Giving the new pope the benefit of the doubt

Cate Murray

Last week as I walked across campus to the sound of the church bells ringing, I became excited for a change that was going to move the Catholic Church forward.  All seemed well in the world – happy children playing at Balloon Day, warm temperatures and bright blue skies.  

As the bells continued to echo from the spires, I thought to myself that I am witnessing history. The death of Pope John Paul II, the conclave, and the election of Pope Benedict XVI marked the first time that undergraduates have lived through the process of selecting a new Pontiff.  Pope John Paul II had been leading the church since 1978, and most students have never experienced the Catholic Church without his wisdom, charisma and love of youth. That is not to say, however, that Pope John Paul II did not have his fair share of controversial, and oftentimes conservative, opinions.  

Upon his death, I envisioned the next papacy to be a step towards a more progressive church that would connect with, not alienate, the diverse group of people that make up the Catholic Church.

I hoped for a new pope that would seriously address the lack of vocations, and be open to dialogue about married priests.  I hoped for a pope who would continue John Paul II’s legacy of social justice and continually call for the cancellation of third world debt.  

I hoped for a pope who would be more open to homosexuality and women taking on larger roles in the church, including (gasp!) the priesthood.  I hoped for a pope who would understand the relationship between family planning and poverty and, even more urgently, the preventative role of condoms in managing AIDS pandemic.

Ironically, who I got was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a staunch conservative and a “hard-liner” when it comes to church doctrine.  In short, Cardinal Ratzinger and his beliefs are the antithesis of what I envisioned the next papacy to be. So, as a young Catholic disappointed in the choice of the conclave, what am I to do?  After my initial anger and disappointment have somewhat subsided, I started to consider my options, and ultimately decided upon the most proactive course.     I choose action.  The election of Pope Benedict XVI is a historical milestone in our adult lives.  

Through following the news about the conclave, discussing it in class, or listening to a homily about the new pope, we are reminded that we have the ability to fully participate in this monumental event. Catholics and non-Catholics alike have the opportunity for reflection.  

This is a time for us to think about how we have grown in our relationships with God, and decide how we want to deepen our own faith and spirituality.  Furthermore, the election of Pope Benedict XVI calls Catholics to become more active members of the church and not live solipsistic existences.  It is a time for us to actively engage in dialogue, reading, and debate about great moral and theological issues.  While Cardinal Ratzinger’s record stands against the progressive vision I have for the church, I will not stand aside and be silent. During his homily during the installation mass this past weekend, Pope Benedict XVI promised “My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him so that He himself will lead the church at this hour of our history.”  

This statement give me hope that he will do more than maintain the status quo, and will indeed truly listen to the people of the church.  

In the wise words of my father and through the gentle reminder from my mother, at the end of the day all anyone wants is a chance.  The new Holy Father does deserve a chance, and perhaps he will end up surprising the masses.   And yes, as a young Catholic I do trust that God is somehow playing a role in all this.  My faith tells me that God will indeed guide the Pope Benedict XVI.  

Yet I do believe that the church, and all of humanity, can have the greatest impact for good when all of its members are actively engaged.  Take action.