Saturday, 9 April 2005

Body Count

It has not been the best of weeks for prominent octogenarians. After Pope John Paul II (84), it is the turn of Prince Rainier (81) and Saul Bellow (89) to go eat the dandelions by the roots (as they sometimes say in France). It is a sad thing when someone dies but at the same time nothing unusual or unexpected when people get to that age. Still the media are a-buzz with the shocking news when each day millions of other people die in resounding silence of far less natural causes than old age.

As is always the case, too, in those circumstances, the departed are praised to high heaven for all the wonderfully good things they did in their life, while the bad things (they are humans after all) are quickly swept under the carpet. In Rainier's and Bellow's cases the praises, because limited mostly to their work and public personas, are probably quite reasonably given and deserved. Rainier did turn the fate of his small principality and Bellow (whom I must confess I had never heard of), one can assume pretty safely, did not get the Nobel Price for Literature for vacuous reasons.

In the case of the Pope, however, I feel that people should be a little more circumspect in their unmitigated praises. Yes, he was probably a very spiritual man and yes he had considerable influence on the destiny of millions of people. By being instrumental to the end of the Cold War and the dismantling of the Soviet Block and by generally being a voice (and not much more than a voice, it seems) for peace in the world. He also helped develop a strong ecumenical trend in the major world religions. And something that brings people together and encourages them to speak to each other can only be a good thing. As shown in the quote below, he also apologised for some of the Church's past actions, thus implicitly recognising what negative force religions can be.

"During his long reign, Pope John Paul II apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, to Jews for anti-Semitism, to Orthodox Christians for the sacking of Constantinople, to Italians for the Vatican's associations with the Mafia and to scientists for the persecution of Galileo. [...] an Italian journalist compiled a book of more than 90 papal statements of contrition.

Yet victims' groups say the pope never apologized adequately for the most shocking behavior that came to light on his watch: sexual abuse of children by priests and the church's attempts to hush it up. [...]" The Church was at any rate, very slow in reacting to this scandal.

Washington Post

The paedophiliac scandal in the States is the accusation that seem to be coming up most often against the Catholic Church (on the US dominated web anyway) but there many other negative stances taken by its leader, which can be held against it.

Many people agree that John Paul II took the Church backward into a more rigid dogmatic position. Sometimes reverting to before the reforming and modernising Vatican II council which took place in the 60's. This is however matters restricted to the inner workings of the Church and should only concern its members.

Religions and religious leaders for many centuries were the dominant moral guides and although things have now change and it is quite possible to live a moral life outside religious precepts, Churches find it very hard to let go of this moral ascendant they used to hold (and still unfortunately hold with many people). While it is perfectly legitimate for them to air their views and take part in a democratic debate on any issue they feel strongly about (like any other member of society), religious leaders find themselves too often speaking with an authority they do not possess any longer and with expectations of being heard and heeded much greater than what they should be. This recently led the Pope to muddle with the internal politics of sovereign countries in Europe, when he virtually ordered Catholic politicians to do whatever they could to prevent the recognition of gay relationships. This is not acceptable! Any other pressure group behaving in this way would have been told off from every quarter. Religious leaders and Catholic leaders in particular seem however to benefit from some ingrained impunity in this respect, where their views are accepted without being discussed, challenged or put under scrutiny by the media.

There is an interesting contradiction in their teachings by the way. While they claim that Man (and that includes women too, though just about, I would imagine) though created in the image of god, possesses free will allowing him to choose his own actions, they insist on not only telling people what to do but also on forcing them to do what they say they should. Why can't they just let go and leave people choose to do what they want (which includes following the Church's laws)?

To be continued...

Random Googling on the subject:


John Paul's Conservative Legacy

Vatican Release Pope's Will

Have a look at this article from The weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia.

Here are a few random examples of what the Catholic Church is up to in the US:
Catholic Church Defends Decision About Dead Gay Man
Bishop Apologizes for Denying Funeral to Dead Gay Man
Turning People Away From God's House

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