Good Pope/Bad Pope

I was just watching Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert on NBC pre-eulogizing the Pope, and what a great, great, great, great man he is. No specifics. And of course, Catholics here on the Board have been saying, “He’s the head of our church.”

Now, all I know about him is when he made the news speaking out against gays, atheists, abortion, birth control, divorce . . . So, while I feel sorry for a sick old man slowly and painfully dying by inches, I can’t say as I have a very positive view of him.

Can Dopers come up with specifics, pro and con, why he was A Great Man/A Total Prick? Not just “he hated gays” or “he was very pious and sweet,” but actual specifics about the good and the bad he accomplished during his 26-year Papacy?

Good Pope/Bad Pope

Sane Pope/Mad Pope?

Would you elect him in a box?
Would you elect him with a fox?
Would you elect some dreary mope
as your brand new shiny Pope?

Anyway, having been raised Catholic and having JPII be the Pope for a very large proportion of my life, I’ve always seen him as a man who was trying to do good in the world, but was limited by his beliefs. On the one hand, he’s been a strong voice for social justice, against Communism, and for a healing attitude toward relations with the international Jewish community (he was the first Pope in HISTORY to enter the main synagogue of Rome) and toward ecumenism in general.

On the other hand, his insistence on the ban of contraceptives has set AIDS prevention and population control in 3rd World countries back decades, his general disdain for liberation theology helped some brutal dictators remain in power, and toward the end of his life he’s been falling more under the influence of some of the most reactionary people in his orbit (Ratfinker, I’m lookin’ at YOU!).

shrugs He is/was a man, a human being, and he had good and bad aspects as all humans do.

He’s not even close to my favorite church leader, but he did a lot of things in his tenure, giving him lots of chances to do good or ill.

Basically, he was very “liberal” in his social morality and very “conservative” in his personal morality. (Quotes used, here, to show popular perception without getting into a separate discussion of what the words should mean.) Of course, this means that one’s views of those aspects of morality will color one’s views of how good or bad he was.

He really did have a lot to do with the destruction of the Iron Curtain and the end of Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. His role has been overplayed by some, just as Reagan’s has been overplayed by some, but he clearly stood up and condemned the Soviet practices and, coming from Poland, created a rallying figure who inspired the uprisings by Solidarity and other groups that drove the earliest wedges under the wall.

He also went out of his way to attempt to atone for or seek forgiveness for earlier actions by the Roman Catholic Church, insisting on a re-examination of the trial of Galileo after which the church declared that it had erred in the trial, going to Greece (in the face of harsh criticism) and asking forgiveness for the role that the papacy and the Western church played in fomenting and perpetuating the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox groups, and offering similar official apologies for other acts.

His pronouncements against corporate greed and the dehumanization of workers have been consistent througout his papacy.

And he put himself “on the road” so that people throughout the world could meet him. (This was not simple PR, although I’m sure PR played a role–he often got off the plane criticizing the host government for various actions it was perpetuating against the people of that nation.)

He also spoke out quite forcefully against political involvement by priests, eventually ordering any priest who was in a government office to resign (either the office or the priesthood).

I have a number of issues with which I disagree with him, but they are philosophical differences in which he consistently held to his position. The one area in which I found myself actually losing respect for him was in the blatant hypocrisy of the disparate treatment of the schismatic Cardinal LeFebvre contrasted against the treatment of the proponents of Liberation Theology. In both cases the Vatican’s official position was closer to its core teaching than either of the other groups, but the Liberation Theologians (who wanted to stay within the church) were chastised and silenced while LeFebvre’s group was coddled and encouraged until it actively broke with the church. (And, obviously, this sort of in-house feud is going to be of less interest to people outside the church.)

jayjay, not bad, but I would have gone with a “Wrong Smoke, Right Smoke, Black Smoke, White Smoke” motif.

I could be wrong here so I’m just asking this as a question.

Is it not the case that a pope cannot directly contradict the edicts or firm statements of the previous pope, and JPII made quite a lot of edicts thereby hamstringing the next pope (particularly in terms of such things as contraception)?

JPI, on the other hand, was reportedly going to be quite liberal on a lot of these issues before he got bumped of…sorry, before he died of a heart attack. Thus JPII deliberately took a conservative position on many of these issues so as to head off the JPI movement at the pass - by restricting the next pope.

Is it the case that the next pope can not make any statements about, say, contraception that would in any way differ from what the previous pope said (because you’re not allowed to disagree with the previous pope)?

I’m in the middle of listening to Tad Szulc’s biography (audiobook version) of Pope John Paul II; maybe when I finish it I’ll have an answer to the OP’s question. One thing that has struck me, though, is that I get the impression that Karol Wojtyla [that’s J.P.II’s secret identity] has had relatively little experience with women: his mother died when he was fairly young, and I don’t recall hearing anything about Wojtyla having any close female friends, relatives, mentors, or advisors. So he may have a huge blind spot when it comes to women, sex, and sexuality. With that said, my very non-expert outsider’s opinion is that he’s a remarkable man who, on balance, has done more good than harm to the RCC and the world, and he’s unquestionably one of the most significant world leaders of my lifetime.

Y’see, I’m learning a lot more from youse guys than from Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert!

I found the relative silence out of Rome during the height of the sexual abuse scandal to be rather indicative of the general state of denial of the Church hierarchy that flowed from the top down. Largely the isse was shrugged off as a “mystery of iniquity” (i.o.w. “the Devil made them do it”); a few bad apples making the rest of the barrel look bad. But closer scrutiny reveals a systematic and really unconscionable coverup on the part of a community that coddled and protected those bad apples to the point it was practically an enabler of their depravity. Here in the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Law took the fall like a good soldier, but it’s an open secret that during the tenure of JPII, the individual voices and discretion of the Bishops was muted to no small degree. What did John Paul II know of the scandals, and when? And how widespread is this problem outside of America? Most disturbing was the virtual moritorium of discussion of the issue of the existence of gay priests, or the difference between a homosexual and a pederast. Rather, we had Navarro-Valls calling for the ouster of gay clergy, as if that was a constructive means of dealing with the tragedy. And what of the role, if any, of celibacy? Again, I saw no acknowledgement of the need for official discussion or acknowledgment of a real issue.

I can’t deny John Paul II accomplished some laudible things, especially for his native land; but I was distincly unimpressed with the latter portion of his career, especially as his role shifted from liberator to philospher. His lack of positive leadership during the scandals that rocked the Church here in the 'States, as well as his staunch reenforcement of (IMO) many of the Church’s most disagreeable doctrines (mentioned in the OP) left me thinking, much to my own surprise, that his deficits may ultimately overshadow his many triumphs.

Good Pope:

-He oversaw vast reforms of the Church that would have been unthinkable under previous popes, but turned the church into one of the more progressive and positive religions around
-More than any other single figure, this is the man who toppled Communism and pulled the rug out from any hope for the legitimacy of totalitarian regimes. While no single figure can claim a large portion of this vicotry, he has a larger share than most. Surprised by how quickly all of the Soviet Bloc fell? Then you probably weren’t paying enough attention to this Pope
-Showed Christlike devotion in meeting with and forgiving his attempted assasin.
-Helped showed Christians that evolution wasn’t an enemy of Christianity, but compatible and even helpful to Christian theology
-Was basically a liberal on everything but social issues

Bad Pope
-Really did nothing to take a stand against child abuse and molestation by Preists. Was probably at least partially complicit in the cover-ups. Likewise, gave little criticism to the excesses and coddling of rich Catholic criminals who gave stolen money to the Chruch
-His views on sexuality and life, I personally find morally abhorrent
-Kept in place the demands on contraception and STD teachings that probably expanded suffering greatly in the Third World and elsewhere
-Most recently and bizarrely declared that people must be kept alive purely for the sake of keeping them alive.

All in all, I have to say that the man was probably the largest single good-guy public figure in the 20th century (people like Hitler or Stalin easily win for bad guy, and probably were more influential for all that). He’s a hero in many respects, and this is a sad time for Catholics to lose such a towering figure in their religion.

I immediately thought of two things that IMHO were good. tomndebb mentioned the one above. The second one was when he invited holy men from religions around the world to pray for peace with him. In the past, it would have been unheard of to recognize other religions.

These two things lay a foundation upon which future popes might start to breach the gaps between the Church and the world’s religions. Small things, but I always say evolution, not revolution.

One thing I remember hearing is that he was involved in helping Jews hide and escape from the Nazis during WWII in his native Poland. Anyone know anything about this?

I’m willing to bet none of the TV or newspaper coverage of him will be this even-handed or enlightening! Glad I asked, this is interesting.

According to the commentators I’ve heard, he did do that, he was also close friends with several of the Jewish faith and even had a crush on a Jewish girl when he was in his teens.

Khadaji brings up a good point, and sadly, there are many within the RCC who do not share his views. I’ve heard priests label the Pope Satanic for doing such things.

When did JPII specifically attack atheists? As for homosexuality, abortion and divorce a good argument can be made the text of the Bible does disapprove of this. Admittedly the Biblical argument against birth control is weak. Yeah, it does say to be fruitful and multiply. However, the population at that point was just 2 people, so I don’t know that it still applies.

No surprises there. OTOH, it was also under his leadership that I finally broke with the Chuch (though you will note I still capitalize It). There were good things and bad about JPII and, since he’s dying, I’m trying to concentrate on thegood but…

I think most of us here have had that in common with him. What is it about that Sephardic Look of big boobs and long, wavy, raven tresses that should have made all anti-semitism nonsensical? Oh yeah, it was getting shot down by posessors of the same!

I’m sure that anti-semititsm is alive and well in the American RCC, but I suspect that the number of American priests calling PJ II “Satanic” for having helped Jews through the underground in WWII are in the single digits. Unless there is some enclave of rampant anti-semitism hiding in dark corners of the U.S., most Catholic priests are going to recall that Cardinal Mooney censured Fr. Coughlin explicitly for his anti-Jewish hate program in 1940–before news of the Holocaust was revealed to the world. (It took the Feds to finally shut down Coughlin’s radio program in 1942, but Mooney had ordered him to cease his anti-semitism, before that.)

PBS’s Frontline ran an interesting series on the pope a few years ago, including pros and cons summariazed here.

Yes, but the priests I’ve heard calling the Pope Satanic weren’t referring to his feelings towards Judiaism, but to his reaching out to folks who belonged to non-JudeoChristian religions.

OK. I misunderstood.

(I still think you’ve got some odd priests in TN. “Satanic” for talking to Buddhists? Haven’t they heard of your former neighbor, Thomas Merton? That just seems odd.)

OTOH, TomAs much as that fat Polack in a dress pissed me off and while I agree (as I assume you do) he ain’t (weren’t?) no JXIII (I still dearly LOVE me JXIII embroidered bookmark in my “Lives of the Saints”) I think he amounts to one of the greats, at least of the 18th to 21st centuries, if only for the number of folks he pissed off. A mark of greatness, that, doncha think?

The Hardhead faction of the Church thinks Thomas Merton was a fuzzy-headed unwitting idolater who got his Faith mixed up with mystical Buddhist hooey. Or at least the ones who’ve heard of him do.