The Smoke was Black
I have a great fear for Holy Mother Church, and that is that Cardinal Ratzinger or someone quite similar to him will come out on top before the week is out, and that would be the final rejection of the hopes that John XXIII had for the Church when he called Vatican II in the 1960s. The forces of centralization would finally win.
For those not familiar with Vatican II, it was John XXIII's attempt to bring the Church into the modern world, and set right some of the wrongs that had been perpetrated. One of the big things to come out of the conference was the notion of "collegiality"...or in other words, decentralization. That particular Holy Father looked at the world that had come out of World War II, and decided that he needed to loosen the reigns on the rank and file and get some new blood flowing through the Church's veins.
However, in the decades since, the opposite has happened. The Church hierarchy had decided that the lay community didn't need to be involved with how the Church was run. Just tithe, confess, and shut up. That formula doesn't work any more.
John Paul II was the most authoritarian Pope in his perspective of the 20th century. While he did much good in his 26 years, he also ossified the Church. He was more interested in asserting his Slavic outlook (and being half Russian myself, I can tell you that we Slavs are really big on control), that he never really made the attempt to get out and listen to the rank and file Catholic in the pew and see what he or she saw for the Church.
One of the leading contenders for the Papacy right now is JPII's theological watchdog--Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. His centralization tendencies are just as strong as--if not stronger than--JPII's. The Church would be making a grevious mistake by electing someone like this. The pedophilia scandals have severely weakened the moral authority of the Church to dangerous levels, and the Church's intial response to the scandal made it worse...they essentially did nothing. There were no measures to clean out the "filth" (in that regard, the Cardinal and I agree about there being more than a few degenerates in a clerical collar). Instead, a seige mentality developed. I blame this squarely on the sin of centralization.
I am not in any way calling for an overturning of the basic tenets of Church doctrine....I'm not calling for female ordination, or the sanctioning of gay marriages. I am calling for a new spirit of open-ness. I'm calling for an acceptance of while the Pope is infallible, he need not have his hands on the wheel at all times--sometimes, he can let the car be driven by the faithful in the Church. He doesn't need to do all the thinking--it's okay to delegate authority and allow for a certain degree of latitude on the diocese level. We aren't children. We have much to contribute to how the Church runs...and some of us may have ideas on how to improve how the Church functions. I fear, though, that if a Ratzinger-style control freak comes out on top, then that will be lost, and the jury is out as to whether that spirit can survive. Wea are already in a struggle to hold on what we have. Sometimes, we have to take risks to protect what we have. We need a visionary, not a bureaucrat. We need an optimist, not a purveyor of gloom and doom. We need to get back to our bread and butter---social justice and the poor. We need to give Catholics a reason to feel good about Catholics again, which is something that has been lacking for many years amongst many of the laity. We need to find our heart again.