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Monday, April 04, 2005


john paul II

there's really nothing i can say about this great man which can add to what has been said about him around the world. a towering moral figure who saw peace as its own end, he died as one of the most important figures of the last century. john paul is a national hero for the ages in his native poland and the single most important world figure in bringing to a peaceful close the russian communist empire.

what can be said of the personal piety of a man who would console him who tried to kill him -- not because it served some purpose but because it was right? this single titanic act of selfless forgiveness is simply unbelievable to most in the age of the self; with it, john paul did more to advance human decency and civilization than a million others will in their lifetimes.

and he continued to be extremely relevant right through, most recently confronting the united states on its warlike, evil and ultimately self-destructive ways. this pope knew evil when he saw it -- and he saw it in global democratic revolution.

much of what is morally blackest about the ongoing neoconservative disaster can be seen in clearest relief in their criticisms of john paul's immovable moral catholic position for just war -- which clearly could not encompass our wanton crusading. hitchens and frontpage are among many who revealed their amorality in this way. the roman catholic institution must gall these people, who cannot comprehend anything as good that is not also populist and irresponsible -- not to mention militarist and hubristic. the illness that infects america was often put into stark relief in its conflicts with john paul's papacy.

this includes even the church's dealing with pedophilia in america. it is common among americans to believe that accused american priests belong in front of an american jury and television cameras -- being too myopic or arrogant to imagine that justice may take on forms other than our reckless plebiscitarianism. but the vatican, having millennia of experience from which to draw, pursued justice in its way -- bowing to no temporal authority, as they have not for ages, pursuing quiet and private justice for the sinner while protecting the sanctity of the institution.

the church knows well, i suspect, the vicissitude of democracy and the tenuous nature of law within it are cannibalistic and ultimately self-defeating. the church itself would be put on trial sensationally by its enemies and the ignorant multitudes for the crimes of some flawed priests, destroying its manifold contributions to social integrity, moral authority and charity both within and without the united states. what purpose would that serve, except to feed the antisocial paranoia and nearsighted individualism that already runs so rampant here?

even in this, then, the roman church contrasts its institutional strengths with our democratic weaknesses. of course, it isn't seen that way in unthinking america. but that's less a statement of the church's faults than our own, in my opinion.

in any case, it must be said that i have been deeply affected by john paul's decline and death; i'm sure i am not alone in wondering if another of his cut can be found to champion so effectively what is good in the world. among my early memories is the conclave which elected him in 1978 -- as a second-grader in catholic school, the importance of what was transpiring in rome was impressed deep in my young mind. i still feel that way -- that what is produced from this conclave can change the arc of history in the world, can make more of us than we might have been otherwise. and it isn't simply the words of my nuns and teachers that stand behind it, as it was then. john paul II proved it.

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