Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Tuesday, April 05, 2005  

The Pope is dead. Long live the pope!

A number of panegyrics written for the late Pope John Paul II have been referring to him as “the Great”, and fully expect him to be sainted by the Church in the future.

Yet, when I look at the record of this pope over the 27 years he headed the Church, I have to wonder about his achievements.

Exactly what was it that John Paul II is being given credit for?

Along with Reagan and Thatcher, he is credited with helping to bring down Communism in Europe. He can be said to have ended “liberation theology” as it was being promulgated by Marxist priests in South America and elsewhere. Also attributed to him is a powerful reaffirmation of Church teachings on life and sexual issues, and a braking effect upon the permissive liberalism taking place in the West regarding liturgy, texts, and pastoral practices.

Taken all in all, much of what he has been acclaimed for was accomplished early on in his papacy. Can anyone think of any other particular achievements apart from the extensive globetrotting in the last 15 or 20 years?

There are a few encyclicals: the outstanding Gospel of Life and works regarding the Theology of the Body come to mind; but we should also keep in mind that popes aren’t expected to do a great deal since their job is primarily that of preserving and maintaining.

Nevertheless, there appear to be many opportunities which have been missed. An effective reform of the clergy to curb sexual abuses and destroying the system of protecting priests along with expulsion of homosexuals did not happen. Accountability of the clergy not just to bishops but to parishioners did not occur either, and leaves priests in position to embezzle, misuse funds, and abuse their power.

The lack of vibrant ministries in the parishes and dioceses to serve the laity and evangelize the world must be laid at the head of the church, also. Beauty or lack of concern for it in art, music, architecture, and worship was given short shrift.

The Church also became a rubber stamp for annulment of marriages. Whether this is good or bad, I can’t say, but there seemed to be no clear policy.

Nor were the many Catholic schools and universities brought more into line as places where Catholic teaching was respected, explicated, and nurtured, along with insistence on moral standards and behavior in faculty and students. (Not presenting The Vagina Monologues, for example, or offering forums for pro-abortion politicians and speakers, nor counteracting the climate of sexual permissiveness and acceptance of perversion.)

One has to wonder what it was that John Paul concerned himself with over the last 20 years or so in his day to day work. From afar, it looked like he holed up in his apartment, said mass, held audiences, but hardly knew what was going on at ground level nor ran things with a clear vision of what he wanted the parish church to look like.

A great many people loved the Pope, and as an inspiring figurehead, he served their faith; but I never warmed to him personally (even though I sincerely wished to), and so I never took his presence as especially comforting or inspiring, and therefore looked for a kind of leadership that he didn’t seem interested in expressing.

The American Church is incredibly torpid. If you travel from parish to parish you find little enthusiasm or spirit for the work of God. I blame it entirely on the priests. They do not lead and they will not get out of the way of those who can. There seems to be no bottom to how ineffective a priest is allowed to be.

Male faithful have been either driven out of the churches or emasculated so as to be tame and inoffensive. Our churches are being run by women abetted by wimpy priests. The level of preaching in the church is so abysmal that a new word describing what’s below horrible needs to be invented.

The Roman Catholic Church continues to treat the Mass, the most beautiful worship in the world, as a form of penance in which we are punished for attending and taught to endure rather than ennoble.

John Paul II could not have cured all these ills, but he could have set a tone that looked to cure these things little by little. He did none of that so far as I can tell.

I believe that he became so self-indoctrinated in the holiness of the Church that he thought the Church could not really fail believers at all.

But there is a competition, not for believers, but for people willing to commit, serve, and evangelize. The Catholic Church may well lose the race to create energetic faithful to the growing Protestant evangelical churches.

I fully believe that Billy Graham has brought more people to God than the Pope ever did. And there are now hundreds of Billy Grahams expanding ministries throughout the world, creating churches where people actually care if you come and join them. And these folks are doing it without all the trappings which lend so much weight and dignity to the person of the Pope. They are offering people joy, hope, fellowship, and a voice.

I do get a little weary of some waxing poetic about John Paul’s leadership, personality, and charisma. It was hardly unique. I have seen a great many men in much smaller spotlights who I would have thought as or more capable than the Pope.

The problem is that position or office can magnify to the point of distorting everything out of proportion. For example, no matter who is pope, millions will insist that he is great and they love him. Respect and admiration simply comes with the territory.

Whoever the next pope is, it will be rather amusing to see how crestfallen so-called liberal Catholics will become when they discover that he has no intention of changing any Church teachings to suit them. There is a whole class of people in the church who actually believe that the Church is going to see things their way one day and the walls of Jericho will tumble down and a new millennium come.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 2:07 PM |