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The Pope Is Worried
[Analysis] Are his reiterated warnings about secularization a signal of fear?
Carlos Arturo Serrano Gomez (carturo222)     Print Article 
Published 2008-01-13 01:38 (KST)   
One by one the cathedrals are emptying. Priests are growing scarce, and each year there are fewer ordinations. Catholic countries become pluralistic societies where the voice of the clergy bears no more weight than that of any self-help guru. People go about their ordinary lives in this material world, no longer staring at the sky with expectant eyes. The church, quite understandably, resents it.

Several times since his election, Pope Benedict XVI has complained that modern nations have drifted away from the traditional Christian worldview. At the beginning of his pontificate, he insisted that history did not run its course without God's arbitration. Whenever he deals with the topic of politics, His Holiness displays an opposition to popular sovereignty reminiscent of the church's first response to the French Revolution. Then as now, the Vicar of Christ revolts at the concept of the consent of the governed. In a recent public demonstration in Spain, the clergy protested against the current legal system, which has expanded the institution of marriage beyond its former indissoluble, heterosexual definition.

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Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has responded clearly enough, once and again: law is derived from the will of the people, not from doctrinal tradition. But the Catholic Church isn't willing to relinquish the subordination of temporal power to its dictates. According to the pope, a civilization that decides to turn its back on God is doomed. He has seized every opportunity to assert as much: from his failed endeavors for the European Union to issue a formal recognition of the Christian roots of Europe, to his latest encyclical, "Spe Salvi" ("Saved by Hope"), where he shows how seriously the recent avalanche of atheist books disturbs him. There he unambiguously points to God as the only realistic foundation of human hope.

Benedict XVI is playing the part of Cassandra in a millennial world order he feels is crumbling down. And apart from some radicals in Poland, Italy and Spain, nobody seems to be listening. The pitiful part of this all is that the behaviors that most deeply torment him are inconsequential in themselves: a rise in civil marriages versus those performed in churches, a rise in cohabitation versus marriage itself, a growing recognition of the rights of other religious communities and an overall reluctance to go through the sacraments. No direct aggression is being done to the Vatican institution, its ideals or its bureaucracy. What the pope laments about is that people have gained more freedom to choose the course of their lives, and are choosing to walk it on their own.

None of the calamities feared by His Holiness as a consequence of secularization is likely to happen. Respect for human rights remains visibly one of the strongest European values, and the legal status of euthanasia, abortion and homosexual marriage in some EU member nations has not brought about the social disintegration he is so fond of warning us about. On the contrary, when people are freer to manage their lives according to their individually chosen goals and values, the only outcome we can expect is more happiness for all. The problem, notes the pope, is that they have learned that happiness is possible without his guidance.

This realization, of course, alarms him. And every desperate effort he makes to convince a disbelieving society of the convenience of subjecting to his dictates only serves to deepen his alienation from the contemporary world, one that has decided it no longer needs him. Evidently, he's scared.

He should be.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Carlos Arturo Serrano Gomez

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