For those of us who don’t find old people particularly interesting, the past month or so has been difficult—thanks, in part, to the Catholic Church and the seemingly interminable Pope Watch.
First, we got to watch an impossibly decrepit pope die very slowly. Then we got to watch him actually be dead for a while. Then we got to watch a collection of old men get together and vote yet another old man into the papacy. And then we got to watch him put on his velvet clothes and wave. Whee.
None of us should be surprised, I guess, since all of this old-person-related news came courtesy of the Catholic Church—an organization whose most progressive move over the past 2,000 years has been to apologize for centuries of Catholic anti-Semitism. Sort of.
With this new pope, the Catholic Church had a chance to start fresh—to admit that there was, perhaps, something wrong with a group of celibate (wink-wink) men advising a billion people on the subject of birth control. Or to part company with the likes of Jerry Falwell, President Bush and Olympic Bomber Eric Rudolph on the subject of abortion and homosexuality. And, by all indications, they failed.
Of course, it remains to be seen how badly they managed to fumble this opportunity away. But I have my doubts that Pope Benedict XVI will be any more forward-thinking than anyone you’d find shuffling through the Sunday-afternoon buffet line at Chuck-a-Rama.
To me, the new pope is a disappointment on many levels. First of all, he chose a name that’s sure to get him beaten up by all the other popes—an especially curious choice when you consider that he’s spent his entire life up to now with a name that rhymes with Fatzinger. You would think given the opportunity to trade up, he would seize it by choosing something flashy like Ignatius or Bootsy. But he settled on the papal equivalent of Kevin.
And even more damning, to me at least, is this: He looks like a shrunken version of Walter Mondale. How can he command the respect of American Catholics who will forever associate him with the man who’s biggest contribution to modern political thought was, “Where’s the beef?”
The next time the Catholic Church selects a pope (which, by the looks of things, should be some time in October), I hope it chooses one that isn’t cut out of the same conservative cloth, someone who is young and progressive. Someone who’s not afraid to return the church to its glory days when it stood for what was right, back when it had the guts needed to burn people at the stake for having the temerity to suggest that the Earth was not, in fact, balanced on the back of an enormous, magical turtle hovering in space. Which, I believe, was in 1964.
The next pope needs to pull Catholicism into the 21st century. He needs to drop the Latin and the Bible-ese and move in a more marketable, accessible direction. For instance, he needs a papal catchphrase—something classic like “I’m gettin’ too old for this s—t” or “Ex-squeeze me”; something the kids can relate to and that can fit on a T-shirt. Maybe he could be into extreme sports or martial arts. And what would it hurt if he were sexy?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m into tradition as much as the next follower of a no-longer-completely-relevant belief system. It’s just that I’ve had such high hopes for Catholicism. And I’m really tired of such in-depth coverage of the elderly.
Joe Bartenhagen is a Catholic and a freelance writer from Salt Lake City.