About Me

Find out more about me here.

11 February 2013

Bye Bye Benny

I've already received one invitation to speak with the press about Pope Benedict's resignation so just a few thought here about that in the way of back-of-the-envelope preparation.

The election of Cardinal Ratzinger to become Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 was a decided turn to the right for the Roman Catholic Church. With the Second Vatican Council (a/k/a Vatican II) (1962–1965), the Church seemed to have signaled a re-engagement with mainstream society. (Vatican II was in part about a temporary cultural coup by progressive bishops within the otherwise very hierarchical system, though. See Wilde 2004.) As the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, what used to be the Roman Inquisitor, Ratzinger developed a reputation as a very conservative theologian. While Benedict did not quite live up to many's fears, his reign as Pope has not been without controversy. In some very calculated ways, Benedict re-entrenched Catholicism against the (post)modern world and the other world religions.

Irrespective of the theological, social, or political implications, such a contentious posture brings with it some sociological strength. As we've seen in the U.S. over the last 60 years or so, a religion's resiliency is counterintuitively tied to its relationship to the mainstream culture (See Smith 1998). Mainline Protestantism is in serious ruin today essentially because it is indistinguishable from the mainstream culture. Evangelical Protestantism, on the other hand, has done quite well because it has become a subcultural identity that is engaged with the broader culture (think: Great Commission) but that is distinct from the broader culture (think: socially conservative). Roman Catholicism under B16 has looked a lot more like Evangelical than Mainline Protestantism. The Church is likely a lot more sustainable as such.

I haven't heard about any frontrunners yet for successors to B16, but Benedict certainly leaves a Church hierarchy that is more conservative than he entered it, having appointed many like-minded colleagues to the College of Cardinals, which means that it seems unlikely that the next Pope will be a progressive. What will be interesting to follow is the possibility of a Pope from the global South, which could mean a Pope of color.

One interesting thing I noted looked at some stock photos of the Pope is that he is often treated with a lot of deference. Part of that could be more of a function of his age than his position. His immobility means that people must approach him and cater to him in a way that looks a lot like worship. However, there is likely a feedback effect. People are treating him with kid gloves, which looks like pietistic respect to others who feel compelled to show increased respect to the office themselves. I wonder if a (relatively) young pope would interact differently.

No comments:

Post a Comment