On Saturday, Pope John Paul II finally succumbed to death, which had been courting him for many years. Millions all over the world are in mourning for the man who brought Catholicism to many parts of the world that had previously been ignored.
In the media, Pope John Paul II's legacy has been touted as one of progressive politics. He has been cheered as one of the key voices in the war against Communism and celebrated for his instrumental role in the ending of the Cold War. His opposition to the death penalty and efforts to reconcile Catholic-Jewish relations qualify him for kudos from the left. John Paul believed strongly that third world debt should be forgiven and that great measures should be taken to eradicate world poverty. To the chagrin of the religious right in the United States, the Pope was a vocal opponent to the US invasion of Iraq, calling it a crime against peace and a violation of international law.
Although the Pope's dedication to truly walking in the footsteps of Christ is one of his legacies, there were many things the Pope believed and many actions he took that do not jive with progressive politics. While many on the left are celebrating his life and claiming progressive ideas as his overwhelming legacy, there are quite a few facts that seem to be slipping into the cracks.
Pope John Paul II was strongly opposed to all forms of contraception, all abortion, and homosexuality. In keeping with traditional Catholic values, this Pope was so firmly against contraception that he helped to stop education about condom use in Africa, thus proliferating the spread of AIDS and other preventable sexually transmitted diseases. He believed that all abortion was murder, even in cases when the life of the mother was in grave danger. He described homosexuality as a "tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil" and "an objective disorder" in his October 1, 1986 letter to all bishops.
In his book Memory and Identity, the pontiff claimed that the movement for same-sex marriage was "perhaps part of a new ideology of evil...which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man." He criticized transsexual and transgender people and banned them from serving in church positions. Even though he was so opposed to what he deemed sexual "disorders" he was slow to address the growing sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
John Paul believed strongly in the subjugation of women to men. He supervised the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which declared in August of 2004 that women who resist their subordination to men too strongly are "giving rise to harmful confusion" and distorting their "natural characteristics" which apparently include "listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise, and waiting." Further, they claimed that the fight for gender equality makes men feel "antagonistic" and is having "lethal effects on the structure of the family." The late Pope was also vocal in his opposition to opening the priesthood to women and allowing priests to marry, something many believe would make strides toward eliminating clergy sexual abuse. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, priests have the choice of marriage or celibacy, which seems to have immunized them from these kinds of scandals.
Beside many of Pope John Paul II's good deeds were some less savory actions. He endorsed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, knowing that he systematically oppressed his political opposition. He endorsed the Croatian forces in the breakup of Yugoslavia and several priests under his responsibility blessed weapons. He protected and endorsed Cardinal Pija Lagija in Argentina during the military dictatorship. Lagija blessed and protected torturers and murderers. The pontiff canonized Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei (a controversial Catholic organization that is best known for its support of corporal mortification), though he was a known fascist and friend of Franco. He also protected and endorsed other Spanish priests who stood by Franco.
It is politically correct to say only nice things about a person when they leave this world, but it is also a disservice to humanity. While the late Pope stood for many things that progressives believe in, he also stood for many things we find abhorrent and unnatural.
It is only fair to include those things we disagree with in the discourse over this beloved man. He stood for peace, forgiveness of third world debt, and the eradication of poverty. He helped to end the Cold War. He was the first Pope to visit Auschwitz, and made apologies to the Jewish people for the persecution they have experienced throughout the course of history. He opposed the death penalty, and he opposed the invasion of Iraq. He saw the evils of extreme capitalism, as well as communism. For those things, we can certainly praise him.
But to advocate for the subordination of half the world's population, to claim that homosexuals are evil, to bar transsexual and transgender people from serving God, to oppose lifesaving stem-cell research, to support dictators and ignore sexual abuse, to canonize a fascist -- these are not admirable thoughts and deeds.
A legacy should not ignore those facts that do not support it. Ignorance opens the door to unimaginable evil.
Katherine Brengle is a 23-year-old writer, college student, peace activist, and host of the Bristol County Democracy for America Meetup. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
* John Paul II's Economic Ethics by Mark Engler
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