New pope, but not new church - Greg Gelpi

Newsroom, dinner table and Internet chat rooms swirled in debate, but was there anything really to debate?

Would a conservative be chosen? Perhaps a liberal? Maybe a minority or even an American?

As the white smoke drifted through the chimney of the Vatican, the fires of debates were put out with the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI.

Through all of the questions, ponderings and musings, I remained confused as to all of the buzz.

As a lifelong Catholic, certainly I acknowledge and realize the importance of the pope and the papacy, but I don't foresee, nor do I expect, major theological changes to emerge with the election of a new pope.

Polls on television showed what positions Catholics felt the pope should change.

How quick we forget that the underlining pinnings of the religion aren't the whims of the guy who is in charge, but rather a long tradition of theology and interpretation of the Bible.

Wishful thinking held out for a pope who would make sweeping changes to the Catholic church, making the church change to fit the people, rather than having the people change to fit the church.

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that more than a third of American Catholics surveyed said the new pope should be more liberal than Pope John Paul II. It also found that American Catholics believe the new pope should allow priests to marry, women to be priests, the use of birth control and stem cell research.

The poll demonstrated what long has bothered me about critics of the Catholic church and critics of organizations in general.

Catholicism is based on a fixed set of beliefs, not a set of ever-changing public opinion, latest trend or some matter of convenience or personal taste.

As it was described to me through my years of Catholic education, Catholicism isn't a cafeteria-style religion in which the faithful pick and choose which items to make part of their beliefs and which ones not to make part.

People can freely choose to accept the beliefs of a religion or not, but if they don't they should be seeking change within the religion to conform to their beliefs. Catholicism wouldn't be Catholicism if every person was able to mold it in order to make it fit into his or her life. It would be call Joe Blow-ism, Susie Q-ism, etc.

The word catholic does mean "universal," and that isn't no coincidental.

A new pope, a new leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, will certainly bring changes to the church, but those changes will not alter the course or the beliefs of the church.

So-called "pro-choice" activists shouldn't wait on the edges of their seat for a papal decree allowing for abortions, and neither should anyone else wait for sudden swift shifts in church doctrine, traditions or beliefs.

Greg Gelpi covers education for the News Daily. He can be reached at ggelpi@news-daily.com or (770) 478-5753 Ext. 247.