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Local News: On Thursday, February 28, the bi-weekly Mission Mississippi Prayer Breakfast will be held at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton. The purpose of these prayer breakfasts is to foster greater unity within the Body of Christ across racial and denominational lines. For more information, go to www.missionmississippi.org.
On Monday, February 11, Pope Benedict XVI formally announced that, due to his declining health, he would be stepping down as Bishop of Rome at the end of this month. Though not unprecedented, this is a very uncommon move for a Pope—the last time someone resigned from the office was in the pre-Reformation 1400s. Though it’s beyond the scope of Jackson Presbyterian Examiner to “evaluate” Pope Benedict XVI’s tenure or conjecture as to who will or should replace him, using The Making of the Pope: 2005 (Little Brown and Company, 2005) by Catholic priest Andrew M. Greeley, we will look back to the spring of 2005 and reflect on how his papacy was initially received.
Greeley, a social sciences professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, offers insider analysis on the April 2005 conclave which elected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be Pope Benedict XVI. Greeley describes himself throughout as a sociologist, not a theologian. Nevertheless his theological views can’t but surface in his critique of John Paul II and in his apprehensions regarding Benedict.
1. Greeley’s criticism of John Paul II’s papacy
Greeley praised John Paul II for his charisma and good intentions (“The Church can’t expect someone like [him].. more than once or twice in a millennium”, he said). Nevertheless, Greeley said that John Paul II’s papacy was an effective undoing of the progress instituted by the Second Vatican Council (1965). The Council, Greeley said, called for the Church to be more collegial and more open to the outside world, while John Paul II’s leadership style was authoritarian and deeply suspicious of the modern world. Greeley also talked at length of how deplorable the Church’s policy on Birth Control has been handled.
In the first paragraph, Greeley mentions, almost in passing, how the Roman Catholic Church “oppresses women and gays”. Unfortunately, he doesn’t elaborate on why he believes this, but takes it as simply a given. What kind of change does Greeley want in this area? He said, “[Pope John Paul II] said women could not be priests because the Church did not have the power from Jesus to make them priests… Women are unforgiving about it, and I don’t blame them. It was a black mark on his administration, and the Church is going to have to pay for it in years to come.”
Greeley describes those Catholics who offer unquestioning allegiance to the Pope’s policies as a “right” wing fringe within the Church. Historically, though, hasn’t obedience to the Pope simply been considered part of being Roman Catholic? Surely paying lip service to Catholicism while, in practice, denying a fundamental teaching is a curiously modern phenomenon? Of course, there is a temptation for people in any denomination to do and believe what they want, contrary to what church leaders teach. However, indifference to the Pope has recently reached epic proportions. In many countries, research shows that only a minority of Catholics believe pre-marital sex is wrong (a doctrine that is part of “mere” Christianity, not uniquely Roman Catholic).
“For weal or woe, an educated population will not accept Church teaching as a matter for blind obedience,” Greeley said. “Maybe the churches should have opposed the education of their laity. It would be a lot easier for bishops and priests if they were still dealing with peasants.” Is the falling away en masse from traditional Catholic moral principles among Catholics simply a result of people “thinking for themselves”?
Greeley, though not exonerating laypeople, does blame the Church for preaching its morality in such a heavy handed way as to turn people off. Lest he come across insubordinate, Greeley clarifies that he is not recommending “doctrinal” changes for the Church; he is merely offering PR advice, wanting the Church to be less stern and more pastoral, to re-think how it communicates to the world, especially young people, as research shows that most young Catholics don’t get their sexual morality from Catholic tradition.
Interestingly, Phillip Jenkins in his 2002 book, The Next Christendom, argues that when Pope John Paul II was accused of being “radically conservative” by many American Catholics, he was simply attempting to be faithful to his constituency in the Global South, which tends to be much more traditional than Global North. Yes, it may be true to some extent that the Pope had “written off” the U.S. and Europe, but if so, it was only because he felt they had first written him off.
2. Greeley’s apprehensions about Benedict XVI
Greeley does not interpret the promise of Jesus to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”, to mean that all Popes will be laudable men. “The promise of Jesus is not that there will be great Popes all the time, not that Popes will necessarily be good men, not that they will be the best available choice for the office, not that they will speak for the Holy Spirit every time they say something, not that they will always reflect the wishes of God, but only that they will not destroy the Church,” Greeley said. “That promise has been kept, if only just barely on occasion.”
That said, Greeley’s book is extremely pessimistic regarding Benedict XVI’s papacy, though he did insist everyone at least give Ratzinger a chance to prove himself. Citing Ratzinger’s career as a “heresy hunter” while heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Greeley describes him as a man who has “put a damper on the intellectual life of the Church” and a man who will please conservatives, but “destroy” the hopes of progressives within Roman Catholicism.
Greeley says Ratzinger’s papacy would likely “be a kick in the teeth for those who believe in the [2nd Vatican] council’s reforms, who want to see them grow and flourish.” Greeley doesn’t elaborate why or how this would be the case; he seems to just take it for granted. Under a Ratzinger papacy, Greeley predicted that many American Catholics would leave the church, sensing that the changes they want to see happen would not be happening. “Women and gays, particularly, have reason to [leave],” he said.
What, though, is the Church doing to drive homosexuals away? What does Greeley expect the Benedict XVI to do? To change the Church’s policy about what is and isn’t allowable sexual behavior? The Catholic Church teaches that sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is unlawful. If Christ is the Head of the Church and the Scriptures are our rule of faith and life, the Church doesn’t have the authority to re-write sexual ethics. The Church can’t condone sexual behavior outside of marriage between a man and a woman without ignoring Scripture, and many self-identified homosexuals within Roman Catholicism realize this, appreciate this, and have chosen to remain celibate, seeing this as inherently required by their faith (consider, for example, the Catholic group, Courage).
If Greeley is advocating for the Church to speak with compassion and charity towards men and women experiencing same-sex attraction [which, of course the Church should do], isn’t it fair to say the Church is doing so already? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) affirms the dignity of individuals with same-sex attractions and emphasizes that though acting on such attractions would be wrong, the orientation itself isn’t something a person should be shamed about. Indeed, many priests themselves identity as having a same-sex orientation, but as long as the vow celibacy, this hasn’t prevented them from serving as clergy.
Is Greeley suggesting Catholic women have reason to leave because Benedict XVI won’t pass women’s ordination? Interestingly, Greeley’s own polling shows that in many surveys it is men who favor women’s ordination in higher percentages than women. Greeley said he hopes the “next big change” on the horizon for the church will be “a gradual discovery of the fundamental equality of women”. Traditionalists—men and women alike—believe the Church already affirms the Biblical equality of man and woman. One can only assume that Greeley is hinting that anything shy of women’s ordination would be a denial of women’s equality. Unfortunately, Greeley doesn’t address St. Paul’s statements regarding women not being allowed to exercise authority over men in the Church (1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy). Using his logic, one can only assume that Greeley must perceive Paul (and, apparently the Holy Spirit who spoke through him) to have been sexist.
Reading Greeley's book, it becomes clear that there are widely varying opinions about both Pope John Paul II as well as Pope Benedict XVI. In fairness, both conservative and liberal Catholics want what is best for their church, though they disagree on what precisely that means. In part II, we will explore how evangelicals perceive Pope Benedict XVI.