Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Hard Act To Follow

I had a lot of differences with Pope John Paul II, but no one could accuse him of being inconsistent or not having the courage of his convictions. Smart, funny, erudite, polyglot, brave and caring, he's left his mark indelibly on the Catholic Church, elevating the office of the Catholic Papacy to the world stage in a manner consistent with the church's role as a spiritual advisor.

I think John Paul's converative Catholicism will never be fully reconciled with the American Catholic Church, which, arguably, is a different church from that Catholicism embraced by the nations of Africa, South and Central America. Offline, I've argued often that as much as Henry VIII saw a need to split his Anglicans away from Rome for personal reasons, there's as many compelling and personal reasons for American Catholics supporting abortion rights, the use of birth control, female priests, and a married priesthood to recognize that many of their beliefs cannot be squared with current Catholic Doctrine, which is unlikely to bend to the will of liberal Catholic Americans.

For those imagining that the next Pope will be more open to doctrinal revision toward a more liberal stance on certain social issues regarding sexuality, I have to bring you down to Earth, so to speak. The Church is not a democracy, but even so, the enormous weight of opinion of conservative Catholics in the southern hemisphere easily overbalances the liberal voices in United States and Europe.

In fact, just in case any Catholic Cardinals frequent this site, allow me to offer them the opinion that an African Pope would send an important message to begin the new century of Catholicism, and would raise the profile of a continent much in need of world attention.

Victor Simpson has a fine summary of the career and life of John Paul II.


Blogger Maines said...

The Anglicans are on the verge of schism right now for similar reasons: like the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion (which is organized as a confederation of national churches, in which Communion-wide decision-making is done at a convention which takes place every ten years) has seen most of its growth in Africa and Latin America (particularly the former). In Africa, Christian churches are very conservative, not least because their main competition for hearts and minds (souls?) is conservative Islam.

The U.S. Episcopal Church (the Anglican church in this country) is currently under censure by the Communion as a whole for the consecration of an openly gay bishop. (The Communion said, don't ordain any more gays, and apologize for the gay bishop; the U.S. church--led by Frank Griswold, whom I knew when he was bishop of Chicago--said it won't consecrate any bishops for a while rather than single out gays, and apologized for the bad feelings the action caused, but not the action itself.)

But that issue is just the one that tipped the balance; there has been a great deal of tension between the conservative Anglicans of the third world, the moderate Anglicans of England, and the liberal Anglicans/Episcopalians of the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia for many years, over a number of issues, and even in the U.S., there are a number of conservative congregations and dioceses that have or are considering breaking with the U.S. church.

This all makes me very sad. One of the things that I like best about being an Episcopalian is that we welcome a range of viewpoints, on the premise that none of us can claim to know the mind of God, and must make our own good-faith choices about how best to interpret and apply the words of Christ.

"The Episcopal Church welcomes you," is our motto. Or at least it's supposed to be.

I am increasingly of the view that Christianity is less well served by all of us splitting off, and better served by us learning to live together and tolerate differences in ideology and practice. Easier said than done, of course.

4:58 PM  

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