Friday, February 25, 2005

Job Description for the Next Pope
Job Description for the Next Pope
By R. Scott Appleby Page 1 of 3
January/February 2004
To ensure the vitality of the Catholic Church, the successor to John Paul II must embrace science, reject globalization, reach out to the Islamic world—and brush up on economics.
TO: The College of Cardinals, Roman Catholic Church FROM: R. Scott Appleby RE: Selecting the Next Pope
In the 21st century, Your Eminences, the Catholic Church must vigorously address three related and pressing challenges that threaten the vitality and relevance of Christianity.
I refer, first, to a new and aggressive secularization, borne into the heart of modern societies by the dynamics of globalization. In traditional as well as developed societies, increasing materialism opens the way to a form of secularism that is indifferent or hostile to religious faith. A second critical development bearing directly upon Catholicism's future is the fierce internal contest for the soul of Islam, the great world religion that is both the Church's main rival for adherents and its potential ally against a purely materialistic concept of human development. And finally, the advent of genetic engineering and related forms of biotechnology underscores the need to upgrade dramatically Catholic education and expertise in the sciences and in bioethics.
The pontiff who succeeds His Holiness John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) must address these three challenges boldly. In some cases, the new pope will draw on the example of John Paul II, but he must also define new horizons of understanding for the Church. Unless the next pope perceives the links between these challenges and their roots in the context of a historic debate over the relevance of religion to humanity, Catholicism will be unable to provide a viable alternative to the extremes of intolerant religious militancy and the self-absorbed materialism of a global consumer society.
The Challenge of Secularism
The notion that the human experience can be understood through purely empirical and social-scientific analyses, without reference to humankind's transcendent origins and orientation, is certainly not new. The reduction of the human being to an object is the abiding temptation of the modern world; witness the degradation of life in the wars, genocides, torture chambers, and social inequalities of the 20th century. But this erroneous view of humanity has found a powerful counterpart in the robust new form of globalization that now dominates economic, political, and cultural interactions among peoples. The commodification of social relations that turns individuals into cogs in the wheels of industry and politics now shapes virtually all forms of human interaction—even religion.
For more than a century, the Catholic Church has warned against understanding humanity through concepts taken exclusively from biology, economics, and psychology. With renewed vigor since the pontificate of John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the Church has proclaimed that belief in the sacredness of human life is the only secure foundation for protecting human dignity. In reaffirming this cornerstone of Catholic social teaching, the next pope must display the vigor and creativity of John Paul II, who has traversed the globe proclaiming that human dignity is God's gift to every individual. Advocacy of human rights, including the crucial right of religious freedom, must remain the central message of Roman Catholicism to the world. This task is not easy: John Paul II was rebuked when he spoke out on religious freedom during a trip to India, where Hindu militants accused him of Catholic proselytism. Nor are advocates of religious freedom welcome in secular strongholds such as post-Soviet Central Asia or China, or in nations dominated by an ethno-religious majority, such as Saudi Arabia, Bosnia, or Sri Lanka. Lack of popularity or governmental disapproval never stopped Wojtyla, nor must it impede his successor.
This fundamental embrace of human dignity and human rights is the moral foundation of evangelization. In bringing Christ to those who have or have not heard the gospel, John Paul II dramatically rejected alliances with states and their coercive power. Concordats with friendly nation-states, whose friendship with the Church often came at a terrible moral and spiritual price, are a thing of the past. The next pope cannot return to a pattern of affiliation with any government. Civil society—the cradle of political self-determination and the arena for expressing human freedom in culture and religion—is the milieu within which to enact the divine mission of bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ.
The next pope must recognize that religious faith is increasingly seen as counterproductive (at best) in a world seduced by material wealth, skeptical of truth, and wary of authority. In much of Western Europe, assertions of religious identity are often met with scorn and almost willful misunderstanding (e.g., the recent spectacle of Muslim girls in France being suspect for wearing veils to school). In Iraq, Syria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Algeria, and parts of Latin America, active religious groups of all kinds have suffered intimidation or outright persecution. In the United States, conservative Christians embrace liberty and the U.S. Bill of Rights, even as they struggle with the temptation to regulate what properly belongs only to God—the consciences and moral compasses of their fellow citizens.

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