Bye bye, Benedict
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 at 5:57 p.m.
My mom wants my 1-year-old daughter to have a Catholic baptism.
It really isn't about saving her eternal soul. It's more about getting her into a good Catholic school when the time comes.
Growing up in a family with Italian and various other ethnic Catholic roots, I followed in their footsteps. I attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade. I was baptized as an infant and went through confirmation in the eighth grade.
It didn't stick. By high school, I was pretty skeptical of the Catholic Church. A survey we did at my high-school newspaper — we called it "Young and Catholic in America" — showed that a majority of students felt the same way. Most disagreed with church positions on everything from birth control to homosexuality.
By church positions, I mean the pope's rigid positions on social issues. Many of the nuns and brothers who taught me seemed pretty progressive. A lot of folks in my parents' generation — who came of age at the time of Vatican II, the pill and the other changes of the ‘60s — have similar views.
But Pope John Paul II, who held the papacy from the time I was 2 until I was 29 years old, wasn't the most progressive guy. So when a new pope was named in 2005, a lot of Catholics who grew up with me were hoping for something different.
Instead, they got someone who had been nicknamed "The Pope's Bulldog" for his enforcement of church doctrine. Pope Benedict XVI didn't change much as the church's leader.
One of The Sun's socially conservative letter writers urged me not to write about Benedict's impending retirement.
"One word of caution: Fanning the flames of Catholic ‘liberalism' as you will be tempted to do (‘Let's see them get courageous and elect one of the pro-homosexual cardinals' you might be tempted to write. But Nathan, they don't exist) will only assist the conservatives who have their sails with the winds of change," he told me.
He also wrote that graduating from Catholic school didn't qualify me to pontificate on who should be the next pontiff. He's probably right about that.
But now that I'm married with a kid and getting older, I do wonder if the Catholic Church would ever change enough for me to consider returning.
It certainly seems like Benedict was comfortable if a continued conservative approach resulted in a smaller, more devout church. It worked: People like me and most of my friends haven't been to mass in years.
Would a big-tent church bring those people back? Maybe not. Maybe the letter writer is right, and this kind of talk only emboldens conservative church leaders.
But I do hope that the next pope shifts the focus from divisive social issues to true social justice. I hope he's less hung up on sex and more serious about addressing sexual abuse by priests. I'm not so young and Catholic anymore, but I still remember that hope is one of the church's virtues.