Labor - And A Whole Lot More

A Pope, Yes. A Saint, No.
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Now that his successor has been elected and the overwhelming media hype has finally ceased, would it be too much to ask for a genuine assessment of Pope John Paul II? Although his followers considered him a saint who could do no wrong, he was, after all, a man.

Yes, he helped rid Eastern Europe of totalitarian communism, opposed the death penalty, opted for peace over war and took other enlightened positions. But he also - and perhaps more influentially - took positions that supported the unenlightened efforts of those who have denied basic rights to millions of the people John Paul claimed to champion.

He and his followers didn't even seem to believe in democracy, at least not in regard to the pope. He ruled the Catholic Church as an autocrat who was not elected by those he presumed to treat as his subjects, but by an elite group of cardinals who reached their rank through papal appointment.

John Paul II was at best a benevolent dictator, and one who lived in luxury while preaching against materialism. Yet he was the object of adoration so widespread it brings into serious question the assumption that most of the world's people would reject authoritarian rulers if given the chance.

The pope's followers accepted without question the idea that he possessed The Truth - absolutist truth with a capital T -- that governed all of life's endeavors, the knowledge of precisely what we should believe and precisely what we should strive to do.

That meant women should not be treated as equals, that they should be subjected to what columnist Joan Ryan noted as John Paul's "absolute unwillingness to see that the patriarchal structure of the church is as demeaning and unjust as the apartheid and Communist governments he denounced. In his view, women clean the pews and minister to the sick. Men perform the miracle of turning bread into the body of Christ, and men are uniquely endowed to make all the important decisions."

The pope was widely praised for his "strong moral vision" and commitment to human rights and to overcoming the plight of the world's poor. Yet he denounced homosexuals and atheists as sinners, and condemned abortion and artificial birth control despite massive overpopulation that has led to widespread poverty, suffering and deaths.

He did little, if anything, to deal effectively with the pedophilia scandal that has enveloped the church, while continuing to insist on retaining the rule of celibacy for priests that may very well be a main reason for the priestly abuse of young parishioners.

John Paul was an enthusiastic supporter of reactionary lay groups such as Opus Dei, the Catholic counterparts of the Protestant fundamentalist groups on the religious right that have done so much to curtail human rights. He led them in opposing attempts to liberalize the church, among other things all but destroying Liberation Theology, the movement that has attempted to concentrate the church's efforts on freeing the people of Latin America from poverty and oppression.

What's more, hundreds, if not thousands, of young priests, the future leaders of the church, are being trained in accord with John Paul's regressive views

Although you hardly would know it from the gushing media reports that followed his death, many people did not think John Paul a saint - and many were damn angry with him. Listen, for instance, to Executive Editor Tim Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, who was raised a Catholic:

"John Paul II was a disaster. With his moronic opposition to condoms and honest AIDS education, he helped insure the death of many, many people. I know the world is supposed to be in mourning, but I'm sorry: It isn't unanimous."

Copyright 2005 Dick Meister