While cardinals across the world unite to select a new pope, the Catholic Church must address and change stances on issues that have hurt the institution, such as the role of women in the Church, contraception and the shortage of Catholic priests across the globe.As the Church?s leader for 26 years, Pope John Paul II led more than a billion Catholics across the world. The media coverage of his passing, the massive candlelight vigils held near his apartment in Rome and the complimentary statements he received by world leaders proved that Pope John Paul II was wellrespected, even by those who were not Catholic.
During his life, Pope John Paul II practiced what he believed in the face of oppression. He resisted Nazi domination of Poland, his home country in the 1940s, only to continue practicing his faith during Stalin?s brutal totalitarian control over Poland a few years after Hitler fell.
As the first non-Italian pope in five centuries, Pope John Paul II also escaped death several times, such as an assassination attempt on his life in the early 1980s. He also battled Parkinson?s disease later in life.
Even many progressives commended Pope John Paul II because he was against the death penalty and war. Before the current war in Iraq began, Pope John Paul II was the moral leader against the war. He condemned it, as he did with the Gulf War in 1991. He also reached out to third world countries and spoke out against poverty. However, Pope John Paul II was conservative on other issues. He did not believe that Catholic priests should marry, despite the sexual abuse scandal that erupted a few years ago. He also did not believe in contraception or that the doctrine should be altered to allow women to preach in Catholic churches.
If the new pope and Vatican want to solve crises plaguing the Church, they should change their stances on social issues. For instance, the Church has not budged on the issue of contraception, yet a recent Gallup poll found that nearly 70 percent of Catholics in the United States believe that birth control should be used. The same poll found that 80 percent of Catholics in Rome believe in sex before marriage and also believe in using birth control.
In places like Africa, where AIDS is widespread and devastating, condom usage as contraception is a way to battle the disease. Yet the Catholic Church has stated that abstinence is the best protection against AIDS.
The Catholic Church must also solve the problem of the shortage of priests across the Western world, and allowing priests to marry could be one way to counter this. Since 1965, the number of priests working in the United States has declined from 59,000 to 43,000, Newsweek reported in April.
The sexual abuse scandal that plagued the Catholic Church a few years ago is another reason to allow priests to marry. However, Pope John Paul II refused requests by many progressives to change the rules and allow priests to marry. Allowing priests to marry would make the job more appealing, decrease the decline of priests in the Western world, and possibly fix the sexual abuse problems that have recently rocked the Catholic Church.
The Church should also solve the gender inequalities that exist in Catholicism. The Vatican has never allowed women to preach, yet if women were allowed to be priests, it would increase the number of priests across the world. Women would also bring new energy and different experiences to the Church which would help draw more people to masses across the globe.
The new pontiff must also address issues that have confronted the Church in the last few decades, and begin a serious dialogue about making changes in the Catholic doctrine in order to create gender equality and solve crises facing the Church.
The person who becomes pope when the cardinals make their decision has large shoes to fill. Pope John Paul II reigned as pontiff for 26 years, and Catholics and world leaders adored him.
Brian Fanelli is a junior majoring in comparative literature with minors in creative writing and journalism.