Beyond the News
2013 barely started and something bombastic hit the news in February: the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI! He became the first Catholic leader to resign since 1415 and opened an intense debate inside and outside of Vatican’s walls about the future of his church in the new millennium. The global society calls for constant changes and the question is: could Benedict XVI cope with these changes?
In 2008 I covered the World Youth Day held in Sydney, Australia, where around 400 thousand pilgrims attended the 5 day-event in the cold, but sunny, Australian winter. Despite the huge public, it was not easy for Benedict XVI to face criticisms, especially, in regards sexual abuse scandals amongst Catholic leaders in the country. Other issues, such as: abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage were also high topics on the agenda of several protesters in Sydney.
I remember that the environment in the city was quite heavy during the weeks preceding the event. The entire media was prepared to cover not only the mass, but also potential protests on the streets that could turn the event upside down. The security was extremely tight! One day, while heading to cover the meeting between the Pope and a Muslim leader in a small chapel next to St Mary’s Cathedral, I was submitted to 5 security gates with metal detectors and policemen. It was the first time in my life that I faced this type of security checks to work.
Since his 2006 Regensburg letter, Benedict XVI was under fire for comparing Islam with terrorism, but he handled quite well the meeting with Muslim’s leaders in Sydney and call for unification between different religions to search for peace worldwide. However, his toughest job was to address a much more complex case: the 107 priests and other Catholic Australian leaders who were involved in sexual abuse scandals.
For that, he delivered a historical speech at St Mary’s Cathedral to apologise for the crimes committed by his fellows. However, to me his remarks did not seem to be spontaneous, but rather a well prepared PR strategy that he had little involvement in. Although there were truly words, they simply did not sound to be exactly what he wanted to say.
After having the opportunity to meet the Pope personally, I though with myself that something wrong was going on with him. Benedict XVI did not seem to be comfortable with all that mess around him and I did not know whether he was not experienced enough to handle such situations, or if in fact there was much more going on behind the “lord’s table”.
His resignation in the beginning of this year took me by surprise more due to the way how it happened, rather than the fact that it actually happened. He simply came forward and confessed that it was time to give up. Eventually, he delivered a speech that created even more scepticism around the Catholic Church. Until now the world still without an answer to a simply question: why did he resign?
The Vatican was quickly in its decision to elect Pope Franciscus as the new leader. He is young and a South American representative. These two features make him a perfect candidate! In a globalized world, the Catholic Church must prove that it is also moving accordingly. And by choosing a non-European Pope for the first time in 13 centuries (the last one was Gregory III from Syria who stayed in power between 731 and 741), the Vatican shows that it is keen to make huge changes!
In fact, Pope Franciscus came into power with a lot of respect! He was opened to discuss tough issues and already pointed out to work towards women’s rights. He seems to be rejuvenating the Catholic Church. On his favour played out the fact that the World Youth Day 2013 happened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, close to his home country and in the heart of the continent that he represents in the Vatican. The new 2013 Pope seems to be unstoppable!
But what does it represent to the world?
This is a question for theologians and other specialists to tackle with deeper analysis. But, what the world witnessed in the last 11 months so far proved that there is certainly something much larger than we can imagine behind the “altar” and it is a question of time for everything to come out!
Karl Marx once said in his book The German Ideology that “morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retains the semblance of independence”. And this phrase could not fit better to 2013, a time when same-sex marriage has been legalized in countries like France and Argentina, drugs like Marijuana been legalized in Uruguay, euthanasia of children near to be authorized in Belgium and abortion becoming discussed deeper and deeper worldwide.
Pope Franciscus has been quite active to come out and discuss some of these issues in public, something that his predecessors have never done before. But the true is that he does not have any other choice! The global society wants independence, not only to bring those matters onto the table, but also to have the right and freedom to make their own decisions. The latest revolutions in the North Africa with the Arab Spring and the fall of Benedict XVI are probably good proofs that a religious leader cannot stop people to do so!