Nunez: Pope’s resignation could lead to a new age for the Catholic Church

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Julianna Nunez, Columnist

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI announced he is leaving the papacy. He says his age and health are preventing him from fulfilling his duties as pope. Now Catholics everywhere are wondering when the new pope will be chosen, as some conspiracy theorists wonder if there is an ulterior motive for the pope’s resignation.

I was born a Catholic, with a dash of odd Latin American superstitions, and regularly attended church for a while. Now, I consider myself non-denominational, but I can never fully put my Catholic upbringing behind me. If someone twisted my arm and made me choose a favorite Christian denomination, I would choose Catholicism. Nonetheless, there is a reason I left the Catholic Church.

The reason I left is also the reason I do not really associate with any church in general: It is difficult to find the right fit. I like Catholicism, but this adoration is mostly based on aesthetics. Catholicism has problems admitting its faults, and its response to the recent sex abuse scandals is particularly relaxed. At the age of 13, I no longer considered myself Catholic and instead identified as Catholic-raised, which exists as a category in and of itself. As such, I remain invested in the Catholic Church, and I am always happy to hear from modern Catholics who seem very content with their faith.

As a result, there are certain qualities I hope the new pope will have. Benedict XVI was a good enough pope, and by this I mean that he did not do anything especially cringe-worthy and has been open to new technology that will help expand the church, such as starting Twitter accounts in multiple languages.

But there were several issues he needed to confront as well. First off, he followed John Paul II. Throughout my Catholic life, all I heard was what a great guy he was, pope or not. Of course, he had some shortcomings, but he still expressed the importance of forgiveness, especially after he made a point in 1983 to visit the man who shot him two years earlier. He was also very open and welcoming (once again, with church limitations) and did a lot of traveling even in his old age. He was seen as an ideal pope, and Benedict XVI had to follow his legacy.

Unfortunately, what Benedict XVI will be remembered for the most is the fact that he is the first pope to resign in centuries. Most popes remain in the position until they die, and then their successor is chosen. Now the church is scrambling to find a replacement. The good thing for the next pope is that the road will be pretty open for him. John Paul II left a legacy, but Benedict XVI was not pope long enough to leave an extraordinary impact. This new pope will have more room to make decisions because there is not as much of a substantial legacy to follow this time.

I have my own hopes regarding what the next pope will be like, but most of them are probably never going to be realized. I would appreciate a pope who makes a point to reach out to people, specifically those who are from poorer nations. I also want a pope who encourages interfaith dialogue, both in practice and for his followers. The Vatican may act as the center for Catholicism, but it’s part of a big, wide world with countless other faiths. And, of course, I want a pope who encourages compassion and forgiveness.

Whether someone is religious or not, choosing the next pope will be a very important event. Catholicism is the largest denomination of Christianity, and the pope ultimately reflects the doings and opinions of the church. Everything in the Vatican seems chaotic now, but I do not fault Benedict XVI for being honest about his health and inability to perform his duties. He will be missed as a pope by millions, but now is an opportunity for the Catholic Church to make new choices for an ever-changing world.

Julianna Nunez is a Medill junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].