Pope Benedict XVI resigned. That’s no longer new information to anyone, but considering that the pope is the religious leader of one out of every seven humans on the planet . . . it’s still a big deal.
According to the trend in how popes are selected by the conclave, they tend to alternate between selecting long-term popes and short-term popes. Which is the polite way of saying that just about every other pope is someone who is quite old to begin with and not expected to live for too long. The other popes, however, are expected to live for a longer period of time.
So the next pope who will head the Catholic Church may very well be pope for the next few decades. I am not Catholic, but the next pope is still important to me. It’s a big deal for the world.
Why? Because the Catholic Church’s influence may have been waning for centuries (and showing no sign of regaining a social or political foothold), but the pope still wields a great deal of influence throughout the world.
Recently, Benedict has been using that influence and a number of major speaking opportunities to voice his continued opposition to marriage equality, even as (or, perhaps, especially as) proponents of marriage equality have won a number of battles in the United States (obviously, other places—marriage equality continues to gain popularity in Europe).
Assuming that I do not gain mind-control powers any time soon (which, tragically, is a fair assumption), I think that it is safe to say that no matter who the next pope might be, he will not be pro-choice or a proponent of gay rights beyond the basic: “Look, they don’t get all of the rights of the rest of us, but don’t set them on fire, okay?”
I’m exaggerating. But, basically, the next pope is still going to be opposed to birth-control (and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of STIs). The next pope will still be opposed to female reproductive autonomy. The next pope will still be opposed to marriage equality for same-sex couples, and likely opposed to adoption by same-sex couples. The next pope will be opposed to premarital sex. To women in the priesthood. To transgender acceptance. Almost certainly to married Catholic priests.
There are a lot of people who are looking at this selection of a new pope, still early in the Twenty-First Century, as an opportunity for a non-white cardinal to lead the Catholic Church. It would be historic and, obviously, past due.
But while a non-white pope would be a progressive move, it is only a progressive move if the new pope in question is no more conservative than the likely positions that I listed above. In other words, certain African and South American cardinals have some outrageous views on civil rights—like opposing same-sex adoption because they confuse members of the LGBT community with child-molesters. Like supporting medieval legislation that would imprison gay citizens.
Look, I’m not going to agree with the new pope on a lot of things. I want equal human rights for women and the LGBT community and not for embryos or fetuses. Like the Catholic Church, I am opposed to the evils of the world, but I think that we have very different ideas of what constitutes evil and different ideas for remedying it (my solution involves the death penalty).
But, while many of the Church’s social positions are seemingly antiquated, whoever becomes the next pope should be a Twenty-First Century pope. A pope who would vehemently oppose Uganda’s “Kill The Gays” bill instead of remaining silent or partially supporting that sort of legislation (and for more reason than simply Catholicism’s opposition to capital punishment). A pope who remembers that women exist. A pope with a genuine interest in interfaith dialogue, with all faiths, and not simply to “unite against the atheists.”
So, at the risk of sounding really negative about African and South American cardinals, let’s be very cautious before praising any “progressive” choices from those continents.
The Catholic Church is slow to change and adapt—let’s all hope that, in choosing the next pope, the conclave does not take a step backward.