Thursday, April 07, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Pope John Paul II

From all accounts and all appearances, Pope John Paul II was a good man; a very good man, in fact. He seems to be universally adored and respected from the religious left, center and right as well as from the political left, center, and right of most of the nations of the world. This week he is being beatified as Catholics and others proclaim that he should be included in a short list of Great Popes.

I would love to jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the world since I have a very soft spot in my heart for Catholics and everything Catholic, but I just can’t. The record of Pope John Paul II just doesn’t match up to the rhetoric. If being universally adored was a criterion for greatness, we could call Madonna or Princes Diana great. If being a good man was a criterion for greatness, there are many unknowns who should be considered great. However, in my opinion, the criteria for greatness for a leader should be reserved for those leaders who changed the tide of public opinion by their words and by their deeds.

Practically all of the major problems facing the Catholic Church in 1978 when Pope John Paul II became Pope are still major problems for the Catholic Church today. He has done nothing to stop or even slow the secularization and slide towards atheism in Europe. He has done nothing to increase the number of men who are eligible and willing to enter the priesthood. Liberation theology is still a dominant philosophy in many of the developing countries where the major religion is Catholicism.

In addition to the problems Pope John Paul II inherited, he has done very little to correct and fix the child abuse scandal that came to the surface on his watch and he has also failed to communicate a coherent policy to address Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

It is impossible to know what the world would be like if Karol Józef Wojtyła had not become Pope. It is possible the world would be a much worse place today if the Cardinals had chosen someone else in 1978. I only have the facts as I know them to judge his effectiveness. I wish I could share in everyone else’s veneration of this very good man. However, I still want great to mean more than good and popular.


Jennifer said...

Until the Pope's death I was extremely ignorant of all things Catholic. I was only 6 when he was elected, and never followed his papacy at all. But from what I've heard, he seems to have really tried to build bridges with everyone of different faith and politics. I agree, though, about the child abuse scandal and terrorism. It may be that he was just too old and feeble to really deal with it. I do believe he had a deep relationship with Christ, and I look forward to meeting him on the other side.

Hammertime said...

I think you are a bit harsh on the pontiff. His 'greatness' is more a function of how he energized the youth of the Catholic Church and made them feel like they were important to the Church, as well as his generally agreed status as one of the 'trinity' that ended communism in Europe - Thatcher, Reagan and Wojtyła.

I'm not sure if you ignored those or weren't aware of them.

I also feel you expected lots, but haven't thought some of them through. How, exactly, was he to 'slow the secularization and slide toward atheism in Europe'? Please expound. I don't think he had anything to do with that, nor could he.

Your comment "he did nothing to increase the number of men who are eligible and willing to enter the priesthood' is really just a veiled way of saying that he should have allowed priests to marry, isn't it? That would have made him great - if he had changed a major tenet of Catholic Theology and tradition? Whether we agree with how the Catholic church does priests or not, making those kinds of changes, I think, would make them decidedly 'un-Catholic'.

I don't usually sound off like this here, but I figured a contrarian could handle it :)

Teresa said...

Maybe I'm sensitive, but none of us are perfect. I think that just like a president, you cannot blame the leader for everything. I think that the molestation thing was out of control way before he was pope (we just did not know about it)and then he had to deal with cleaning up the mess. All leaders in history have had difficult things happen within their leadership and I personally think that it is much better to speak of the good in people than the bad. Especially after they have died--it's a matter of respect. As well, I agree with Jennifer about being a devoted man of Christ who is now with the Lord. Amen!

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