John Paul II’s “Seven Swords”

The Pope celebrated the 25th anniversary of his accession on Thursday, and I provided on these pages one evaluation of his legacy, from a Czech source. But here’s another, from the Dutch newspaper Trouw which, interestingly enough, used to be the newspaper for Dutch Catholics, although now it’s non-sectarian, as well as generally a cut above most of the rest of the pack in the intelligence of its articles, as regular EuroSavant readers probably are aware. My specific motivations for bringing you this are 1) Trouw’s excellent, straightforward, even bullet-point treatment of the contradictions that have characterized this Pope’s reign, that I thought you might like to know about, and 2) The rather-too-hagiographical treatment of John Paul II that I have run across elsewhere, such as this entry on “Fistful of Euros.” (I could leave a comment – but in the form of a €S-type article analysis? Better to put it on my own site and use the great new weblogging feature of “Trackback”!) Longevity is hardly a recommendation for someone’s performance in office per se; the Duvaliers oppressed Haiti for decades on end, just to name one example, and, to name but another, Haidar Aliev has pillaged Azerbaijan for 35 years and just recently topped it all off by installing his son to succeed him as president, via a fraudulent election.

But now to the Trouw article, The Seven Silver Swords of Karol Wojtyla. (Registration required, as usual, and in Dutch. But if you try, you can probably figure out what they want you to fill out. And if you don’t erase the “cookie,” you’ll never have to do this again at your computer!)

“Seven Silver Swords”? Well, Trouw writer Pieter van der Ven (“Peter of the Bog” in English, by the way) is exercising a little poetic license here; he’s speaking of seven major contradictions “that like a sword cut left-and-right through the wave of praise” attending his silver anniversary on the throne of St. Peter (at least for those willing to detach themselves from the general euphoria and remember that history is always a bit more complicated than mere ceremony).

1. As mentioned before on this site, many thought the Pope a natural candidate for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Yet at the same time, claims Van der Ven, some partisans want him placed before a tribunal for the Catholic Church’s influence (insistence on abstinence, etc.) in making the African AIDS crisis so much worse.

2. What about Karol Wojtyla’s years, in the prime of his youth, in Nazi-occupied Poland, when he lived in Krakow – as Van der Ven puts it, “under the smoke of Auschwitz,” which is not so very far away? On the one hand, as a Catholic seminarian, he clearly knew what was good and what was evil; on the other hand, he survived and didn’t even go underground – meaning that he failed to oppose a good part of that evil he was seeing everywhere around him.

3. He is against hedonism and the consumer culture – but he is also against revolution, which is likely to be the only way to do anything about them. His attitude towards “liberation theology” in Latin America, for example, makes this plain.

4. An easy one: He is pro-family, pro-sex if it’s the “right kind” – yet it was on his watch that pædophile priests were protected for far too long in both the US and in Ireland.

5. In his native Poland, in the bad old times, John Paul II saw first-hand a regime founded upon inhumanity, lies, and compulsion. This does not quite characterize the Vatican he has built, of course – but the Church’s governing structure is built upon possessing the monopoly of truth and the command “Obey!”

6. John Paul II was notably ecumenical, reaching out to most of the other faiths of the world: the Anglican Church, Judaism, Islam, the Dalai Lama, etc. Yet, once again, the line within his own faith has been a hard one, that cuts short incipient debates over issues of faith with “ukazes,” building an atmosphere of secret files and suspicion.

7. And finally there’ s the contradiction between his participation in the Catholic cult of Maria, Virgin Mother of God, and his suppression of the rights of women to advance within the Church.

There they are, for your evaluation even if you don’t read Dutch. I just thought a little “equal time” in the evaluation fo the Pope’s 25 years was called for, and happened to run across an article that I feel provides it well. Don’t worry: Mother Teresa (who is being beatified, of course) is not my next target. (But could that be only because I haven’t yet located a suitable article somewhere on the Net listing her high crimes and misdemeanors? And what happens if/when I do?)

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