04/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

My Spiritual Journey: The Pope, His Relevance, And Those Sexual Molestation Cases

The big news this week is that Pope Benedict XVI is here for a visit. (Whee! His spiritual journey coincides with my spiritual journey!) And as it turns out, he's finally decided to address that pesky altar-boy molestation thing. Touchy (zing!) subject, here we come.

"It is a great suffering for the church in the United States and for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen...
I am deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible so this cannot happen again in the future. I do not wish to talk at this moment about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is another thing," he said.

Well. That's a nice gesture, I suppose. He did nicely side-step the issue of homosexuality, but can you blame him? One Catholic controversy at a time, people.

OK. Seriously, no more funny. I do appreciate his apology, as do, I'm sure, many of the victims, but my question here, today, Inner Life Wednesday, is: What exactly is he here to do?

It seems like these days the Pope is becoming increasingly irrelevant. I know, I know - not to the millions (65 of 'em in the US!) of devout catholics out there, but come on, haven't they heard that Islam is now the world"s most popular religion?

To me, the Pope's finally public apology is just a metaphor for his position in the world of faith and spirituality: It's a nice gesture, but what exactly does it accomplish?

And, I have to be honest, as a strictly raised Catholic (though, that possibly is the problem) and as someone who's father grew up in the Pope's hometown of Regensburg, I do feel a personal connection to the guy -- that nebulous (at best) less-than-six degrees of separation that makes one feel so much more connected than anyone else. And yet, I have no idea what he does. Seriously, as someone who has every reason to know about and follow the pope (though, I'd hardly consider myself a current Catholic), I'm barely aware of his existence.

Yes, he's the most important man in the Catholic Church, which is arguably the most powerful religion in the world, but what exactly does he do? (Besides decrying gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research, that is.)

Is the Pope considered the physical representation of God on earth? (I should probably already know that or at least be googling it, but I'm lazy so I'm just going to let that question hang. And it has a point, I'm just getting there slowly.) And if he is, wasn't (isn't?) God all good? Wasn't / isn't the point of God just straight-up, undeniable, inarguable, all-around goodness?

So, in that regard, what exactly does the Pope do? I'm not talking bureaucratic nonsense, or structural things, and I'm most definitely not talking symbolic gestures, I'm talking straight-up, down-home good actions.

Feel free to fill me in here, this is not a rhetorical question. I'm not posing it to imply he's doing badly, or doing bad things, I'm asking because I don't know. And on that note, the fact that I don't know manages to simultaneously leave me both worried and utterly unconcerned. On the one hand, shouldn't people be able to easily list all the good deeds the Pope has done? And on the other, I'm a relatively yet embarrassingly unaware person (as many commenters have been oh-so-kind to point out) so maybe it means nothing at all, other than I should probably do some research now and then.

But anyway, back to my point, which you may or may not be able to tell is: What exactly does the Pope do? And not just him. (Here we go!) Now I can't stop thinking of the relevance of all spiritual leaders in today's world.

Organized religions obviously need leaders and heads and whatever their form of a president is, but I've already pointed out my thoughts on organized religion in past posts - it's not for me.

But as far as spiritual leaders go - gurus (yes, I know, I've asked for one), messiahs, etc., -- I ask, what is the point? We're humans and we crave human contact, connection, and probably most importantly the ability to relate, but I'm becoming more and more inclined to believe that spirituality is something that is inside all of us.

Here's the thing. People like me could definitely use a spiritual guide of some sort because I clearly don't know what on earth I'm doing (cue commenter chorus of agreement!) and sometimes I need someone to say, "Hey, try this out!" or "Hey, did you ever think about this?", but would I ever allow one person to dictate my actions or determine what is and isn't right in my life? Absolutely not.

I understand that some people are unable to do that on their own, but isn't that yet another point? We treat spiritual leaders like they're gods, but they're not - they're humans and they are no less fallible than we are. Case in point, Catholic priests. (Sorry, it needed to be said.) The way I look at it, the molestation of altar boys has less to do with the Catholic church and more to do with the human fallibility of the priests. But then again, it also speaks to my point that no person should allow one entity to entirely dictate their actions, so, well, it looks like it's just bad news bears all around.

Look, it's time to wrap it up, and I've obviously shared (Over-shared? Rambled?) my thoughts and/or inner meanderings, so let's get to the point of all this, what are yours? And let me be specific: not your thoughts on me - I'm clearly narcissistic enough as it is - but your thoughts on my questions.

Is the pope relevant? How do you feel about him? What exactly does he do? Are spiritual leaders relevant? Why are they needed? What do they do? How do they relate to and/or define spirituality in your world? Clearly, I'm looking for answers. So, help a girl out and give me yours!