Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Monday, April 04, 2005

A world leader departs

Pope John Paul II has died, and millions of people around the world are in mourning. The pope, who was 84, deserves credit for helping to end Communism in Eastern Europe in the 1980s. His frequent travel (129 countries visited) is also laudable -- in the new, connected global society, it was important for Catholics worldwide to associate a face with their religion.

His long tenure (1978-2005) was not blameless. The pope should have intervened more decisively in the priest-abuse scandals of recent years. His adherence to some traditions (he upheld the notions that priests should be celibate, and that only men could become priests) may have alienated Catholics in the "progressive" West. That said, one characteristic that many religions share is a tension between orthodoxy and liberalism. How firmly Catholicism should follow its doctrine will be a crucial subject for the next pontiff. Is it better for a religion to win more believers by a more accommodating regimen, or is it better to have a smaller flock but a more united faith?

It's unlikely that the 117 cardinals who choose the next pope will go for more Vatican II-style liberalism. It will be interesting to see whether or not they select a candidate from one of the geographical regions where Catholicism is gaining followers, such as Latin America or Africa (Lagos, Nigeria, contains one of the largest Catholic populations in the world). Choosing such a candidate would send an important message to the world and would emulate the example set by the Roman Empire when Septimius Severus (reigned 193-211) became that power's first African emperor. This would show that the Catholic Church, like the Roman Empire, has become a truly global institution.


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