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[Newsmaker] Pope's exit brings vain hopes for reform

Acknowledging the “rough seas” the Catholic Church has navigated in recent years, Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday appeared in front of a crowd of more than 150,000 people at Vatican City to give the last public address of his papacy.

“…There were moments, as there were throughout the history of the church, when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping,” he told the crowd at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. 
Pope Benedict XVI (Yonhap News)
Pope Benedict XVI (Yonhap News)

As of Thursday evening, Joseph Ratzinger ceased to be the pontiff, gaining the title “pope emeritus” and fulfilling his announcement of resignation more than a fortnight ago. A new pontiff is expected to be chosen before the end of March.

Benedict’s was certainly a rocky papacy. Beset by outrage over the church’s handling of child sex abuse, the leak of private Vatican documents and reports of internal conflict within the Vatican itself, the former pontiff attracted critics in abundance.

Alongside more sober criticism of Ratzinger’s stewardship, there have been strident calls in liberal circles for his successor to usher in radical reform of the institution. Some seem to believe that, with “God’s Rottweiler” gone, the time has come for the church to review its position on women priests, same-sex couples, celibacy and other conservatives aspects of church teaching.

Yet, such commentators appear to harbor a delusion about the fundamental nature of the church: that is democratic and receptive to change and public opinion ― the religious institution equivalent of Sweden or Britain, if you will.

But the church is not a democracy, nor, it would seem, is it concerned with the prevailing consensus in the rich nations where church-watchers spill their ink. The church is authoritarian and deeply conservative ― necessarily, for it claims to preach the word of God.

Seen from this viewpoint, the church’s obstinacy makes perfect sense: How can there be compromise about the will of the creator himself? A club that claims such authority can only tell its members: take it or leave it. Critics who fail to understand this might as well be wishing for the next pope to deny the legitimacy of the church itself.

By John Power (john.power@heraldcorp.com)
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