On Facebook, in columns and on blogs in recent weeks I've seen various folks list what they would do if they were chosen the next pope.
In some ways it's a useful exercise and in some ways it's simply silly, given that none of the people whose words I've read has any chance at all at being chosen to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, the first pope in about 600 years to resign.
One list of good goals and actions he would adopt as pope came in an e-mail from a Catholic priest who is, frankly, pretty fed up with the Catholic Church. He's Emmett Coyne, author of A Theology of Fear, which I wrote about last September here. Coyne passed along an excerpt from a book called No Ordinary Time: The Rise of Spiritual Intelligence and Evolutionary Creativity, by Jan Phillips. In that book, Phillips writes (among other things) this:
"If I were pope I'd proclaim the end of my infallibility and banish the word sin from the doctrines of faith. I'd ask half the bishops and cardinals to replace themselves with a thoughtful woman and complete their ministries in a prison or homeless shelter."
Well, the spirit behind such words is admirable, of course, but whoever becomes pope next will face the immediate prospect of having to oversee a large hierarchical structure that may well have outlived much of its usefulness. To undo that will take a great deal of time and effort -- if the next pope even wants to try. So to do things like "banish the word sin from doctrines of faith" (a bad idea, incidently) and replacing a bunch of bishops and cardinals "with a thoughtful woman" is dreamy stuff, but not at all what anyone can expect to happen.
And yet all this If-I-were-pope stuff does raise the interesting question of what Catholics and non-Catholics alike might want to put into a Vatican suggestion box for the next pope to think about.
Though not an exhaustive list, here's what I might toss into such a box:
* Invite people of all faiths -- and none -- to my first official event as pope.
* Change the rules on vestments so no ordained person wears anything fancier than a black robe, with tee shirts and jeans optional at all times.
* Apologize for the church being wrong about its historical treatment of Jews and women and especially children abused by priests. The apology would include a roadmap toward ordaining women as priests.
* Flatten the church hierarchy in all kinds of ways.
* Remove any bishop with any taint of the sexual abuse scandal, starting with Cardinal Bernard Law and including Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City.
* Provide a fully transparent accounting of Vatican assets and appoint a worldwide board to make sure the assets stay transparent.
* Gather together the church's best minds to think anew about what the church universal would look like and act like if the church really took Jesus seriously.
There would be much more on my list, but as a non-Catholic I understand that my suggestions would carry zero weight. So my final suggestion would be this:
* Give serious weight to suggestions from non-Catholics.
(By the way, who is competent to be pope? Our friends over at "Sightings" from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago have these thoughts on that subject.)
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IS THIS A PAPAL JOKE?
Fr. James Martin, a pretty funny Catholic priest, writes that he should be the next pope, and he gives his reasons right here. A sense of humor in the Vatican? I like the concept.