Here comes the Pope, whose disposition for bad news, one may hope, is a strong one, inasmuch as the U.S. media keep dishing out the bad tidings. The media theme is that, whatever else His Holiness may find here, in addition to an endless diet of presidential campaign news, he will find a flock looking askance at him.
"A growing segment of U.S. Catholics," says a Catholic professor quoted in the Washington Post, "are essentially developing their own religion, in tension with the hierarchy but vibrant and spiritual." The Post notes that more Catholics than members of the public at large support legal protections for same-sex unions, as well as for the legality of abortion "in all or most cases." Additionally, the paper says, "large swaths of Catholics also part ways with (Pope) Benedict's teachings on immigration, the Iraq war and capital punishment."
A New York Times headline writer calls U.S. Catholics "pained and uncertain." Just 22 percent of American Catholics, according to a poll by an arm of the Jesuit-run Georgetown University, profess themselves "very satisfied" with their bishops, whereas nearly the same percentage are "somewhat dissatisfied."
Were the papacy elective -- which it is, just not in the American sense -- Chris Matthews and Charlie Gibson might be posing the earnest question: How long can this papacy last? There would be echoes of the matter on "Oprah Winfrey." It could be observed when a leader loses his "base vote" (not that Benedict is quite there, mind you) the deathwatch begins. And so on, because that's what makes news these days, pal: Leaders in Trouble. It helps explain our endless diet of presidential campaign news.
A point worth noting about Pope Benedict XVI is how much longer the game he is in has lasted than the one in which Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain currently figure. The very first pope was one Simon Peter, a fisherman of repute, known as the "Rock." This Peter was an individual who combined strength with fragility. His low moment: the three-time denial of his master. His high one, perhaps: crucifixion head down, for the same cause as that of the master he had denied. Noted (and sometimes not-so-noted) successors coped with wars, persecutions, schisms, fallings-away, carnalities, calumniations, repudiations and defilements. You name it, the papacy has seen it, and endured.