Monday, April 04, 2005

About the Pope, With a Frown

John Paul II did quite a few good deeds during his earthly sojourn, and many have told us about them, with love, George Bush included. He spoke for peace and for the poor of this world. What also needs to be mentioned is his shadow side. We all have one, even the most saintly among us (the presence of the shadow side being what differentiates humans from angels), and John Paul II had quite a sizable one.

It was the policies of the church that he pushed for which made condoms unacceptable for Catholics in African AIDS-stricken countries. It is probably not possible to measure how many lives could have been saved by a more liberal Catholic church, but this does not mean those lives were not lost.

The pope's social conservatism may have made him close his eyes to the pederasty scandal in the American church, too. It's as if the church was more important for him than the people it was intended to serve here.

John Paul II was, if anything, consistent in his limited view of women (not equal to men) and their allowed roles (mothers and nuns) in this world and in his policies towards gays and lesbians (you must not exist). He showed very little mercy and love in these areas.

Thus, I agree with Frances Kissling in that the next pope could do better than the previous one:

We can only hope that the next pope will engage all Catholics in ways this pope did not. An extraordinary communicator, John Paul II was also a great polarizer. Through the choices he made in dinner companions, papal appointments, religious orders and lay associations, he exacerbated the divide. Women in the North were told that we were exaggerated or extreme feminists and that our desire for autonomy -- bodily, spiritual and intellectual -- was not shared by the good women of the South. First-world Catholic women who believed in radical equality between men and women in the church were demeaned and caricatured by other women whom he appointed to Vatican commissions.

Conservative Catholic intellectuals who had unprecedented access to him and the Curia dined on that access and publicly degraded mainline Christian churches and leaders as irrelevant while lauding conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as true partners in faith. Bullies who spoke to and of those they disagreed with in the ugliest terms were welcomed in the Vatican. I can only cringe at my memory of Randall Terry -- who stood in front of abortion clinics in the United States screaming at women entering those clinics and justifying the murder of healthcare professionals who serve them -- meeting the pope.