Progressive vs. conservative
Whoever succeeds Pope Benedict faces challenges that will impact Catholics everywhere, but will the choice have any impact on Catholic doctrine, which many believe is suspended somewhere between the Council of Trent counter-reformation and Vatican II.
I surveyed the Boston Archdiocese-which was at the heart of the Church Abuse scandal to get a feel for the tensions underlying Catholic religious teachings.
Latin, Vestments and a Blast from the Past
I've just entered the cavernous vestibule of the Holy Cross Cathedral. At this hour, there are two different masses being held, in two different languages, two visions for the future. In the upper church, a Mass hymnal in English; in the basement chapel, another in Latin.
A staircase separates the two, but it could just as well be separated by centuries of religious traditions. Following his election in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed his belief in conservative Catholic doctrine and promoted the symbols of traditionalism, including vestments and the Latin mass.
"As if Jesus himself spoke Latin or as if he conducted the mass wearing vestments, " said James Carroll, a former seminarian and distinguished scholar in residence at Suffolk University in Boston. He said like conservative Catholic doctrine, the Latin mass is a throwback to the pre-Vatican II era. And for many folks that is appealing.
"The truth is there was something beautiful about it, " Carroll said. "It was coherent. It was orderly. There was an answer to every question and symbolized by the Gothic cathedral, the epitome of all that we loved about the Catholic Church. The astonishing thing is that this beautiful, coherent, Gothic, edifice that was Catholicism - there was something deeply, deeply inhuman and corrupt in it."
The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, in the early 60's, was a response to centuries old stagnation within the church, Carroll said. And so, Catholicism - constructed as a "Gothic" fortress against external and internal forces - opened up, if only slightly, to new, modern-day realities.
But in 2013 the doors are shut again, said Eileen Doherty, a member of the Spirit of life Community - a Catholic lay organization whose members believe in the ordination of women as priests, gay marriage, contraception in general, and even abortion under some circumstances.
"The way the Roman Catholic Church is going now is that they are excluding more people than helping, " Doherty said.
Under an iron-gray sky streaked with rain, Doherty and others are passing out flyers in front of the Cathedral. She accuses Cardinal Sean O'Malley and the church hierarchy of abandoning the poor.
"We have to be there for the people who can't speak for themselves to make some necessary changes that have to happen for the church, " Doherty said.
I asked her if those changes include doctrine.
"Yes, because the gospel of Jesus is not being adhered to, because Jesus was there for those that were deprived, " Doherty answered. "And they're not my church. I don't find them true to the gospel."
Doherty said that Catholic doctrine - the way that gospel is taught and interpreted - must change to accommodate progressive viewpoints. But traditionalists in the church are pushing back.
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