Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Death of John Paul II: Now What?

The Washington Post offers an analysis of the man and his papacy. And makes some points I agree with:

For those who expected more from the modernization -- American priests ordained in the 1960s, say, Catholic women who wanted to be priests or Latin American leaders who wanted a partner in revolution -- the pope not only betrayed his promise but locked the church in place for years to come.

"I'm of the generation of priests who were euphoric about the idea that the church could change," said the Rev. Andrew Greeley, an author and columnist. "And while I recognize all his great talents, I think he pulled the plug on it, and that greatly dismays me."


Each time an encyclical was anticipated, many Catholics, especially in the United States, waited for a shift in policy. And each time they were disappointed, as the pope reinforced church orthodoxy on the role of women, sexual ethics, homosexuality. The pope enforced his rulings by appointing a huge percentage of the bishops and cardinals now serving worldwide, more than 90 percent in the United States alone, men who would be faithful to his vision.

To the Catholics who felt betrayed by how little he changed the church, his popularity was a kind of trick, the thing that most reminded them of the gap between what he appeared to be and what he was. "Because of his travels and television, he may have more prestige than any pope in history," said McBrien. "But he has very little influence on the lives of Catholic lay people. They see him and cheer for him. But there's not much substance" in his effect on them.

Ultimately, he was hard to categorize in the American context. The terms liberal and conservative "just don't apply to him," said Glendon, the philosopher. He opposed abortion and the death penalty; he was equally passionate about the role of the male priesthood as he was about workers' rights. Conservatives accepted his teachings on morality but played down his emphasis on social justice and the limits of the free market. Liberals did the opposite. "But you can't pick and choose," Glendon said.

I'm wondering how much influence he had on the rightward tilt of much of culture these days. We could have made major strides culturally with his leadership, but the Roman Catholic church now seems stuck and hard-edged. Birth control, LGBT issues, women's roles... so many issues causing so much pain.

Yes, of course, his life leaves a largely positive legacy. But in the end he kept control, and the near future at least does not seem to offer any hope of change--except perhaps to grow even more controlling.

Still, it was hard not to like the man, even respect him. The outpouring of love and joyful grief is moving. I heard Aaron Brown of CNN opining movingly about the impact the pope has had not only on the world, but on himself, a Jew. You can disagree with the pope's positions, but still regard his life and work with admiration and hope.

Rest in peace, Karol.


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