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Statement on the passing of John Paul II

Published in Sunday Mirror 24 April 2005 (article not on-line) • 06 April 2005 • 573 words

The passing of Pope John Paul II on April 2 is a good moment for stock-taking by Catholics around the world. So far, however, this has not been happening. Here in Trinidad, discussion has centred on how affected people were by his 1985 visit to this country, and whether he should be made a saint. But Catholics must ask themselves if the late Karol Jozef Wojtyla carried their church forward or backward.

Some have described him as a great Pope. But does his legacy as to the Catholic Church and to the world prove this? While John Paul II's charisma was certainly of a superior order, he made the Church more conservative and authoritarian. It could be argued that this is good for the Church as an institution, precisely because it puts the Holy See out of step with the modern world. But the statistical fact remains that about 100,000 priests left the priesthood during John Paul's papacy, while church attendance fell significantly.

John Paul II has also been hailed as one of the greatest moral leaders of the 20th century. Again we ask, does his legacy prove this? On the plus side of the ledger, he led the Roman Catholic Church on a pilgrimage of repentance and reconciliation with Jews, culminating in the establishment of diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. John Paul II also confronted dictators of the political left and right, coaxed U.S. presidents on foreign policy issues such as Cuba and Iraq.

He apologized to Jews, women, Orthodox Christians and others for his church's failings and sins against them throughout history. He apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, which ravaged the Holy Land from the 11th through the 13th centuries. He was outspoken in his opposition to the U.S. plan to lead an invasion of Iraq in 2003, calling the policy "illegal and unjust."

On the minus side of the ledger, he put a stamp of papal infallibility on the issues of women in the priesthood, married priests, and sexual intimacy outside traditional marriage. Most significantly, when he was implored by Catholics to consider that condom use would save lives in AIDS-ravaged countries, John Paul II was unyielding. He actually grouped contraception use with genocide as "intrinsically evil" acts that condemn sinners to Hell for eternity. The actions and inactions springing from this point of view may have caused millions of needless deaths, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and also here in the Caribbean.

John Paul II also failed to rise to the moral challenge in the United States. When the American church faced the greatest crisis in its history - the sexual abuse of children by priests and bishops - the Pope's response was hardly as forthright as his condemnations of abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia. He did not apologize for anything, nor did he acknowledge anything amiss in the hierarchy's decades of dissembling - or, as he dismissively put it, the way church leaders "are perceived to have acted."

In the final judgement, it seems fair to say that John Paul II elevated faith above reason. This is not, and never can be, a basis for progressive morality. And, as the cardinals prepare to choose a new Pope through a centuries-old political process, here in Trinidad Archbishop Edward Gilbert has assured the faithful that the Holy Spirit has already made a choice.

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