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Pope John Paul


The papers have been full of the death of the Pope. Tributes from Jews have been flooding in. In Jewish terms, it could be argued he was the best and most pro-Jewish pope ever. He was, after all, the first pope to visit the Western Wall, to recognize the State of Israel, to visit the Synagogue in Rome (in four hundred years), and he was personally responsible for seeing that Jewish children hidden by Catholics during the war were returned to their Jewish parents.

Despite all this, I still consider Pope John 23rd to have been a greater man and leader and feel his loss far more. It was, after all, John 23rd who first insisted, against powerful opposition, on rethinking the attitude of the Church toward the Jews. He achieved the remarkable overthrow of the Church teaching that Jews were still cursed for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. It’s true the voting was pretty close, but it got through only thanks to him. And he was a progressive pope, leading the Church to greater tolerance of others within their own ranks and greater flexibility toward dogma.

It might be argued that he allowed things to go too far towards progress, in particular the trend away from Latin as the language of ceremony. But I admired his progressive agenda. Perhaps it was vicarious pleasure because I have tended to side with the conservatives in my own religious life!

But Pope John Paul rolled the clock back. He got rid of progressive bishops, replaced open-minded Cardinals with narrower, more rigid ones, and turned the Church backward on issues such as the role of women, abortion, contraception and scientific research. I do not for a minute doubt his sincerity, but I find his program unacceptable and, frankly, deplorable, particularly in objecting to contraception in AIDS-torn Africa. And he must share some responsibility for what the Catholic Church did in Rwanda.

John Paul might have helped free Poland, but did little for South America. He was a diplomat and perfectly capable of saying to both parties in a dispute what they wanted to hear (as over Palestine). He was so wedded to non-intervention that he would rather have seen Saddam Hussein continue in power.

Authoritarian leadership inevitably leads to closing gates and covering up. The reaction of the Church to child abuse is an example, and in the process it has all but bankrupted the Church in North America.

The truth is that what the Catholics do is their business. If they want their religion to return to the sort of medieval self-lacerating masochism of Mel Gibson then good luck to them. It’s their religion, after all. But I cannot get worked up over religious leaders who are busy playing diplomats any more than I can over those who want to close up the shutters and return to the past.

And I would now be optimistically looking forward to a new regime if it weren’t for the fact that most of the Cardinals have been appointed precisely for their right-wing attitudes. Like any political party, those in power try to ensure their successors will follow in their footsteps. In politics, however, there are usually chances for the masses to have a say. Not in the Catholic Church–any more than in Judaism. But whereas we Jews can happily ignore rabbis we don’t like, in Catholicism the pope is undisputed boss. Thank goodness we don’t have popes.

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12 thoughts on “Pope John Paul

  1. Jp2 and John 23rd seem to represent poles of divergence in the Catholic Church today. I rarely see the two cited in the same places these days.

    Sadly, for many who loved and continue to love John 23rd, the conservative reaction of the Catholic Church, which holds up John Paul 2 as icon, is in full ascendancy today. One senses at times that they can barely contain their desire to not only deny sainthood to John 23rd (as if they could), but to cast him forth from the ranks of the blessed.

    One thing that I find cruelly ironic about this is that it was John 23rd who made a big point of reaching out to and strengthening the Catholic Church in communist dominated countries in the early sixties. It was John 23rd who pushed very hard for representatives of eastern dioceses to be able to come to Vatican 2, including future John Paul 2.

    As a Catholic, I try to remember that this too will pass. The eternal church is not anymore defined by the excesses of conservatism than by the excesses of liberalism.

  2. I too was/am a great admirer of John 23rd. I believe him to have been one of the spiritual giants of Christianity and although John Paul is given a lot of credit for Nostra Aetate, it was John who really first started attacking the cancer of anti Semitism in the church. He is one of ‘Saints of the Nations of the World.’


  3. Pope John the 23rd was a personal friend of my uncle, Monsignor Fraces Cassano. Msgr. Cassano had be working in the vatican as a insvestigator for miracles and stigmatas. Just wanted to add this note to make sure that my uncles work did not go unoticed. Thank you

  4. I wanted to make contact with the person who said Monsignor Francis Cassano is his uncle. He is my uncle too! Let’s chat.

  5. i just noticed this post on Mgsr cassano. he was related to my grandmother jennie scro. i ould like to know if this Mgsr cassano was from brookly ,ny?

  6. Monsignor Cassano was in a parish in Brooklyn as well in Piermont, NY in the 1970's. He traveled extensively to Italy to be the Pope's confidant!

  7. Yes, this is the same man we are talking about..I remember going to Piermont with him. I have pictures of him and Pope John for a photo shoot. I am pretty sure I was the last person to see Monsignor before he left the states. I am not too sure what happened after he left NY for Italy. All I know is that he passed away and might be buried near his brother John. If you have any other info, I would love to hear it

  8. Monsignor Cassano was in a parish on Church Street in Brooklyn and traveled to Italy frequently. Very close to our family and Fra Umila!

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