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Viewpoint: Losing faith in the papacy

BY WILL BUTLER

Published November 8, 2009

I went to Catholic school for six years and, despite not actually being Catholic, I loved my education there. Many of my friends berate Catholicism for being a dogmatic and narrow-minded religion, but I usually defend the Catholic Church and enlighten them on the liberal stances the Church has on the poor, the distribution of wealth, the death penalty and war. But as Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy has continued, and with his recent announcement to basically accept homophobic Anglicans back into the Catholic fold, I am finding it harder and harder to defend this religion.

On Oct. 20, 2009, the Vatican released an Apostolic Constitution creating a new Anglican Rite within the Catholic Church. The decree is aimed at those who are disgruntled with the Anglican Church’s acceptance of homosexuality and ordination of gay and female clergy. Pope Benedict XVI is allowing Anglican Church members to join the Catholic Church, and is seeing to it that certain Anglican traditions, like married priests and aspects of their liturgy, are preserved. He is effectively pandering to fundamentalist Anglicans. Catholics should feel appalled by this. Not only does it continue to diminish the Catholic Church’s stance within the secular world, it furthers the image of Catholicism as a hateful and bigoted religion.

The Vatican spun this as an ushering in of a new era of Christian unity, using the papacy to fill a bigger role in Christian dialogue. But Pope Benedict XVI's offer is not a sign of openness but a consolidation of hate, solidifying a coalition of those who stand so fervently against gay rights and female clergy. The pope is using the new members he will receive to drown out calls for reform and progress within the Catholic Church, and his decision is marking a dark day for anyone hoping for dialogue about social equality within the Catholic community.

This decision comes shortly after Pope Benedict XVI's reinstatement of four excommunicated bishops in January. All belonged to a Catholic society that stood in protest of the modernizing reforms of the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, which led to speculation about the pope's support of Church reformations. One reinstated bishop even made comments denying the existence of the Holocaust, damaging years of effort to ease Jewish-Christian tensions and furthering the disunity caused by this papacy.

Both of these examples are evidence of Pope Benedict XVI growing his conservative faction. By doing so, he shuts off communication to progressives not only within the Church but also in the secular world. This is more dangerous than anybody seems to realize. A relevant Catholic Church, one that speaks to the secular world and acknowledges its stances as well, can be an incredibly powerful voice. It can become an advocate for increased human rights, economic equality and non-violent resolutions. Historically, the Church fulfilled this role in the nineteenth century. After all, it was the Catholic Church that played a major part in workers' rights movements and gave voices to oppressed people, such as those in El Salvador.

The Catholic Church doesn’t have to stand in accordance with every opinion of the secular world, and indeed it shouldn’t. It has a right to its own opinion. But as Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy reaches further and further into the traditionalist base, the Church becomes less and less significant to actual changes in peoples’ lives. It negates itself and becomes a meaningless institution with no power outside of itself.

A growing number of people will continue to support the morality of homosexuality and the ordination of women and gay clergy. This is an inevitable truth. The Vatican has a choice to either examine its own stance and begin an open dialogue or simply ignore the opinions of more progressive members. The choices of Pope Benedict XVI, specifically with the creation of the new Anglican Rite, reflect the latter, which ostracises non-traditionalists and continues the Catholic Church on a dangerous path toward irrelevancy.

William Butler can be reached at webutler@umich.edu.


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