Pope of Convenience, R.I.P.

Politically, our late Pope was a mixed bag — in American terms, liberal on some issues and conservative on others. American conservatives, Catholic and otherwise, followed him when convenient and ignored him otherwise. The Pope’s strong opposition to the Iraq invasion had no influence on them, whereas his strong opposition to abortion recently allowed the egregious Wolf Blitzer to joke that the Democrat Paul Begala might not be a very good Catholic. (Bill O’Reilly’s opinion during the Iraq war was that the Pope was senile, though he denies that now.)
In the extended entry I’ve put an exchange I had with a local rightwing Catholic journalist who had just published a string of fulsome tributes to John Paul II. I’ve deleted his name, partly for legal reasons, partly because the guy isn’t the worst of the lot, and partly because I no longer have the energy for big pissing matches.
You’ll find that he supported the Pope only when he already agreed with him, and only on the questions on which the Pope spoke authoritatively (ex cathedra).
On questions about which the Pope’s opinion was not binding, our Catholic friend just ignored it. His respect for John Paul’s own personal opinion was nil; he was only interested in the man in his offical role as the head of the Catholic church.
I ended my part of the exchange by hoping for his sake that the next Pope would be more congenial to him. He didn’t think that that was funny.


Dear XXX,
Like you, and like almost every American, I agreed with John Paul II about half the time, and disagreed (and ignored what he said) the other half. I’m not a Catholic, and I guess you aren’t either, so I guess that’s fine. For me it’s capital punishment, the Iraq war, wealth and poverty, the consumer society, and relations between the rich and the poor nations. For you it’s abortion, gay marriage, and probably a few other topics related to sex and gender.
You still do run into people who accepted his view on everything, but not often. They’re always very nice people, and the things we agree upon are more important to me than the ones we disagree upon, so we can get along.
I have more problems with half-Catholics.
John Emerson


Dear John
I am a Catholic. I take very seriously all that he said and, as a faithful Catholic, am obligated to follow his and his predecessor’s ex cathedra teaching in their area of faith and morals — those concerning abortion, marriage and homosexuality. His words that appeal to you in those other areas, while important, are not non- negotiable beliefs that all Catholics must hold. Don’t be upset about your misunderstanding of this distinction, many Catholics do, too.


Dear XXX
So you disagreed with most of his personal opinions, but were forced to accept his official pronouncements? Maybe this time you’ll get a new Pope whom you actually respect personally.


It’s hard to imagine a pope I would respect more, but where I come from respect doesn’t mean agreement on everything. Thanks for writing

As far as I can tell, where this conservative comes from “respect” doesn’t mean much of anything except refraining from direct insult. It sounds pretty content-free. Pope John Paul II would have had as much luck preaching to mud and rocks and the beasts of the field as he did with this guy.

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