Saturday, April 02, 2005

A death in the family

It has at last come to pass that Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, has gone to meet his Maker, and your blogstress is very sad.

How can that be, you may ask, that a feminist of mutable sexual orientation should feel such sadness at the passing of a leader who rejected the full empowerment of women and condemned the lives of gay people.

To this, your Ă©crivaine can only say that the beliefs of her own grandfather matched those of the pope's, and she still felt tremendous grief when he passed on. She grieved not only the loss of her grandpa, but the loss of a charming raconteur, gifted gardener, avid reader and lover of all things beautiful.

John Paul was, without a doubt, a stubborn traditionalist in matters of church doctrine, including that which has caused grave harm to members of his flock. But that was not all he was. Through the force of his own will, he hastened the demise of Communism, which was a very good thing. In the dizzying whirlwind of his travels, he demonstrated the adage that a good king serves his people.

This writer, however, does find herself troubled by all the talk of making him a saint, for it was in his humanity, by definition a state of imperfection, that the man's complexity and magnificence made itself evident. Make John Paul II a saint, and we reduce him to something simple but distant from us.

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The pope and women

On MSNBC last night, Carl Bernstein read a remarkable passage from Karol Wojtyla's early writings as a church philosopher on matters of sexuality. In this particular treatise, the philosopher seemed to say that, in a sexual encounter with her spouse, it is important that the woman be brought to orgasm. How strange, especially given John Paul II's intractability on the limited role of women in the church.

While covering the pope's 1987 U.S. tour, your blogstress sought official word on the Holy Father's understanding of the female condition. This she got from the cardinal archbishop of Boston, who retired in infamy for having covered up the scandal of several predatory priests in his archdiocese.

During the Pope's tour, I caught up with Archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law, the prelate often described as "the Pope's man" by the press, the day after the Pontiff had told the bishops that God does not want women priests. Cardinal Law was in the front row of the first-class section of Shepherd II, one of two L-1011s that served as papal press planes. I introduced myself as a reporter for Ms. and asked him for comment on the Pop's remarks. He was most obliging and gracious, and as I eased into the seat next to his, he leaned toward me as if he was taking me into his confidence.

"There are two principles that need to be borne in mind," Cardinal Law told me, looking me square in the eye. "First, the fundamental equality of all persons. Secondly, the specific equality...of feminine humanity. He didn't say [this] but I think this is what the Holy Father meant: that the price of that equality must not come at the expense of what it means to be feminine."

"And what would you say that was?" I asked. "How would you define that?"

"I don't know," he replied. "That's something that needs to be understood and experienced more deeply."

Having got the standard separate-but-equal Vatican response, I thanked him for his time. But as I stood up, he asked me what I had felt while following the Pope. I was rather surprised by the question.

Well, I admitted, I was often quite moved by the pageantry and, yes, my heartbeat did quicken at the sight of the Pope. "but often I was angry," I said, "especially about the ordination issue."

"Oh, I know, I understand," he said, showing all outward signs of compassion. "It must be very hard for you." That is why it is so important for us to define the feminine, he contended.


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What a pope does

Sometimes a conversation with a person of another generation will blast one into place where one may a view things from a broader perspective. Last night, your blogstress conversed with a young Protestant friend who found herself exasperated by the media's vigil over Pope John Paul II's final hours (or perhaps days). Everybody dies, she said. Why all the fuss?

When your cybertrix launched into a litany of the pope's more impressive attributes--his charisma, his travels, his ferocity--the friend said, "But isn't that just what a pope does? Doesn't that charisma stem from the office itself?"

Suddenly your cybertrix realized that her friend had been born in the year that John Paul took office. She had never known another pope.

No, your Webwench explained, before JPII, we had an introverted, hollow-eyed pontiff whom we knew only as a face, not a personality. Sure, Pope Paul VI had broken the travel barrier, being the first pope to visit the U.S. and, yes, the people had lined the route of his motorcade through Manhattan. But that was just because they had never seen a pope on American soil before.

It wasn't until that conversation that your net-tĂȘte truly understood just how thoroughly Karol Wojtyla had reinvented the papacy.

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Here's Rhoderick of The Turnspit Daily on the Pope's next journey:

When I die, there will be no adoring throngs in St. Peter's sqaure, no cathedral bells, no babbling pundits or tickers will sadly announce my demise. Unlike he, I will leave unpaid bills, some unholy laundry, and maybe a few traces of porn still on my computer hard drive (unwanted, I swear). The Pope has had a long and fulfilling life. He's done more, seen more, and experienced more than most of us ever have or will. I don't pity him the least bit. This is not the end of Pope John Paul II... no, for him, this is just the beginning of his immortality. His name will be plopped down last in a long list of Pontiffs and bound tightly between the leather covers of important books in important libraries. His name will be known for centuries to come, or as long as our species shall last, Amen.

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