Friday, April 01, 2005

Some Thoughts on the Pope

I fully expect to wake up tomorrow with the news that John Paul II has died...I hope I'm wrong (or do I? It's really between him and his Maker, though I certainly don't wish for his death). I'm not a Catholic, so this is somewhat of an outsider's view. I can't think of the current Pope without thinking of Poland, Lech Walesa, and Solidarity. I was becoming politically aware when the stirrings behind the Iron Curtain enveloped the Pope in an assassination attempt that we now definitively know was ordered by the KGB.

Thus, my image of the Pope is entwined with that of Reagan; two strong men who survived bullets and lived long, full lives afterwards. Because I hold this image, I find it a true shame that he has continued to be so active in such a frail state. One wonders if his death wasn't hastened by public appearances that he clearly was not physically up for. Perhaps (probably?) that was his wish, though...

John Paul II will be remembered by theologians as a conservative pope. Now, religious conservativism has little to do with political conservatism. The Pope took positions that many on the right would view as quite liberal. In this case, what is meant is that John Paul II has moved backwards or maintained the status quo on areas where critics of the Catholic Church have long pushed for reforms, such as a repeal of celibacy, women priests, and a changed attitude on birth control. He has consolidated power again in the papacy and the Vatican rather than scatter it among the bishops, and he has maintained a very strict, top-down discipline.

Whether that's a good or a bad thing largely depends on (1) your view of religion, and (2) your view of the Catholic Church as an instituion. I make no judgments here, just offer my thoughts. Without a doubt, though, we're about to lose a man of some courage and a lot of dignity, and that's a sad thought for all of us.

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