A Pope for the 21st Century: What should he do?

The cardinals have gathered. The doors of the Sistine Chapel have closed.  All eyes have swung to the roof and the chimney.  The process of electing the next pope has begun.

It's a big decision.  The new pope will be St. Peter's successor, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the voice of God on earth, the spiritual leader of over 1 billion Catholics around the world.  He'll face an aging flock, a modernizing world and an organization rocked by scandals.  Catholics everywhere are praying that God guides those cardinals towards electing a pope that He intended.  The rest of the world is praying (or, if they don't pray, crossing their fingers) for a pope who will be able to reinvigorate and reform the church.

Truthfully, whoever is chosen, I think faithful Catholics are going to hail him as God's choice, as the leader they were hoping for. They will love the new pope, no matter what.  But will the rest of the world's hopes for a reformer pope be fulfilled?  Honestly, I don't know.  Sixty-seven out of the one hundred and fifteen cardinal-electors were appointed by Benedict, the Pope Emeritus, so it's more likely that they will share his views on just about everything.  But you never know, the new pope could surprise everyone.  And if there's one thing those cardinals will agree on, it's that something needs to be done to get people believing in the church again.  So there is an outside chance that we'll get a "reformer" pope.

Before you start planning your same-sex marriage in St. Peter's Basilica, note that the definition of "reformer" can only go so far.  I've been a Catholic all my life, so I'm not so naive as to think that the new Pope would ever reverse or reconsider their stance towards abortion, premarital sex, priestly celibacy, women in the priesthood, birth control, homosexuality and many other social and moral issues that don't "jive" with the modern world.  My hopes for a reformer pope don't even go that far.  Baby steps, people.  I would be more than happy if a "reformer" pope would emerge who could commit to doing the following:

* A reformer pope must institute a zero tolerance policy towards priests who molest underage minors.  This means removing ALL offending priests (past AND present, statute of limitations do NOT apply), publicly apologizing to victims on the Church's behalf, and surrendering the offending priests to police officers for criminal trial.

* A reformer pope would focus on encouraging Christ-like behavior in his own flock, rather than imposing Roman Catholic rules and restrictions on others via legislature, sharia law or other governmental interference.  In other words, a reformer pope would respect the separation between church and state.

* If the Church is sincere and consistent in promoting a culture of life, a reformer pope would take a stance not only against abortion, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research, but against the death penalty, human rights violations, and war.  He would encourage his followers to campaign as actively, insistently and loudly for the last 3 issues as he does for the first 3.

* A reformer pope would promote a culture of transparency, not secrecy. That means making all -- and I mean ALL -- the documents in the Vatican available for Catholics to view, for scholars to study and explain to the rest of us who don't understand Latin or don't have the time to read through miles of text.  The true worth of a religion is shown when its leaders allow their followers to make informed choices, instead of manipulating them into believing what you think God wants them to believe.

* A reformer pope would reverse the Church's stance on birth control, especially as it applies to stopping the spread of AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases, at the very least between married couples.

* A reformer pope would exemplify the spirit of brotherhood, sacrifice and spirituality that Jesus lived.  I'm not talking about washing the other cardinal's feet once a year during Easter mass.  A reformer pope would dump the red Prada shoes and the gilt-laden apartments.  Live like the rest of his  flock, or even just a little bit above it -- not a mud hovel, but how about a 5,000 square foot apartment instead of a 20,000 square foot palace?. Sell some of those priceless works of art to some government or some rich philanthropist who will agree to display those treasures for the world to see, then use the money to help the world's poor.

I know, it's a tall order.  Not every Catholic would agree with me.  But I'm still hoping.  Praying.  Anyone with me?

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