Skip to main content

New pope must rebrand church

By Timothy Stanley, Special to CNN
updated 11:20 AM EST, Thu February 28, 2013
Pope Benedict XVI waves in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in December 2012. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. Pope Benedict XVI waves in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican in December 2012. Benedict, 85, announced on Monday, February 11, that he will resign at the end of February "because of advanced age." The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Timothy Stanley: The church that Benedict XVI leaves is beset by problems new pope must face
  • New pope must "rebrand" church, move beyond travails, reinvigorate Catholicism, he says
  • Stanley says fundamentals can't change, but pope can reconsider celibacy rule
  • Church should deal openly with sex abuse scandal, maintain doctrinal authority, he says

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- Pope Benedict XVI gave an emotional farewell in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday. The moment said a lot about his papacy. On the one hand, the square was packed with an estimated 150,000 enthusiastic Catholics eager to show him love and respect. On the other hand, the pope's remarks conceded that his papacy was often a troubled one: "There were moments," he said, "as there were throughout the history of the church, when the seas were rough and the wind blew against us and it seemed that the Lord was sleeping."

The church that Benedict will no longer lead is indeed beset with problems -- its legacy of child sexual abuse, declining presence in the West, reputation for anachronism and, most recently, embarrassing allegations of a gay sex scandal in the hierarchy. The next pope is going to have to move the church beyond these travails to reinvigorate Catholicism for the 21st century. To borrow a much abused marketing term, he is going to have to subject it to a rebranding.

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

Benedict was right to qualify his remarks about the present troubles by noting that the church has had many such moments before. It has survived being split in two (the schism of 1054), having two competing popes (the Great Schism of 1378 to 1417) and outright heresy (the Reformation of the 16th century).

It has twice confronted and found compromise with the tide of modernity -- the First Vatican Council confronted liberalism in 1869-1870 and the Second Vatican Council accommodated socialism and secularism in 1962-1965. Despite the tiredness or unfashionability that can come with old age, the church has always managed to find enthusiastic converts. Contrary to popular perceptions, Catholicism continues to add followers and priests and is growing fastest in the developing world. Sixteen percent of the world's Catholics now live in Africa.

So the next pope will have no reason to panic. Neither will he have any reason to mess with church fundamentals. Indeed, he cannot do this -- Catholic doctrine is a complex web and removing one strand of belief (by changing strictures against abortion, divorce, women priests, for example) would threaten the entire structure.

Opinion: Next pope must tackle child sex abuse

One belief justifies another (the church's attitude toward contraception flows from its understanding of what life is and God's role in it) and conceding that the church has been wrong on something in the past opens the door to reassessing its entire theology -- if the church was wrong about the gender of priests, is it wrong about the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary or transubstantiation, the literal, not symbolic, transformation of bread and wine into the physical presence of Christ?

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Interestingly, the one area where theology is governed by law rather than doctrine -- and so is theoretically open for debate -- is priestly celibacy. That's why some are floating it as a must-see reform for the next pope.

If the pope cannot get depressed and cannot rewrite the Catechism, he can at least rebrand -- in the purest sense of the word.

News: Was he the right man for the job?

When you rebrand a product, you don't change the content, just the packaging. The Catholic Church needs a pope who will communicate timeless messages in a new way. A good start would be reforming the machinery of the church, known as the Curia. The press office needs a total overhaul (incredibly, it still closes for a siesta at lunch), and the church needs to drop its heavy reliance upon the Italian language (when Benedict visited Poland, he spoke in Italian rather than the more widely used English or German).

What some Catholics want in next pope
CNN Explains: Papal succession

Crucially, the personnel and outlook desperately need to be internationalized, to shift from a Eurocentric point of view to one that feels more embedded in the Americas, Africa and Asia. An obvious step toward that would be the appointment of a pope from somewhere other than Italy -- Ghanaian Peter Turkson and Nigerian Francis Arinze are two obvious contenders. The conservative theology of Turkson is a great example of how a rebrand wouldn't necessarily mean compromising the faith; liberals might cheer his ethnicity but despise his conservatism on matters sexual.

Opinion: Benedict a pope aware of his flaws

Whoever makes it to the Holy See, his priority must be to bring a sense of order to chaos and make it clear that the church is getting to grips with its problems. As Jeff Anderson writes, he must deal honestly and openly with the problem of child abuse -- naming names and welcoming independent investigators. He must travel and engage with different faiths. He must articulate truths in language that doesn't turn people off. He must make it clear that the church is open and welcoming to women. He must continue Benedict's good work in encouraging beauty and prayer in liturgy.

All of this can be done while renewing orthodoxy rather than rejecting it -- preserving the timeless authority of church doctrine. The experience of the early years of John Paul II's pontificate proves that energy and charisma can revitalize the church without surrendering entirely to modern thinking.

Finally, we must thank Benedict for making this rebranding possible. By stepping aside early, he has given Catholics a chance to prepare thoughtfully and carefully for the future. It was a humble act that might prove his greatest legacy to the church that he so dutifully served.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 8:15 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT