Successor will face many divisive problems
IssuesSocial issues that have dogged the church and successive popes for decades remain outstanding for the incoming pontiff.
The traditional church position views these issues in terms that critics see as moral absolutism. The problem for the church is that increasing numbers of its own flock are willing simply to ignore Rome’s teachings on them.
Contraception and Aids
Pope Benedict appeared to signal a break with traditional teaching on the use of condoms almost three years ago, when he said the use of condoms was acceptable “in certain cases”.
If, for example, a male prostitute used a condom to reduce the risk of HIV infection, he said, that could be considered “a first step in the direction of moralisation, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants”.
The Vatican later clarified the remarks, stressing that the pope has “not reformed or changed the church’s teaching” on the matter.
Widespread use of almost all contraceptives is firmly established in almost all countries, Catholic and non-Catholic.
The horrific sexual abuse scandals that have erupted in the US and Europe and haunted so much of Benedict’s papacy are far from resolved. Many critics feel the Vatican was – and still is – far too slow, too reluctant and too secretive when it comes to acknowledging and investigating sexual abuse.
Homosexuality and same-sex marriage
Despite long ago condemning physical and verbal violence against gay people as deplorable and something deserving of “condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs”, the pope made it clear that he had no intention of departing from the church’s teachings on homosexuality and gay marriage. Legal acceptance of gay marriage is growing in western countries.
Pope Benedict’s decision to give a top job to a cardinal who believes terminations to be wrong even in rape cases spoke volumes about the Vatican’s enduring opposition to abortion.
In 2010, he appointed Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, a possible successor, as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Earlier the same year, Cardinal Ouellet told an anti-abortion conference in Quebec that terminating a pregnancy was a “moral crime”, even in rape cases.
In April last year, the pope delivered a fierce rebuke to “disobedient” Roman Catholics who had challenged church teaching on topics including women’s ordination and priestly celibacy. – (Guardian Service/Irish Times foreign desk)