Thursday, April 21, 2005

Two Views of the Popes

In reading various opinions on the last Pope, the new Pope, and the Catholic Church in general, I came across two thoughtful columns that I recommend.

Charles Krauthammer, writing on April 4, two days after John Paul II died, considered his accomplishments and his legacy:

History will remember many of the achievements of John Paul II, particularly his zealous guarding of the church's traditional belief in the sanctity of life, not permitting it to be unmoored by the fashionable currents of thought about abortion, euthanasia and "quality of life." But above all, he will be remembered for having sparked, tended and fanned the flames of freedom in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, leading ultimately and astonishingly to the total collapse of the Soviet empire. ...

Under the benign and deeply humane vision of this pope, the power of faith led to the liberation of half a continent. Under the barbaric and nihilistic vision of Islam's jihadists, the power of faith has produced terror and chaos. That contrast alone, which has dawned upon us unmistakably ever since Sept. 11, should be reason enough to be grateful for John Paul II. But we mourn him for more than that. We mourn him for restoring strength to the Western idea of the free human spirit at a moment of deepest doubt and despair. And for seeing us through to today's great moment of possibility for both faith and freedom.

Richard Cohen looked at Benedict XVI in light of his conservative views and his potential impact on the world:

That new pope is Benedict XVI, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany. It almost goes without saying that he is not my cup of tea. He is stolidly conservative in his theology and no different from the previous pope in his opposition to the ordination of women or married men. As for gays, he clearly considers them to be an abomination. These, though, are matters that concern Catholics and their church and are no business of mine. So, too, Benedict's conviction that Catholicism is the one true belief. I would expect nothing less from the pope.

But in other areas -- particularly population control and the worldwide fight against AIDS -- what the pope does, how the Vatican rules, affects us all. We can fully expect that the new pope will not depart one iota from John Paul II's fervent opposition to anything other than the most rudimentary forms of birth control -- abstinence in one form or another -- including, of course, opposition to the use of condoms as a method of preventing the spread of the HIV virus. Here is where we all have a stake.

Both are right.

In addition to steadfastly defending the doctrine and traditions of the Church, John Paul II was one of three powerful influences that brought down the Soviet empire. The other two were the polices of the Reagan Administration and the internal decay of the Soviet regime itself. Absent one of these three influences, it's very likely that the course of world history would be different, and we would all be worse off.

There is little doubt that Benedict XVI will lead the Church in what some consider a conservative manner. He will defend the doctrinal concepts that are the very foundation of the Church, and he will resist attempts to "reform" the Church to bring it in line with the moral relativism and social progressivism currently in vogue among a minority of Catholics, mainly in America and Europe. As Cohen observed, "I would expect nothing less from the pope."

Liberal Catholics are free to press for changes they see as essential to modernize the Church. They best they can hope for is minimal change at the margins. The scandal of pedophile priests must be dealt with aggressively and effectively, of course. The Church would do the world a lot of good if it were to moderate it's views on birth control, at least to the extent of dropping opposition to the use of condoms in AIDS prevention programs. For it's own survival, it also needs to address the critical shortage of priests in some parts of the world, possibly by permitting at least a defined category of priests to marry, as is generally done in Orthodox Christianity. However, it's not that likely that Benedict XVI, or any future Pope for that matter, will go any further. If they go this far.

Catholics of all stripes must understand one basic fact. The fundamental doctrine that makes Catholicism what it is won't change. None of the cardinals who had any chance of being elected would have undertaken to attempt substantial change, which makes the moaning about yet another conservative Pope meaningless. Catholics who advocate change have to be satisfied with nibbling at the edges. Those who can't accept the basic doctrine of the Catholic Church need to find another home.


Blogger Gone Away said...

A thoughtful and well-reasoned article. Thanks.

11:28 AM, April 21, 2005  

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