Sunday, April 03, 2005

Papal Passing

This post on Stone Court reads:

Christiana Amanpour is going on now about how John Paul II "touched" and was loved by people on all parts of the political spectrum. Just curious -- do folks agree with that? There is no doubt he was a charismatic man, but I have a hard time feeling affection for someone who worked so hard to exclude women from the priesthood, to oppose birth control, abortion, and stem cell research, and to stigmatize gays.

To that, I responded in the comments section:

I am not Catholic and have no particular affection for him, but I think it is important to note that though some of his teachings around the issues you mention are very negative, there are also some profoundly progressive social teachings the he strongly promoted that generally don't get much airplay in North America -- things related to opposition to war and a radical vision for economic justice.

In the mid-1980s, in the Canadian city I used to live in, there was a block of progressive city councillors that proposed a notice of motion at one meeting involving some radical, socialist-sounding rhetoric about the rights of workers and the immorality of economic exploitation and so on, without telling anyone what exactly it was. There were some bitter grumblings from some of the more conservative members of council in the press, some of whom were Catholic. A couple of days later, the lefties let it be known that this was, in fact, text lifted directly from a papal encyclical (or similar document) which threw the conservatives into a bit of a quandry about what to do about it. Don't remember, from the version of the story I heard, whether it passed or not at the next meeting but the point they wanted to make in the press had been made and some of the right-wingers had embarassed themselves.

As well, I don't know a lot about the internal politics of the church, but a good friend of mine who is devoutly Catholic (although in the mystical side of its theological tradition, and the progressive side of its politics, and who also happens to be an out lesbian) has a certain affection for JPII, and in past conversation has blamed much of the social conservatism under this pope on Cardinal Ratzinger, one of the senior officials in Rome and a vocal conservative.

I would add that the other day I heard local activist Blaise Bonpaine interviewed on Beneath The Surface on KPFK on this issue. I had heard him speak at a conference back in the fall, and on that occasion I was not impressed, but this time I was. Bonpaine was a priest in Guatemala in the 1960s. He was ordered out of the country by the government because of his support for liberation struggles, and on his return to the U.S. was ordered to silence by the church. He chose instead to speak up about the atrocities he had witness and leave the priesthood. Anyway, he did a good job of presenting a progressive Catholic perspective on the teachings and legacy of John Paul II. Even though I am not Catholic and not particularly religious at all myself, I think that is important because I worry about the knee-jerk reaction of certain liberals and lefties who condemn religious institutions and even entire religions in simplistic ways, without appreciating that not only can they have an oppressive impact but they can also play a positive role in liberation struggles, and they can be personally important to people in our movements.

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