Pope makes savvy move to liberalize church
Last week Pope Benedict XVI announced the creation of a new policy, the Apostolic Constitution, which allows Anglicans to enter the Roman Catholic Church while maintaining their traditions. This unprecedented measure caught the world by surprise, sparking much speculation about the policyâs motives and consequences.
The popeâs nuanced strategy will further engrain the churchâs current position as a highly conservative institution, while simultaneously opening its doors to the possibility of future liberalization.
Sounds contradictory? It is. In the last decade, the Anglican church has allowed priests to marry and ordained women and openly gay Anglicans. This has caused a small but continually growing population within the church to become disenchanted. It is this group of people that the pope hopes to lure.
Though the measure will surely bring more conservatives to the Catholic religion, it also represents a savvy move on the part of the pope to liberalize the church.
Anglican priests entering the Catholic clergy will have to be retrained and reordained, and given the circumstances, it seems fair to assume that they will all be very conservative. Nevertheless, a large number of these people are married; the simple fact that a Roman Catholic mass may now be run by a married man is truly revolutionary.
Pope Benedict may be criticized for by some in the church for his decisions, but he certainly knows what he is doing. Not only has he succeeded in bringing a new wave of conservative-minded priests and bishops into the church, but he has also opened Catholicism to ordained marriage in the least controversial way possible.
Another important point is the crisis of ordination within the Catholic Church. In recent years, the number of new priests has fallen critically low, with far fewer priests than ever before to staff the hundreds of thousands of churches around the world. As a result, priests are overworked, visiting multiple parishes every week. Many also feel obligated to postpone retirement to meet the needs of local churches.
By welcoming disenchanted Anglicans into the flock, Pope Benedict is refilling the Catholic clergy as quickly and efficiently as possible. Itâs probable that he has also read the writing on the wall: Todayâs Catholics arenât refusing to take up the priesthood because they are less faithful than their forefathers, but because the price of giving up a family is just too high.
It may be decades before the Catholic Church considers ordaining women as priests, but the next pope will certainly be in a far better position to change policies on marriage within the clergy after Pope Benedictâs decision.
Nevertheless, not everyone is happy about the Apostolic Constitution. Many Anglicans are upset that the decision was made without consulting Anglican authorities; it appears that even the upper echelon of Anglican bishops were unaware of the Vaticanâs plans.
Since the two institutions are so closely linked, there is political significance in the Vaticanâs failure to contact Anglican leadership on this issue. Several African Anglican leaders, including Kenyan Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, have rejected the popeâs offer, saying that African Anglicans have resisted the liberalism that has led other Anglicans to convert.
Finally, some Catholic groups are disappointed at the popeâs continued resistance to modernization. Regardless of its long-term consequences, the Apostolic Constitution is currently driving deeper the perception that Anglicans are liberal and Catholics are conservatives. For those Catholics who are both fully modern and also attached to their Catholicism, this will continue to be a source of contention.
It will be interesting to see if the number of Catholic conversions to Anglicanism, at least by laypeople, rises in the coming years.
It has been nearly 50 years since the feminist and gay liberation movements reshaped American society. There are still plenty of people who retain a certain nostalgia for the days of cultural homogeneity and thereâs nothing wrong with that.
But when the generation of young people who grew up in a socially liberal world eventually take control of the Catholic Church, it seems only a matter of time before church policies follow suit.
And while Pope Benedict may not approve, heâs taking the steps he knows are necessary to assure that the Church survives the challenges of a changing congregation.
Rosaleen OâSullivan is a junior majoring in English and international relations. Her column, âGlobal Grind,â runs Mondays.