Skip to main content

New pope must rebrand church

By Timothy Stanley, Special to CNN
February 28, 2013 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
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
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1833 GMT (0233 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1844 GMT (0244 HKT)
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1644 GMT (0044 HKT)
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 24, 2014 -- Updated 1104 GMT (1904 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT