“White smoke means a Pope has been elected. Black smoke means a Pope has not been elected. Or the Sistine Chapel is on fire.” – Philip Gilmore
The Papal election is the Holy Spirit’s show. God the Father and His son, Jesus, are limited to supporting roles in this drama. Cardinals chant “Veni, Creator Spiritus” imploring the intervention of the Holy Spirit to help them elect the right Pope. So the questions that naturally arise among inquisitive minds are, why is the Holy Spirit taking so long to intervene and why so many rounds of voting?
There are several theories to this mystery.
The long wait could indicate that the Holy Spirit is having a hard time making up His mind. Or maybe He has made up His mind but He is enjoying being at center stage for a change so He is playing out the drama for as long as He can, hopefully all the way up to Easter when Jesus, by tradition, gets to hog the spotlight again.
Or maybe He has already spoken but no one can hear Him. Because He speaks too softly and cannot be heard above the din of whispers for this or that papabile. It’s also possible the Cardinals are really hard of hearing. They have not heard the screams of the victims of sexual abuse, right? Then again maybe the Cardinals hear Him loud and clear but they won’t listen.
But why won’t they listen?
Maybe the Cardinals don’t believe it’s Him talking to them. Or maybe they think they know everything there is to know already. Or maybe they know it’s Him talking but they don’t care because they are papabile and they know that once elected Pope they can communicate directly with God the Father so why waste time on the Third Person in the Trinity. But there could be a simpler explanation: Cardinals don’t heed disembodied voices because they don’t believe in ghosts.
You probably think those theories are preposterous and border on blasphemy. I do. But let’s face it, the Catholic Church has serious problems.
Europe and America are losing Catholics faster than Asia, Africa, and South America are winning converts. Consequently, the Church needs a Pope with a better evangelization strategy than spreading the Good News through Tweeter and Facebook. Besides, it’s the message and the messengers more than the medium that needs tweaking. A change in the dress code might also help.
Secondly, the Church has to address the women problem. The majority of its faithful are women and yet the Church won’t allow women to become priests. Why? The Church owes women a more plausible explanation than Jesus reserved the priesthood for men and a more christian response than “go find something else to do”.
There is the problem of sexual abuse as well. It is not a new problem, it has been around from the very beginning. And it cannot be solved by public relations gimmicks like transparency or turning over offending priests to the criminal justice system.
The Church must analyze whatever it is that is causing the behavior. It cannot simply point to Original Sin as the root cause because ultimately everything goes back to that, at least as far as the Catholic explanation for human weakness goes. The Church does not have to go to the ultimate cause, it can look at intermediate causes.
It can study the asymmetrical power relationship between priests and the faithful. Power is an aphrodisiac for both priests and the laity. Maybe sexual desire cannot be eliminated but a readjustment of power relationships could transform sexual abuse to mutual consent, except in cases of pedophilia which is not exclusive to priests and is best left to behavioral scientists.
Since sexual desire cannot be eradicated, the Church will probably have to reconsider its ban on marriage for priests. That would entail doing a scientific study on homosexuality. The findings may shake the moral foundations of the Church but if it survived Galileo and Darwin it can certainly survive finding out that God also made homosexuals. Either way, allowing both heterosexual and same sex marriages for priests will bring up the problem of infidelity. It will also bring home the issue of safe sex and contraceptives.
Oh well, that’s why Pope Benedict said “I’m too old for this, I quit”.