With the election of Pope Benedict XVI, there is much talk among Catholics and non-Catholics on campus about disappointment at the choice of a theologically and morally conservative cardinal for the seat of Peter. My answer to these questions is simply, what did you expect? Critic or fan of the Church (it is probably obvious that I am the latter), the Church is an absolute monarchy. It is not a democracy. Catholics around the world don’t vote for the pope. Instead, cardinals appointed by the previous popes meet and elect a pope. Of course they are going to choose to continue the theology they have held to with little change for 2,000 years.
The next question is whether or not monarchy is the best governing structure for an institution such as the Church. Progressives argue that years of political experience have pointed out the failings of monarchy and the benefits of democracy. I say that years of political experience have taught us that it is best not to run a country like a Church or a Church like a country. I fully believe in political democracy, but I think a Church is a very different institution from a government. At its best, a Church is an institution of voluntary membership. Catholics in the modern world are rarely forced to be Catholic. Instead, we choose to subject ourselves to the authority of a man whom we believe is the Vicar of Christ. In contrast, all citizens of a country are subject to the laws imposed by the government. In most cases, they did not choose to be citizens of a country but rather were born with that status. They deserve a vote in the law to which they are involuntarily subjected.
I believe that argument affirms the right for a Church to govern itself as a monarchy, but it is important to understand why a church would make such a choice. The Catholic Church believes in absolute truth. In Catholic philosophy, there is little room for relativism. Each person does not find his or her own truth, and certain things are wrong no matter the culture in which they happen. Further, this truth is not determined by public opinion or molded to modern secular philosophy. This truth is timeless. Many both in and outside of the Church do not accept the idea that such an absolute truth exists, but I challenge you to tell me that there is nothing that is absolutely wrong. Wouldn’t you say that a person who murders a bus full of schoolchildren has committed a terrible evil even if his culture suggests that such an act is worthy of praise? And don’t we employ similar arguments to condemn acts of terrorism committed in the name of some faith or some country? And if you accept that something like this is absolutely wrong, isn’t it logical that this is not the only thing that is absolutely wrong?
Finally, if there is one absolute truth, who is best prepared to decide what that is? Is it a majority vote of people who live in society and are therefore influenced by cultural trends? I don’t think so. Is it even something that could be determined by a council of bishops and lay people? Not really. If there is one truth, shouldn’t there be one person in charge of teaching and protecting that truth? And there is no one better suited to that job than someone such as Benedict XVI, a highly educated scholar and profound theologian who has dedicated his life to understanding and teaching the truth with which he is now entrusted. If you want someone who will change the teachings of the Church to fit in with modern societal views on abortion, contraception and the role of women, then you don’t want to be Catholic. This is a monarchy, and I say long live Pope Benedict XVI.
Jacqueline Costrini is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.