On Monday, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would resign at the end of the month. The effect on the American political system? Very little.
The tenure of Benedict XVI has been rocky at best. In some ways, it’s hard to blame him. He followed in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II, a man so universally loved that he is already well on his way to sainthood. The priest sex abuse scandal was out of Benedict’s control, but he has drawn criticism for his slow response. Benedict is the first Pope to resign in more than 500 years, and is doing so due to his advanced age.
Several of America’s most prominent politicians on both sides of the aisle are observant Catholics, such as Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan and John Boehner. Sometimes, though, their faith plays second fiddle to their politics – at least publicly.
Biden’s response to a question in the vice-presidential debate about the relationship between his faith and his views on abortion showcased this. He said that his faith teaches him that abortion is morally wrong, but that the government has no right to regulate it. Biden’s comments underlie a nation that is becoming increasingly secular. In short, religion isn’t as big a deal as it used to be.
Long gone are the public fears that the Pope would control America through a Kennedy White House.
Many believe the Catholic Church is a shadow of what it once was – a power so great that it could unseat kings and princes with divine authority. Throughout the industrialized world, people are moving away from traditional organized religion, and the conservative principles that go along with it. Religion is by no means absent from American politics (an agnostic or atheist president would be unthinkable to many), but we are beginning to move into a more secular world where that could be a possibility.
Some bemoan it, some welcome it, but few can deny it.