We need a Gorbachev in the church, and it's possible. It wasn't that he was such a moral giant. It's that he was a realist in assessing the pressure he was dealing with. He knew the Soviet Union had no future the way it was. Well, the next leader of the Catholic Church — if he's a realist — will know that the church has no future the way it is. That's as obvious as the shortage of priests.
And widespread disregard for the doctrine on contraception —
Every way you would assess the health of this organization, it's unhealthy. You can't have an organization with a middle management that's disillusioned and collapsing, and that's the priesthood. The executive branch of the Catholic Church, the bishops, are morally bankrupt, which is manifest so clearly by their failure to deal with the priest-sex-abuse scandal. Alienated women — the Catholic Church isn't going to be the only institution in the world that's going to stand against the arrival of women. Women have more authority and more power over their lives in Iran than they do in the Catholic Church, and that's a signal of something. The Catholic Church is not going to survive as a misogynistic, anti-female throwback to another world.
It may not be the immediate successor to Pope Benedict. The church moves slowly. The bark of Peter — it's a huge ocean liner, and you know how slow an ocean liner is to change direction. But it's changing.
You mentioned belief in God a moment ago. It's clear, inPracticing Catholic, that the way you understand certain staples of Catholicism and Christianity — God, the Resurrection, life after death — has evolved over the years. Howdoyou understand those things?
Theology presumes philosophy, so when a philosophical paradigm shifts, theological understanding has to be affected. The pre-Copernican, static worldview assumed the cosmos was divided between two spheres: the supernatural and the natural; the other world and this world; eternity and time. Once that gave way to a modern understanding, basic ideas changed.
So, what is the meaning of Jesus's preaching on the Kingdom of Heaven? It isn't about some special suburb in the sky. It's really about existence here and now, living as deeply as we can in the present. Ancient Greek ideas about the immortality of the soul aren't necessary for Christian faith. The afterlife — I believe that death is not the end, but my belief in the future is dependent entirely on my belief in God. It doesn't depend on my assumptions about my own immortality.
I talk in the book about a "second naïveté," in which I embrace the basic traditions of the creed, but understand that I believe them differently than the authors of the creed would have. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, for sure. But if a video camera had been running nonstop from Good Friday through Easter Sunday, and you could have access to the tape, what would it show? Would it show the body of Jesus being reconstituted, the molecules reassembling so he'd be revived, and then Jesus casting aside the shroud and getting up from the slab? My faith doesn't depend on what the video camera would capture, because faith isn't addressed to a video camera; it's addressed to human beings. I do believe in the resurrection. But I don't think it means the revival of the physical body the way I did in grade school.