LETTER: Vacancy in the Vatican: Why Generation Y Needs an Empathetic Pope

A letter from a Boston College junior on the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.


On Monday, 11 February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI formally announced his Papal resignation due to his advanced age and diminished strength, which has not occurred in the past 600 years.  During his term as Pope, Benedict XVI has been confronted with internal scandals arising from within the Church, specifically sexual abuse crises costing the Church two billion dollars in settlements according to Chester Gillis, dean of Georgetown University; however, the Church's scandals cannot solely define the Pontiff's administration, which began in 2005.  Globally, he has reached out to the developing world to places where Catholicism is growing, arguably the geographical locations that will be the future of the Catholic Church. 

Despite the shock and confusion Catholics in the world is feeling regarding Benedict XVI's resignation, the Catholic Church and the spreading of its mission must propel forward.  Its new leader must be one who can connect with today's young people, Generation Y, who are the future of the Church and who will, in all likelihood, live out his term.  While the College of Cardinals will decide on a new Pope in the upcoming weeks, I would like to provide two recommendations regarding the preservation of the Catholic Church in the United States to these holy Vatican officials on the behalf of Generation Y Americans.

In order to provide recommendations for the College of Cardinals on the behalf of Generation Y, I must first call to mind the indecent exposure our generation has been afflicted with, those occurrences that have introduced us to a hostile world.  In only the first twenty to thirty years of our lives, we have witnessed a war on terror that, for some of us, has singlehandedly been the major ongoing global event of our lives.  We watched the World Trade Center crumble, and we continue to hear of the suicide bombings exacerbating the Arab-Israeli conflict.  While these are only a few examples of the tragedies Generation Y has witnessed, two things are evident: the world has become an increasingly hostile place, and differences in religion have both directly and indirectly contributed to international conflicts and encouraged global homicide.  This is rather ironic, especially since "Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, sharing other people's suffering.  On these lines every religion had more or less the same viewpoint and the same goal" according to Dalai Lama. 

Living in a generation where such strife and anger seem commonplace, Generation Y Americans need faith, a belief in the power of love, and a desire for coexistence.  To the College of Cardinals, I present my first recommendation: please elect a Cardinal whose religious perspective is both global and tactful, an individual who is committed to mending and strengthening the relations the Catholic Church has with the leaders of non-Catholic religious entities, particularly the Muslim community.  As Boston College theology professors Thomas Groome and Stephen Pope stated, our future Catholic leader should be able to build bridges through personal relationships with other religious leaders in order to peacefully preserve the sanctity of human life and to cease global homicide.  Although the World Summit of Religious Leaders occurs annually, meeting only once a year appears to be more of a formality in which the world's religious gurus offer advice to G8 political leaders rather than an opportunity to collectively move forward to end worldly injustices.  So please, College of Cardinals, may the next Pontiff exercise international diplomacy amongst other religious leaders better than the United Nations.

While Generation Y has experienced tumult, we have also witnessed progress, specifically regarding the increased rights of women in society.  For the first time, a vice presidential candidate was a female, a former first-lady made a very serious quest for the presidency, we have the greatest number of female senators currently in office, and Fortune 500 companies have more female CEOs now than ever before.  Despite these tremendous advances in gender equality, the Catholic Church appears to be one of the only societal institutions that has neglected to advocate for female equality.  In a nation where they are increasingly becoming society's leaders in both the political and business realms, women's roles in the Catholic Church are stagnant and lagging.  Generation Y's females are looking for increased opportunities to be leaders in all aspects of life: economic, political, and religious; however, the Catholic Church, as it currently stands, lacks the progressive ideology that would prevent women from abandoning the Catholic Church.

My second recommendation then, College of Cardinals, is to "remember the ladies" as Abagail Adams said in 1776.  Certainly anachronistic in most areas of today's society, this phrase, characterizing life nearly 250 years ago (God, I pray we have made substantial progress in the past 250 years), is most definitely a plea that still goes unheard in the Catholic Church.  That being said, I hope the next Pope is someone who sees gender as irrelevant, and, as such, he will "remember the ladies" by reaching out to Generation Y females and by expanding their roles in the Church.  In the increasingly progressive society Generation Y has come to know, Generation Y females are young, energetic, and eager to lead.  If the next Pope denies them this opportunity, he runs the risk of losing not only them, but also their children, as Catholics. 

Even if the Catholic Church does not recognize the potential for women to contribute to spreading the Gospel, a more logical argument rooted in statistics is convincing enough.  Since the 1970s, the number of priests in the United States has steadily been declining according to U.S. News.  In 1975, the number of diocesan priests in the United States totaled 36,005 as reported by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.  In 2007, the United States housed only 27,971 diocesan priests.  These statistics illustrate that male leadership in the Church, particularly in the United States, is lacking.  If the preservation of the Catholic Church in the United States is a genuine concern, then it is imperative that these statistics are not overlooked when considering which Cardinal will be the next Pope.

The Catholic Church currently rests on shaky ground, and thus, it can either crumble, or it can reach stable ground.  The newest Papal leadership will be one of the most pivotal decisions that determines whether the Catholic Church flourishes or fails in the United States.  Consequently, the next Pope must understand Generation Y as a paradox, for it is a tumultuously progressive generation.  He must value coexistence, and he must create an exceptional rapport among other religious leaders.  Finally, he must be both adaptive and dynamic, understanding that society today is not the same as it was ten years ago, and it will not be the same in ten years.  The fate of the Catholic Church lies in the holy hands of 120 Cardinals.  To these men, I have one request: please keep Generation Y, arguably the generation that will be most affected by this decision, in mind when electing the 265th successor of St. Peter.

--Tim Koch
Junior, Boston College

George Kafantaris February 17, 2013 at 01:37 AM
What the Roman Catholic Church needs at this juncture is a Pope who is not only an outsider, but also from the minority. Yes, this will rattle the brittle bones of the ancient institution, but it will also purge it. Indeed, electing a minority Pope will renew our faith in Christ who Himself would have done no less.
Adam Maleson February 17, 2013 at 08:45 AM
"Despite the shock and confusion Catholics in the world ARE feeling" [proofread] You are a junior in college. You're like 20 years old, maybe 21. So your affiliations with the Catholic Church and Generation Y seem extremely relevant to you at this moment in your life. "Despite the shock and confusion Catholics in the world are feeling regarding Benedict XVI's resignation, the Catholic Church and the spreading of its mission must propel forward." Why should you be feeling shock and confusion? His resignation is neither shocking nor confusing. 1. the guy is 85 years old, his health is failing, and he'd rather quit while he's ahead rather than go down to the bitter end with diminished abilities. That's an INTELLIGENT reasonable wise decision for a man to make! You should be PLEASED that the pope had the integrity to make an intelligent wise decision such as this, rather than disappointed by it. You should be pleased that he has confirmed the notion that the pope was after all a wise man who had the courage to make the right decision in a challenging situation. 2. why should that be confusing? It's not confusing, it's simple. Deal with it. If THIS simple matter confuses you, then heaven help you in your attempts to solve larger more pertinent worldwide problems.


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