What the Church needs now

Religion without renunciation has obvious appeal. But its cultural consequences are not all self-evidently positive. Absent ideals of chastity, people are less likely to form families. Absent ideals of solidarity, more people live and age and die alone. The social landscape that we take for granted is one that many earlier generations would have regarded as dystopian: sex and reproduction have both been ruthlessly commodified, adult freedoms are enjoyed at the expense of children’s interests, fewer children grow up with both a mother and a father, and fewer and fewer children are even born at all…

If Catholicism has a future in the Western world as something more than a foil, an Other and a symbol of the Benighted Past We Have Safely Left Behind, it needs its leaders to set an example that proves these voices wrong. Before anything else, that requires a generation of priests and bishops who hold themselves to a higher standard — higher than their immediate predecessors, and higher than the world.

It also requires more from the new pope than an evocative name and a humble posture. Catholicism needs someone like Pius V, the 16th-century pontiff at whose tomb Francis prayed on the day after his elevation — a disciplinarian whose housecleaning helped further the Counter-Reformation. The Vatican needs purgation at the top, to enable real renewal from below. And the church as a whole needs to offer and embody proof — in Rome, the local parish and everywhere in between — that the alternative Catholicism preaches can actually be lived.