As thousands march past the dead pontiff (a morbid spectacle, very Catholic), and media heads, deep thinkers and assorted commentators ponder the importance and significance of the man, let's ask ourselves one question:
Do we really need another Pope?
I understand the current Dead Pope coverage. Dead Popes are, save for John Paul I, a generational event, and nothing spells fat ratings faster or more clearly than that heavy fact. But once JP2 hits the ground, I think that should be it. No more Popes. Ever. The Catholic Church is a dying, corrupt, medieval relic, and propping up another Vatican mouthpiece only prolongs the inevitable, and to my mind, desirable end.
Alas, there remain millions who desire to be part of a flock. To be spiritual sheep under the gaze of an autocratic, celibate, middle-aged (or older) man. Submission to an earth-bound authority who claims to have inside info on the Greater Celestial Mystery is a perennial problem, and may take generations to break. But it must be broken -- not only in the religious realm, but in the political realm as well.
JP2's death inspired the usual hypocrisy, most notably from Bush, who opined, "He's a courageous person. He's a moral person. He was a godly person." Apart from the shift in tenses, Bush's statement is especially delicious, given that JP2 spoke openly against the invasion of Iraq, and now the invader and occupier must travel to pay public homage to his most famous antiwar critic. Whatever power the Church has left, at least, in this case, it's being put to good use. (I'm still waiting for some pro-war hack to suggest that thanks to the war in Iraq, the College of Cardinals is finally holding an election.)
JP2's passing also led to some theatrical expressions of grief. The weeping crowds in Rome acted as if the Pope was suddenly mauled by a snow leopard as he raised the cup before communion. The man was in his 80s, frail and clearly in his final days. By all accounts he died peacefully (as opposed to Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was gunned down with US bullets while saying Mass 25 years ago, March 24). The tortured faces of the faithful seemed over the top to me. Besides, if JP2 was God's emissary on Earth, why cry about his death? His flock should be celebrating that he was finally called home.
But then, Catholics tend toward pain and misery. It's as if they look for reasons to be sad, like teen Goths moping under long dyed hair. I saw this up close. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, attended Mass and Sunday school and offered weekly confessions. I've been yelled at by priests and hit by nuns. I sat through countless sermons where Jesus's torture and crucifixion was s-l-o-w-l-y and in great detail recounted (and you thought Mel Gibson's "Passion" was an aberration?). Indeed, one of the first images I recall from my Catholic upbringing is Jesus nailed to the cross, broken and bleeding, clearly in agony. I was instructed to revel in this image, for this image was my Salvation.
It was sickening. It gave me nightmares. Thanks to the Church, I believed that God was out of His mind and would whack you for the slightest deviance. Look what He did to His own son -- and that was supposed to be a "positive" message!
And then there was the priest who said that a child who didn't have scars or welts on his or her skin wasn't being raised "morally."
Needless to say, I left the Church as soon as I could. And while I've met and worked with grassroots Catholic activists on a number of social issues (fine folk), I've never second-guessed my decision. This week's Dead Pope coverage has simply reinforced it.