New Pope unlikely to rock the boat

Peter Jackson
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There’s a scene in the 1982 film “Gandhi” where a young collared minister climbs up on the roof of a moving train to join a handful of Indian men sitting there. As they enjoy the steady breeze, one man turns to the reverend.

“Are you Christian, Sahib?” he asks.

“Yes, yes, I’m a Christian,” comes the reply.

“I know a Christian,” says the man. “She drinks blood.”

The reverend is startled.

“The blood of Christ,” explains another man, “every Sunday!”

The difference is that the Communion ritual is only symbolic, right?


In strict Roman Catholic doctrine, sacramental wine is magically transformed into Christ’s blood, and bread into his body. It’s called transubstantiation, and if you are a true Catholic, you’d better believe it’s real.

It’s unlikely many Catholic parishioners believe they’re actually quaffing a bodily fluid.

Yet the immutable, centralized structure of the Church of Rome ensures these ancient superstitions remain firmly entrenched in doctrine.

Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation — Thursday is his last day on the job — elicited typical frenzied speculation about who will replace him.

Both Benedict and the more charismatic John Paul II before him were hardline popes.

Birth control, abortion and homosexuality repeatedly came under fire. Female ordination was a definite no-no. The church remained as uncompromising as ever, leaving most of its followers more and more alienated.

Still the same

In recent weeks, two prominent journalists have weighed in on the papal phenomenon, and both offer similar conclusions about the untenable future of such an archaic monarchy. Yet both are convinced that whoever the new pope is, it will likely remain business as usual.

In his Feb. 16 column in The Telegram, Gwynne Dyer says the Vatican is set up to be impervious to change.

“Very occasionally some maverick pope tries to change the model, but the system always wins in the end,” he wrote.

“What the Catholic Church is really fighting is modernization, which it sees as moral decline. … Benedict XVI and the church hierarchy are condemned to fight this battle until the last ditch, because they believe, probably correctly, that full modernization would make them irrelevant.”

Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize-

winning U.S. historian and longtime critic of the Catholic hierarchy, is similarly skeptical about change.

“Of course, the pope is no longer a worldly monarch,” he wrote in the Feb. 12 New York Times. “For centuries he was such a ruler, with all the resources of a medieval or Renaissance prince — realms, armies, prisons, spies, torturers. But in the 19th century, when his worldly territories were wrested away by Italy, Pope Pius IX lunged toward a compensatory moral monarchy.”

Among the most curious relics still preserved today is the notion of papal infallibility, which Wills points out was only formally declared in 1870.

“A gift for eternal truths is as dangerous as the gift of Midas’s touch,” wrote Wills. “The pope cannot undo the eternal truths he has proclaimed.”

Wills is heralded by many as one the most innovative Catholic thinkers of the past 50 years. He has also been mercilessly pilloried by traditionalists, who can offer little other than circular faith-based rebuttal.

Yet neither Wills nor Dyer expect any great shakeup in the Catholic Church with the coming papacy.

Will cardinals endanger their hard-fought privileges by electing a game-changer? Would a new pope dare buck the system that put him in power?

Says Wills: “These considerations have given the election of new popes the air of watching Charlie Brown keep trying to kick the football, hoping that Lucy will co-operate.”

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. Email:

Organizations: Catholic Church, Church of Rome, New York Times

Geographic location: Vatican, U.S., Italy

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    March 04, 2013 - 20:35

    Mr. Smith, I have read that when C.S. Lewis was an atheist he shared your difficulty: most of the thinkers whose writings seemed otherwise to reflect the world as it really was shared the Christian delusion. Dr. Lewis solved his difficulty by becoming a devout Anglican who was, incidentally, opposed to the notion, bruited before his death in 1969, that his church should ordain women. Are you familiar with his book 'Mere Christianity'? I suspect that you are not.

  • Doug Smith
    February 28, 2013 - 08:52

    Mr. Jackson, you are right, the new pope will not rock the boat. Trying to understand why anyone would believe in the Catholic religion or any religion for that matter is extremely difficult as many believers seem to be stable in so many other aspects of life, however, I think I have found the answer for the men. They seem to be afflicted with the cognitive disorder known as true-believer syndrome. As regards why women support the church I have not been able to come up with a reasonable explanation. Why women want to be a part of an organization that has consigned them to a second class status as part of the fundamental belief system is beyond explanation. It probably has something to do with the fact that women have historically been treated as chattel. It would be good to hear some Catholic women explain why they are part of the church. Doug Smith, GFW

  • Colin Burke
    February 28, 2013 - 07:42

    Absolutely, Mr. Jackson: Every man who aspires to be a boatbuilder would necessarily be far better employed in building rocking chairs capable of bearing only lightweights.

  • Bob Hannaford
    February 27, 2013 - 22:57

    The very fact that you felt the need to write this article indicates the Catholic Church is still very much alive and well.

  • RSJ
    February 27, 2013 - 19:28

    Wrong wrong wrong. The Catholic Church is always wrong. Their beliefs are old fashioned and superstitious and they’ll never modernize. They continually alienate their followers. All the innovative Catholic thinkers have been tossed out of the Church. The election of a Pope is nothing more than a cartoon comedy. I almost forgot there’s absolutely nothing positive to be said about the Catholic Church. But thanks to first class thought provoking commentary like this I am once again sustained in my ignorance and prejudice. How enlightening!

  • Ed Power
    February 27, 2013 - 08:48

    I'm quite sure that the Holy Spirit will guide the deliberations of the Conclave to a successful conclusion. A new 'Capo di tutti i Capi' will be selected to run the business, and the Pope and Cardinals will be able to get back to the core issues facing Mother Church - how to bury the sex abuse scandals, how to return the Catholic world to the 13th century, and how to preserve the wealth and privlege to which they have become accustomed. To paraphrase Mario Puzo's Godfather, "A man with a Bible can steal more money than a man with a gun".

    • Mr.U
      February 28, 2013 - 01:51

      Phew...good thing all RC dealings are legit & without sin Roman Catholic Religion is so bloodguilty.Like every other organized religion.Pomp & Ceremony and hiding scum.No matter how many public displays of veneration will not fool the ONE who will eventually clean up this sick world.