Only dead fish go with the flow: Papal resignation and the future of the Church

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Feb. 11, 2013 shall forever be remembered as the day that Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. The question most are asking now is: What does this mean for the future of the Church?

(Hey Twitter, have you heard the pope quit?)

Whether you are religious or not, good or bad, the pope’s resignation is a signifier of important changes to come.  Why else would an almighty lightning bolt strike St. Peter’s dome at the Vatican only hours after the pope announced his resignation?

Seconds 15-24 are really all you need

And if you believe in omens, the lightning bolt strike at St. Peter’s Dome, the holiest church in the Vatican, only hours after the pope’s resignation meant something serious.  At a time when Pope Benedict XVI himself noted that many people are turning away from religion, serious changes seem to be necessary for the Church’s survival.

“Today’s world [is] subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith,” he said to cardinals as he announced his resignation according to the Chicago Tribune.

Experts in theological studies believe that the Church needs a more progressive pope in order to continue thriving. Pope Benedict XVI’s strict adherence to tradition and dogmatic purity is what many critics believe led him to harm dialogues with those of other faiths.

In 2006, the pope infamously damaged the Church’s relationship with some Muslims when he visited a German university and quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor as saying that Islam had only brought evil to the world, and was spread by the sword.

(Opinion: What is religion?)

Whoever the next pope is, he will likely have to focus on Catholicism’s relationship with other faiths, in a similar or dissimilar manner as Pope Benedict XVI.

Boston College theology professors, Thomas Groome and Stephen Pope, said to The Boston Globe that the next pope must also reach out to women, particularly “Western” women in their 20s and 30s, who may leave Catholicism if their role within it is not expanded. “We are looking for a bridge builder,” said Groome.

The next pope will either build or burn more bridges. He can choose to support homosexuality or to denounce it like his predecessor, who described homosexuals as people ostracizing their God-given gender identities to suit their sexual choices and destroying the very "essence of the human creature" in the process.

The new pope can choose to embrace women or to shun them like his predecessor, who denounced in the striking tone that earned him the nickname, “God’s Rottweiler,” the priests who sought the ordination of women and the termination of priestly celibacy.

The next pope can choose to significantly modernize Catholicism, or to significantly preserve the form it has taken since the Middle Ages, when the last pope before Pope Benedict XVI resigned.

More Americans than ever before do not follow a religion. One in five Americans check “None” for their religious affiliation, according to a study conducted by the Pew Center for the People and the Press last year. This data speaks to the shrinking audience of the Church and the problem of growing the congregation.

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