Pope Benedict XVI steps down: Rome leadership is ‘no longer relevant to Catholics in America’

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Just when everyone thought it was going to be a normal Monday, a day when we groan our way out of bed to get ready for work; a day when people put cute cat pictures on Facebook that say stuff like, “I hate Mondayz,” some egghead in Vatican City, Rome, Italy announces to the world he’s abdicating his throne. And we ain’t talking about a commode.

“ARE YOU KIDDING??!!?? HOLD THE DAMN PRESSES! SEND CHRIS JANSING TO ROME, IMMEDIATELY!” Just imagine some Perry White-type character at MSNBC barking out the order.

Pope Benedict XVI is leaving his job early, as in he decided not to wait until he died before exiting the most fortified church in the world. He has a staff of thousands, his own army, one of the biggest libraries in the world — Hell, he has his own city-state for chrissakes!

  • Listen, I’m going to Hell anyway for all my other sinning, cursing a little here isn’t going to add any more eons to my damnation.

The New York Post, always the most sensational of the hyperbolic presses, had for their headline: “The Pope gives God his two-week notice!” But my buddy Pete put it best, on Facebook: “He’s the first Pope to give up being Pope for Lent.”

Stepping down for health reasons. At least he didn't say stepping down to spend more time with his family.
Stepping down for health reasons. At least he didn’t say stepping down to spend more time with his family.

A Pope hasn’t left the job under his own steam (so to speak) since Pope Gregory VII in 1415. He didn’t do so for health reasons, Greg wanted to heal the “Western Schism” in the church that produced two antipopes, Benedict XIII of Avignon and John XXIII of Pisa.

Antipopes aren’t to be confused with the antichrist, although if there’s even one antipope then you know something unsavory is afoot! Wars were fought during the Western Schism and the dispute itself was brought about because of alleged corruption. Rome wasn’t always the seat of the Catholic Church. For a while it was centered in Avignon, France and it is said the corruption was due to the libertine influence of the French. Them damn Frenchies!

Our current Pope, Benedict XVI, is retiring due to his advanced age and declining health. He is 85, soon to be 86 (in two months) and he has visibly slowed down. Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign because he feels he no longer has the physical ability to carry out the duties of his office. As if it’s to remind everyone the Catholic Church is still a man’s world, the Pope will spend his remaining years in a Vatican convent, cared for by nuns — a bunch of women. Apparently no one in the Vatican hierarchy sees the optics of how that arrangement sends a certain message.

Cardinal Josef Aloisius Ratzinger was elected Pope on April 19, 2005 and performed his Papal Mass five days later. Pope Benedict XVI followed Pope John Paul II who died to get out of office. Interestingly enough, neither John Paul or Benedict were Romans. John Paul was the archbishop of Poland before his election to the Holy See and Benedict was from Bavaria in Germany and that adds at least a little intrigue into who will succeed Benedict.

Will the College of Cardinals elect another non-Roman Pope, or will the college go outside Rome once again, even create history by electing a cardinal from the Americas? Sadly, no U.S. cardinals are high on anyone’s list, but this guy out of Canada and one from Argentina are considered frontrunners.

Holysee-arms-A.svgMy belief though is the Church took a hard turn to the right when Benedict was elected, so the College of Cardinals will continue that direction by electing an Italian to the Holy See or at least another European. In fact, Benedict himself is said to have a groomed successor in mind, one of his like-minded protégés.

Most Catholics here in the United States really don’t care who becomes the next Pope and most couldn’t tell you the name of even one candidate, with the possible exception of Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York. Every American Catholic that has heard the name thinks Cardinal Dolan should be the next Pope.

American Catholics will accept who ever sits on the throne in Vatican City and give that old White man the same deference we’ve been giving popes for the past 50 years, which is to say, we’ll disregard the rules about marriage and divorce and especially birth control. Catholics, like everybody else, want to screw like rabbits without having to produce children every 12-18 months.

American Catholics have understood, for at least these past 50 years, the Church is run by a bunch of old White men (with a few men of color thrown into the College of Cardinals) who are completely out of touch with the real world and how the dynamics of normal human emotions and relationships work. And for the past 25 years we’ve had to watch as the Church struggled to justify why it covered up the priest abuse scandal for so many decades, allowing serial child molesters to go unchecked, from parish to parish.

St_Peter's_Square,_Vatican_City_-_April_2007
Vatican: Is America out of touch or is the Vatican? (Wikipedia Commons)

Chief among those covering up the scandal was Josef Cardinal Ratzinger — Pope Benedict VXI. Before he ascended to the Holy See, Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine, what used to be called the Holy Inquisition. In May 2001, as Prefect, he sent a letter to every bishop in the Church reminding them of the severe penalties for breaking confidentiality for inquiries in the sex abuse cases. Some consider Ratzinger the central figure in the scandal since all of the abuse cases had to be reported to his office from 1981, when he was appointed to the Prefect office, until he became the Pope.

So it’s no wonder many American Catholics are losing faith in the leaders of their Church. They can’t be trusted. Will a new Pope be any different? If the prevailing wisdom is that the College of Cardinals will continue with Popes who uphold the outdated, unrealistic canons of an ancient doctrine, why would American Catholics give a damn about who is elected to take Benedict’s place? It’ll just be the same shit, different day.

A few years ago, about the time Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, there was talk of another great schism between the Church and American Catholics. American cardinals went into hyper drive to quell such rumors while defending the Church’s aim to remain in the Dark Ages. And the Church continued to decline in North America. Fewer men enter the priesthood and many opt out of it after serving a few years.

popequits
Goodbye Pope. Next. (Wikiepedia Commons)

There’s nothing in the Bible that says priests must remain celibate. In fact priests were often married during the first 500 years of the Church. There’s nothing in the Bible that says priesthood is to be for men only. And there’s nothing in the Bible forbidding birth control. These are all rules made by men, primarily old White men who are and always have been, out of touch with real life and real human relationships.

Yes, we’ll have a new Pope by Easter, but does anyone, here in America at least, care? It will just be the same shit, different day. As we enter Lent, practicing Catholics will get their foreheads consecrated on Ash Wednesday and begin attending services on every Holy Day of Obligation. They will attend special services to observe the Stations of the Cross, saying their “Our Fathers,” “Hail Mary’s” and “Apostle’s Creeds,” without complaint. Well, the kids will complain, I certainly did.

On Passover Thursday Catholic families will celebrate the Last Supper and attend a church service to observe that solemn day in the Church calendar, followed by a dinner closely resembling the one Christ and his followers ate that night. On Good Friday many Catholics will be off from work and attend a special ceremony at noon marking the time Jesus was crucified. The really devout Catholics will not drive, will not eat, will not watch TV, listen to music or otherwise enjoy the day for three hours on Good Friday, in observance of the time Jesus suffered on the Cross.

On Holy Saturday Catholics will amend their usual routines to pay reverence to Jesus Christ who was lifeless this day. Some will take their Easter Sunday dinner, or parts of it, to the Church to be blessed by their parish priest.

And American Catholics will attend Sunrise Mass on March 31st to worship their Lord and Savior on the day of his resurrection. They may have a wonderful breakfast afterward and a sumptuous dinner later in the day and most of them will celebrate Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny because for many the two just seem to go together.

But they will do all of this despite their religious leaders, not because of them.

Most parishioners at least like the parish priests and many love their local clergy. But ask your average American Catholic who should be the next Pope and you’re likely to get a shrug of the shoulders at least and in some cases you’ll get a tirade about the all the failings of the Church. Most American Catholics simply don’t care. The guy in Rome has little, if anything, to do with their faith and how they observe their religion here at home.

I left the Catholic Church 40 years ago upon entering the Marine Corps, but because members of my family remained with the Church I’ve stayed close to it as an observer who once felt a part of it. I also stayed close because I remember that as a child the majesty and mystery of the special rites, with the incense and bright vestments worn by the priests, held me in awe; these memories temper my disdain and resentment towards the religion that directed my life for 18 years.

To be truly honest, I have some warm and comforting memories of the priests of my youth: Father Karl, Father Klink and Father Tenpenny, who tried to instill in us children the value of meditation. We would watch him as he walked up and down the sidewalk in front of the Rectory, either looking at his Bible or with it behind his back in his folded hands; his head always humbly bowed. If we disturbed him with a “Good Morning” he would acknowledge us with a warm smile. That’s the Catholic Church I like to remember.

So, in a few weeks Vatican City and Rome will host millions of believers to celebrate the ascension of the next Pope. Here in America and around the world the dioceses will celebrate the occasion as well. Good for them, they should. But most American Catholics will hardly pause in their day once a new Pope is elected. It’s just not that big of a deal anymore and as long as the leaders in Rome choose to ignore reality, the interest in the Pope will decline just as surely as the Church’s membership.

If it gets bad enough maybe in time we’ll have another “Great Schism” as the Church leaders in America realize the leadership in Rome is no longer relevant to the Catholics in America. We figured that out decades ago, it’s about time the leadership of the Church caught up to their U.S. Congregation.

Amen.