As a child who had rulers held to my knee to measure the length of my uniform skirt, who had to memorize the Holy Mary in three languages and who has watched the energetic priests and nuns of my parish wither away into tired and wrinkled servants of God; 15 years of Catholic education has made me painfully aware of the challenges my religion faces in the 21st century. Modern realities such as the child molestation crisis, divorce, allowing women in the church and birth control have brought harsh criticism to the church and strained the newer generations of Catholic parishioners. With the recent death of Karol Wojtyla, officially known as Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church has lost a passionate leader but has also gained an opportunity to discuss the power of the Pope and bring the Catholic faith into a modern era.
The recent hypocrisy exposed by the child molestation scandals has not been easy for the church to deal with, and hopefully the new pontiff can take action about how to change this offensive history. It is with these scandals that the desperate situation regarding the recruitment of genuine priests has truly been exposed. There aren’t enough priests applying for positions, and some of the ones that take positions are not doing it for the right reasons, or become so lonely from their lifestyle that they are driven to gross extremes. It seems that in order to recruit enough priests to sustain the Catholic population, the Vatican may have to allow married men or even women to become priests. Throughout my education, I have asked my teachers, nuns and priests why it is that women cannot become priests and all I have gotten in response is a firm, “it will just never happen.” This ban on half of the constituency comes as a slap in the face every time it is brought up. While I understand that church doctrine and tradition takes precedence on these issues, the Bible also preaches God’s love for everyone. I wish that would be weighed in when thinking about who is or isn’t allowed into priesthood.
The new pontiff will also have the opportunity to address church doctrines on abstinence education and the prohibition of birth control. An updated doctrine needs to be discussed in order to protect the believers around the world from HIV. When it comes to believing in the sanctity of life, not using protection is now becoming a sure ticket to lethal illness. Even though the church says that HIV and unwanted pregnancy wouldn’t happen with abstinence, it seems like a blind way to approach such an epidemic. Even beyond health, being Catholic in today’s society should not make its followers feel like they are part of an anachronistic religion. In the early days of the church, the rules against contraception were made not only to praise the value of life, but also to inadvertently assure that families produced enough children to be able to work the farm and survive in an agricultural society. Today, we have clearly moved beyond that type of lifestyle and the need for five, six or even 10 children is unnecessary and impractical.
Also, with a family of 10 or more, one or two of the offspring were sure to become priests, guaranteeing the proliferation of the priesthood. Not using birth control if engaging in sexual activity is just being irresponsible toward your own life and the one that you could possibly create.
Lastly, the term “cafeteria Catholic” is not only one I hear more and more often, but also one I have used. Being unable to wrap my mind around some of the impermeable beliefs, I choose what to believe and what to ignore. I use the Catholic Church as a vessel to understanding a greater message about God and about life, but do not let it inhibit my own thoughts. I left my battles with the church in my youth, and instead chose to embrace the positive things I had gotten from having a faith, which is why I am a Catholic today.
Pope John Paul II was a peacemaker, a great humanitarian and the most widely traveled pope in history. He made the public apology about the Holocaust and played a crucial role in the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. At his inaugural homily in 1978, he spoke to the people, “be not afraid.” I hope that his successor takes this advice and is not afraid to cross-examine the Catholic doctrines and really progress into modern-day thinking to save a faith that is unfortunately facing a lot of stress and struggle.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.