Jewish World Review April 11, 2005 / 2 Nisan, 5765
Saying goodbye to the Pope
It's too bad the cable TV news coverage of the Pope's death has
desensitized some Americans. The wall-to-wall commentary quickly became
tiresome to many, and millions tuned out. That's a shame, because Pope John
Paul's life is very much worth examining.
Here is a man who was undeniably saintly, a person who lived on
this earth but operated in a spiritual zone few of us could ever
contemplate. He considered worldly matters only in the context of what G-d
"expected." Practical problem solving was not the Pope's priority. He was
truly a faith-based man.
In the summer of 2003, I traveled to Rome to find out why the
Pope had been so publicly detached from the American priest scandal. As a
loyal Catholic, I was angry that the Pontiff had not been more proactive in
punishing people like Cardinal Law, who obviously had stonewalled the sexual
abuse of minors by some clergy members. My public criticism of the Pope led
the Catholic League to bitterly criticize me, so I wanted to be absolutely
sure that my opinion of the Pope's conduct in that terrible matter was based
While in Rome, I learned a lot about the Pope from people who
worked with him daily. They were fearful of speaking on the record because
the Pope's advisors did not brook dissent. Any open criticism of John Paul
was not tolerated by the Holy See.
Off the record, I found out that the Pope was deeply hurt by the
sexual abuse situation, but was convinced by his advisors that it was an
"American" problem. Thus, when he visited Canada in 2002, he declined a
meeting with some sexual abuse victims. Apparently, the Pope's advisors felt
the meeting would be too stressful for the ailing Pontiff.
For the last few years of his life, Pope John Paul was almost
totally disengaged from temporal matters. Ravaged by disease, he prayed and
meditated most of the time, leaving the day-to-day running of the Vatican to
others. Those "others" were mostly conservative European clergymen who
tended to view the USA as a self-absorbed, materialistic country out of
touch with much of the world.
So, when the war on terror erupted, the Vatican was sympathetic
to America but tentative in condemning Islamic extremists. The Church did
not want to exacerbate Catholic-Muslim tensions and avoided specific policy
Then came the War in Iraq, which put the Holy See directly at
odds with the Bush administration. Once again, the Pope did not really get
directly involved, but this time, his Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo
Sodano, denounced the attack on Saddam, pointedly saying that the war was
not a necessity.
Up until the end of his life, the Pope remained consistent in
his belief that prayer would overcome evil. He saw the Nazis destroyed and
the Soviet Union fall. He believed good would triumph over evil if good
people prayed and stayed loyal to values of freedom, life and belief in G-d.
For some of us, that spiritual stance in the face of terror and
sexual abuse was hard to take. Americans are a people of action, a
problem-solving bunch. We want results now not on G-d's time.
But perhaps Pope John Paul was wise in his determination to put
faith ahead of activism. I still believe the next Pope should be more of
this earth, but I cannot fault the philosophy of John Paul: that all life is
sacred and human beings have a G-d-given right to live in freedom. The Pope
prayed for that constantly. So should we all.
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