Just over two weeks ago the announced resignation of Pope Benedict XVI may have sent shockwaves around the world but thus far there is no tsunami in sight.
The process of naming his successor has settled into the traditional patterns of calling a conclave of Cardinals to vote and eventually send a vapor of white smoke heavenward, telling the world and more than a billion Catholics, “Habemus Papam.”
The short road to that moment is almost defined but the path beyond the next Pope’s election is paved with very heavy and large question marks.
In voicing his historic message, the Pope stated, “I have done this … for the benefit of the Church.” Since today’s Church is struggling on many levels, Catholics everywhere are hoping their Pope’s wish will provide the coming conclave’s focus.
The laity’s concerns embrace major problems:
• The rubble of Vatican II looms large between the power of Rome and the people who are the Church. Fortunately, the voices raised more than 50 years ago remain far from silent, except to the seemingly deaf ears of the hierarchy. In the coming months (or, more likely, years) it is hoped that those voices will continue to be heard and possibly respected, even in Rome
• The pollution of sexual abuse hangs over the Vatican like smog over Beijing. Tragically, the image of every priest, even the saintly ones, has been corrupted by the transgressions of roman-collared predators and abusers.
• When it comes to the corporate workings of Vatican politics and finances, transparency in Rome is as clear as stained-glass windows at midnight.
• Canon Law can no longer provide the high ground or hiding place for the Church’s frailties and failings.
• Women and the openly gay are finally confronting the sex-aphobic, chauvinistic history and destructive attitudes of a male-powered hierarchy.
The all-embracing message of Jesus needs to be reclaimed from the ancient and distorting structures of Roman imperialism. Jesus did not mean to establish a monolithic empire or a museum.
What lies ahead depends on the vision and courage of the electing Cardinals and particularly Benedict XVI’s successor. Still, the Church is what it is and will likely continue to be more of the same, locked in a history worlds removed from what Jesus had in mind.
Vatican II dared to flesh out a radical yet modern reformation of his message and meaning that time and recent Popes were not ready or willing to implement. Even the Church, it seems, can be all too human in its growing.
Its history has been proving that truth all too consistently. Where the Church goes from here remains the largest and heaviest question mark of them all.