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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1228 GMT (2028 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT