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 2:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 10:10 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT