Monday, April 04, 2005


It will be nearly impossible for anyone not to contemplate the passing of the Pope this week. No one would dispute that John Paul II has had a profound impact on our world, though some will dispute that his impact has been good. No one could credibly assert that his intentions were not deeply good, but anyone who has that much influence on the world, no matter how well intentioned, has the capacity to do significant harm. Just over a month ago, I wrote reacting to John Paul's characterization of my life as part of a "new ideology of evil", and suggested that he should examine aspects of his own ideology for insidious evil. Nonetheless, I still have great respect for the man who has been Pope more than half of my life, and I choose to dwell on his goodness in remembering him.

He was a very worldly and people-loving Pope, traveling the world to greet those hungry for his presence, sometimes at risk to his own health or safety. It has been said that he was personally seen by more people than anyone else in all of history. He was also a deeply philosophical Pope and an amazingly industrious Pope. It would not surprise me to hear that the accumulation of his writings exceeds the output of the last several centuries of Popes combined. And though I may disagree with some of his convictions, I can still respect him for holding them so strongly and speaking them so forcefully. Yet the thing that stands out for me the most about John Paul was the strength of his desire for reconciliation. This manifested in three ways. Ecclesiastically, John Paul desired reconciliation among Christian churches, and he made significant efforts to reach out to the Orthodox and Anglican churches in particular. And he reached out to all religions in ways previously unthinkable for a Pope. What other Pope would have lead a multidenominational prayer gathering for peace that included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and more? Magisterially, while he was strict in demanding adherence to doctrine, he was also uniquely forthright in apologizing for the church's past wrongs where he recognized them, including the remarkable rehabilitation of Galileo, the acknowledgement of Darwin, and most importantly, his reconciliatory moves toward the Jewish people. Spiritually, he practiced forgiveness, most powerfully illustrated when he visited and forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him. By such dramatic examples, he lived to forgive and to seek forgiveness. Though I am personally hurt that he considered my convictions to be insidiously evil, and I am concerned about the horrendous consequences of some of his doctrinal legacy, I will also remember the Christian example of how he lived, and respond in the appropriate way -- the way that he would fervently have wished to inspire in all of us: in a spirit of forgiveness. Ego te absolvo, Iohannes Paulus II, requiescat in pace.

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