The Legacy of John Paul II
It is probably impossible to get any objective reporting on the legacy of the late Pope. I personally find it difficult to know what to say about him. A Pope is respected by many outside of the Catholic Church for the simple reason that he is Pope. The Pontiff is a world leader by virtue of his position alone. It doesn't really matter what a particular Pope does or doesn't do, he will get his props, so to speak.
Also, it is considered impolite to speak ill of the dead, especially the recently deceased, and especially recently deceased religious leaders. On the other hand, we should always be dedicated to the truth, even if that truth makes the dead look bad. In the spirit of truth I will try to express my feelings about John Paul II.
Before I criticize John Paul I have to point out that he was an outspoken opponent of the death penalty.
Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary.
Pope John Paul II, January 27, 1999, St. Louis, Missouri
Opposition to the death penalty is still unpopular here in the United States. It takes great courage to speak against it. Even a Pope has to be careful about endorsing compassion. It just isn't the American way.
On the other hand, while millions die of AIDS, the Vatican continues to condemn condom usage and insists that condoms don't prevent HIV. Here in America any one who wants to use condoms has no trouble getting them. That is not true every where. Vatican opposition to condom use it quite literally killing people.
It is also worth repeating that Pope John Paul II crushed the liberation theology movement, especially in Latin America. Because of his fear of communist influence he did nothing to save the lives of his own priests and nuns whose lives were endangered by their activisim.
He might have saved Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero from being assassinated. This transcript from Frontline tells part of the story.
GIANCARLO ZIZOLA: [through interpreter] When Romero went to the Vatican for his meeting with the Pope, he was forced to wait many days before he was received because the Vatican did not want him to speak to the Pope. And this caused him a great deal of pain.
MARIA LOPEZ VIGIL, Activist, Author: [through interpreter] I saw him in a state of shock. The first thing that he said to me was, "Help me to understand why I've been treated by the Holy Father in the way that he treated me."
GIANCARLO ZIZOLA: [through interpreter] When he finally met the Pope, he showed him photographs of murdered priests and mutilated peasants, and the only response Romero got from the Pope was that Romero had to find an agreement with the government.
MARIA LOPEZ VIGIL: [through interpreter] I am never going to forget it's in my mind the gesture that Monsignor Romero made when he was explaining that to me. He did this gesture. "Look," he said, "that the Holy Father says that the archbishopric must get along well with the government, that we must enter into a dialogue. And I was trying to let the Holy Father understand that the government attacks the people. And if I am the pastor of the people, I cannot enter into good understanding with this government." But the Holy Father was insisting.
I am still seeing Monsignor Romero making that gesture like wanting to things to converge that cannot converge.
Rev. JON SOBRINO, Liberation Theologian: [through interpreter] When Romero told him that the that the church was being persecuted in El Salvador, John Paul said to him "Well, well, don't exaggerate it." And he said to Romero, "You have to be very careful with communism." The result was that Monsignor Romero was very upset. He left the Vatican in tears. It was a sad interview, very sad.
MARIA LOPEZ VIGIL: [through interpreter] It was an injustice. Monsignor Romero did not deserve that.
NARRATOR: One month after his disappointing visit with the Pope, while he was celebrating Mass in San Salvador, Archbishop Romero was murdered at the altar. The assassins were known to be members of a rightwing death squad. Those close to Romero said that he always knew that one day he would be killed.