I was recently in Rome when Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, sending shock waves among the Catholic community. I was also in the storm that produced the lightning bolt that hit St. Peter’s Basilica. And while waking up to headlines stating that the lightning bolt was an act of God was predictable, the aftermath from the shocking resignation of Benedict still remained. Though I didn’t notice any outrageous feelings of emotion on the streets of Rome the next day, attention from both the public and the media has remained deadly focused on the next move of the Catholic Church.
As the first Pontiff to retire from his role in 600 years, there has been much speculation over what will happen after Benedict retires. This ranges from day-to-day matters such as what his title and duties will be, to concerns over his living arrangements. Concerns fall on the effect of Benedict’s presence over the new pope once they are elected and whether this might overshadow the decision making process.
More recently decisions have been reached on many of the day-to-day issues. Benedict will be known as the “emeritus pope” during his retirement and will continue to wear a white cassock. However, it is said that Benedict will no longer wear his trademark red shoes.
A new pope brings the question of change. But does a new pope mean anything will change within the Catholic Church? The pressure has been mounting on religion to reconsider certain aspects for a while. After all, it’s a fact that modern-day western society and the Catholic Church clash. Politics and religion have become so entwined we forget that religion doesn’t necessarily want innovating. But does it need innovating in order to survive?
Among the debate of what does or does not need reconsidering in the church, same-sex marriage is an ongoing topic. Common sense would assume that for same-sex marriage to be allowed within the church religious bodies would have admit that homosexuality is not a sin. Whether homosexuality is or is not a sin in the Bible is a debate constructed on ambiguity and subjectivity, based around the words of a 2,000-year-old sacred book. And so basically it doesn’t look like it will be magically solved overnight.
Some people believe that not allowing same-sex marriage in the church is discrimination from an outdated institution. Others take the words from the Bible to mean homosexuality and therefore same-sex marriage is wrong. This is the argument at its most simple form. And after doing a lot of research on the subject, I soon became utterly perplexed.
One person to break the mold on perceptions of same-sex marriage and Christianity is Bishop Gene Robinson. Now retired, Robinson is widely known for being the first priest in an openly gay relationship to be consecrated a bishop in a major Christian denomination, though his honesty initially came at a price. Along with death threats, Robinson has led a constant uphill battle against protestors but has spoken out regularly on homosexuality and Christianity and received support for doing so.
Robinson speaks about his experiences with religion and homosexuality during his 2009 talk Homosexuality: What the Bible says and why it matters. In his speech Robinson mentions his experience of coming out to the religious community; “I was being told that I was an abomination, a disgusting aberration in creation in the eyes of God”. However, Robinson says he found support through God stating, “somehow God’s words got through to me”.
Robinson generally believes the Bible is “the word of God but not the words of God”. Though he fully believes the scripture is valid, he bases most of his argument on ambiguity and context. We will never be able to completely understand the true meaning behind some of the Bible’s phrases. However, as Robinson rightly points out, “homosexuality was completely unknown to the 1st century mind”.
In the Catholic Church homosexuality and therefore same-sex marriage in the church is not approved of. Benedict’s views on same-sex marriage were recently reiterated during his annual Christmas address to Vatican officials in December 2012. During his speech Benedict described same-sex marriage as a “manipulation of nature” and a “crisis that threatens it [the family] to its foundations – especially in the Western world”.
As the leader of the Catholic Church, Benedict enforces the belief that gay marriage within the church is wrong. But what if the new Pope Francis holds different views that are similar to that of Bishop Gene Robinson? I realise this is an ambitious and probably unrealistic thought, and that at this point you may be wishing I was beside you so you could pat me on the head and say, “ah bless”. However, if mores within the Catholic Church changed this would hold more merit than any if any other major Christian denomination were to do the same.
Gay marriage is just one part to the debate. Many other issues remain with religion and modern society. But, going forward, do these issues need addressing for Christianity to succeed? The fact is over 72% of Americans still identify themselves as followers of the Christian faith. However, I couldn’t find one person who disagreed with gay marriage in general and only a few people who did not agree with gay marriage within the church.