In the light of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent resignation, I’ve been pondering the tribulations of the Roman Catholic church.

I should perhaps declare my position up front.   I’m a daughter of John Knox and a protestant rebel in every fibre of my being, and therefore  I’m not in the camp with the church of Rome.   But though I personally could not contemplate an authoritarian, patriarchal religion where women are not regarded as equals and where the clergy have authority over the laity, I have many friends who are Roman catholic.   I respect their beliefs and appreciate their charitable and god-fearing view of the world and have no desire to be either disrespectful or cause offence.   Nor do I approve of Ian Paisley calling the Pope the anti-christ.  Quite apart from his impoliteness to an invited guest , it is said that God’s house has many mansions.   There are fine, and there are not so fine,  people in every institution and walk of life.

It has long appeared to me that essentially Christendom comprises two opposing parties.   There is the Catholic church, and there are protestors against it;  and you are either of the one group or the other.   I always resent how the catholic clergy refer to their flocks as ‘the faithful’ but from the Church’s point of view the institution has remained faithful to the doctrines which it considers were handed to the first Pope from God as his one and only true church on earth.   It’s adherents have  also remained faithful to those doctrines (nominally anyway).

So far as I am aware, no significant tenet of faith has ever been abandoned by the church.   They believe that the Pope is Christ’s representative on earth;  that they are the one true church;  that the priesthood must be of unmarried men;  that marriage is a sacred and indissoluble union between man and woman;   that intercourse should be primarily for procreation;   and that a woman’s salvation lies in childbearing and that any attempt to pervert this natural outcome is sinful.   As far as I understand it, any non catholic is an heretic, but that God is merciful and the church forgiving and will gather to its bosom any repentant sinner and rejoice in their salvation.   For them, there is no salvation except through the medium of the catholic church.   These articles they have always believed and they have been faithful to that belief.   They see themselves as obedient to God’s commandments.

(I’ve been writing about obedience recently too.   Frankly I don’t think it’s the virtue it’s made out to be.)

But the point I’m labouring to make here is that it is that dogged perseverance and loyalty to its original doctrines (what they themselves call faithfulness):  that it is the strength of the Roman Catholic church which has never moved from its position.   It stands where it has always stood, and in its view, it is the only gateway to heaven.   If the catholic church were to give way on any major point, it would undermine its whole position.    Let us imagine  that the church were to agree that women could become priests, or priests could marry.   To do so would be to admit that it had previously been wrong.  If it were wrong about these matters, over what else might it be wrong?   Then it could no longer stand in its holy place as God’s true and only church on earth.   It would just be another religious sect with changing views.

However, the catholic church is under attack on all sides.   It is interesting to note how very, very few of the children who have been reared in the Roman Catholic church in the UK, choose, when they come to marry, to do so in the faith.   Secularism and the Body Scientific undermines all religion.    The church cannot truly make restitution for the damage that has been done to its own people by paedophile priests.   And there is pressure from within for it to give way and agree that priests may marry; women can become priests;  homosexual couples may marry;  contraception is not sinful etc.   Giving in to any one of these demands will only increase the expectation that all these changes are inevitable.   By this zealous, reforming body, each successive Pope  is judged and found wanting.   Yet (I as an outsider looking at this) can understand that were the church to give way on any of these issues, it would no longer BE the Roman Catholic Church.

Could it be that the Pope actually is making an enormous sacrifice?   Although elderly and frail, he does not appear to me to be a man whose vital strength has departed.   I think Pope Benedict has enjoyed being the Pontiff (in an entirely appropriate and proper way.)   I see no evidence that, with the help which would be available to him, he is incapable of carrying out his duties.   The suggestion that he had become despondent about Vatican insider politics and decided to abandon the struggle is in my view risible.   One does not get to be Pope without a thorough understanding of Vatican politics.

So I’m left wondering if Pope Benedict has, contrary to all his instincts and desires, decided to stand aside in order that he and like minded brethren may influence the selection of a pope who will stand firm against these attacks on the Church?   If this were true, it would represent a truly great sacrifice on the part of the pope, worthy of the great christian tradition.   If this were true, perhaps it might also maximise the chances of some young, charismatic, say African pope, one with a few decades left in him to fight the good fight;  and who could be described as a modern, progressive choice, while actually being deeply conservative.

It will be interesting to observe the process of election of a new pope.   Will this be the dawning of a bright new day?   Or will the whole thing just go up in smoke?

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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