I Woulda Made a Great Pope

by gillis

I hear they’re electing a new pope. Sounds like fun. A bunch of old guys hanging out, talking about the glory days when millions of followers hung on their every word. We all know The Church, as the Roman Catholic Church is wont to call themselves, has seen better days. In fact, when I was kid, a very Catholic kid with six sisters to show for it, I loved everything about The Church. I loved going to Mass, enjoyed going to confession, and during the summer before fifth grade I attended mass daily and volunteered relentlessly to read the daily scripture passages in the most fire and brimstone voice I could muster. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until sixth grade that I began meeting regularly with the school psychologist, but that’s another blog post altogether.

You see, I dreamed of being a priest. I told anyone who asked that I was going to be a priest when I grew up. Inevitably they would say, “Don’t you mean nun, dear?” and I would most emphatically say, “No, I’m going to be a priest. And if there aren’t any girl priests by the time I grow up, I’ll be the first one.” This usually earned me a look of pity and a tap on the head, as if to say “how cute,” which royally pissed me off. I could not imagine that I would not one day have my own congregation to lead. It seemed unfathomable that the church would turn someone of my passion and skill away. Didn’t the old ladies at daily mass compliment me on my expression as I read those verses at 7 am? And didn’t I have most of the mass itself memorized so that I could reanact it daily with my assembly of stuffed animals? Yeah, so maybe I ruined a pillow case or two to make myself a cassock and perhaps I “borrowed” a missalette from the church pew in order to learn all of the words to the Apostolic Creed, how else was I going to practice being a priest when they wouldn’t even let me be an altar girl? Adding insult to injury, every time we had to write essays in school about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I wasn’t allowed to write about wanting to be a priest so I had to make things up. If I couldn’t be a priest or Cher, there was no way I wanted to grow up at all.

Actually, priests and Cher had a lot in common. They wore shiny things and performed weekly for an audience. Cher, unfortunately had Sonny, but she also had back up dancers. Priests had altar boys, kids I knew too, who would fetch things and hold things for them. Getting a brainiac kid like Kevin Daly to hold onto my hand towel, now that would be power!  And even the priests with lousy voices, like Father Arthur, could sing as loudly as they wanted and we all had to endure that off-pitch prayer without complaint or snicker. I would be a much better priest than that I reasoned, because I can actually sing, and my people wouldn’t be cringing through half the mass. I would be putting them out of their misery.

Well, time marched on, at least for me if not for the Catholic church. I made my way through high school, went to college (yes, a Catholic, liberal arts college) and the church and I parted ways. I’m not saying it’s solely because I wasn’t let into the priesthood. In all honesty, once puberty hit I wasn’t all that interested in living a celibate life. But certainly the extremely limited role that women are allowed to play in the Catholic church was a major reason for my “giving up being Catholic” for Lent about 25 years ago. Interestingly enough, I think it’s the only lenten sacrifice I made that I stuck with once those forty days were over.

I wish the cardinals in Rome well. I hope they elect someone who understands that the church has to remove the log from its own eye before pointing out the sliver in anyone else’s. Someone who thinks globally and acts with compassion. Someone steeped in issues of social justice and someone who can steer the church into relevancy once again. Someone willing to sacrifice some power for more transparency. It’s too late for me to ever consider rejoining the church, but there may a few others out there who might be swayed. If they make the right choice.