Photo by Efrem Efre on

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and now Ratzinger are dead. Joseph Ratzinger, Cardinal Prince of the Roman Church, former Archbishop of Munich, also known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, died on Saturday morning. It’s less of a shock to the global system when one pope dies when there’s another in office. It’s not like Pope Francis was the backup pope. He’s had the job full-time since 2013. Benedict retired gracefully to write and be the theologian he’d always been. Pope Francis made moves interpreted as centrist (in comparison to Benedict), and Benedict was held up as a guardian of the magisterium (the fancy word for the church’s authority on teaching and doctrine). Benedict represented the frontline in the battle against growing secularism in Europe. He dialed back some of the reforms made by the Second Vatican Council he’d once embraced. He made those accommodations for traditionalists who wanted to use Latin in the mass. Benedict said the quiet part out loud: male clergy would never marry, women would never be ordained, and Protestants remained outside God’s plan for salvation.

I’m afraid I must disagree. I don’t subscribe to the doctrine of Papal infallibility. I believe heaven is big enough and will contain both Protestants and Catholics. I said this all the time when I served in Northern Ireland. It got me into trouble with both Protestants and Catholics. On one occasion, I was jumped and beaten in the street. Protestants screamed at me for going to a Saint Patrick’s Day parade. Catholics bullied our Protestant American children in school.

Jesus was neither a Protestant nor a Catholic. I wondered why Christians would kill each other over doctrinal interpretations for nearly 600 years. This division wasn’t found in the gospels or in Paul. Yet Irish cemeteries were full of people who killed each other over the certainty of whom they believed God was letting past Saint Peter.   

I mourn the death of Pope Benedict. I pray for Pope Francis and those who will gather for his funeral. I never judged his commitment to Jesus Christ. He never met me, but he judged me. To him, people like me (Protestants) were spiritually deficient and lacking in our theology, little more than atheists. We were close but not quite where we needed to be.

I love and respect my Catholic sisters and brothers. I welcome them to our church at any time. Our door is always open. I pray we will one day find a way to worship together that begins from the point of inclusion instead of exclusion. Let us leave our assumptions about who will be in eternity to one side.

Jesus loves me this I know.

Whether any Pope tells me so.

Red and yellow, black and white,

We’re all (Christian, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Shinto, Confucian, Daoist, Fill in the Blank) precious in God’s sight.

–Richard Bryant