News - The vipers who embrace the holy man

John Paul's legacy not so simplistic

The media has been singing hymns of praise over the demise of Pope John Paul II. After all, things looked glum, ratings-wise, for the press after Terri Schiavo became deader last week. The Scott Peterson trial is over. And Michael Jackson's courtroom drama hasn't heated up much beyond tepid.

So, thank God for the denouement of the pontiff's truly remarkable life. I'd hate for all of those reporters to face the prospect of actually working for a story - say, giving 1 percent of the energy to uncovering today's burgeoning and horrific prisoner torture (read: war crimes) scandal as they did to a woman who died 15 years ago. Heck, one-tenth of 1 percent would be an improvement.

My thoughts on the Pope:

First, like most of the world, I feel touched by his courageous mission. Second, I have broad and irreconcilable differences with the church of Karol Wojtyla.

I appreciate the fact that John Paul assumed a burden of guilt for the church's complicity in the World War II holocaust of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Slavs and others who were politically and socially verboten to the Nazis. But I would have been more impressed if the Pope had showed real contrition and vowed to say a gazillion "Hail Marys" for all of the multitudes of people his predecessors burned, tortured, slaughtered and imprisoned - many for "heresies" as little as opposing the church's gluttonous accumulation of wealth.

And, I wish the Pope had shown courage, as he did in confronting the Soviet Union, by addressing the church's role in freighting poor people with grinding poverty, early deaths, high infant mortality rates and miserable lives - because of opposition to birth control. I wish the Pope had displayed his tremendous energy in ripping out the indescribable evil of his priests sexually preying (not praying) on boys and girls in their care; damage control was the liturgy of the day, however. I wish the Pope had elevated women to equals in the congregation of believers, and not continued their second-class status, one grounded in concern for power and property and not in Christ's own teachings.

All that said, I think it is absolutely precious that so many on the right are trying to lay claim to John Paul's memory because he first articulated a decade ago the "culture of life." This was manna to the politically ambitious theocrats in America. But it was a cynical and ultimately false alliance.The pontiff did most certainly have common ground with people of all faiths who oppose abortion and euthanasia. But those who now claim John Paul's authority on such issues are directly opposed to him on far less debatable "culture of life" markers than abortion. The pope was consistent; his ersatz allies among right-to-lifers, Republicans and charlatan preachers are merely selective killers.

Pope John Paul II explained his position on life in 1995:

"Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenseless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale."

And, he repeated the message of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which declared:

"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator."

In short, the "culture of life," as John Paul saw it, is anti-war (he bitterly opposed both Persian Gulf conflicts). It is anti-death penalty (and we all know who is the most prolific executioner in recent U.S. history). It is anti-torture (the Pope knew full well in his condemnation of Abu Ghraib that every torturer claims he is somehow justified). John Paul opposed, as Vatican II stated, "disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain," a fierce condemnation of American corporatism and globalization.

Finally, I find it incredibly sad that all of the churchmen who today are embracing John Paul's memory, chose to extract only that portion of his "culture of life" as is politically useful. After all, as we saw in the last election, many bishops declared that pro-choice (on abortion) Catholics, such as John Kerry, were apostate. But these same priests apparently saw the slaughter in Iraq, America's love affair with executions, the vicious attack on poor Americans - the whole litany of crimes committed in our nation's name - as venial sins not worthy of political excommunication.

No, group senior editor John Sugg isn't our new conservative columnist. We're still looking for conservative and libertarian writers with original ideas for this space. If you fit that bill, e-mail ken.edelstein@creativeloafing.com. Meanwhile, read more Sugg at www.johnsugg.com.??

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