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By Thomas F. O'Neill

    The news of Pope Benedict XVI resigning as Pope took me by surprise because being raised a Catholic I was always taught the Pope is Pope for life. Pope Benedict XVI is the first Pope to resign in nearly six centuries so for modern day Catholics this sort of thing doesn't happen.
    I was born when Pope John XXIII was Pope he was considered by many to be the most progressive Pope in our modern era. He brought about Vatican II but unfortunately he died before the changes went into effect.
    Pope Paul VI was the next Pope and many Church historians feel he did harm to Vatican II. He pulled in the reins and rescinded many of the changes that Pope John XXIII wanted to see come about. In the 1960ís many Catholics were very disappointed with the little progress that came out of Vatican II.
    Pope John Paul I was the next Pope but he was Pope for only 33 days. His death came shortly after he announced plans to clean house at the Vatican. His death became fodder for all sorts of documentaries and books for the conspiracy minded.
    Pope John Paul II was then elected Pope and many considered him the greatest modern day Pope. He was only 57 years old when he took over and he ruled the Vatican during the fall of the Soviet Union.
    The world also witnessed his declining health and the deterioration of his mental capacities due to the ravages of Parkinsonís decease. Some say Pope John Paul IIís failing health was the reason for the Vaticanís slow reaction to the world wide coverage of the pedophile sex abuse scandals at the hands of Priests.
    The sex crimes against innocent children by Priests cost the Church Billions of Dollars that were paid out to the victims. How the Church handled those crimes is still the subject of outrage throughout Europe and the United States.
    Pope Benedict XVI was fully aware of the numerous child sex abuse cases that came to his desk at the Vatican when he was a Cardinal under Pope John Paul II. He later found himself the focus of those atrocities through the worldwide media shortly after he became Pope.
    Under Pope Benedict XVI watch there were financial scandals, leaked documents aimed at embarrassing the Pope and money laundering at the Vatican Bank. The Italian newspapers also ran stories of power struggles among various cardinals at the Vatican. It is now understandable why the current Pope would want to step down and the world now waits in anticipation as to who will be his successor.
    I grew up in Shenandoah a small coal mining town in north eastern Pennsylvania in the United States. There are many Catholics in the coal region of Pennsylvania and many Catholic Churches. The changing demographics in the coal region have caused many churches to consolidate and many catholic schools to close. It is mostly due to a lack of vocations, church attendance, donations, and serious financial issues among the churches and schools.
    The students who attend the parochial schools are getting a decent education compared to the public education system. However, for the majority in the coal region a catholic school education is beyond their reach due to poverty. If the majority could afford such an education the catholic schools would not be closing.
    There are no simple answers in raising our national education standards either. Our public schools are failing due to a substandard education system. The catholic schools are certainly doing a much better job when it comes to educating our youth and it is mostly due to the low enrollment numbers. The teachers can take more time in helping the students with their individual needs. The teachers in the parochial schools are less burdened with overcrowded classrooms and with unruly students.
    The national teachers unions are also the greatest impediment in reforming the public school system. It is harder to get rid of the mediocre teachers in the public sector who seem to be the most protected by the unions.
    The Roman Catholic Church is not just facing monetary challenges in our region it is also facing a daunting challenge in making itself relevant.
    Pope Benedict XVI does not recognize the declining numbers in church attendance as a crisis for the Church. His response was our church will be much smaller and much stronger. That response angered some Cardinals especially some American Bishops who see strength in numbers. They are also looking for ways to bring back the wayward Catholics to the catholic faith.
    One problem facing the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. and Europe is that the church is losing its relevance for the average catholic. The modern day issues in a fast changing world seem to be jet streaming past the outdated mandates of the Roman Catholic Church. Todayís Catholics also have to deal with putting food on the table, daunting unemployment, paying their mortgage and bills. The 24/7 worldwide news stories make us more informed about world events but it can also make us more cynical when it comes to corruption and cover-ups.
    I do not see a religious crises taking place in our country and abroad but rather a spiritual crises. Religion may not be the answer for many in our information age but at the same time there is a deep spiritual hunger in the world. The more humanity evolves spiritually the greater the divide will become between institutionalized religions and personal spiritual growth.
    Pope Benedict XVI failed to understand that people in our modern era are searching for ways to connect to their spiritual nature, not artificial, non-substantive, religious mandates, that have no relevance in their daily lives.
    The failure of the Roman Catholic Church to connect with the modern era was not Pope Benedict XVI personal failure but rather the failure of the Roman Catholic institution as a whole. I do not see a brighter future for the Church if they continue to be non-progressive in a progressively changing world.
    Here in China where I live and teach there are approximately 12 million Catholics and the Churches and Schools are thriving. They donít seem to have the same difficulties facing the Catholic Church in the U.S. and Europe.
    A couple of my students here in Suzhou, China mentioned in my class about the Pope resigning and the issues behind his resignation. I told them my history of being raised Catholic and some of my students seem somewhat perplexed as to how people could believe in such things especially in China.
    In a somewhat humorous way when the subject of Catholicism comes up in my class I simply tell my students that I am a recovering Catholic and that I have to take it one day at a time. I am not a practicing catholic or a religious person but I am spiritual by nature.
    I believe that in some ways my coming to China was my salvation and I am supposed to be here. I am here at this particular time and place in my life for a particular reason. That is not a religious belief or a religious practice it is just something I have come to understand on a spiritual level.
    I like to tell my students "when you move in the direction of the flow you will find it takes you in the direction of your true destiny." Then in a humorous way I tell them "when the student is ready the master will appear."
    My students always laugh and say ďyou are our master Mr. Tom.Ē

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F OíNeill

    U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

    Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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