Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Exceeding Low Expectations

If you've been watching any of the after-death-Pope coverage on cable (and face it, how can you get away from it?) than you might have noticed many of the punditeers praising the deceased Pope's commitment to the "culture of life". This is univerally seen to be a very great thing. Even Franklin Graham, son and apparent heir to father Billy Graham's evangelical ministry, louded the Pope's contribution to the "culture of life".

Now, maybe Graham, and the rest of them, didn't know what else to say. But does it seem to you, as it does to me, that this bit about the "culture of life" in regards to the Pope is rather a strange way to praise a just deceased priest, a man of the cloth, a someone who was the head of the Catholic Church for 26 years? Having a commitment to the "culture of life" seems to me to be a rather low bar of expectations. I mean, what did they think the Pope would do? That the Pope would have led a bloody inquisition? That he would have announced his support for a new "abortion on demand" policy?

It is true that a few anti-hagiography pieces about the Pope have been printed in the last few days, namely one from Thomas Cahill in yesterday's NYT, detailing not only the decline in Catholic church attendance in the U.S. and Europe during the Pope's reign, and the decline in the number of priests, but the authoritarianism of this Pope, which has created a certain climate of conformity and "yes" men among the Cardinals he's appointed, and a stifling of intellectual and moral dissent.

It's also strange in a way that the multitude of anti-papacy voices among the Protestant congregations and evangelical elite have been strangely muted through all this. Even Franklin Graham preferred to stress the similar goals, rather than the theological differences, existing between Catholocism and Protestantism.

I've been thinking of trying my hand at addressing some of those distinctions in the coming days. Perhaps the advent of a new Pope will provide an opportunity for these issues to be discussed on the nation's airwaves. But I doubt it.

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