Sunday, April 03, 2005

John Paull II and I

As somebody who stopped being Catholic under John Paul II's watch, I think I have something to say.

The Catholic Church could have had a a worse pope- and there were plenty of examples in history: the popes that instigated the Crusades, the pope that said labor unions were bad, the Renaissance popes were all pretty nasty men. John Paul II, whatever you say about him, was a better person than most of the people the paparazzi chase after.

Except for the fact that he pretended to be the vicar of Christ on earth, he might have been an OK fellow to know, albeit somewhat somber.

There were reasons I stopped being Catholic, and ultimately John Paul II's a part of that, although of course, at the end of the day, I take full resposibility for walking out of that theatre. Among those reasons:

  • Well, chief among them was the theology of the church which tended to vest people with authority but no accountability. You can't impeach a pope. This attitude permeates the Catholic church, all the way down to the child abusing priests and nuns. (Update note: not all priests and nuns are child abusers, of course. ) The structure of the Catholic church breeds a kind of arrogance, an arrogance I have known personally.

    It has slapped me in the face even after I stopped being Catholic. My father had been a founding member of his parish, and at his wake my family had asked the priest to say a few words about that. We'd also asked for a few words to speak at my father's funeral. The priest not only arrogantly refused, but lied to us about canon law to our faces, and thought he could get away with it because he was a priest. I did mention - quite loudly- that an organization that was paying out millions of dollars due to damages from child sexual abuse scandals would generally have more concern over its public image.

  • I should mention the main reason I'm not a Christian: I found Buddhism simply more effective than Christianity. Still, this is really a part of the item above: Buddhism is more effective than Christianity precisely because it focuses on interior behavior, not somebody else's book or pope, and because of the focus on interior behavior, tends to inherently denigrate the kind of hubris noted above. I ain't nobody's vicar of anybody.

  • Still, while I have my disagreements with those who would only say we are all the same, I must agree with Thich Nhat Hanh in his response to JPII's On the Threshold of Hope re: "Jesus is the only way..." Who among us is not unique?

Regarding JPII, I want to point out his good and bad points. Good:

  • He did agitate against communism.

  • He did decry capital punishment.

  • He did decry euthanasia

  • He did decry robber baron capitalism.

  • He was against the war in Iraq.


  • The hubris of the presumed moral monopoly noted above didn't change a bit under his era, in fact it got notably worse.

  • He didn't canonize Romero.

  • He marginalized the important Catholic doctrine of the supremacy of following one's conscience (yes it's true: it is official Catholic doctrine that if your conscience conflicts with Catholic teaching, you are obligated to follow your conscience.) Thus, increased power in the church hierarchy, pressure on politicians to abandon their positions on the right to an abortion and so forth.

  • The big thing, of course, was the pedophilia scandals. But there were also the Irish woman slavery scandals, the general return to the more oppresive measurs in schools after the 1970's and early 80's, etc. JPII bears command responsibility for this. His response to Bernard Law - the organizational arabesque into the Vatican - was reprehensible.

  • Finally, and appropos of the last item, he has failed to address the moral hubris of his church's structure and theology. It is patently absurd for this group of celibate men, among whom are a larger than average number of people with the tendency to molest children, to claim they can proffer moral leadership and advice on issues related to human sexuality. This clergy needs a mass equivalent of an AA-like intervention, and pronto.

There ain't 95 of those points up there, but here we are today. We could have done much worse than John Paul II, but we deserved much, much better from him.


  • Joe Carter reminds me of another good point about JPII (inadvertantly):

    • JPII refused extraordinary medical means in the end, putting the "save Terri" folks in an awkward position of being more pro-life than the Pope!

  • Atrios has an amusing pointer here.

  • Yglesias ignores most of the real popery stuff but gives a good point: being fascist and not communist still sucks.

  • Richard Bennett reminds me that the pope wasn't out to lunch on evolution, unlike some extremists in this country.

  • The NY Times inadvertantly reminds me that the Pope was playing footsie with the fascist-inspired/founded Opus Dei, and never really spoke out against fascism - other than Naziism, perhaps- during his papacy.

    Lay movements of all kinds are proliferating. Opus Dei, a conservative movement of clerics and laity, has been gaining in numbers and influence in the United States with the help of the pope, who declared it a "personal prelature," making it answerable only to Rome. Meanwhile, the sexual abuse scandal and the hierarchy's secretive handling of it have given rise to the Voice of the Faithful, a mobilization of Catholics who have demanded greater public accountability and more lay input in church affairs, so far to little effect.

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