Friday, April 01, 2005

A Papacy Ends

As Pope John Paul II remains gravely ill, it appears the star is fading on a papacy that has been combative, controversial, long, and transformational. As a truly multinational institution, the Catholic Church has been steadfastly toiling in its efforts to develop its faithful across every continent, within every culture. With such a disparate constituency, it was inevitable that so-called 'out-of-date' views such as those on homosexuality and contraception would be controversial in the west. Similarly, it is important to note that the segmented nature of the Curch's target markets bestow upon it a kind of timelessness. If one can argue that all peoples evolve or grow in roughly the same way to be less and less dependent on immediately accessible materials - less self-sufficient and more inter-dependent in a global sense - then with peoples at the highly developed and highly under-developed ends of the spectrum among its flock, there is no 'time' for the Vatican, no 'date' to be 'out of'. There are relative stages of development, as there are minimum levels of development (albeit not that far from absolute zero, whatever that is).

When the Pope speaks on contraception, is he speaking to New Orelans barmaids, London city bankers, Burmese villagers or Zimbabwean farmers? Each has a different ear, an alternative socialitation and culturalisation that has defined them, and defined 'their' church. Therefore those words described as controversial by the banker may not have been intended for him.

What this Pope has done is succeeded in retaining an overarching respect for the Papacy. And he has done this, it must be said, against overwhelming odds. With materialism rampant in the developed world, few were unmoved by his current plight. Despite countless paedophile scandals that attracted massive global publicity, his resoluteness, strength and conviction remained above all else dignified. In a world where leaders are increasingly seen as populist and self-serving, as democracy falls in upon itself, and apathy spreads, this leader was never one to canvass popular opinion.

Carol Wojtyla will be an impossible act to follow. In a sweeping irony, his reign may end up destroying the church, as no man can hope to sustain such insistent and patient strength - surely the temptation to increase the tempo will be too great to resist? One must realise, one must know, that time is everything, and nothing, in Vatican City.

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