There is no more tragic organization on the face of the earth than the Catholic Church.
An outfit with incredible resources and influence, it has squandered both on the hideous scandal of its massive pedophile cover-ups and its mindless, hierarchical, anachronistic rigidity. If this were a government, it would have been toppled long ago. If this were a business, its shareholders would have shown its managers the door with enthusiasm.
But the Catholic Church is neither a government nor a business. It's a religion. And so it goes on wasting its resources and its influence at a rate that is, well, sinful. If there was a God in heaven, its tax exemption would be revoked.
And Benedict XVI did little but make things worse. He dug in. He regressed. He was dour, humorless, joyless. John Paul II, who was just as awful in terms of his conservative ideology, was at least sort of charismatic for a lot of people.
The Catholic faith is broad enough to embrace positions that are against abortion and family planning and positions that are against the death penalty and the exploitation of workers. It's a question of what its leaders choose to emphasize.
You probably think of my old religion as the anti-abortion faith because that's what the conservative old men who run the church choose to emphasize. But this could just as easily be a "nuns on the bus" faith if only the men in power were of that inclination. And if it were a "social gospel" faith, I might even contribute a buck or two to a cause I could believe in -- though nothing, not even good liberal causes, could drag me into a church for anything but weddings or funerals.
So Benedict XVI is stepping aside. That's good, but there's really not much reason to rejoice because the cardinals who will choose his successor are as conservative as he is. But you never know. Sometimes, with a lifetime appointment a guy will surprise you. President Eisenhower never expected Earl Warren to lead a court that dramatically expanded civil liberties and personal freedom.
My point is that whoever replaces Benedict can't possibly be any worse and might be a little better. Or he could be spectacularly better. The Pope of the future who will be remembered is the Pope who will have the good sense to see that there's nothing in the teachings of Jesus that should prevent women or married people from being priests. And once that threshold is crossed, once the church is no longer held in a chokehold by bitter, conservative old men, it can be unleashed to do real good in the world.
Let us pray.