Catholic Church in Transition: Hopes For the Next Pope

PHOTO: Posters bidding Pope Benedict XVI farewell

In columns past, I have often recommended what presidential candidates might focus on in their campaigns or ways they should address the country after they get elected. I thought it timely to do same for the upcoming Papal election and what the next Pope might want to focus on in the world.

I have never run a Papal election, but I did grow up Catholic as one of 11 children, was named after two of the Gospels (Matthew and John), attended Catholic school and College, was an altar boy, and have some working knowledge of Latin. That doesn't make me an official of the church, but it gives me a little credibility, I hope.

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Even though this is an election that only involves some 115 Cardinals of the Catholic Church (and we pray the inspiration of God), it is an incredibly important moment for the Church and for Catholics and non-Catholics worldwide. With the number of Catholic faithful shrinking in many developed parts of the world, with women feeling they lack a role in the Church, with youth unenthusiastic about Catholicism, and with scandals that have rocked the Church to its core, this is a crucial moment for this institution.

The choice seems clear: the Catholic Church can retrench in its ways, not adapt to the modern world, close itself off to change and progress, and just appeal to an ever decreasing and conservative group of believers, or it can decide to move forward openly and boldly into the world that exists today.

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To me, the Catholic Church and the Republican Party in the United States are at very similar points. Right now both institutions are dominated by an older white leadership, they lack appeal to youth, women, and minorities in the developed world, and they seem to be throwback to a different time. As I have said before, both the Catholic Church and the Republican Party are "Mad Men" institutions in a "Modern Family" world.

So, if the Church desired to take the path of progress and not retrenchment, what type of Pope should the Cardinals choose? What values should that Pope instill in the Church, and what are some immediate things he could do? (Even though my friend EJ Dionne in a recent column laid out a great and interesting scenario of picking a nun as the next Pope, we all know that is probably a bridge too far at this time though I hope it comes at some point in the Church's history.)

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Besides all the values we know the Catholic Church is supposed to represent, the Cardinals should pick someone who can embody and speak to the following values in this world: authenticity, openness (transparency), simplicity (humbleness), passion, and diversity.

Authenticity. It is time for the Church to really go back to the fundamental principles of its founding. Not back to the Middle Ages, but back to the first century AD and the principals laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. The Church has traveled a long distance from that time, and reached great heights, but it no longer is seen by many as authentic to the vision and sermons of Jesus Christ. And as we know in politics, without authenticity, followers will stop following and search for that authenticity elsewhere, even if they have held on to a certain institution for years.

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