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Pope John Paul II - A Legacy

Pope John Paul II, the 264th pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, has been laid to rest after the largest funeral in the history of mankind, and the Vatican and various groups within the Church are busy burnishing the late pontiff's legacy. I am struck, however, by the silence of most MSM, and even the bloggers, in any honest, rational evaluation of his papacy.

Since the death of Pope John Paul II, criticism of him or the Church of any kind has been verboten. Prior to the funeral, CNN's Christiane Amanpour had the audacity to point out that this Pope during his papacy had been largely inaccessible to the media. Ms. Amanpour was roundly excoriated for even a criticism as benign as that. How dare she! Yet, when the dust settles, I believe the legacy of Pope John Paul II, beloved as he was, will be viewed by historians as shortsighted; generally hurtful to the Church in general; and even disastrous for Catholicism in many parts of the world.

In the last one hundred years, the world has seen fantastic advances in mathematics and science, medicine, human rights, quality of life, and the education of mankind in general. There has been progress made in virtually every aspect of our lives, yet Pope John Paul II, seen within the Catholic Church as a defender of traditional faith, was content to advocate the status quo for over a quarter of that time.

To his credit, Pope John Paul II was a staunch advocate for peace in the world. He spoke out against communism in the late 1970's and into the 1980's, and his visits to Poland can be given some credit for rise of Solidarity and the demise of the communist regime there.

During his papacy, Pope John Paul II traveled almost 700,000 miles, visiting 129 countries, with huge crowds greeting him at every stop. During his funeral mass there were calls by some of the mourners for immediate sainthood for their late pontiff. He was loved and revered by the faithful everywhere.

For the Church's sake, it would have been nice to have had a pope who was good at more than pressing the flesh. History will record, after time and reflection, that the vision one might expect from a great leader was sorely lacking during Pope John Paul II's papacy. This lack of vision left a legacy in which there were three major deficiencies.

Change is often a hard thing to accept and the ability to envision and implement change is incrementally more difficult. People often rail against change when it is thrust upon them. Some people are dragged kicking and screaming to it. Sadly, change to Pope John Paul II was only the coins jangling around in the offertory. There was virtually no substantive change within the Church that he was prepared to embrace.

With the advent of HIV and AIDS in the early 1980's, Pope John Paul II's conservative, even medieval, viewpoints concerning birth control were shortsighted at the very least, and undoubtedly catastrophic, for an untold multitude. Even as the the HIV/AIDS epidemic raced across the African continent, this pope remained steadfast in his belief that the Church should promote the traditional values of abstinence and faithfulness (certainly worthwhile positions), and refused to allow the Church to sanction, much less the promote, the usage of condoms. This unyielding, traditional doctrine ultimately condemned many thousands of men, women, and children to slow, horrific, unnecessary deaths, with many more to follow in the coming years.

The Catholic News Service, in an article written by Carol Glatz, reported that Pope John Paul II, "from his 10th-floor room at Gemelli hospital" just four weeks before his death, "personally delivered a written message to Tanzanian Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam and Bishop Severine Niwemugizi of Rulenge." The the Vatican released the message on March 11, 2005, and the Catholic News Service quoted the message in part:

Programs that link economic aid to family planning are "affronts to the dignity of the person and the family" and must be resisted, Pope John Paul II said in a written message to bishops from Tanzania.

"The unjust practice of linking programs of economic assistance to the promotion of sterilization and contraception must be strenuously resisted," he wrote.

Such programs "threaten to undermine the authentic Christian understanding of the nature and purpose of marriage," which must always be open to the generation of new life, said the text.


Part of the church's response to this epidemic must be to communicate that "fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside it are the only sure ways to limit the further spread of the infection," the pope wrote.

The Catholic News Service article went on to note that:

An estimated 2 million of Tanzania's 32 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Seventy percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide live in Africa.

The National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services reported in July 2004:

As of the end of 2003, an estimated 37.8 million people worldwide - 35.7 million adults and 2.1 million children younger than 15 years - were living with HIV/AIDS. Approximately two-thirds of these people (25.0 million) live in Sub-Saharan Africa; another 20 percent (7.4 million) live in Asia and the Pacific.

Worldwide, approximately 11 of every 1000 adults aged 15 to 49 are HIV-infected. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 7.5 percent of all adults in this age group are HIV-infected.

An estimated 4.8 million new HIV infections occurred worldwide during 2003; that is, about 14,000 infections each day. More than 95 percent of these new infections occurred in developing countries.

Yet the Roman Catholic Church, in the face of these horrific statistics, forbids the use of condoms in its doctrine.

In the United States, the proclivity of many priests to molest little boys went seemingly unnoticed by this papacy, the silence from Rome almost deafening. The child molestation scandal and the ensuing cover-up by the hierarchy has driven many congregants from the Church. At the present time, it is estimated that only 25% of Catholics in the United States attend mass on a weekly basis and, in the areas where the abuse was the greatest, the financial cost has driven many dioceses to the verge of bankruptcy.

When Cardinal Bernard F.Law of Boston, who swept the child molestations under the rug by moving the perpetrators around from one parish to another in effect allowing them to molest even more children, tendered his resignation under the weight of waning attendance, a lack of contributions, and a multitude of lawsuits, Pope John Paul II inexplicably named him archpriest of the patriarchal Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of the four major basilicas of Rome.

The seemingly indefensible appointment of Cardinal Law to such a prestigious position, albeit a largely ceremonial one, came only two days after the Archdiocese of Boston announced it was closing 65 parishes due, in large part, to the financial crunch caused by the scandal. It has been reported that the payouts to the sexual abuse victims in the Boston Archdiocese alone totaled close to $85 million dollars.

The parish closings created a second group of victims - the parishoners who would now have to deal in their own way with the scandal’s aftermath.

There was also a third group of victims in this case - the good priests who were now looked upon with a modicum of suspicion every time they may have been left alone with a young boy.

But it gets worse! Shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Piero Marini, the Vatican's chief liturgist, announced that Cardinal Law had been inexplicibly chosen by his fellow cardinals to preside at the fourth of nine days of funeral masses being held in St. Peter's Basilica for the late Pope. Each cardinal who officiates during the Novendiales (nine days) is supposed to represent some important ancient or contemporary aspect of the Church.

This scandal has sorely stained the reputation of the Catholic Church and it will be many, many years before the Church is able to regain the trust of the flock. The questions remain: 1) Why was there such a silence from the Vatican about the child molestations? 2) Why was Cardinal Law promoted when he should have been shown the door? One can only speculate why Pope John Paul II did not accept Cardinal Law's resignation and proclaim Good riddance!, but promoting a co-conspiritor in the molestations to such a position only adds salt to the wounds of all the victims.

And finally, the Church, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, has continued to deny women a voice, much less an equal voice, in the celebration of the Catholic faith. During the the last quarter century, women have risen to the task of leading congregations in virtually every Christian religion, except, notably, at the Roman Catholic alter. The Jewish faith has even recognized female rabbis. The Catholic Church, however, has steadfastly refused to allow women to rise above the second class status of the habit, forcing them to remain silent, prostrate to the priests and the Church.

Pope John Paul II seemed to be a very nice man. I'm sure that he did what he felt in his heart was right for the Catholic Church. The fact is that while he was able to travel like no other pope in history had, his travel is really the only remarkable thing about his papacy. Unfortunately, he didn't make the hard choices, but opted instead to bury himself in the doctrines of the past and hence the Church was not well served.

Every religion including Catholicism should be: a place where men and women have an equal voice; a place where reason will outweigh doctrine when it comes to the ravages of a disease such as HIV/AIDS; and a place where the the leaders are willing to admit when there have been abuses and take appropriate steps, to use a heavy hand when necessary, to cure ills within.

The Roman Catholic Church has a rich heritage and culture that has been dormant for much of the past twenty-six years. I pray that the new pope is a visionary, unafraid of change, and a leader with the courage and willingness to drag the Church, kicking and screaming if necessary, into the 21st century.

Posted by Rick | April 13, 2005 11:10 AM

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