Depleting the fan base

The writing of this entry precipitated a full-on 2 and a bit hour theological and sociological debate in our house. Hope it does in your’s too.

Well, we have a new Pope, and as widely predicted it is the highly conseravative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from Germany. While not being unexpected, it does seem a little unfortunate in several regards (at least from my perspective as a liberal white member of the first world).

As many of you may already know, before he became Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was for 20 years the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which basically is the organisation that arose out of the old holy inquisition (the Roman one, which in the grand scheme of things was pretty tame, rather than the Spanish one, which was not), and is charged with maintaining and protecting the orthodoxy of the Catholic church. He holds strongly conservative (from my perspective read: negative) views on contraception, abortion, gays, women clergy and priestly marriage. This is not unexpected, but it seems that the conclave has made a decision that really doesn’t help them on either of their popularity fronts.

Given that the Catholic church appears to be relatively rapidly losing relevance (and thus followers (often to more accomodating branches of Christianity)) in the western world (which has always been it’s traditional power base), while relatively rapidly spreading and gaining followers in the poorer countries of the world, most notably in south american and sub sharan africa, it would seem that the church has two options in leadership directions: either they try and regain support amongst the western populaces by modernising the church and trying to more closely integrate religious philosophies with current western lifestyle realities (which is not in fact as difficult as it might initially sound, if they are willing to forgo some of the teachings and tradions that they have aquired and then feverishly held onto over the last two milenia, but which are not directly supported by or derived from the scripture), or else they can choose to stay their current dogmatic doctrinal path and acknowledge their shift of priorities from the traditional eurocentric view towards a more developing world centered set of priorities.

In choosing a new pope who at first sight appears to be both Conservative, and Euro-centric, they have essentially sent a snub to both of their obvious potential (re)growth groups:

  • Westerners (particularly women and the sexually liberalised youth) who will continue to be intolerant of the church’s hard line on matters which they percieve as reasonable demands, such as allowing female priest, and letting priests marry.
  • and the developing world, who while they are currently more willing to accept doctrinal conservatism, will continue to percieve to some degree or another that the church is controlled by middle aged white europeans, and that cardinals from the third world will only ever be allowed to rise so far (ie. they won’t get to lead the church as Pope) no matter how important those third world congregations may be to the continued validity and survival of the church.

I suppose it is a rather nasty thing to say, but perhaps the conclave was simply hedging their bets when they elected Benedict XVI. If a eurocentric conservative pope continues to draw support and continues expansion of the church then they can feel that they did the right thing, but if it doesn’t work out in the church’s best interest then at least he may not hang around too long, given that he is already 78.

It’s at this point that I should figure out how to put a feedback form on the site, as I’d be quite interested to hear what other people had to say on the matter….