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Who was Pope John Paul II anyway?

Pundits and cardinals are both trying to figure out who the next pope will be. But it’s worth trying to figure out who the last pope really was. He was a lot of different things – a skier, a goalie, a quarry worker, a priest, a politician, a religious leader. He was a media player. He detested the absolutes of communism, but he also ran a tough shop. He fought for the dignity of human beings, but he ignored the plight of children who had been abused by religious.

The pope is and was one of my heroes, even though I didn’t agree with a lot he said. He was a tough person, but gentle at the same time. He was colorful and charismatic, but at the same time conservative. He didn’t just give up because he was gettting old. He lived for his work; it wasn’t just something he did.

Fintan O’Toole, an Irish journalist, argues that the pope was formed in large part by that which he opposed. As well as fighting communism, which was imposed in his home country, Poland, he also ended up espousing many of its values. Whilst it is said that in private he was always prepared to consider a range of views, the church he led wasn’t very good at tolerating diversity in public.

Although JP2 used the media wisely to get his message out, he didn’t accept that new media inevitably led to a reduction in the power of hierarchy in the Church. He couldn’t accept that Catholics were now open to more than one viewpoint, and couldn’t be expected to react well to a command-and-control structure. Did he really think that priests in Ireland didn’t know that priests in Armenia were allowed to get married? Or that Protestant ministers who had converted to the Catholic faith were allowed remain with their wives? Or did he think that his interpretation of scripture and doctrine would really be considered definitive in all cases?

The pope was a very ambiguous character. It is very hard to say anything definitive about him. I think that in the future when we look back, it will be a struggle to figure out how and why JP2 did what he did.

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