I’m always amazed at how much misunderstanding there is about the catholic church! Although I’m a protestant, theology and religious history is something that interests me(and I am probably going to be marrying a catholic, so I better learn!).
The primary thing that nobody has talked about here or in the media is that the church has really been forced into it’s current papal selection.
Before Vatican II in the 60s came, of course, Vatican I. Here they laid down what was already informally accepted: papal infallibility. Now, this doesn’t mean all Catholics have to accept the pope’s position on everything, but that if the pope sets down a ruling and invokes the seal of infallibility, then they must accept it as doctrinal truth. This is obviously one of the things that bugs non-catholics.
It also creates a unique problem for the modern church. There’s in inherent danger in this thing, for what if a pope were to invoke the seal of infallibility and state something obviously untrue? It would destroy and undermine the legitimacy of the faith, so the election of a progressive pope at this time in history poses a great difficulty. Were the new pope to approve of birth control and abortion and put out on encyclical removing all burden of sin from these practices, how do catholics reconcile that with previous papal rulings?
I personally see much more room for progessivism in the area of celibacy and women in the priesthood. Obviously not in this papacy, but since women were involved in the early church, possibly as priests, and certainly earlier priests were permitted and even encouraged to marry, there is more room for these to change without threatening the legitimacy of the church. However, since Birth control and abortion have always been forbidden by the church, it’s going to be a much longer road before we see any budging on these positions from any pope.
Finally, I’m always bothered by those who look at a church and discredit it by showing how it disagrees with all their own views and sensibilities. Perhaps we’d be better off looking for a church that agrees with God’s views and sensibilities and then moving our own views in that direction. Just a thought…