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The First One Hundred Days: The Future Papacy, the Future Church

April 19, 2005

Catholics for a Free Choice Lays out a Schedule for the New Pope

WASHINGTON, DC—Catholics for a Free Choice is deeply concerned that the election of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger as pope is a strong indication of continued dissension within the church. The cardinal’s historic role as a disciplinarian means the tradition of the punitive father is maintained within the Roman Catholic church.

As we move into a new era for the church, we look to the election of a new pope as a starting point for the critical work that must be done to make this church a home for all Catholics, particularly those divided from the church during the last quarter century.

Today, Pope Benedict XVI has both an opportunity and a mandate to set a tone for the future of his papacy and to redress wrongs done in the name of the Vatican. Simultaneously, he must span the divide widened during the last papacy between clergy and laity, men and women, north and south, right and left, gay and straight. As Pope John Paul II exemplified the spirit of reconciliation and relationship when he sat face to face with the man who shot him, the new pope should extend the same courtesies, coupled with a genuine spirit of invitation, to those who have been most hurt by church policies over the last years.

To this end, Catholics for a Free Choice has laid out a schedule for the next one hundred days. We offer these recommendations and requests in the spirit of moving toward a true engagement with the realities and suffering of our times and mindful of the challenges that lay before us as we seek to heal the fractures within our church.

The two most important issues the new pontiff must address are the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the most painful error of the 20th century within the church, and the church’s need to work with civil society to stem the tide of unnecessary deaths from HIV/AIDS.

During the first one hundred days, the new pontiff should immediately meet with survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy. No child, no adult survivor and no nun who faced this most profound betrayal of faith were ever able to secure a meeting with the late pontiff. Now the Vatican should redress that wrong and sit down in a private meeting to hear the grief, the pain and the anger of those the church has most let down, including members of SNAP, nuns, young people and adult survivors who have all been abused by Catholic clergy. If the church ever needed a truth and reconciliation process, it is over the scandal of sexual abuse. The Vatican telecommunications office, with the full cooperation of the Vatican Congregation of Bishops, should schedule a televised series of encounters between bishops and victims in which the bishops will have the opportunity to tell the truth about their complicity in this scandal and apologize to the victims. The victims would have the opportunity to forgive these men and move on.

During the first one hundred days, the new pope should form a commission to study the current church policy on condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS. Under the watch of Pope John Paul II, Vatican officials and bishops spread misinformation and even staged condom burnings in AIDS-ravaged Africa. The new pope should immediately initiate an inquiry into the theological basis for permitting the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, including visits to regions particularly hard hit by the pandemic. However, people with and at risk of HIV/AIDS should not need to wait for the results of the commission to be able to protect themselves.The pope should lift the ban on condoms immediately in order to err on the side of life.

During the first one hundred days, the pope should establish the Pontifical Academy on Women’s Rights in the Church. As a first step, the Academy would serve as a registry for qualified women candidates for positions that are already open to women. All Vatican officials and ambassadors will submit their resignation from office to the new pope. At least 50 percent of those resignations should be accepted and the posts filled with qualified women.

During the first one hundred days, the Vatican should open a dialogue on opening the priesthood to married men. Under Pope John Paul II, married priests who longed to be both priests and husbands were sent the message that their desires for human relationships and love were not only unworthy of the priesthood, but also unworthy of even dispensation from the priesthood, rendering them to an ecclesiastical limbo—neither fully priest nor fully husbands. The future pope should commission a group to discuss the future and role of married priests with an eye toward returning them to ministry. Pension rights should be immediately restored to married priests.

These acts of justice within the church should be matched by an expansion of Pope John Paul II’s commitment to peace and his clarion call for debt forgiveness. It is time for a complete renunciation of capital punishment and a clear and binding opposition to the war in Iraq. Let us go one step further than the former pope and be clear that there is no possibility of a just war by a superpower.

None of these steps would change church teaching; all of them are consistent with current theological and disciplinary norms. None is radical.

The first one hundred days should culminate with a reconciliation mass in St. Peter’s Square. After undertaking the above activities and others, the new pope should warmly welcome back Catholics to the church, with special recognition of and an specific invitation to the women, the gays and lesbians, the theologians and bishops punished and marginalized, the sexually abused and others who have felt excluded.

At the end of the first one hundred days, this pope should articulate a vision for the 21st century church that is inclusive, understanding, compassionate and just.