Monday, April 04, 2005

Requiem for a Pope

I mused a lot about this one before I sat down to write it. Enough people read this blog (according to the stats) and pay attention to my real opinions, that I knew I'd have to comment a little bit on the passing of this Pope. On the other hand, I'm not Catholic, and about as secular as a person can be. So what am I even qualified to say about him?

Anyhow, I thought real hard, and decided to plunge onwards. Theologically, I'm about as far removed from John Paul II as was possible. So I can't really comment on his theology other than to say I disagreed with absolutely all of it. But that would have been the same for anyone. That said, as a world leader (all Popes, by default, are de facto world leaders) he accomplished some things that were remarkable. He was the first Pope to visit a synagogue. The first to visit a mosque. He had an ecumenical outlook to him that genuinely went a long ways towards helping reduce religious strife between Catholics and others. John Paul II also was the first Pope to fundamentally (and publicly) accept that evolution was a plausible way to explain how species develop. He travelled more than any Pope ever before him, visiting every corner of the globe.

Even more importantly (from my perspective as a Jew), he did more to reach out to Jews than every Pope before him combined ever did. He tried to eliminate the bias that so many Christians grow up with about us. Although there are still ugly places and people in the world, Pope John Paul II tried to make it less likely that a practicing Catholic would ever seek to wrong me because I was born a Jew, and for that I remain grateful.

On the other side of his papacy was his doctrinaire conservatism. Since he lasted far longer in the job than virtually any other Pope of the modern era, he has filled the College of Cardinals with extremely conservative Cardinals who, as a group, are anti-reform. For the most part, he avoided dealing with the sexual abuse scandals in this country (though in his defense his health was already declining at that point), which made it more difficult for American Catholics. He allowed his "culture of life" ethic to be distorted by extremists to allow them to focus on abortion to the exclusion of all else. And although I can't really speak on most of his other areas of doctrine, his opposition to both birth control and to IVF struck me as wrong-minded (particularly IVF).

So as a world leader, I'd say that Pope John Paul II was a great one - although I disagree with some of what he did, he remained true to his own beliefs and within that he worked to make the world a better place for people of all faiths. As a church leader, my opinion isn't quite as glowing - but that isn't my judgment to make so much as it is the judgment of his flock. And, in the unlikely event I'm wrong about my theology, it's the judgment of his Maker that truly matters most.

In which case he'd probably make out OK.

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