Is it cosmic confluence or merely a coincidence? On Monday, a pair of seemingly unrelated events unfolded that will have a significant impact on the lives of many Coloradans. First, we awoke to the news that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning, the first Vatican leader to step down in almost 600 years. That afternoon, the Colorado Senate approved Senate Bill 11, which will allow gay couples to establish civil unions, the sixth state to do so. (Another nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, and several others are considering related measures.)

The latter achievement concludes an occasionally bitter and sometimes pointless debate over the rights of gay couples in our state. Last year, partisan shenanigans by the Republican-controlled Legislature stalled and then killed a similar bill even though it had enough supporters to pass. The Pope’s resignation concludes a tenure that also featured considerable bitterness from observers inside and outside the Catholic Church—mostly about its intractable (and ongoing) obfuscation of its internal child abuse scandal, but also due, in part, to the Church’s unwillingness to revisit its stance on the rights of women and homosexuals. This is why the next leader’s most pressing task will be to stem his organization’s continued slide into pointlessness.

The Church has been bleeding members in recent years and has found it tougher than ever to recruit young men into the priesthood. Under Benedict XVI, it seems like it has largely returned to the rigid philosophies that were in place before the so-called Vatican II reforms in the mid-1960s. Given that the current Pope appointed many of the Cardinals who will select his successor, it’s likely that the next pontiff won’t deviate much from Benedict’s established doctrines. The most progressive result anyone could hope for might be that his replacement hails from somewhere outside Europe.

Whoever it is, it’s safe to assume that the next Pope will underline, and probably enforce, the Catholic Church’s position against gay marriage. Whether you agree with this or not, it’s tough to deny that the Church’s unwavering views have made it difficult to maintain its influence in an increasingly modern world. Thank goodness we live in a state that counts itself among the evolving citizenry who have decided that such modernity should be embraced rather than feared.

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