While I'm still reeling from the unexpected passing of Pope John Paul II— although I did receive a lovely handwritten "sympathy" note from a reader in Bellevue (no, surprisingly, not the asylum, but the city)—I am wondering how much longer we're all going to have to hear about it, as I'd like to know when it's safe to turn my television back on or open a newspaper without having to worry if I've just eaten. I don't mean to pass judgment, since I'm certain it's a practice in which His Holiness never traded, but it is curious that TV networks and other media outlets have suddenly embraced Catholicism after spending the rest of the year preaching the glories of the Gap, America's Top Model, and Lindsay Lohan's selfless sacrifices.
Why does death bring out such dangerous selective memory in the sources from whom we most need to hear considered reflection? After Ronald Reagan's demise—another shocker, that—the resulting coverage skimmed over most of his dubious deeds and did everything but credit the old man with the nation's westward expansion. As he was lowered into the ground (not low enough for me, I'm afraid), hardly a peep was heard about a president who spent eight years stumping for white-picket-fence perfection while he himself fathered a fractured clan and an administration responsible for ignoring the AIDS suffering of citizens who are, to this day, prevented from legally forming the nuclear families of which he was supposedly so fond.
Now the pope, never one to really bust my gut, is being bid farewell by talking heads everywhere as a divine being with "a wonderful sense of humor." He was the "People's Pope," we're told. Outside of the world's Catholics, of course, which people would those be? Not my people. My people, as I've already mentioned in a previous column, are, according to PJP2's most recent publication, part of "a conspiracy of evil." (Ah, yes, quite the wisecracker, that pontiff. Move over, Seinfeld.) CNN.com addressed the controversy thusly: "Supporters and critics alike agree that his papacy had immense significance . . . although his preaching in such areas as sexual mores, science, and the role of women in the church alienated many liberal Catholics. 'He was what you might call a revolutionary conservative,' said Giovanni Ferro, editor of the Rome-based Catholic magazine Jesus." The devoted will once again have to excuse me, but I'd put "revolutionary conservative" right down there with "jumbo shrimp" as something that might look good on a menu but is a little less than satisfying as a full meal.
Look, I do realize the pope did his share of outreach, so far as it could extend according to his restrictive religious doctrine. And I know that faith is an integral part of the lives of millions of people. But I'm also aware that every public man's life is due the respect of contemplating his mysteries and motives as a private person. Unflinching historical honesty is as important to our continuing evolution as human beings as anything else we have at our disposal. Let's not throw it away when the rest of us are hoping for a future even brighter than the one the Vatican promises.