Friday, April 01, 2005


A strange feeling has come over me today. In the Vatican, a man is dying who believes that I am going to Hell. Not because of anything I have done, per se. Not even because we worship a different God. Because I refuse to accept fairly important parts of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the eyes of Pope John Paul II I am liable, upon death, to an eternity of damnation.

And yet, as he lies on his deathbed, I find myself heavily touched by the suffering that he has undergone. Seeing him deliver his Easter message last Sunday was a harrowing experience. There cannot be many things more terrible in this world than being in control of your brain but unable to control your body. For this fading away to be carried out so publicly must compound the turmoil. The Pope is expected, to Catholics, to be the physical presence of God on earth. To see him so frail seems strange - but when you consider who God has appointed as his previous representatives, it is oddly fitting that a frail man can still express such senses of dignity.

There are many of the political stances of the Catholic Church during the pontificate of John Paul II which have possibly caused more problems than they have solved. In particular, the intractable opposition to abortion has contributed to an emotive debate where feelings cloud a genuine discussion of the issue. Yet John Paul has also been able to use his undoubted influence in the world as a power for good. The significance of there being a Polish Pope greatly assisted the thaw in the Cold War, and for that contribution to humanity, he is rightly lauded.

For whatever we may think of his church or his beliefs, the Pope is a very significant political figure, having a strong impact over the lives of a billion people worldwide. For someone with such a weight on his shoulders, he has always carried himself with the dignity that commands respect. When he spoke, he gave the impression that he had carefully considered his words and did not rush into his judgement.

What this shows, of course, is that the Christian message has a far deeper resonance than the doctrinal issues that the Catholic Church uses to judge salvation. Dignity, respect for others, and honour are crucial aspects in creating a good world; what one does in one's bedroom, to take but one example is not. I feel sorry at the passing of the Pope because he was a good, if misguided man.