As Catholics decide what to sacrifice for Lent, Pope Benedict XVI, 85, announced what he’ll give up at the end of the month: the papacy.
After the pope announced his resignation Monday, students — Catholic and not — had mixed feelings about the future of the Roman Catholic Church. While most were surprised at the pope’s decision to step down, few expect major religious changes with his successor.
Composed of homogeneous religious men, Catholic Church leaders in Vatican City sometimes isolate sects of followers — particularly college students who are often two generations younger, said John Kelly, a Catholic 19-year-old sophomore at Tufts University.
Pope Benedict XVI leads the Ash Wednesday service at the St. Peter’s Basilica Feb. 13 in Vatican City.
With the new pope, representation from various Catholic populations, such as Latin Americans who comprise 40% of the religion, should be included in the Vatican City hierarchy. This would help better connect the Catholic Church with members of the religion, said Kelsey Ryan, 20, a junior at Haverford College.
“It’s like an old-boys club,” said Ryan, a Methodist. “If they want to be more relevant in serious discussion of religion and morality, a change towards more diverse leadership would help.”
For example, married men and women, as well as gay men and lesbians, should be allowed to serve as priests so all Catholics can feel more involved in their religion, said 20-year-old Megan Mulholland, a University of Michigan sophomore who was raised Catholic but is still in the process of determining her religiousness.
Though inclusion of varied perspectives likely won’t be a priority of the next pope, Ryan said she hopes leaders in the Catholic Church will be heterogeneous in the next 25 to 50 years.
Within that timeframe, George Washington University junior Luke Rozansky, 21, said he hopes the Catholic Church will support marriage equality and reproductive health. Such reform could help increase the youth Catholic population, said Rozansky, who was raised Catholic but doesn’t consider himself a member of the church.
Though not universal, the pope declared in 2010 that male sex workers could use condoms as a HIV/AIDS prevention tool, according to the Washington Post.
“Benedict was more progressive than people give him credit for,” Kelly said. “I hope the next pope will push open that door to work on these issues.”
Like Republican politicians who have campaigned with a socially liberal platform to attract a wider base, Rozansky said the Roman Catholic Church eventually has to support more human-rights issues. Otherwise, the Catholic population will decrease dramatically, he said.
“I think it would take something pretty drastic for anything to really change,” Mulholland said. “But their policy on gay marriage and contraceptives should.”
But diversion from scripture in this nature doesn’t seem feasible, Ryan said. Because most pious individuals believe the Bible is the word of God, condoning same-sex marriage or abortion would directly go against those values.
And some religious college students don’t want changes from the Catholic Church. Literal interpretation of biblical texts provides modern society with a foundation of morals, said Courtney Palazzo, a Catholic 20-year-old junior at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte.
Yet an inaugural papal Twitter account signaled a modernized eye from the Vatican.
“It’s great that he was able to reach out to the people who may not know what’s going on in the church every day,” Palazzo said. “I wish they were more involved, but I think people care more about technology and other things than going to church.”
Whoever replaces the pope will be the third head of the Catholic Church since current undergraduates were born. Although only the College of Cardinals is involved in papal selection, college students weighed in with what they’d like to see from Benedict’s successor.
“There will be the ability for change,” Kelly said. “I have a hope that the more liberal Catholicism that I’ve seen will continue to the mainstream so we’re pushed towards a more accepting and loving view of this religion.”
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