Tube City Almanac

April 20, 2005

More Papal Bull

Category: default || By jt3y

As you may have heard, unless you spent the last 24 hours in a sensory deprivation chamber, the College of Cardinals has chosen a new pope. It remains to be seen what Pope Benedict XVI will do for the Catholic Church. I suspect Benedict XVI will moderate some of the reactionary statements he made as a cardinal --- statements that angered Jews, Orthodox Catholics, and much of his own flock in Germany. It's worth noting that although he's the first German pope in 1,000 years, more Germans disapprove than approve of the choice, frustrated by the cardinal's often inflammatory statements.

Now, the Catholic Church can't be run on opinion polls --- not if it's expected to stand for anything. No one is saying that the Vatican should uproot 20 centuries of doctrine for the sake of answering current trends. Still, the Church is suffering right now --- Catholic vocations are in serious decline in the first world --- and it needs a bridge builder, not a bridge burner. I'm hoping that the added weight of the papacy causes Benedict XVI to moderate his views somewhat.

His selection points up a problem that has plagued the Vatican since the death of John XXIII; namely, that while the Catholic Church made giant leaps forward in the 1960s to reach out to its faithful, the college of cardinals often behaves as if they don't hear, or worse, don't care, about complaints.

The American Church, coexisting (sometimes uneasily) with a culture that demands that every dissenting opinion be heard, has often bent over backward to be more inclusive. I suspect the changes have been driven mostly by priests and laity, as well as by bishops like Pittsburgh's Donald Wuerl, who have tried to be both responsive and responsible to the faithful.

For their efforts, American bishops have often been harshly criticized by Rome. The Holy See's attitude toward calls for change and reform from both America and Europe has often been that if you don't like it, then leave. Unfortunately, a lot of people have. Even among lifelong devoted Catholics, for instance, Rome's response to sexual abuse allegations against priests has provoked dismay and sadness.

There are some issues on which the Church probably can't and perhaps shouldn't bend, for doctrinal reasons --- the morality of abortion, for instance. But there are other issues that are rooted more in Catholic tradition than in true core beliefs of the Church or in biblical teaching. Isn't it worthwhile to discuss them?

For instance, I find troubling the Church's refusal to even discuss birth control, in light of the rampant spread of AIDS and the overpopulation of Africa; and married priests, to address the decline in the number of clergy. The new pope, as a cardinal, often hounded theologians who dared to discuss controversial issues, sometimes forcing them out of teaching positions.

A healthy Church can withstand a healthy debate. After all, before the 1960s, it was inconceivable that priests would face the congregation during the Mass, or that the worship would be conducted in the vernacular. Most Catholics would agree that those were positive changes, though they were very upsetting at the time. Nevertheless, it took considerable debate, reflection and discussion amongst theologians, clergy and the faithful to reach those decisions. Stifling that free exchange of ideas seems counter-productive.

As they say, past performance is not indicative of future results, so it's unfair to prejudge Pope Benedict XVI. Catholics can only trust in their faith, and pray that the new pope will oversee the Church with wisdom and patience.


Kudos, by the way, are owed the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which had its P.M. edition announcing the selection of the new pope, and his name, out on the streets of Picksberg and on sale by Tuesday afternoon. That's exactly what an afternoon paper can and should do. (Full disclosure: It's not exactly a secret that I had differences with Trib management when I worked there.)

It's a shame that the Trib PM isn't available in the Mon Valley, an area where afternoon Pittsburgh newspapers traditionally sold very well. The Sun-Telegraph was popular in Our Fair City, as was the Press, which in the 1960s and '70s also provided strong coverage of the Mon-Yough area thanks to the efforts of its reporter, the late Nicholas Knezovich. (Both the Telly and the Press were more popular, indeed, than the Post-Gazette is or ever was in the Mon Valley!)


Finally, does anyone care what some random guy with a website has to say about the new Pope? No, probably not. Is it a Mon Valley story? No, though there are a lot of Catholics in the Mon Valley.

But everyone else is chipping in their two cents, and anyway, the Almanac is free ... and worth every penny!

Your Comments are Welcome!

Oh, gee, this could be a l-o-n-g post, but I’ll restrain myself (or attempt to).

I was raised Catholic, but fell away from as a young adult. Too many man-made rules. It is my belief that the Bible is our document of record on the Christian faith, and that those of us who are Christian should stick to the tenets of the Bible, and most particularly those of the New Testament, not create man-made traditions which replace and in some cases contradict them.

That said, I have great respect for many of the principles of the Catholic faith. There is not much room for debate on issues like abortion, the virgin birth of Jesus, the impropriety of divorce, fornication, etc. and I think those are proper Biblical positions. On other matters, such as the existence of Purgatory and the adoration of Mary, I would have to disagree. And I am appalled, as any thinking human being would be, by the sexual abuse scandals.

Still, Pope John Paul II was, by all appearances, a moral man who pointed to Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and I cannot find fault with that. And I agree, pre-judging anyone (or even judging them at all) can be unfair. So let’s see where the new Pope leads his faithful.

P.S. Lest any of the above screed appear to be too intolerant, I respect the right of anyone to believe whatever they wish to believe – or to believe in nothing at all, if they so choose. God gave mankind free will and I think He meant for us to use it. What we use it for…ah, therein lies one of the great issues of this life, and also of the next, I suspect.
Father L. K. Bohng - April 20, 2005

To comment on any story at Tube City Almanac, email, send a tweet to, visit our Facebook page, or write to Tube City Almanac, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134.