one true Church.
The Catholic Church still has a vital message of faith, morality, and social justice to deliver. But it needs to focus on what will make better lives and a better world for its followers and their neighbors. That should be the goal of faith and practice in the service of God.
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The Pope has also established himself, in this era of increasing life spans, as a role model for leaders with lifetime tenure who confess their own limitations and are willing to trust the institutions they have led to progress after they depart the scene. Queen Elizabeth II, and Justices Scalia and Ginsberg come to mind.
The shifting balance of the Catholic congregation from Europe and North America to the more conservative developing countries makes doctrinal changes difficult. Moreover, presence of a large number of conservative Cardinals and a living ex-conservative Pope doesn’t leave much room for maneuver for the new Pope. So, what can be done, as you said, is the change of focus from de jure to de facto Catholicism. But can a hierarchical organization, like Catholic Church, survive if it ignores those devoted to hierarchy/Church for those who are at best Sunday Catholics?