Catholics: Time for a Rosa Parks Moment

          Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Is the Pope’s resignation a turn towards serious accountability and equality?

That is what Catholics who remain in the church despite their deep disquiet, hope for following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.

His resignation has been described as everything from “A Final Act of Papal Teaching” in America, to “deserting his sinking ship” by a self-described “fallen away” Catholic woman in Hawaii who is deeply engaged in the fight for LGBT equality. Yet other LGBT activists “want to say that a new age has started.”

Hope and hurt surround this pope. He has spoken out against war and the excesses of capitalism. But issues that should have demanded urgentPink Smoke_n action have been allowed to fester, at great cost to children and to many faithful religious while the wheels of the Vatican bureaucracy turned at  medieval speed.

Is it too much to hope that the Pope’s resignation will encourage the Vatican and its Bishops to re-purpose their palaces? Maybe set aside the opulent vestments and hats and shoes, all the pomp that surrounds the Pope, and be church the way the nuns and other grassroots religious are: among the poor and those most in need?

The fact that the Pope tweets does not help persuade us that the Holy See is connected to ordinary Catholics. That they do in fact see. Or hear the women and LGBT Catholics and victims of abuse who are pounding on the gilded gates behind which Rome operates.When Rome recruits a reporter from Fox News to help them with messaging one has to wonder whether the men in red have even the remotest sense of how that confirms the institutional church’s attraction to right wing politics.

A Nun for Pope

E.J. Dionne has made public the private hopes of many a Catholic when he suggested that the next pope be a nun. He is quick to call this “the longest of long shots.” But why should it be such a long shot in 2013? And if it is so, don’t we lay Catholics have ourselves to blame? Why do we fill the pews when half the church at least has the status of second class citizens? Why do we accept within the church what we refuse to accept in other spheres of civic or professional life? We are long overdue for a Rosa Parks moment in the church.

The Gospel gives us examples of women leading the way at critical junctures. Mary, whom we long extol for her obedience, is also remembered for her intervention in the face of impending catastrophe at the marriage feast at Cana. If ordination in fact simply signifies the selection by the community of certain individuals to perform specific leadership functions, why should the idea of ordaining a nun as the next pope be such a long shot?  What does it say about the limits of our faith that we ruefully dismiss the thought as a near impossibility almost as soon as we articulate it? Dionne reminds us that Pope John XXIII could recognize in 1963 that women “are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.” Fifty years should be long enough for his successors to act on that recognition, surely?

Speaking of Lent and its call to self-examination, to growth towards greater authenticity in how we live our faith, the rector of Chaminade University, Fr. George Cerniglia S.M.ended his homily this Sunday at the Mystical Rose Oratory with a  simple question: “If not now, then when?”

The same question might be asked of the papal conclave.  A young Catholic woman, a doctoral candidate, said upon hearing the news  of the Pope’s resignation:  “He recognized the fact that he couldn’t be what others needed him to be and stepping down gives another person the chance to fulfill the needs of the Church.”

The Petrine ministry has patronized women for too long. Perhaps the shock of Pope Benedict’s resignation is the opening the church has long needed to make a radical break with the less than Christ-like aspects of its institutional history and start anew.  If not now, then when?

With thanks to Fr. George Cerniglia for also pointing me to the words of Hillel.
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4 comments on “Catholics: Time for a Rosa Parks Moment
  1. Kaysie McAlister says:

    I think his resignation is timely, smart, and also scary for anyone who is invested in the meaning of the Pope’s kingdom in Italy. I had to smile when they said that they were going to protect him from outsiders and legal prosecution by letting him live there….he is so old and feeble, I think they need to let him live there anyway and don’t need to justify it!! By doing that, they admit crime. I hope that a new vision will come to pass. I am skeptical yet I want to be hopeful. I love the idea of a nun becoming the next Pope. We have women in charge of Metropolitan Community Church, The Episcopal church, and in charge of countries….why not? That would cause a rift of huge magnitude that would be rather refreshing. Having met so many nuns who cannot be priests but are highly qualified and overly qualified, I don’t think this is outrageous thinking at all. Then when I think about how easy it would be for women to push for gun control in America……then I wonder if the world will ever get it that equal and different have a place in the world in our lifetime. Oh well, I commend the Pope for stepping down while he is alive and sensible enough to know he cannot do this job anymore. Transparency.

  2. Monty Chin says:

    I think this is a fine time and timely for the church to consider a Nun for the Popedom. I’ll go one further and recommend a Nun who is progressive enough to consider LGBT rights, poverty, education, AIDs prevention and contraception in the third world. I’ll go even further, and recommend a Lesbian Nun for the position, considering that celibacy is a highly over rated concept and it’s promotes a breakdown of critical thinking skills. On the topic of Vespas: a Pope cruising to work on a Vespa is much more conducive to human interaction than blasting down the avenues in a bubbled Popemobile. It’s also looks stylish with an Armani suit with pumps.

  3. Sam Galloway says:

    I think the establishment of religion could use reform – a lot of it. It is crazy to think a woman would not be able to fulfill the duties of Pope as a man would. From top to bottom, the church is reflecting the values and beliefs from centuries ago. Unfortunately, the Pope appointed roughly 70 of the current cardinals which leads me to believe there is not going to be a lot of change. I wonder if religion altogether isn’t a thing of the past?

  4. Kaysie McAlister says:

    Religion would be relevant if it would begin to merge…merge programs…..merge doctrines….merge missions to reflect a world mission to stop atrocities, reach out to the marginal and left behind such as lepers and insane (old terminology)…and to consider some of the concepts in AA and other spiritual realms: a dollar or two is not going to raise roofs but it will keep things simple, on a level playing field, and non-political. Pitch the money tables over and over again….sit under trees and talk…..meditate and feel your calling….. The age old question: is God in the box or out of it? Do we keep the already well informed warm or do we all get cold together and in the huddled masses create heat? Shall church be our “home base” to rekindle the work that has to be done or is it simply another rent installment?

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