Some Catholic commentators have lamented the latest round of tabloid-quality scandals besetting the Vatican. Tragic that so much vanity and human error should impede the serious business of selecting a new pope, they opine. And isn’t the church’s professed mission of helping the poor and the marginalized compromised by all the salacious gossip? It’s a sad time to be a Catholic, they sigh.
Oh, bollocks! As I wait for another CNN “breaking news” report about some errant bishop or shadowy gay cabal in Rome, my response is: “Pass the popcorn!” The current intrigue is one of the many reasons some of us chose to join this particular flock: Nobody does drama like the Catholic Church hierarchy. A very cool priest once told me that the history of the church is “more like a soap opera than a religious institution.” That’s an understatement.
As a Catholic, I don’t worry about “the moral authority of the church,” because that ship sailed a long time ago. Even before the worldwide pedophilia scandals broke, the church’s stance against birth control sealed the Vatican’s reputation among most Westerners –– including, perhaps especially, most Western Catholics –– as an overly pampered, out-of-touch club of old men.
When church leaders speak about aiding the sick, the lonely, the prisoner, the helpless victim of war –– Catholics and non-‘s alike still take their moral authority seriously. But when they engage in partisan (and expensive) political campaigns against gay marriage and the pill, they get tuned out by large numbers of sensible people. Case in point –– Obama won a majority of the U.S. Catholic vote last November. Need I say more?
So don’t let anyone tell you this is a bad time to be Catholic. Transparency, even if it’s been forced on the church by Italian newspapers, is almost always a good thing. Let’s hope it prompts the cardinals to choose a less divisive “papa” than Ratzinger this time around. One who looks less like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, at least.