Friday, April 01, 2005


St. Peter's Cathedral, Rome
Atrios says "Pope dead" but doesn't. Who to believe?

The Pope's passing is very similar to the death I described a few days ago, and today in a letter to the University Daily Kansan (in response to this crap). Overnight he had a heart attack, his ability to speak has declined, his breathing is getting shallower, his kidneys are weakening, and there are reports that he's slipping in and out of a coma. Is he still the same Karol Wojtyla who carved the slopes of Communist Poland, or the Pope who strengthened the hand of Solidarinosc? In any meaningful sense, his death is inevitable within hours. What minute he draws his last breath, what moment his heart stops beating, when his mind stops are all academic questions now.

The line between life and death gets fuzzy, especially in a natural death. There will be a point where one of the Vatican's priests will close his eyes, call out to Karol three times, strike his head with a silver hammer, and upon hearing no reply, will begin 9 days of mourning. The bells of Rome will toll. Catholics will mourn, but will come to see that a good man has earned his rest and reward, and will rejoice for him.

In time, a new Pope will be chosen. John Paul II has appointed most of the Cardinals who will choose his successor, so we shouldn't expect dramatic differences. Don't expect birth control to be taken up as a logical answer to the problem of poverty and disease which the Papacy has forced into our attention. Don't expect moderation on issues of gender and sexuality, nor on the complex issues of the beginning and end of life.

Say what you will about religion in general, Catholicism, or the Pope's policies on particular issues, his passing, like that of any person is both momentous and trivial. He has done great good, and made mistakes. His passing will cement his legacy where it is, but the work that he started, the focus on freedom from tyranny, especially the tyranny of poverty, will carry on, and his influence will still be felt through that work.

If the media spends half the time discussing his work for peace in the Middle East, or debt relief for the poorest countries, that was expended on the gruesome details of Terri Schiavo's medical progress, it will be a great opportunity for real discussion, rather than divisive attacks. Of course, most of the coverage will be a discussion of the smoke signals and petty process stories about the selection of his successor, but still, a little social justice has to slip in somewhere, right?

New House of the Pope” by Frank Black and the Catholics from the album Show Me Your Tears (2003, 3:15).