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The Washington Post and the Pope

The Post tells us why John Paul II was a failure.

6:30 PM, Apr 3, 2005 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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THE WASHINGTON POST'S COVERAGE of Pope John Paul II today featured on page 1, among other things, a news "analysis" by Hanna Rosin. It had a promising title, "His Legacy: A Papacy and Church Transformed." Yet by the fifth paragraph of her 2,000-word piece, one got the impression that Ms. Rosin doesn't think much of John Paul II's legacy:

For those who expected more from the modernization--American priests ordained in the 1960s, say, Catholic women who wanted to be priests or Latin American leaders who wanted a partner in revolution--the pope not only betrayed his promise but locked the church in place for years to come.

The idea that there was a "promise" that the Pope "betrayed" shows such an ignorance of the basic character of the Catholic Church and such a fanciful understanding of what any Pope could or would have done, that one wonders what she has in store for the late pontiff.

Indeed, here's what comes a short way later:

Another challenge came in Latin America in the mid-1980s with the rise of liberation theology. The pope considered this movement a misguided Marxist revival and did not try to hide his impatience. On tours through Nicaragua and El Salvador, he lost his temper with crowds, yelling "Silencio!"

But let's take a look at the "Silencio" event in El Salvador which Rosin describes, as detailed by George Weigel in his biography of the Pope:

Father Tucci had arrived in Managua a few days before the Pope's arrival, along with Piervincenzo Giudici, a senior Vatican Radio engineer and an expert in sound systems. Giudici had gone to check the papal Mass site and came back shocked. A second sound system--new, powerful, and independently controlled--had been installed. . . .

In the pre-visit negotiations, [Marxist Archbishop] Montezemolo had insisted that the park be divided into sections and that the sector in front of the altar be reserved for representatives of Catholic associations and movements. When these representatives arrived at the site at 4 A.M., they discovered that the central front section had already been packed with Sandinista supporters, as had virtually all the space near the altar. The people for whom the Mass was being celebrated were corralled far to the rear of the venue, and police fired automatic weapons over the heads of those who tried to get closer to the altar.

Just beside the papal altar was another platform, filled with members of the government and senior Sandinista Party members. Their behavior was less than devout. During the Mass, all nine members of the Sandinista National Directorate, including Daniel Ortega, waved their left fists and shouted "People's Power!" The confrontation became more dramatic during the Pope's sermon. The Sandinistas had secreted microphones into the sector immediately in front of the altar platform, now full of their supporters. Those microphones and the microphones on the altar platform were controlled by Sandinista engineers, using the "emergency" sound system that had been installed days before. . . . When [John Paul II] reached the point where he explained the impossibility of a "Popular Church" set over against the Church's legitimate pastors, the Sandinista mob in front of the altar became raucous and tried to drown him out. The local engineers turned down the Pope's microphone and turned up the volume on the microphones that had been placed among the agitators. As this was going on, the government officials on the tribune next to the altar platform continued to misbehave. At last, an angry John Paul had had enough, and shouted over the mob, "Silencio!" A measure of order was finally restored, although at the end of the Mass the Sandinista chief of protocol went to the engineering console and demanded that the Sandinista anthem be played as a recessional hymn. John Paul stood at the front of the platform, took his crucifix-topped crosier by its base, held it high over his head, and waved it back and forth in salute to the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan Catholics who had been kept penned at the back of the venue.

Weigel's account not only adds an awful lot of context to Rosin's; it shows that the truth is the opposite of what Rosin is trying to signal to her readers. (Perhaps Rosin discounts Weigel's reporting because he is, in her words, a "neoconservative.")

Or perhaps Rosin is merely building towards her rhetorical conclusion about John Paul II. As she concludes her piece: