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Karol Joseph Wojtyla

I believe the dead should be remembered as they were, not as we would have had them.

An atheist, raised Methodist, I've nevertheless always been somewhat in awe of the office of the Papacy. But I've often wondered whether that was due to some familial kinship -- some hearkening back to the origins of Christian churches -- or due to the man who has held the office for more than half of my lifetime.

The Papacy is one of the single most important political offices in the world. Make no mistake: It is a political office, and I would argue even more so than a religious office. So it's entirely appropriate, purely on those grounds, to attend to the death of Karol Joseph Wojtyla. And even if his office didn't bear the weight that it does, he might very well. His presence was forceful; one eulogist after another has spoken of his quiet but absolute confidence the seem again and again to be describing something like intellectual courage. Something like honor.

John Paul II has an enormously problematic legacy. His interpretation of dogma is arguably responsible for exacerbating the spread of AIDS, for the birth of tens of millions of unwanted children -- and, implicitly and indirectly, for tens of millions of abortions -- for tacitly endorsing sexual intolerance and squelching processes that could have led to greater and more rapid spread of freedom throughout Latin America. He appears to have been actively complicit in helping American Catholic dioceses to avoid the consequences of sexual abuse on the part of their priests.

And at the same time, he is arguably responsible for the collapse of the Polish communist state -- for toppling-back the first domino. Hist moral example in forgiving his own would-be assassin made a huge impact on me. And he found ways to reach across sectarian boundaries and to admit some of the failings of the church.

Nevertheless, his legacy is immensely ambivalent. Only time will tell whether the world can approach it objectively.


escoles, I appreciate your identifying the papacy as a political office. In that vein, I read an article by Swiss theologian Hans Küng (Der Spiegel) a couple days ago that provides a compelling analysis of the tenure of Pope John Paul II. Hans Küng viewed him as the most contradictory pope of the twentieth century. â??A pope of many great gifts and many wrong decisions!â?

An aside: In one section Hans Küng mentions:

The great worshiper of the Virgin Mary preaches a noble concept of womanhood, but at the same time forbids women from practicing birth control and bars them from ordination.

The â??officialâ? role of Virgin Mary is still generally portrayed as a subservient figure. One Catholic woman once told me that no man many miles across the ocean was going to tell her not to use birth control. Another woman I met who wanted to pursue a clerical position decided to leave the Catholic Church and eventually became a United Methodist minister.

I personally viewed Karol Wojtyla as a man, no more, no less,... albeit a man with enormous power and resolve, accompanied by the complexities of being human. His worldview I did not share, but I wish him peace.

Von Clausewitz famously described war as "politics by other means." Well, AFAIAC, religion is politics, purely.

Like many moderns, I draw a distinction between "personal religion" and "institutional religion," and of course I'm talking about the latter. But it's important not to forget that it's our personal religious actions (or inactions) that continually bring our institutional religions into being.

As for the supposed contradictions between JP2's fervent Marianism and his positions on abortion and the ordination of women, I'm sligthly surprised that someone of Küng's stature would think of it that way, even rhetorically. I thought we all realized years ago that the main function of any cult of idealized womanhood was to opress women. I suppose I should chalk it up to limited space.

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