The Null Device

Vale Karol Wojtyła

Pope John Paul II has died, aged 84. He was the most widely travelled pope in the history of the Catholic Church, and extended the religion to new audiences; he also was an ideological hardliner, a veteran of the battle against communist totalitarianism who then turned his guns on secularism and liberalism; or, to quote a Guardian article on his legacy:
"I think this has been a papacy of missed opportunities and lost years, leaving scars that will persist for decades. I would say the Pope has left the church in a shocking, sad state. There is an arrogance and a lack of spirituality in the Vatican, ecumenical relations are at their worst ebb for many years and we have a church crippled by clericalism. I think the Pope lacked faith to allow for a rebirth and renewal of the church."
As the old Pope's grip on power loosened, those around him issued proclamations that amplified his natural doctrinal conservatism, incautiously suggesting non-Catholics were not really Christians, casting anathemas at homosexuality and, most recently, suggesting that girl altar servers should be banned.
There was even an attempt to force God into the European Union constitution - a miscalculated political intervention doomed to failure on a continent where many parties were formed to fight Catholic clericalism in countries which had struggled free of an authoritarian state religion into secular and religious pluralism.

My views on his legacy are mixed; on one hand, he was clearly a man of personal integrity, who deeply believed in both social justice and the dignity of the individual, and was instrumental in ending Soviet tyranny in eastern Europe. On the other hand, the hard-line positions he took on issues such as contraception and the role of women caused much misery in the world. (Still, misery in the temporal world makes demand for hope for the next, and thus is good business if you're running a church. Though I doubt that he thought of it in such cynical terms.) The John Paul II Vatican, having ruled out compromise and rolled back many of the changes of Vatican II, has alienated a lot of liberals, though arguably gotten more converts in need of a strong religion demanding of absolute submission. Whether this is enough to maintain the relevance and power of the Catholic church remains to be see.

And here is the list of the leading candidates for the next Pope, who are also the conclave set to elect the successor. Given that John Paul II had a history of appointing theological conservatives on ideological lines (one cleric accused him of selecting cardinals the way U.S. presidents select Supreme Court judges), there is unlikely to be a radical about-turn during the next papacy. There are a number of Italians there (as expected) and a few other Europeans (notable among them head of Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Office for the Doctrine of the Faith, a.k.a. the Holy Inquisition), but the other bloc expected to exercise sway is from Latin America.

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