Basically here’s what happened – the old pope signed documents telling priests to cover up for child rapists (basically the most evil thing you can do) and as a result was the first pope to resign since the middle ages. Now the new guy is going around being as christlike and decent as he can possibly manage (washing the feet of prisoners, foregoing a foot of bullet-and-bomb-proof plexiglass (the former pope had so much faith) when in public, actually caring about the poor and not doing so in a “kiss my ring” patronizing way. He’s like the obama of catholicism, an unusually genuine and good leader made possible by an inordinately corrupt/incompetent predecessor, who is trying to make up for all the damage his predecessor did.
So anyway, this is a natural reaction to scandal BUT it’s another nail in the coffin of the catholic church, and my reasoning is this – the whole reason the catholic church exists at all is because of the myth that they have some kind of special voodoo power you can’t get anywhere else. The pope is ordained by god as jesus’ successor and has a special ability to infallibly interpret the word of god and is basically on a higher spiritual plane than you, so you need to follow him (and not just on facebook) to figure out things you literally can’t figure out on your own. And furthermore you need priests because without them you can’t be absolved of your sins or baptized so you can get into heaven or avoid hell. You need a priest to sign off on you getting off because fornication and masturbation are sins and you can only bust a nut in your wife’s vajayjay and only a priest can marry you in the eyes of god. So you can’t be moral without them, you can’t avoid hell or get into heaven without them, you can’t have any truth without them and you can’t even have an orgasm without them (especially if you’re a ten year old boy). I know, low blow. But wait, there’s more.
The very notion of a reform pope who is better than the last one (especially following the pedophilia cover-up scandal) demolishes this notion that the office is infused with some kind of mystical superiority that us mere mortals must clamor to if we want to be moral or live a righteous life. The church is no more infallible than the white house, and this is just the latest administration. There is nothing special about the pope unless he happens to be a special guy, just like there isn’t anything inherently special about the president, and the office he holds only has as much influence as we give it.
I think people are realizing more and more that they don’t need a pope or a particular church, that they can for the most part work things out on their own through reading books by biblical scholars, learning about modern science and history, engaging others in discussion and debate and so on. And it seems to be working because at least in the west we haven’t set anyone on fire in the name of god for maybe two or three generations…
But I can’t see any other result but that the catholic church will continue to fracture, as all the major churches have. Christianity has gone from a spiritual north korea where you are only allowed to worship the dear leader to a spiritual 32 flavors, where they have something to suit every taste (and type 2 diabetes!).