Friday, April 01, 2005

The Death Of A Pope

As John-Paul II's condition declines and his death seems imminent, it is important to reflect on some of the complexities of his condition. In doing so, let me say at the outset, that while I approach this topic in a secualr light, I appreciate the spiritual significance the Pope holds for Roman Catholic readers, and hope that my feelings are not assumed to be disrespectful or intolerant, but in the spirit of the same free and open debate one is sure the Pope himself would always wish to encourage.

The Pope's death will surely be met with international trbutes to his undoubted successes in adapting the Papacy to a new and difficult age, but it should also remember the ultra-conservatism he has encouraged on a number of issues. The Pope's decrees on abortion, contraception, homosexuality and AIDS all leave a great deal to be desired, in my humble opinion, but I would like to focus on the latter issue, as a particularly outrageous example of doctrinal opposition to practical ethics.

In Africa, the Catholic church has stringently opposed the teaching of contraceptive prevention of the spread of AIDS, and has gone so far as to endorse the view that condoms cannot prevent the spread of the disease, and may actually assist in its spread. This is a very different aspect of the contraception debate to the one we see in Western Europe, where the issue is essentially a theoretical one about choice and family planning, and the benefits of contraception in aiding the reduction of sexually-transmitted diseases is often considered a peripheral issues.

While we may all pray that the end of the Pope is "serene", as the Vatican describes it, it is important to bear in mind the responsibility John-Paul II holds for his church's teachings and their effects on millions of lives over the world. Whereas his contribution to international peace has been undeniably good, I must argue that he has spread untold misery and evil in the Catholic church's social teachings, and I hope it is not considered disrespectful to challenge these ideas at the end of his Papacy. As he now retreats to the Vatican, having declined medical treatment in hospital, apparently choosing not to prolong his own life as long as possible, it would be a dishonour to his influence and authority if we were to silence debate on the effects of his teachings, in favour of sterile and sacharrine eulogies.