Thursday, October 25, 2012

The More the Church Changes...

...the more it stays the same.

That seems apparent from the appointment of Colombia's latest (and only voting) Cardinal, the Archbishop of Bogotá, Rubén Salazar Gómez. He's the third Colombian currently in the elite group of 'princes' of the Roman Catholic Church.

This is an honor for Colombia and gives Colombia a bit more influence in the Catholic hierarchy - but it doesn't bode well for the church's future.

According to this profile in El Tiempo, Salazar is a dynamic man whose career has been marked by concern for the poor, and, in particular, for displaced people. But Salazar's ideological positions are doctrinaire conservative: he opposes euthenasia, abortion, gay marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

"What does it mean to die with dignity?" Salazar asks in the article. "That a doctor injects a sick person with a poison or a lethal injection?"

Salazar doesn't explain what makes that sort of painless, quiet death less dignified than a long, agonizing one full of suffering and uncertainty for the sick and his or her relatives.

Those ideological positions aren't surprising, of course. After all, Pope Benedict just ordered the United States' largest organization of Catholic nuns to reform for not sufficiently denouncing abortion, gay marriage, etc.

But, in a world that's steadily liberalizing, the Catholic Church looks increasingly outdated and irrelevent. Perhaps principled, too; but that might not help it hold onto believers as young people increasingly see precepts such as not using contraception as absurd. Colombia, for example, is discussing regulating euthenasia, which is already de facto legal here, as well as expanding abortion rights as well as those for same-sex couples.

Camilo Torres, the guerrilla-priest.
Would he have opposed
gay marriage and euthenasia?
It's a far cry from the 1960s, when Colombia was at the center of the progressive Liberation Theology  movement within the Catholic Church. So progressive, in fact, that several Catholic priests, most (in)famously Camilo Torres, ran off and joined guerrilla groups. Pope Benedict has done his best to snuff out the remnants of Liberation Theology. Salazar seems to personify the dedication to the poor, which is admirable, but seems less concerned about some of society's other unfortunates.

Observers of Catholic issues have noted that of the seven new appointees, who will officially don the red hats on Nov. 24, none are Europeans and all but one are from developing countries. In contrast, most of the 12 cardinals appointed in February were from Europe. Benedict may be adding geographical variety to the College of cardinals. But apparently not ideological variety.

Vatican observers noted that this is the first time since the 1920s that a Pope has appointed two groups of new Cardinals in the same year. Is this an indication that Benedict is not as healthy as he appears, and wants to pack the College with conservatives in order to influence the vote for his succesor? Or, does this have something to do with the Vatileaks scandal (in which a Colombian played a part)?

In any case, if the College were to elect a new Pope today, Salazar's would be the only Colombian vote, since the other two Colombians wearing red hats, Pedro Rubiano Sáenz and Dario Castrillón Hoyos, are over 80 and therefore no longer eligible to vote in papal elections.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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