Sullivan, Andrew
April 2005
New Republic;4/18/2005, Vol. 232 Issue 14, p46
The article reflects on the life and influence of Pope John Paul II. His greatest and most innovative skill as pontiff was the creation of drama and symbolism. The modern-looking stage, the vast crowds that this Pope knew he could summon anywhere in the world, the carefully planned photo-ops--they all created a series of mirrors focusing back on the man himself. He communicated as much by stirring addresses in dozens of languages as by a deeply creased brow, a smile, or a tear. This dramatization of self continued until his death. Before him, none of this was imaginable. Karol Wojtyla took the painstakingly acquired, centuries-long mystique of the secluded, scared papacy and cashed it in across the globe. It took a while to realize that this personalization of the Church--and its identification with one man before all others--was more than drama. Wojtyla leveraged this new stardom to reassert a far older idea of the papacy--as the central, unaccountable force in the Church. If you judge a successful leader by the caliber of men he inspires to follow him, then the judgment on John Paul II is damning. Under his papacy, the Church was also guilty of allowing the rape and molestation of vast numbers of children and teenagers, and of systematically covering the crimes up. This was a Pope who, above all, knew how to look away. How else do you warmly embrace Yasir Arafat and Tariq Aziz without moral judgment? But people--faithful people--noticed where he couldn't look. And they grieved, even as, in the aftermath of this brittle, showboating papacy, they now hope.


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