Where were you when you learned that Benedict XVI was going to resign from the Papacy? In many ways, his announcement ushered in a revolutionary moment for our Church. Every person reading this has known Papal transitions only upon the death of the previous Bishop of Rome. But now, relinquishment of this role becomes a real possibility, shaking yet another of our expectations about our Church.
Like many others, I applaud the Pope for choosing to step aside based on a decision of conscience that he is no longer capable of leading our Church. And like many others, it seems that each day I ponder new meanings of this decision.
Does this transition offer any hope for LGBT people and our families, many of whom have suffered immense pain due to the inhumane positions, policies, and statements originating in the Vatican and echoing throughout the world? We can certainly hope for more openness, a willingness to engage honestly with us, and a departure from the harsh rhetoric of the past quarter century. However, given that virtually all of those likely to become our next Pope have risen through the ranks in an atmosphere where loyalty and a willingness to attack dissent seem to be prized, my hope for change rests in the people of the Church, rather than in its leaders.
If Pope Benedict’s conscience can call him to act in a way that is virtually unprecedented, does the spotlight return to personal conscience as an essential component of evaluating every Catholic’s faith decisions? What does this mean in an age when our hierarchy has been strident in censoring theologians who challenge, or even ask questions concerning Church doctrine? What are the implications for private decisions and public policy on matters ranging from use of sexuality to war and peace?
As the Cardinal Electors prepare to enter into Conclave and select the next Pope, how are we to interact with the process? Certainly we must pray; the person who holds this seat has enormous spiritual, political, and personal power across the globe. Would that he do good with it. Many of you will have thought about whether and how to make your own desires for our Church heard by participating in the “Contact a Cardinal” campaign, exercising your canonical right and duty to speak out for the good of the Church. Many of us are troubled by the exclusive, undemocratic nature of this process, which one faithful Dignity leader reminded me should rightly be called a “selection” rather than an “election.” We are aware that not a single woman will vote in this process. There is no openly gay, bisexual, or transgender person in the room. There is no one in a recognized, committed loving relationship, no one involved in parenting children. Everyone there is very well-educated, with his studies generally funded by others, and his needs provided for while he studied. Many in the room actively participated in the decades-long cover up of the relocation of sexual predators, and in shielding them from criminal prosecution. I wonder if there is any chance such a tainted process can yield a leader that will be able to address the real needs of our world, as well as restore any sense of moral credibility that has been so tragically squandered for so long.
And yet, we are a people of hope and faith. We do believe that the Spirit moves among us and can inspire miraculous things. We are blessed to be part of a community that offers our Church another model for leadership, one that relies upon call and accountability, and is open to a wide diversity of people willing to offer their talents and time. So, let us hope and pray for strong, blessed leadership to emerge from the Conclave. At the same time, let us continue to do the work of living in the Church we know is possible, working for an increase of justice in our world, and building communities that nurture each lovingly- created individual that comes through our doors.