Strange place for Catholicism

As one who grew up with – and believing strongly in – the teachings of Roman Catholicism, the state of the church is distressing.

We were schooled by strict, but nurturing, nuns. The largest hospital in our small town was founded, and run, by nuns. Our image of the servants of the church was along the lines of the sacrifices of Father Damien, Mother Marianne and Mother Teresa.

Our most joyous family times revolved around the religious holidays of Christmas and Easter, followed closely by watching to see which little girl would by chosen “Queen of the May” to lead the salute to Jesus’ mother.

Now the church sits leaderless in the middle of Lent, wracked by the sexual abuse scandal and its subsequent (and perhaps ongoing) cover-up. There are rumors of corruption at the highest levels and charges that the Vatican Bank may have assisted in money-laundering for mob figures. The pope’s butler was charged with stealing secret papers.

In this setting, a new pope will be elected. The cardinals who select the new leader will not be allowed to see a secret report prepared for Pope Benedict about the investigation into the alleged corruption. They will question its authors, but by Benedict’s order, the report itself will only be seen by the new pope after his election.

That decision by Benedict is unsettling. The conclave will not know if their selection as the next pope is a central figure in the corruption probe.

The laity has no voice in the selection. And one has to wonder if the mostly old men who will make the selection know how important it is to choose a reformist. From personal experience, we know that old men resist change.

But if the church is to regain its place as a font of goodness, it has to change and reform. The new pope must be someone who not only accepts, but insists on, a larger role for women. He also must lead the way in ousting the corrupt – including those who merely covered up the corruption.

All of these qualities will probably require a younger man. It will be interesting to see if the mostly old men in the conclave can bring themselves to realize this.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.