WEB EXCLUSIVE COLUMN: Liberal Catholics still worry about new pope

Michael McLaughlin

As is the case with everyone else, I have many internal conflicts that I’m forced to attempt to resolve. Two of the more stressful conflicts — that seem impossible to resolve — are my liberal political beliefs and my religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic.

While I was fairly religious all throughout high school, after my time there ended, I stopped attending Mass and became a “lapsed” Catholic. While I never stopped believing on the whole, many of the Church’s teachings seemed to be an attempt to take us, kicking and screaming, back into the 16th Century. Since I believed, and still do, that if you’re going to consider yourself a follower of a religion you should actually follow that religion’s teachings (i.e. no cafeteria Catholics), I left. However I still held out hope for a future in which the reformist tradition of John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council would return.

That is why when I heard of John Paul II’s death on April 2, my initial reaction was a mixture of sadness (after all, he was the only pope that I had ever known) and hope. Perhaps now we would get a leader who combined his progressive ideas on certain issues (i.e. foreign policy, death penalty) with a realization that toleration on certain other issues (i.e. gay rights, contraceptive usage) would allow the church to rollback its losses (percentage wise) in North America and Europe. However, the cynic in me pointed out that since JPII appointed all but three of the cardinals who were able to vote in the papal conclave, his successor had to be expected to be as conservative as him, if not more so. I hate it when the cynic in me is right.

On April 19, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who has been referred to as God’s Rottweiler and was the head of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (not that it’s called that anymore, of course), became Pope Benedict XVI.

While he’s been trying to soften his image as of late, liberal Catholics are still worried by some of his statements he made while still a cardinal. For example, his statement in the 2000 Vatican Document Dominus Iesus that, “Only in the Catholic Church is there eternal salvation,” flies in the face of John Paul’s attempts to reach out to all faiths. Also, his blaming the news media for the molestation scandals in 2002, as reported in the New York Times, is also troubling, as it shows a continuance of the attitude of the Vatican, which during the crisis acted as though the problem was that the press was daring to report on the issue, not that the molestations were occurring.

I believe that Benedict is a good man, albeit one who I personally disagree with, and while I hold out hope that he will turn out to be a good transition pope leading to future reform, I’m not going to hold my breath. In fact if anything, the church is probably the closest it’s been to having a schism since the Reformation. One gets the impression that many of the cardinals believe that liberal Catholics can, both figuratively and literally, go to hell.

Maybe we’ll just become Episcopalians instead.

Michael McLaughlin is a senior history major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].