Monday, April 04, 2005

The Dark Side of the Pope's Reign

Terry Eagleton excoriates the legacy of Pope John Paul II in today's Guardian, arguing he helped the West drift rightward politically as well as culturally.
Once ensconced in power, John Paul II set about rolling back the liberal achievements of Vatican 2. Prominent liberal theologians were summoned to his throne for a dressing down. One of his prime aims was to restore to papal hands the power that had been decentralised to the local churches. In the early church, laymen and women elected their own bishops. Vatican 2 didn't go as far as that, but it insisted on the doctrine of collegiality - that the Pope was not to be seen as capo di tutti capi, but as first among equals.

John Paul, however, acknowledged equality with nobody. From his early years as a priest, he was notable for his exorbitant belief in his own spiritual and intellectual powers. Graham Greene once dreamed of a newspaper headline reading "John Paul canonises Jesus Christ". Bishops were summoned to Rome to be given their orders, not for fraternal consultation. Loopy far-right mystics and Francoists were honoured, and Latin American political liberationists bawled out.
While Eagleton brings up the child molestation and rape scandals, he believes the Pope's worst legacy "was the grotesque irony by which the Vatican condemned - as a 'culture of death' - condoms, which might have saved countless Catholics in the developing world from an agonising Aids death."

People can respect Pope John Paul II for his allegiance to principles, honestly, only if they acknowledge the victims those principles reaped.