I was going to post something earlier about the simultaneously overdone and underdone media frenzy over the death of Pope John Paul II.
I didn't get a chance to do that. I was too busy the past few days racking up overtime participating in that same media frenzy. (Yes, I'm part of the problem — but, hey, time and a half.)
Despite the fact that news agencies had been working on this story for years, most of what's been offered is a mile wide but an inch deep. The pope's death is a Big Story. Sometimes the way to cover a Big Story is with a thousand small stories — but not by repeating the same small story a thousand times.
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John Paul's categorical opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has been as little remarked upon at his passing as it was at the time of the march to war.
On CNN they seem, perversely, to be avoiding the topic because they don't want to say anything critical of the dead. It's as if one of the pope's most praiseworthy moral stands were a scandal to be covered up until after the funeral. Unlike CNN, John Paul was not a vellolatrous stooge who accepted that unprovoked invasion was a Good Thing because the American president said so and the American president must never be questioned in a time of war.
Max Sawicky notes that the late pope nearly always took a stand opposite that of the warbloggers:
The viewpoint least congenial to the Pope's views happens to be the faux-libertarian/jingoist mindset prominent in Blogistan (the right-wing hemisphere of the blogosphere). After all, by their standards the Pope was quite the "idiotarian." He was wrong on their favorite issue — the War on Terror. Not only did he oppose the Iraqi invasion, he also opposed the first Gulf War and the Clinton Administration's Serbian venture. Morever, this opposition was not founded on some Democratic 'realist' interpretation of the national interest, but of a more-or-less pacifist framework. Violence, bad.
I think Max overstates things when he calls this a "more-or-less pacifist framework." John Paul was a strict adherent of the just war doctrine. Even with a thousand Vatican lawyers working overtime he couldn't find a casuistic loophole that would allow the American-led invasion of Iraq to be called just.
John Paul's earlier opposition to the first Gulf War was, I think, an attempt to assert the renewed importance of just war principles in a post-Cold War world. It was an attempt to set the bar for the criterion of "last resort" high enough to be a meaningful inhibition and a check against the unchecked power of the "world's only superpower."
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Our paper ran a wire story this week mentioning that "every pope has been European." This was a few pages after the chart listing the longest-serving popes in history — including St. Peter the apostle as the longest-serving of all.
Peter, of course, was a Galilean Jew, not a European.
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Peter was also married.
The first chapter of Mark's Gospel — usually considered to represent Peter's account — tells the story of Jesus' healing of Peter's mother-in-law. She was "lying sick with fever" when Jesus and his coterie showed up at the home of two of his disciples and their extended family. "And [Jesus] came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her and she waited on them." (I love that last detail. She doesn't drop to her knees with praise and thanks, but hops up and says, "Sit down, let me get you boys something from the kitchen …")I mention that Peter was married because it's an inconvenient fact for those who believe that God has ordained a celibate, unmarried priesthood. This is, I believe, a very strange and Bad Idea.
I just fundamentally don't get the idea that priests be prohibited from marrying. Some have argued that this arose as an economic measure to prevent church property from being scattered among the heirs of the priests. That makes about as much sense as any other explanation. It's certainly not an idea that suggests itself from anything in the New or Old Testaments.
It's also a relatively recent idea — more recent, even, than the idea that priests must be equipped with a penis. Neither of these innovations has served the church well. Here's hoping some future pope has the courage to acknowledge this.
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We've got a story in today's paper titled "Market is hot for papal collectibles." That's slightly — but only slightly — more tasteful than the equally accurate alternate headline: "Cha-ching! Dead pontiff is hot, hot, hot at the cash register!"
While shopping for a communion present, Jane Mills found it impossible to resist two medals of Pope John Paul II that could be worn as pendants. …
So many people have bought the medals at Angel Crossing that store owner Michele Lennon wasn't sure how many more to order.
In a few seconds on Tuesday, her order jumped from 40 to 80 to 100. That's the way it's been at the Catholic gift and book store in Elsmere since the Holy Father died on Saturday. …
"It's been unbelievable in the store," said Lennon, who's had more customers now than at Christmas.
There is a legitimate, reverent impulse at work here, but it says something — something unseemly — about us as Americans that such impulses invariably manifest themselves in acquisitive shopping sprees. I understand the emotional need for tangible keepsakes, but a thaumaturgical faith in holy relics ordered wholesale from the Oriental Trading Co. is not a healthy thing.
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The next pope will, of course, have to choose a papal name. Some recommendations: Pope Phoebe I, or Priscilla, or Julia. These are all names of leaders in the first-century church in Rome.
They are also all women's names, so they probably won't be used, since, 1) church rules prohibit women from being pope, and 2) church rules prohibit church officials from acknowledging that many of the earliest leaders of the Roman church were women.
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Update: Julia (of Sisyphus Shrugged — not the first-century Roman church leader) has a great deal more to say about the late pope and his relationship with the current American president over at The American Street. She notes that the pope, in addition to opposing unprovoked war, also disapproved of torture.