Former Ambassador to the European Union and High Commissioner to Britain
It's remotely possible that if the conclave chose a Pope who could adapt the Church and its services to modern needs, rather than expecting the faithful to endorse the 16th century, it might regain some of the influence Karel Wojtyla generated when he weighed in against the Soviet headlock on Eastern Europe, and toured the world with a populist message. Sadly, under him, the Church went top-down all the way, took the priesthood out of local political development, banned worker priests, and condemned liberation theology. Its vindictive attack on mainstream American nuns for seeking rudimentary enhancement of the subservient role of women alienated millions and millions. The persistence of dogma perpetuating priestly celibacy has punished the Church itself as the pool of priests dries up. The scandals deepen.
We are told the Church has high hopes for increasing numbers in Africa,even though pulpits preaching Rome-ordered condemnation of contraception, cost many, many African lives. In any event, if Benedict's blindness to social realities is perpetuated, Europe and North American dioceses will shrink to clusters of pedantic escapees from modern life. Once, the Church had a social message of consequence to American politics. Today, it has morphed into a rigid obsession with abortion.
And yet, the institution is still massively important because of people whose Christian sense of devotion to people is a more powerful animator than blind obedience to out-of-touch Curia autocrats: global Catholic poverty reduction charities like Caritas as well as very canny crisis mediation personnel in the community of Sant'Egidio actually lead the way in addressing global problems at field level (the way priests did back in the day). If only they could lead the Church. Or if only this conclave stacked over 35 years with conservatives could break the mould and showcase these devoted Catholic protagonists as the Church's new global face, beyond politics, acting from the heart and not from musty theological irrelevance.