A new pope has been selected, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. He will become the 265th Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Many liberals are alarmed by the Pontiff's conservative positions on abortion, birth control and the ordination of women, which are very much in line with those of his predecessor, John Paul II. Such positions, they say, will prevent the church from modernizing and becoming more relevant to today's concerns. Others applaud the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger as a man who will carry on the work begun by his predecessor. Until now, I hadn't commented upon the passing of John Paul II, nor the fanfare that surrounded his funeral and the selection of a new Pope; I was simply taking it all in.
As a non-Catholic, I have to admit that the huge outpouring of grief for the Pope, and the tremendous world turnout for his funeral, surprised me. I didn't realize what an important religious figure the Pope is, or that the Roman Catholic Church has over a billion people members! Pope John II seemed to me a very decent, sincere man with strong conservative beliefs and the backbone to proclaim them. He possessed a fine mind, capable of writing scholarly theological works and conversing in eight languages. Many have commented on his personal charisma, which he apparently continued to exude to his very last days, despite the ravages of old age and Parkinsons disease. Still, it was difficult to understand all the attention being paid to his passing by the liberal media, except that (as pointed out by Gene Edward Veith in WORLD) 1- this was an extraordinarily huge event, the biggest in television history, that was watched by as many as a billion viewers; and 2- in many ways it was the kind of event, visually speaking (complete with "celebrity" at the center of it) that television does well.
I don't have anything truly profound to say about John Paul II, since I write from the perspective of an outsider regarding all things popish. But I am puzzled, I must say, by the inconsistency displayed by those who seem to venerate him. The Pope took a hard-line stance on issues that many, if not most Catholics, seemed to disagree with him on. He did not think priests should marry; he upheld the Church's traditional stance on birth control; and also upheld the Church's positiona against women priests and gay marriage. American Catholics especially have largely ignored, disobeyed or criticized the Church on these issues. What does it mean when someone says they belong to the Roman Catholic Church, yet chooses to disagree with and even challenge the orders of the one whom they claim is infallible when it comes to official Church teaching/pronouncements on such matters? What love and respect for him is demonstrated by this disobedience? And since the newly appointed Pope is known for having the same immovable convictions regarding these modern concerns, such disparity may well continue.
Yet just as there are both serious and non-committal Christians within the Protestant Church, so there are casual Roman Catholics and those who do not display the inconsistency described above but rather submit themselves to the teachings of the Pope in all things.
I am thankful that John Paul II valiantly stood up for crucial Christian beliefs, including the sanctity of life, the protection of individual liberty (such as the freedom to worship), and the obligations we have towards the poor, among other things. His was a voice that was influential and eloquent in defense of Christian truth in these areas. He dared to criticize such men as Fidel Castro and Mikhail Gorbachev. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholicism that the Pope represented is a religion founded upon many erroneous interpretations of Scripture and on the traditions of men. And the question that comes to my mind is: with so much error abounding in their Church, does a sincere Roman Catholic have opportunity to connect with the real Jesus? I dont know. I sincerely hope so.
Some will ask, "Who are you to say you know that Roman Catholicism is in error?" I don't claim to be the authority; I only read the Bible and interpret it according to the light the Holy Spirit gives me, and look for help in this from my teachers (my pastor and other experienced Christians). Yet I believe that anyone seeking the truth from the Word of God will find it, because it is God's intention that His truth be revealed. I'm not saying that everything in Roman Catholic teaching is wrong. Their beliefs about the Bible, Jesus and many other issues are biblical, and such beliefs were well-expounded by the Pope.
It is not my intention here to launch into critique of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is important to note that mixed in with the truths that are biblical, the Roman Catholic Church has included numerous, serious errors. And this is critical because the millions of people drawn to Roman Catholicism and the Pope seem to be looking for a true religious experience, but in Roman Catholicism, they find these false ideas mixed in with truth. Again, Gene Edward Veith describes their quest in his excellent examination:
"... a revitalized Roman Catholicism may prove tough competition for evangelicals. The casualties of postmodernism yearn for "spirituality." Unlike modernists, they are open to the past. They do not prize abstract, rational arguments and formulas. Rather, they are attracted to mystery, mysticism, and the supernatural made tangible."
I think that there is nothing wrong with mystery, mysticism or the supernatural --all these are an authentic part of genuine Christian experience. I seek a deeper connection with God and long for more spiritual power to be expressed in my life and in the life of the church (see my previous post Bearing Fruit for the Kingdom) . Yet such experiences, without being anchored in a truly biblical worldview, will lead people into false religion.
May the Lord speak to us through His Word and by the Spirit lead us into all truth.
John Paul II- The Man and His Legacy
The Catholic moment, Gene Edward Veith's WORLD magazine article
Pros and Cons- Conservatism in a new Pope is both a positive and a negative, Joel Belz in WORLD
The Bible vs Catholic Tradition