The Tarnished Legacy of John Paul II
As usual, the irreverant iconoclast Christopher Hitchens is around to throw cold water on the mourning of beloved a public figure. His Slate piece, “What no one else will say about John Paul II,” was published Friday, but it was no April Fool’s joke.
First, he derides the superstitious aspects of the papacy:
The papacy is not, in theory, a man-made office at all. Its holder is chosen for life, by God himself, to hold the keys of Peter and to be the vicar of Christ on earth. This is yet another of the self-imposed tortures that faith inflicts upon itself. It means that you have to believe that the pope before last, who held on to the job for a matter of weeks before dying (or, according to some, before being murdered) was either unchosen by God in some fit of celestial pique, or left unprotected by heaven against his assassins. And it means that you have to believe that the public agony and humiliation endured by the pontiff was also part of some divine design.
For such things, though, there is always a “divine mystery of God’s will” that’s “incomprehensible to mere mortals” escape clause.
Hitchens’ next point, though, hits closer to home:
A few years ago, it seemed quite probable that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston would have to face trial for his appalling collusion in the child-rape racket that his diocese had been running. The man had knowingly reassigned dangerous and sadistic criminals to positions where they would be able to exploit the defenseless. He had withheld evidence and made himself an accomplice, before and after the fact, in the one offense that people of all faiths and of none have most united in condemning. (Since I have more than once criticized Maureen Dowd in this space, I should say now that I think she put it best of all. A church that has allowed no latitude in its teachings on masturbation, premarital sex, birth control, and divorce suddenly asks for understanding and “wiggle room” for the most revolting crime on the books.) […] [T]he Vatican itselfÃ¢€”including his holinessÃ¢€”was a part of the coverup and obstruction of justice that allowed the child-rape scandal to continue for so long.
This is indeed something that seems to be forgotten in all the tributes pouring out for a man who is undeniably a great historical figure. The inexplicable moral failure of the Roman church generally and this pope in particular to protect its weakest members is indeed a dark cloud that it will never fully escape.
Update: WaPo’s Alan Cooperman adds,
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. He apologized so often, in fact, that an Italian journalist compiled a book of more than 90 papal statements of contrition. Yet the pope never apologized 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. To some alleged victims, that is a puzzling omission and a deep stain on his legacy.
“I would say there’s a significant amount of responsibility in the lap of the papacy for the sexual abuse crisis, not only in the United States but around the world,” said Rev. Thomas Doyle, a former Air Force chaplain who has counseled many victims and advised them on lawsuits against the church. “Given that the Vatican insists on hierarchical authority and micromanagement, I think they have to take responsibility.”
To many victims and their families, however, the pope’s actions fell short. Under John Paul, they contend, the Vatican was more aggressive about stamping out dissent within the priesthood over birth control than it was about protecting children.
Michelle Malkin, Steve Bainbridge, and a flock of others are rightly heaping praise on this pope’s humanitarian achievements and being critical of some distasteful cheap shots taking place elsewhere. I’ve posted previously about the great good this pope did and believe his great leadership in other areas will likely outweigh this tarnish on his legacy. But for a man who spent so much energy preaching on the evils of premarital sex and homosexuality to essentially ignore the systematic homosexual pedophilic rape within his own church is baffling. Given the effusive praise pouring out 24/7 at the moment, including talk of sainthood for John Paul II, it’s not unreasonable to consider the man’s whole record.