Saturday, April 02, 2005

Goodbye to Pope John Paul II

Non-catholic outsider I am, but John Paul's contradictions move me to write about Karol Jozef Wojtyla, 1920-2005 who became the first Polish pope, and the first non-Italian pope for over four hundred years. He is given credit for helping Polish communism crumble, and thus contributed to the eventual end of the USSR. And yet he was a severe critic of modern capitalist society. He was seen to have liberated many from the heavy hand of communism, but severely treated those who advocated liberation in Latin America. He constantly visited the poorest nations in the world, and preached against the causes of poverty and suffering. However, by continuing the church's invectives against birth control and the use of condoms, he condemned more people to poverty and suffering and death from AIDS than perhaps any human in history.

He venerated Mary, and was reportedly very respectful of individual women, but made the rejection of the ordination of women a major part of his papacy, and continued the destructive policy of denying birth control to women. He loved children, and was a strong advocate of priestly celibacy, but made no effort to stop the sexual abuse of children by priests all around the world.

In his treatment of gay persons, Pope John Paul was positively schizophrenic. In his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed to those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.
Later, in his 2005 book Memory and Identity, John Paul labeled homosexuality an "ideology of evil." And yet -- not a sin!

He was the first pope to visit a mosque or synagogue, or visit modern Israel, even calling the Jewish people "our elder brothers." And he was the first to apologize for the horrifying paralysis of the Roman Catholic Church during the Second World War, when there was no Catholic action to protect Jews. However, he enraged Jews around the world by beatifying a French Jewish Catholic convert. Although he labored to make ties with other religious leaders around the world, he left little ecumenical progress. The Eastern Catholic church accused him of "poaching" their adherants in the newly-opened countries of the former USSR. Talks with the Anglican church were broken off when they began ordaining women.

Although I'm sure he saw no contradiction, the Pope's strong stand against both abortion and capital punishment split American political views neatly in half. And although he met with conservative American leaders such as George Bush, and agreed with him on abortion and some other issues, he spoke strongly against capital punishment, and was seen as one of the world moral leaders against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. He stood against authoritarianism in government, but centralized the Catholic church even more than it was previously. This in contrast to the growing pressure from the Catholic laity for more local control of parishes and dioceses.

Although Africa is the only continent on which the Catholic church is growing, the Pope continued to declare any use of condoms as sinful. Consequently, AIDS is destroying and entire generation of Africans. And in Latin America, where the Church is declining, he punished those who taught the Liberation Theology which was carrying the continent towards social justice and social change. Although there are not enough priests for most parishes, he refused to reconsider the ordination of women or married men.

He began his papacy projecting a young, vital image. He was even a skier! But he ended his reign by exposing his ill-health and increasing weakness to the public more than any world leader in history.

All in all, it will be very interesting to see what the cardinals decide for the future. Can they possibly elect another man with such enormous contradictions to carry the Roman Catholic Church into the 21st century? Will there be a Third Vatican Council to bring the Church closer to world leadership again? The reforms of the Second Council seem very long ago and far away, along the hope those reforms brought to the world. Will the tensions within the Church crack it apart? The contrast between the Church left behind by John Paul II, and that left behind by Pope John XXIII could not be greater. Much beloved Pope? By the size of the crowds, evidently so. But a *great* Pope? Only time will tell.


Well, now the RC church has decided to stay on JPII's road, for a while. Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) cannot live forever, thank goodness! For another view, from a Catholic from Chicago, see the Sun-Times columnist Andrew Greeley's opinions: He quotes: "'It is wrong to say that the Holy Spirit elects the pope because there have been popes the Holy Spirit would never elect.' Source? Joseph Ratzinger."

He who allows oppression shares the crime. - Erasmus Darwin

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