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Posted on Mon, Feb 18, 2013 : 9:35 a.m.

Catholic Changes: Breaking news from Rome! (or is it)

By Wayne Baker

0218 Portugese Papal Stamps.jpg

The closest most Catholics get to a pope is a TV screen, a newspaper—or sometimes a postage stamp.

From Dr. Wayne Baker: While I am away, please welcome back regular guest columnist Terry Gallagher, whose past series range from Ayn Rand and James Joyce to baseball and aging. This week, Terry tackles the papal transition. Here’s Terry …


Around the world, 117 Catholic cardinals are preparing for a conclave to choose a new pope, a successor to Benedict XVI, whose resignation earlier this month was reported to have shocked the world’s 1 billion Catholics.

Well … not really.

Most Catholics never see a pope — except on television, in newspapers or on postage stamps. Most Catholics never read a word he writes. In fact, many Catholics don’t buy what he’s selling. But the news did open the door for some serious criticism of Catholicism and questions about why Catholics stick with it, despite all the church’s well-documented failings. (Catholic author Catherine Wolff just released an entire book about this question: Why do we stay?)

John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt: A Parable, about intrigue between nuns and a priest in a New York City parish, spoke for many in a New York Times op/ed headlined “Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope.” Shanley referred to the church’s hierarchy as “a crowd of domineering fools.”

“I have watched the wealth of the Catholic Church turned into a subsidy for wrongdoing and a prop for the continuing campaign against women’s rights and homosexuality,” Shanley wrote. “The men who make these decisions are at a remove, very much involved in protecting their power and comfort. I have little reason to hope that the Church of Rome will suddenly realize that without women, the Catholic Church is doomed, and should be doomed.”

Despite all the well-founded criticisms, and the revelations of great evils committed for decades by priests and bishops in this country and around the world, the numbers show the Catholic church is growing, both globally and in the United States as well. Catherine Wolff found 26 top Catholic writers who care enough about their faith that they each contributed profiles of Catholic heroes to her new book. Trouble in the church? Everyone, even Vatican insiders, seem to agree.

But, today, I want to hear what you think at this milestone.

So why does any sensible person remain Catholic?

Do you agree with John Patrick Shanley that the Catholic Church is doomed?

Originally published on

Wayne Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.