Recently Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope of the Catholic Church, announced that he was resigning at the end of February.
Ignoring the conspiracy theories that have been floating around as to why the pope is resigning for a moment, I think it’s important to examine what this might mean for progressive politics all over the world.
The Catholic Church’s stances on topics such as science, reproductive rights, and LGBTQI rights directly inform millions of people’s views across the globe. And these stances are famous for being reactionary in many ways. The Catholic Church is one of the major contributors to actions against LGBTQI communities, abortion clinics, and advances in science such as stem cell research. Though not every person who considers themselves Catholic allies themselves entirely with these politics, more often than not their politics skew relatively closely to their church’s.
This Pope in particular was known for being aggressively conservative in many of his views. But with his resignation, we may see a different face of the Catholics. Following are some of the possible directions and the general likelihood of them.
1) Fall of the Catholic Church
What Happens: The church falls due to an overwhelming number of people leaving. There’s more information available to the average citizen of the planet on a daily basis. Things which were once kept from the public (sex crimes, support of the Nazis against the Soviets, etc.) are made public and the Catholic church can’t do anything to stop it (not even with the powers of Saint Isidore of Seville, the patron Saint of the Internet). The trend of people leaving for other forms of Christianity, other religions, or no religion at all, will continue and the Pope’s resignation expedites this process.
The Likelihood: Very Low. There are many people, in every religion, who would never leave their faith. They were most likely raised by parents with a similar sentiment. They’ll most likely raise children with a similar sentiment (a percentage of whom, at least, will also never leave their religion). They’ll discount any attempts to rationally undermine the tenets of their religion, and any attempts to highlight the crimes of their religion’s leaders, as attacks from their religion’s enemies. Due to this, we will most likely not see the Pope’s resignation spark the destruction of Catholicism.
2) Pope Handpicks Successor, Creates Papal Dynasty
Always two there are. I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
What Happens: While Pope, Ratzinger appointed 67 of the current 209 Cardinals in the Catholic Church. There’s some concern that he may use his influence in the Vatican as a former Pope to help steer one of these Cardinals, especially one that has social and political views similar to his, towards the Papacy. This may start a trend where Popes retire and appoint a protege to continue their personal policies and ideologies.
The Likelihood: Pretty Good. It only makes sense that if you have influence in an organization you’re going to push for people that think like you to lead that organization. And if Ratzinger can successfully step down and help steer the selection process towards someone he’s handpicked, there’s no reason future Popes should go back to the old method of having no say in the process due to being dead.
3) Liberal Pope Elected, Fixes Everything
What Happens: A Pope with a more progressive slant is elected. He helps change the Church’s stances on LGBTQI rights and reproductive rights and begins interfaith dialogues again.
The Likelihood: Mixed. There are certain very liberal strands in Catholic theology. Liberation theology was a branch of the Catholic Church that looked at existing data and noticed that Jesus talks a lot more about feeding the hungry and loving your neighbor than about stopping people from having abortions or getting married. So they set out and lived that message instead. The Catholics also have a long history of supporting worker’s rights and struggles throughout most of modern history.
Maybe we’ll see a Pope who comes from the liberation theology school of thought, and maybe one who’s willing to recognize that to survive as an organization the Catholic Church should probably get a whole lot more welcoming (Ratzinger famously said in one of his books that he would prefer a small Church with devout Catholics to a large one with gays and people that borrow practices from other religions). Unfortunately, as noted above, a lot of the people able to vote on who the next Pope will be were chosen by this Pope. Still, we may have a surprise.
What Happens: There are a set of prophecies discovered in the 16th century that accurately predict every Pope up to that point, and more or less predict every Pope since then if you squint a little bit. They say that the next Pope will be the final one and will signify the End Times.
Likelihood: Pretty Damn High. Don’t make any long term plans if you know what I’m saying.
Whatever happens, the events currently occurring carry the potential to change global politics. We may see more reactionary politics and attempts to bring the world screaming into 1300 again or a brave new people willing to work with each other and accept each other. And of course retiring Popes don’t have the only say in this process. All of us do too.
Organize, leaflet, spread your beliefs, do your best to make this place something better than what it was when you first got here. There are people who will support progressive politics regardless of what there religious leaders say, and sometimes there are others who just need to be shown that that’s an option before they stand up to it. I left the Catholic Church during the sex scandals out of disgust, but know many people who have stuck with the religion and have done some wonderful things.
And that’s what we need: people doing wonderful things. Unless the world ends. Then anything goes.
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger