By
Melissa Harris Perry
updated 2/18/2013 4:50:31 PM ET 2013-02-18T21:50:31

In her weekly Open Letter, host Melissa Harris-Perry asks the cardinals charged with electing Pope Benedict XVI's successor to make a choice that acknowledges the diverse and complicated lives of Catholics worldwide, and "honors the best of the faith that animates their work."

This week, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world with his announcement that on February 28, he will become the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to step down as leader of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict’s resignation coincides with the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period of self-denial and repentence during which Catholics reflect on the life and teachings of Christ. The new pope will reportedly be in place no later than the end of Lent, on Easter Sunday. It’s fitting that the conclave of cardinals tasked with choosing the next pope will do so during this time of introspection for followers of the faith.

So, my letter this week is to the cardinals who will choose the next pope.

Dear cardinals,

It’s me, Melissa.

When I first began my seminary studies at Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union, I was taught by a priest from West Africa, and sat in class alongside a nun from Iraq, brothers from a fraternal order in South America, and Irish American laywomen from the Northside of Chicago. And I began to appreciate the global reach and inclusiveness of the Church.

Despite our differences, we shared a genuine engagement with Catholicism–not only as a faith, but also as an agent for social change. As you know, Catholicism’s reach extends beyond those of you who hold the reigns of power in Vatican City, and even beyond the Church’s global body of 1.2 billion believers.

As one of the world’s most enduring and influential institutions, the Catholic Church also encompasses all of those around the world who don’t identify with the Catholic faith, but have benefitted from the work of the church and the organizations it has created.

At its best the church has been an advocate for human rights and the dignity of the most marginalized of people–feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and providing care for the sick and disabled. Here in the United States, the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of health care, human services, and education. For low-income families and students of color, Catholic schools have long been the only alternative for an affordable, quality education.

But cardinals, even as the church has been a channel for good, it is has also has been conduit for injustice around the world.

The church’s doctrinal intransigence and insistence on maintaining an image of the pope as infalliable has come at the expense of policies that recognize and address realities in the modern world. Women in underdeveloped and war-torn nations need access to contraception to address crushing poverty, overpopulation, and maternal deaths during childbirth. And yet, in many of these nations where the will of the church holds sway over policy, you in the Vatican have actively worked to undermine any attempts at expanding women’s reproductive freedom.

And not just in the developing world. Here in the United States, your collective of unmarried men seek to deny women employed by Catholic institutions the contraception coverage that should be guaranteed to them by the Affordable Care Act–even if they are not Catholic themselves.

And nowhere have your policies been more devastating than your complicity in the crimes against children committed by the priests who were not held accountable. As you choose the next pope, you have an opportunity to set a more inclusive table for world Catholicism. A table that includes a seat for women who are called to the priesthood. A seat for those whose Catholic faith is as indelible a part of who they are as their LGBT identity. A seat for families who opt for birth control to avoid pregnancies, and those who choose an abortion to end one. And most importantly, a seat for all of the children who deserve justice and action–instead of rhetoric and cover-ups–in response to their suffering at the hands of abusive priests.

I am not here to dictate to you what Catholicism should teach its followers. Although I am not Catholic, my husband is, and our family attends mass every week. I kneel next to extraordinary men and women and in solidarity with Catholics around the world who are seeking meaning and justice.

I am asking you to make a choice that acknowledges their diverse and complicated lives and honors the best of the faith that animates their work.

Sincerely,
Melissa

Video: An opportunity to set a more inclusive table for Catholicism

  1. Closed captioning of: An opportunity to set a more inclusive table for Catholicism

    >>> this week, pope benedict the xvith shocked the world with the announcement that on february 28th , he is going to become the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to step down as the leader of the catholic church . pope benedict 's resignation coin coincides with the beginning of lent, the 40-day period of self-denial and repentance in which the catholics reflect on the teachings of christ. the pope will be replaced by the end of lent, and no later than easter sunday, so it is important that the cardinals tasked with finding a new pope and leader of faith. my next letter going to the pope. dear, cardinals, it is me, melissa. i remember being taught by a priest from south africa and i sat alongside people from south africa and i remember lay women from the north side of chicago and then i appreciated the global inclusiveness of the church and despite the differences we shared a genuine engagement of catholicism for social change . as you know, catholicism goes beyond those who hold the reins in vatican city , and the global body of 2.2 billion believers. as one of the most influential irns tugss, the catholic church encompasses those around the world who don't identify with the catholic faith , but benefit from the work of the church and the organizations it has created. the church has been an advocate for the human rights and the dignity of the most marginalized people, and providing care for the sick, and the homes for the homeless , and food for the hungry . you are the largest provider of health care and education. and for students of color catholic schools are the only affordable alternative for quality education. but cardinals, even as the church has been a channel for good, it has been a conduit for injustice around the world . the doctrine intransigence of the pope being infallible has come at the expense of policies that recognize and address realities in the modern world . women in underdeveloped nations and war torn countries need to have access to contraception, and prevent deaths in childbirth, and yet where the church holds sway over public policy , you and the vatican have undermined any attempt to expand a woman's reproductive freedom and not just in the undeveloped world , but near the united states , that you seek that men tell women that contraceptive coverage be denied to them, even if they are not catholic. and your reaction to the crimes gai against the priests who committed crimes against children and were not punished. as the next pope, you have a role to set the table for world catholicism and a seat for those women called to the priesthood, and those whose faith is as indelible as the lgbt identity identityings and also a seat for those who have an abortion or those who perform them, and i am not here to dictate to you what catholicism should teach the follow followers, my husband is and we at the end mass every week. i kneel next to extrooaordinary men and women all around the world to acknowledge that the life of the people around the world is diverse and complicated, and have structures that animate their

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