It seems odd that I, not being Cathlolic, would have such a strong reaction to the death of Pope John Paul II (a/k/a Karol Wojtyla), but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past several days. I’ve gotten into discussions about it on other blogs and it’s led me to recognize some things that I haven’t openly acknowledged before.
Needless to say, I have a problem, a big problem with JP2 on the gay issue. Maybe I ought to be able to set that aside and appreciate the full legacy of the man.
As with everything else in life, however, it’s a lot more complicated, nuanced and in-between than any one of us really seems comfortable admitting. No one here is “wrong” in any larger or profound sense… there’s no need for hand-wringing or chastisement; but while offering criticism to absolutely no one, I should gently and tenderly point out that a more elevated way of living out our humanness means accepting the limitations in ourselves and in those around us–basically, in all people and in all of creation. When we make this realization, we see life more and more through the eyes of faith.
Maybe I ought to be able to do that, but I can’t. Or maybe I won’t. It’s the notion of “acceptance” in the above—”accepting the limitations in ourselves and those around us”—that causes me to balk at the whole idea.
I understand that he was a man of his times and circumstances, none of which would have disposed him to be all that inclined to sympathize with the plight of a modern gay man. Yet, at the same time, I’m reminded that he held a position of leadership in a major institution, adn that he was a man to whom many turned for spiritual guidance and to make sense of the world. In that sense, when it comes to gay people, he was a man who used his “bully pulpit” to do considerable harm.
For anyone under 30, it’s hard to imagine the Catholic Church as anything other than an ideological monolith — intentionally insulated, closed to outsiders and incredibly hostile to gays and lesbians. After all, these are the folks who labeled us “morally disordered” and even “evil.” And for that, we have John Paul II to thank.
…thanks to John Paul II, homosexuality has risen to the top of the list of modern evils. This elevation was due to his own experiences. As a young man, he lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland. As a bishop and then cardinal, he endured the repression of a communist regime. Once communism fell, something else had to take its place as the ideology of evil. With the rise of gay rights, we were the easy pick to fill the void.
It’s not that John Paul II didn’t take aim at other targets. There’s always that hardy perennial — abortion. But you have to admit that nothing seems to have spurred the Church and John Paul II on as much as homosexuality
I noted earlier that in his last months, JP2 labeled same-sex marriages as “part of the new ideology of evil.” It might be hard to grasp, if you’re not gay or lesbian, that those are more than just words. They do real harm; very real. I know that not all Catholics agreed with the JP2 on that issue. I know several who don’t. But the truth is there are millions who do, and who accepted JP2 as a moral authority. His words, then, become easy to use to alienate gay and lesbian members of their families and communities.
They make it easier to treat us as less than part of the human family because we are clearly associated with “evil,” even to the point that the pontiff found it necessary to differentiate between us, “the family,” nd “man,” as though we were not part of each. They push us away from our families and communities, and some of us away from our faith. They make it easier to deny gay and lesbian youth, and turn them out into the streets. They make it easier to do turn a blind eye to injustices against gays and lesbians. They make it easier to be intolerant, and to use the ballot box to vote an entire group of people right into second-class citizenship, or less.
(A word on tolerance. There’s a subtle message which seems to be that I should be more tolerant and accepting of those who are not tolerant or accepting of me. It’s a baffling equation, one in which I see myself consistently coming out on the losing end. I haven’t begun to make sense of it.)
A diarist at Daily Kos said the following of JP2.
He loved us…both in the particular sense of how he cared enough to “show up” and in the general sense that he was a man who saw his mission as embracing the good of everyone. He saw humanity as a whole. Worthy, imperfect, but essentially, one.
“He loved us”? “Embracing the good of everyone”? Perhaps it’s me, but I never saw it. JP2’s own words make it clear where my family and I stand in relation to “humanity as a whole,” and it’s not in a very good place. Can you love someone and label them “evil”? Can you love someone and deny them equality? Can you love someone and essentially seperate them from the human family? Can you love someone and require them to expect less and accept less from life—in fact, less of live—than everyone else? I have my doubts. But, then, perhaps I have a definition of “love” that’s a bit strange.
On some level, it’s also personal. My thinking about the pope’s death and the hoopla around it got me thinking in general about my issues with relgion. I chatting with my friend Jim—who is engaged in a course of religious study—about it, I confessed that I have “issues” with Christianity; issues that often manifest in anger and hostility. Given my first experiences with religion growing up, and the pain that some religious beliefs have caused in my relationship with my family, some of that anger and hostility might even be justified. (Jim seemed to agree.)
I likened it to having a bruise. Everytime something touches it or brushes against it I respond to the pain. Jim pointed out that perhaps my bruise has never had a chance to heal. How to heal it? I don’t know.
What I’ve come to realize is that anger and hostility—even if justifiable—makes it difficult for me to particpate in a discussion of a man like JP2. Yet it’s also difficult for me to stay out of the conversation, because of what seems to be at stake; some things are too important to go unsaid, even at this time so soon after his death. In fact, with the hagiography in full swing, they’re things that need saying now perhaps more than they will in decades to come, when the history of JP2’s reign is written. The point isn’t to speak ill of the dead, but to speak honestly of the dead, in the hopes that some of the harm might be avoided next time around.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I mourn JP2 or honor him in a particular way. I won’t be missed among the many millions who will be doing so this week. In that sense I stand apart from a mass of humanity, which is exactly where JP2—though his words and policies—sought to place me.