Despite Vatican efforts to keep the public eye focused on pomp and circumstance, speculation about the real reason for Pope Benedict’s resignation dominates conversation about the papal succession: Is it the Vatileaks money laundering? Is it the pedophilia scandal? Might it have something to do with criminal charges filed in European courts? How about the impact of all three on Catholic Church coffers and pews? Is this about immunity or power or finances or brand management?
The Vatican claims to promote a “comprehensive culture of life,” but it is the Church’s comprehensive culture of corruption that refuses to die. Consider yesterday’s scandal in which Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, resigned amid allegations of sexual contacts with priests. Last year O’Brien had called marriage equality a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” In fact, in 2012, he received a “bigot of the year” award from the British gay rights group, Stonewall. The combination makes him a poster boy for the notion that homophobia is a symptom of denial. Methinks he doth protest too much.
From the October death of Savita Halappanavar for lack of an abortion in Catholic controlled Ireland, to the pedophilia cover-up being unveiled gradually this spring in California, to theinfighting exposed when the Pope’s butler leaked inside Vatican documents, to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s efforts to obstruct contraceptive access regardless of the public health consequences—Catholic priorities increasingly appear to have two products: harm and hypocrisy. Those who still consider the Catholic hierarchy to be a source of moral leadership are living in a fantasy.
As someone who thinks the world could use a little moral leadership, I can’t resist indulging in a little fantasy of my own: Imagine how different things would be if the Dalai Lama were the next pope.
Respect for science.
Catholic authorities have not built Creation Museums or fought to get the Genesis creation myths taught in science classes—they apparently learned a little something from the Galileo fiasco— but they have been far from champions of science and in fact have regularly demonstrated a willingness to violate scientific findings when these are inconsistent with their theological priorities. In Africa, priests warned poor, uneducated believers that condoms cause HIV. In the States, Catholic abortion foes insist, despite an utter lack of evidence, that abortions cause cancer and that the most effective contraceptives are abortifacients. They continue to insist that homosexuality is a choice—a sin. (No, no, and no.)
By contrast, the Dalai Lama had this to say in his book, The Universe in a Single Atom. “—if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” He went on to elaborate:
No credible understanding of the natural world or our human existence–what I am going to call in this book a worldview–can ignore the basic insights of theories as key as evolution, relativity, and quantum mechanics. It may be that science will learn from an engagement with spirituality, especially in its interface with wider human issues, from ethics to society, but certainly some specific aspects of Buddhist thought—such as its old cosmological theories and its rudimentary physics— will have to be modified in the light of new scientific insights.
His attitude toward science has been one of curiosity in large part because “the great benefit of science is that it can contribute tremendously to the alleviation of suffering at the physical level.” Under his leadership, schools with an emphasis on science, engineering, and technology were established for Tibetan children. Contrast that with the Christian madrassas that are being promoted for American children.
Interspirituality, humility and adapting to pluralism.
The Catholic Church has long made exclusive truth claims, and these have been reasserted rather than softened in recent years. The most generous concession to pluralism came in the mid 1960’s in a document called the Lumen Gentium. “Those also can attain to salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.” Hindu scholar, Rajiv Malhotra finds this concession far from comforting. His grievances in his words:
- Firstly, Lumen Gentium does not recognize non-Abrahamic faiths such as Hinduism to be worthy of respect as equals; it merely recognizes that all men as individuals do have conscience. Also, it presupposes the Christian view that the human condition requires “salvation.”