Lots of people have been asking me what I think of the papal conclave taking place in the Vatican this week.
Well, okay, only one person has asked me for my opinion – and that person wasn’t even a member of my church.
The day Pope Benedict resigned I received a call from a reporter who was looking for the opinions of Protestant church leaders. “What do you think?” he asked.
I told him that I was probably the least qualified person around to offer an opinion about the Catholic Church’s hierarchy – and then of course proceeded to offer my opinion anyway.
“Courageous” was the word I used to describe the pope’s decision to retire, and I still hope that’s accurate, though subsequent news reports seem to suggest that there might be more to the resignation than we are being told.
I also told the reporter that I had been following the story closely, which seemed to intrigue him. “Why would a Protestant pastor be interested?” he asked.
To which I replied, “Because after all there is one church.”
He seemed to treat that thought as a sentimental way of thinking about the church – charming in a way, but hardly the reality of the situation as he saw it.
And yet, don’t we confess that truth every time we say the Apostles Creed in worship – namely, that we are “a holy, catholic church”? The Nicene Creed is even more specific – “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
But I wonder how many of us actually believe it.
What’s happening in Rome this week should concern all of us. I would go so far as to say that the problems in the Catholic Church today should concern us as well. The problems in the Catholic church today are in many ways our problems as well.
My sense is that Protestants tend to view the out-of-touch Catholic hierarchy – as well as the sexual abuse scandal – as something that doesn’t really affect us. I’ve even heard friends suggest that it could be a good thing for Protestants, if we pick up some disaffected Catholics as new members.
I’m afraid I don’t see things that way. What’s happening in the Catholic Church does affect us. The rest of the world looks at the Christian church today and doesn’t make denominational distinctions. People, especially young adults, the Millennials, are saying no to the whole thing. Yes to Jesus, no to the institutional church – no matter what the sign outside says.
So, should we be concerned? Yes.
I am praying that the Catholic Church chooses a new leader who will address the problems affecting the Catholic Church today because, if the Catholic Church manages to get it right, then the whole church – Protestant and Catholic – will be better for it.