This week, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he announced his retirement from papal service. Although I am a Catholic born and raised, I could not help feeling smug when I heard the news. The only Pope I ever really knew was Pope John Paul II. And while I may not have agreed with all of his political views, he definitely was a spiritual leader. As the global leader for the Catholic Church, he checked all of the boxes. He worked for peace in the Middle East. He emphasized the Universal Call to Holiness. He travelled to countries that heretofore had never been visited by a Pope. He apologized on behalf of the Church to those it had hurt. He survived two assassination attempts. And to top it all off, he served to his death despite his battle with Parkinson’s. To me, Pope John Paul II was a leader by example. He showed us that when you take pride out of the picture, we can live together in harmony despite our faith, gender, age, or political views. So when Pope Benedict XVI was announced as Pope John Paul II’s successor, I was skeptical.
I do not know if my doubt in Church leadership began with Pope Benedict XVI’s inauguration or when I went to college, but for the last eight years I have found it easier to practice my faith out of the privacy of my own home. Do not get me wrong, I still identify myself as Catholic and I still follow its religious teachings. But when my hometown priest thought it appropriate to promote his own political agenda through his homily, I had to press pause. Say what? At least in the United States of America, we believe in the separation of church and state. Even the priest at my university had the common sense not force his political beliefs down our throats. It is all about the wording: academic discussion versus carrot and stick. And if we are to engage in a discussion regarding where I should place my ballot, at least show me some concrete evidence. Do not expect me to blindly follow you into the forest with an allegorical text as the compass. Legislation and politics exist in reality, in a physical world where my vote as a Catholic may physically affect the life of my atheist neighbor.
Faith, in my opinion, is about believing in something that will give you strength. Whether you are Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist, believe in whatever works for you. Religion should be a very private and personal thing. And while it may help to share your religious journey with others, religious communities should not be intolerant cliques. Like fashion or hobbies, we should see our differences as an opportunity for discussion. Or, if you have nothing nice or respectful to say, then just acknowledge their presence and move on. So as news of the Vatican’s scandals surface, I find myself doing just that—acknowledging the fact that the Vatican is broken, and asking God to grant me the strength to live a more tolerant and humble life.