JP2 & Me

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.

About Terrance

Black. Gay. Father. Buddhist. Vegetarian. Liberal.
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7 Responses to JP2 & Me

  1. Joan says:

    Well, you know me. While I was raised Catholic my ties to the church are thin at best. In sunday school at the age of about 7, I announced that I didn’t want to go to a heaven that didn’t let my dog in! That if heaven contained all that would make me happy, (said my teaher) and my dog made me happy, shouldn’t my dog be in heaven? As a teen I pondered out loud how one pope could say X was bad and all Xers are going to rot in hell, but then the next pope comes along and says “Nahhh! It’s ok, you won’t rot in hell” So, what happens to all those hell bound Xers from the first pope? Are they in hell and now stuck there on a technicality, did they not go so we were shunning the wrong people? It’s a wonder they let me back in those sunday school classes! I decided a while back that JP2 could speak for me in matters of birth control the very moment he squeezed an 8 pound bowling ball out his ass while a room full of people cheered him on and scolded him not to yell so much! Until he spends a few year as ME, he can’t tell me how to think and feel! You know how I feel about you, and your family, please don’t feel like every Catholic agrees with that man. Some of us are just too tired to rebel and declare some other religion!

    I think my interest in JP2 right now is more about the opportunity to see a very infrequent ceremony played out while I am old enough to appreciate it. I had similar feelings about Reagans state funeral. I didn’t particularly agree with the guy but there was something mesmerizing about the ceremony of it all!

  2. Melissa says:

    My interest is similar in many ways to Joan’s. I’m curious to see how the centuries-old tradition plays out over the next few weeks. I’m 30, so this really is the first transition of a pope during my lifetime where I can observe and understand any of it.

    Part of my sadness this week comes from being Polish, though. I’m not Catholic, but have watched my grandparents and other 1st generation American relatives speak proudly of John Paul II as a mortal savior of Poland. His support of Solidarity in Poland DID help bring about changes in the country, and in a nation that is so strongly Catholic, the combination of religious and political freedom quickly placed him among the most beloved national icons.

    I don’t agree with many of his more recent political statements. Many anger me and disgust me. But I cannot hate the man for all of his politics– because he did do a lot of good in the world.

    ~ Mel.

  3. RainbowDemon says:

    Truer Words were never spoken, Brother.
    I admired the man for what he did in the way of his native Poland, and dispised him for what he did to encourage inequality for others. “How can a man of peace, the leader of the largest congregation in the world, deny fellow souls a place in humanity”, I thought.
    I still can’t see. This goes against everything he said he stood for. I cannot speak ill against the dead, but I am happy that one more superhypocrite is no longer voicing his doctrine of hate. It is a wound which may never heal.

    Peace & Love,

  4. LazyCat says:

    First let me say that, as a Protestant Christian, I don’t give the pronouncements or declarations of JP2 any more weight than those of the average guy on the street. But, I acknowledge that millions of people around the world do–thus his power.

    As for writing the history of his reign, I do think there are some rational voices–several of them Catholic–who acknowledge the harm he has done.

    As an example, I would point to an op-ed piece by historian Thomas Cahill in yesterday’s NY Times, just to say that not all Catholics are of one mind about the pope. I would like to hope that, when the next pope is chosen, these other voices will be heard.

  5. Peregrinato says:

    I enjoyed discussing this with you, T.

    I’m still mulling over my own responses to JPII’s death; it is hard to extricate them from my responses to other people’s responses. At some point I’ll have to stop mulling and start writing, and my blog will eventually have to have some measure of reasoned reflection. For now, I can only summarize it as: he is responsible for both weal and woe. I accept and appreciate his response on some issues; on other issues I find his response abhorrent. He has demonstrated both how Catholicism can be progressive and forward as a voice for peace, and how it can be reactive and damningly-backward as a voice for oppression.

    I cannot fully understand the comparisons between this and the death of Reagan. Partially because the death of a Pope is typically greeted with pomp and circumstance, especially those Popes who have served for so long. The death of Reagan was based on his personality (and his veneer) more so than his real office. And I can say that I do believe that the Pope has done *some* good things, while I’m still waiting to hear what good Reagan has really done for humanity.

    BTW, I write this as a Protestant Christian (of the UU stripe) who was raised Catholic. I have somehow managed to avoid most of the strong reactions to his death that I have seen, and I am viewing this entire scenario not as a liberal Christian, not as an ex-Catholic, but as a social scientist and as a professional engaged in religious inquiry. As either social scientist and as a religionist, I have not yet come to any conclusion yet. When I do, it will have to be reflective of the complexity found in the historical office of pope, in the complexity of JPII’s personal legacy, and it will need to mirror the complex reactions that his death have propelled to the fore. Peace. ~ jim

  6. mamacate says:

    I have been avoiding a lot of the JPII drama, but as an adult child of a recovering catholic who was a victim of priest abuse (my father was molested as a boy at a catholic school), and a resident of Mass. where the priest abuse scandals were centered, I don’t think anyone, least of all a gay person who is interested in children’s rights, should apologize for ONE MINUTE for hostility toward the church. I don’t think the national press is following it as closely as we are here, but the church’s response to the “scandal” (and it’s so much more than a scandal, really) has been dispicable from the start, from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s where they covered up and knowingly allowed abusers access to children, to today when they were FORCED to acknowlege it (in only the most minimal way), and then did everything they could to discredit accusers, limit payments in civil suits, and protect the people involved and the immense wealth of the church. They were hiding assets and bobbing and dodging. It was disgusting. And the avoidance and denial still going on. I think they’ve gotten slightly better at keeping known abusers away from young children, but would I let my kids be alone with a priest I didn’t know well? Not on your freakin’ life. At the same time, they are waging a battle against gay marriage–committed, responsible, loving, spiritual unions that nurture and protect children. Yeah, great. What a guy.

    It should also be noted that catholics are not encouraged to, in fact they are forbidden from, thinking for themselves on these issues and viewing the pope as a human being who may have a lot to offer but be wrong on certain things. Catholics are expected to see the church, and the pope, as god’s word on earth, and to accept its pronouncements without critical evaluation. You’re supposed to pray to make yourself able to do this if you find yourself disagreeing.

    Yes, JPII did good things. Yes, the catholic church does good things. My aunt is a nun (she just turned 104 and is the oldest living Maryknoll nun!), and I have great respect for her life’s work, and there are certain orders, like Maryknoll and the Jesuits, that I have more respect for than for other strands of catholicism. And I know many catholics who think for themselves and are kind, wonderful people interested in peace and liberation for oppressed peoples. That part of the faith exists, but I think that the vatican today, because of or in spite of JPII–it doesn’t matter to me which–is a highly destructive force in the world. There are lots of religious working on the ground who are doing amazing things, but the power structure of the catholic church is profoundly corrupt and has been for centuries. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about saying that straight out, and my catholic, victim father (who has never pursued any form of retribution or justice) would agree. I have little hope that things will change.

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