Times are a-changing: Issues facing the Catholic Church

By Katie Walsh | Opinions EditorVatican Pope

Pope Benedict XVI’s successor will have a number of issues to face upon stepping into his place as the head of the Catholic Church. Topics range from defending traditional Catholic thought to addressing a growing world church and responding to the sexual abuse allegations that have rocked the Church for a number of years.
During his eight-year reign at St. Peter’s, Benedict faced a number of challenging issues that were new to the church. Catholicism has been rapidly expanding into Latin America, Africa and Asia more so than ever before as the church steadily holds a following of approximately 17.5 percent, 1.2 billion people, of the world’s population. At the same time, the sex abuse scandal that broke in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world was widely considered one of the biggest scandals in the Church’s history by the media and members of the church.
In the U.S., a minority of the church’s followers want to modernize the church’s stance on some Western issues like homosexuality and contraception according to a 2013 Pew Reseach Center poll. These groups wish to see an acceptance of both homosexuality and contraception.
These issues will continue to shape the doctrine and papacy for years to come.
The Rev. James McCloskey, vice president for Duquesne’s Office of Mission and Identity, said that socio-political issues that have pressured the Church in recent years should not influence the incoming pope to modernize the Church’s stance on these issues. He believes that while the views of some cultures may change, specifically those on abortion and the idea of life starting at conception, the founding ideas of the Catholic religion do not change. McCloskey believes that any pope elected will not be one to fall away from traditional philosophy of the Church.
“I think that there are basic teachings of the church that can’t change. Teachings about life, they touch upon issues like abortion,” McCloskey said. “Circumstances in the world change but our beliefs as Catholics do not.”
Pointing out that Catholic belief holds that all human life is created by God alongside the respect and dignity that that life is granted, McCloskey said that this kind of profound teaching will not be given up by the new pope, although it may still pose problems for the church.
“Modernization in the sense of understanding the cultures of the peoples of the church … The new pope must be someone gifted in that area. The church has to be a dialogue with its surroundings,” McCloskey said. “How those teachings become translated is the challenge.”
Diocesan seminarian and graduate philosophy student Brendan Dawson pointed out that while some in the Western church may wish to see these issues addressed by the pope, he is not the one to change the church’s stances on these issues despite his holding of the highest position in the church.
“Those are issues, such as the definition of marriage, such as pro-life issues, that the Holy Father does not have the authority to change because those are revealed truths that the church protects but doesn’t have the authority to change. They’re God-given,” Dawson said. “So, the next Holy Father will be tasked with the job of protecting that and making sure that the next generation of Catholics believe that.”
Father Elochukwu Uzukwu, an associate professor of theology, believes that the new pope must be able to address the growing Southern and Eastern Church and its problems. A particular issue of concern is the growing divide from this sect of churches, primarily in Africa, Brazil, Asia and the Middle East, and the Western church.
“I think for the new pope the most pressing issue is the division of the Catholic Church,” Uzukwu said. “There are so many voices in the church … I think you need a person who will be able to say, ‘hey, listen, we are not politicians. What we need to do is be witnesses of Christ.’ But how do we do it? By listening, listening, listening.”
According to Uzukwu, these issues include marriage where some places still have polygamy and arranged marriages, the location of women in the family and in the church, the extreme difference between the wealthy and the poor and, most importantly, the peaceful co-existence of different religions. Looking specifically at places like Syria and India, Uzukwu said that these areas, where Catholics are a minority, need to be helped in their struggle with living with their Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist neighbors.
“The major issue is the religions. How do Muslims and Christians live together? These are interesting questions,” Uzukwu said. “Christians have a voice, but they are in the minority. So, for a new pope to come into office into this kind of thing, it’s not simply trying to focus on what the current pope called relativism … The question is how do Muslims and Christians live peacefully together.”
A need for different religions to live peacefully together throughout the world is not a new issue to the Catholic Church, but it has certainly become one that has required more focus in the church as it continues to expand. This focus will be through what Anna Scheid, an assistant theology professor, called interreligious dialogue to which Pope John Paul II strove for throughout his time as pope. She believes that it will be one of the first things that the new pope will have to address.
“The fact that we have had only European popes, whereas we have a church that’s increasingly Latin American and African, calls to the need for interreligious dialogue,” Sheid said.
Among these issues the child sex abuse scandal that rocked the foundations of the Church during Benedict’s reign has by and large been the toughest issue facing a pope. Many people both inside and outside of the church don’t yet see it as entirely resolved.
Tom Gramc, a diocesan seminarian and philosophy graduate student, believes that this issue was by far the greatest problem that the church has faced in recent years.
“The biggest challenge that the church has faced in the last hundred years, and maybe longer, and will continue to face is the sexual abuse scandal,” Gramc said. “I think when you look at the universality of the church, 1.3 billion Catholics in literally every country in the world, it’s going to continue to be a recurring problem as it is now in parts of Europe just coming to a head and we don’t know where else.”
Amongst all the issues facing the incoming pope, most people expect him to also be familiar with technology and social media. Regardless of what issues the new pope may be addressing, the need to address these issues through social media is a must.
Dan Waruszewski, another diocesan seminarian and philosophy graduate student, believes that when the church addresses a culture, it speaks in a language that is familiar to that culture. The younger generation of the church speaks through social media, so the church reaches out to them as such.
“When it [the church] always trys to evangelize a culture is does it in the language of the culture. Especially in the developed West, one of the languages of our culture is the media. So I’m sure that the church will continue to get better at, not exclusively at just the papacy level, but at the local level as well,” Waruszewski said.
Quoting an NPR broadcast, McCloskey said that following Pope Benedict XVI’s example of being technologically accessible to the world church, some expect the next pope to have a computer on his desk and an iPhone in his pocket.
“If the next pope does not, he will have to get up to speed. There’s no question that the pope needs to be adept in those areas,” McCloskey said.