One of my favorite aunts, Auntie Kathleen, once met the Pope. It was in Rome and she had an audience with him, something that was hugely thrilling for her, as it was for many Catholics. I remember her coming home and regaling my mother, bitching about the heat and how long it had taken to wait at the Vatican, but how it had all been worthwhile as 'Papa' looked her in the eye and smiled at her. Soon thereafter he visited Ireland and I was at home on vacation from law school or Germany--I can't quite recall--but I remember my sisters, Deirdre and Siobhan--setting out to a field somewhere where he was to celebrate mass. Even then, I wasn't stirred enough, unlike the majority of my fellow Catholic countrymen, to go off and see this novel creature, this first Polish pontiff. I was impressed he was coming to Ireland, but not sufficiently stirred. Sometimes, I wonder if my young self knew even then that this Pole, this man who'd lived under oppression and knew little of Western ways other than by reading and sojourns, this man whom people wished nothing more than to fall at his feet and adore, would not be a leader of all Catholics.
Yes, he has died--I'm deliberately using that word because the term 'passing' is such a false euphemism--and he was a diligent, good and powerful man. Throughout his papacy, he had a keen interest in comforting the suffering, enthusing Catholics about their religion and its significance, and was instrumental in bringing to an end the domination of Eastern Europe by the Soviet regime among other things. Influence waning and his authority challenged in sophisticated Europe and North America, he proved himself a master politician and sought to shore up Roman Catholicism by 'courting' the peasantry in places like the Third World and Latin America. It is not by accident the high numbers of new saints created by him in these countries.
But he was also only a human being, a human being who had prejudices and flaws like the rest of us. I find it laughable that, as conservatives in the Catholic church do so well at times such as these, there is a move to bestow the moinker John Paul II the Great, thus summoning to mind personages such as Alexander the Great (a man who had no problem with his homosexual facet), Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. Laughable also, though with an undertow of uneasiness on my part, is their talk of his saintliness--read the beginning of a movement to seek his canonization. Soon will begin the hunt for the two miracles, and I can assure they will be found. Of that, there is not a shadow of a doubt.
At the risk of pulling a 'Sinead O'Connor,' my Catholic conscience requires me to be honest and point out some of the flaws and failures of this Pope. We must not forget he was as autocratic and conservative as he was kind and enjoyed kissing babies. He was no friend of Vatican II, which sought to modernize the church, give Bishops more control of their local circumstances, and make the church more relevant to contemporary life. Throughout his Papacy, he made it clear there was no room for dissent and stated once that the Catholic Church was not a democracy.
He has not helped women in any significant way, has consistently blocked their elevation to the priesthood at a time when the church needs fresh and intelligent minds amid its flock. He has refused to look at the question of unnatural celibacy and will not allow priests to marry; priests used to marry in the early church, so why not? Though homosexuals are created and loved by God every bit as much as the Pope was born white, Polish and also loved by Him, he has overwhelmingly refused to give us our due civil rights--this is all the more ironic in that he set up camps in the mountains and forests of Poland so people could discuss political subversion, included among these 'attendees' a number of homosexuals, I have no doubt. He refused to rout out pedophiles in the clergy. Why? Why did he not bring down the might of God and rout these despicable people out of his church? I do not understand his turning a blind eye at a moment when his power was most needed.
As the cabal--again I use the word deliberately--of cardinals begin their secret meetings, (Why the need for secrecy, I ask?--in the name of God, get rid of this ancient rule and shine a bright light for all your flock to see) I hope they will choose a man who will lead the church into a bright and relevant future. I am not optimistic, especially since the late Pontiff chose the 114 scarlet-clad 'princes'. We live in a modern age and the complexities and demands of modern life require progressive change within the church and its doctrine--all another conservative Pope will succeed in doing is drive away even more intelligent Catholics. I know the Catholic conservatives will scream 'no cafetaria Catholicism' in the same pitch the Rev. Ian Paisley and his followers used to scream 'No Pope here' in Northern Ireland. This is utter nonsense, a smoke screen. The church is organic and adapts its circumstances as required. It's been doing that since it was founded. I mean, attitudes change all the time. Would we accept a Pope today who fornicates with abandon as they did in the medieval ages? Would we have a Pope who sells indulgences to raise money for its coffers? I think not.
In time, the uneducated populaces of Africa and Latin America will also become educated and modernized and will reject the discrimination, bigotry and hypocrisy that exists in the church today. So make the correct and Godly decision now when the church still stands at the crossroads. Appoint a Pope to serve God and all his people, Roman Catholic and beyond.