When His Conservativeness Pope Benedict XVI resigns, seemingly at the drop of a very large, very fancy hat, you know the Church is in a red-hot mess of trouble.
After his surprise resignation (the first papal resignation in, oh, you know, almost 600 years) last week, the Church has found itself pope-less. It is also without the support of so many former Catholics across Europe and the United States, who were raised in the faith but now are less-than-thrilled (to put it politely) with the Church's numerous and egregious errors in judgment.
So what's a centuries-old institution to do?
If ever there were a perfect time to clean house in the Church, it is now. It's Lent, which, for many, means it's time to give chocolate or complaining (is that just me?), but for the Church, this symbolic time of repentance could be the time in which the Church re-orients itself to serve a 21st century world.
Now, let's be real. I'm wise enough to know that there won't be any widespread change of Church teaching. Despite the increasing clamor from its lay faithful for the Church to ordain women or to change its position on homosexuality and contraception, I know that the Church is nothing if it is not doggedly consistent. Let's recall, folks, that we are talking about an institution that only apologized for the Inquisition (that started in 1480) in 2000.
But here is what the cardinals can and should do, as they hang out in the Sistine Chapel and elect the next pope:
1. Consider candidates from the developing world. The last time a pope came from anywhere BUT Europe was Gregory III in 731. Heck, it was a big deal when John Paul II became pope because he was the first non-Italian pope for quite some time. The reality is that most of the Church's faithful reside in Africa, Asia and Latin America now, but when it comes down to it, they are still underrepresented in the ranks of the cardinals: While there are currently 115 living cardinals from Europe, there are only 30 from Latin America. The Church needs a Pope who is in touch with these parts of the world.
2. Elect the most liberal pope you can possibly imagine (who won't be very liberal anyway). In order to attract new followers or even maintain its current ones, the Church desperately needs to entertain new ideas. But again, even the most liberal among the potential papal candidates will probably still be very conservative. John Paul II and Benedict XVI are both widely considered conservative popes, and between the two of them, they created 117 cardinals who think and govern much in the same way. There is literally no chance of electing someone who would want to ordain women or who would re-think the Church's position on most hot-button issues, but still, any bit of liberal thinking might help breathe new life into the Church, whose most significant changes in the last 10 years include slight wording changes to prayers that are centuries old. Good job, guys.
3. Elect a pope who listens before he speaks. The Church has a nasty reputation for holding a metaphorical megaphone and shouting orders when it really should be observing the world around it and carefully, diligently forming responses. There are enough bishops, priests and cardinals who shoot off at the mouth every fifteen seconds (I'm looking at you, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) to last us for centuries. Let this pope be a kind, non-judgmental Grandpa, the kind who teaches you magic tricks and actually listens to your problems before giving you questionable advice.
4. Elect a pope who truly prioritizes the poor and marginalized. For all the chatter from bishops, you'd think Jesus spoke almost exclusively about contraception, abortion and homosexuality. The New Testament, however, is actually chock full of excellent social justice teaching that could not be more relevant in today's world. Jesus worked his entire life to ease the burden of the poor and to give dignity to the marginalized. Jesus prioritized the poor, acting with their interests in mind at the expense of his own reputation in Nazareth. I don't think he would be a fan of policing nuns for being "too radical" or covering up/excusing/ignoring sex abuse in order to maintain an image. We need a pope who would be willing to take the Church back to basics, and who goes to bat for the poor and outcast in a revolutionary way.
5. Film a Harlem Shake video after the new pope is determined. This is mostly for PR (Hey, we might be an ancient world force but we're hip! We're current!), and my own distinctly undeveloped sense of humor.