The Catholic Church and the Republican Party have a stunning similarity: each seems out of step with the modern world.
Their very foundations are their own worst enemies. Each is steeped in outdated ideology that making needed changes would be extremely difficult. Many ideas that drive advocates and potential members away are the same ideas that define their very identities.
Both have been preoccupied with sex. Each is seen by many as waging a war on women that includes curtailing abortion rights and contraceptives and preventing same sex marriage.
Millions of Catholics do not agree with the church's stands on celibacy for priests, contraception and ordination of women. But could the church turn away from these age-old standards? Likewise, people see hypocrisy in the Republican Party's desire to rid us of regulation while urging government to interfere in our sex lives.
The Republican Party knows it must attract minorities to win elections. While the party appears unable to give up its focus on abortion and contraception, many of its leaders have decided to woo minorities by pursuing immigration reform and accepting gay marriage as inevitable. Will that be enough?
Probably not, because many minorities see the GOP as the party of the affluent, of tax breaks for the rich and anti-regulation policies that have created the widest income disparity in history. This belief is reinforced by the Paul Ryan budget proposal that would reduce the federal deficit by protecting the super-rich from slightly higher tax rates at the expense of the middle class and the poor. If the party gave up these standards, would it lose its raison d'être?
The Republican Party knows it must change, but does the Catholic Church? There are signs.
Being a Jesuit, Pope Francis seems to hold doctrinal reform high on his priority list. He has said that the church must turn away from self-absorption and theological narcissism and toward the embrace of others. He has signaled that he will focus more on liberation theology by helping the poor, but will he be able to exhort the traditionalists to help him stem the tide of discontent among the previously devout, but alienated young Catholics?
Like the GOP, the church seems stuck between a hard place and Satan himself, because to do what is necessary would mean a repudiation of fundamental principles. But Pope Francis might be able to pull it off. He has the unilateral power to do almost anything theistic, whereas the Republican Party has no similar strength.
Priests tell me that Pope Francis could change things overnight. He could decree that celibacy is no longer required, that women could be ordained and that contraception was needed to combat AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and abortions. He could justify all of this by saying that the church needs to discard distractions and get back to the true teachings of Jesus — -that of helping the widows, orphans and downtrodden in a cruel world.
So while it is theoretically possible for the Catholic Church to regain its once-idolized relevance, could the Republican Party do the same? The Apostle Thomas would probably doubt it.
Marty Solomon, a retired University of Kentucky professor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.