Pope Benedict XVI’s stunning decision to step down gives the Roman Catholic Church the opportunity to choose a progressive leader who’s more in step with how churchgoers really live their lives in the 21st century.
American Catholics especially would benefit from the selection of a pope ready to talk openly about religious values in modern times. U.S. Catholics’ support for the use of birth control and for women as priests, for example, have long been ignored and criticized by the Vatican.
Unfortunately, the College of Cardinals is populated with many of Benedict’s like-minded followers, who may be more in tune with continuing very conservative church doctrines. While certainly many people worldwide embrace these teachings, the church has been missing opportunities to reach out to more progressive Catholics not just in the United States but also in Europe and Latin America.
Benedict will leave behind a mixed record on major spiritual and church-related issues. Many Americans are disturbed by the church’s inability to effectively deal with the priest abuse scandals that have victimized thousands of children, soiled the reputation of the church and financially damaged it.
The Kansas City region has certainly seen its share of trouble in that regard, as Bishop Robert W. Finn, leader of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse.
The pope had more success in promoting the values of prayer and Christianity, with a special focus on bringing Europeans back to the church.
The Catholic Church, like many other religions around the globe, faces many challenges in the hustle-bustle world of today. They include wooing people to attend religious services and getting people to contribute time and money to the valuable outreach efforts of their churches.
Benedict’s resignation offers the Catholic Church the chance to hit the "reset" button and find a new leader who’s ready to embrace those challenges. Selecting a modern-day pope could create a more vibrant future for the church.