Weighing in on Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement that he will resign the papacy, The New York Times’ headline on Tuesday pronounced that the “Successor to Benedict Will Lead a Church at a Crossroads.” However, the paper’s notion of what that “crossroads” is, not surprisingly, misses the point.
From the article:
The resignation sets up a struggle between the staunchest conservatives, in Benedict’s mold, who advocate a smaller church of more fervent believers, and those who believe that the church can broaden its appeal in small but significant ways, like allowing divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment to receive communion, or loosening restrictions on condom use in an effort to prevent AIDS. There are no plausible candidates who would move on issues like ending celibacy for priests, or the ordination of women.
The NYT article goes on to describe the Church as “troubled by scandal,” referring to the sexual abuse debacle, and in need of a pope with “a more personal touch than the bookish Benedict.”
Undoubtedly, many in the liberal media view a conservative pope’s retirement or death as a chance for the Church to loosen up, to become more flexible, to perhaps even “reach across the aisle,” to coin a phase. The intent of this pliability, of course, is to “broaden its appeal,” or attract more believers.
This thinking is truly paradoxical, when we consider that the mere mention of the Church seems to give secularist media yet another opening to spew about the sex abuse scandal, admittedly a tragedy in the Church’s history. Ironically, the scandal appears to have been caused more by too much flexibility and the lack of personal boundaries rather than by any rigid rules or church laws themselves.
This lack of logic, however, should seem familiar. The call for the Church to move in the same direction as the secular world, supposedly to lasso more believers, is the same one broadcasted to the so-called “obstructionist” conservatives in Congress. Think of the rush to change immigration policy, among some Republicans, in the aftermath of the election, presumably in order to quickly take hold of the Hispanic vote, as if that outcome could suddenly be realized. Hispanic-Americans who might be hungry to hear about American conservative values, about economic growth and prosperity, will not be swayed by a “loosening up” of immigration policy. They will, however, be swayed by an outreach from clear and articulate conservatives who will spur them and their children on to achieve their goals and to be prosperous.
It turns out that the very thing the NYT looks down its nose upon- the Church’s “fervent believers”- are exactly what the Church needs: a fervent leader and fervent believers who will articulate and defend their faith in the face of secularism and relativism.
This is exactly what the Church’s “New Evangelization” is all about. Recognizing that there are many Catholics who have experienced a “crisis of faith,” it is Pope Benedict himself who has called for a renewal of the Gospel’s message “to those regions awaiting the first evangelization and to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”
For someone who never wished to be a pope, Pope Benedict, with his surprise announcement, has gotten the world’s attention at the start of the season of Lent, when Christians traditionally turn to God to ask for forgiveness, knowing that they will be welcomed back home. The “crossroads” for this Church, however, is not whether, at this juncture, it can finally decide to become more like “everyone else,” but whether its leaders and members have the courage to defend its professed values in the public square.