The Pope Has No Vestments

Setting the Record Straight

The public is being treated to fawning eulogies, blow-by-blow descriptions of Catholic rites and rituals, and uncritical propaganda following the April 2 death of the pope.

Has there ever been anything like this media adulation? Whole front news sections were devoted yesterday to “His Holiness,” as if the whole world were Catholic. It is hard to imagine the death of any world leader summoning the same kind of uncritical coverage, with the possible exception of an assassinated U.S. President. Former Pres. Reagan’s death last summer certainly rated nothing like this.

Pope John Paul II: Superstar? He might have been called a great leader . . . if he had lived in the fifth century, as Catholic renegade Frances Kissling likes to quip. This pope always had at least one foot in the Dark Ages.

If one adds up the good versus the evil committed by the pope, there is no question he has done far more harm than good. The pope, given his visibility, had the power to transform the world for the better. But he chose instead to reiterate cruel medieval cant. With a few words, he could have moved the world forward, revoking the senseless Church doctrine against the use of contraception, abortion and sterilization that causes such acute misery, overpopulation and degradation of humanity.

Had he lifted even just the ban on the use of condoms to prevent transmission of AIDS, think of the tragedies that could have been spared! He didn’t just want to ram church doctrine down the throats of reluctant members of his own congregation, but upon the rest of us. Sure, he finally admitted Galileo should not have been condemned by the Church– some 350 years too late. The pope is being given great credit for international diplomacy, while it is being forgotten he put the kibosh on “liberation theology.” True, he opposed capital punishment as most freethinkers do. But think of the capital punishment, the slaughters, the witch-burnings, purges, tortures and inquisitions committed by the Roman Catholic Church and its followers throughout history.

Examine just a sampling of his patriarchal legacy.

Abortion. Over and over, the Pope has mercilessly condemned legal abortion, even in cases of rape or to save the pregnant woman’s life. He and his church lobby in this country (tax-free) and worldwide to overturn abortion where it is legal, and to keep it back-alley where it is not, contributing to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of women every year and the despair of their families.

A Catholic war is being waged against reproductive rights, as exemplified by the Catholic interference in Nicaragua two years ago when authorities attempted to stop a 9 year old rape victim from having an abortion. Abortion, the pope said, is always a “crime,” which he compared to the Nazi Holocaust. The Catholic Church would turn the clock back worldwide if it had its way. Its dedication to halting reproductive choice for women poses an imminent threat to the health and lives of half the world’s human inhabitants.

Contraception. You would think those who oppose abortion would be the first to promote responsible use of contraception to avoid unwanted conception. But that would require thinking instead of pontificating. In the United States, the Bush Administration is now insidiously doing business with the Catholic Church in some of its insurance plans offered to federal workers, whereby workers opt out of the right to any reproductive healthcare that is against the policies of the Catholic Church. Imagine if church doctrine were the rule of law for all! It would be worse than Margaret Atwood’s vision of theocracy in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Sterilization. Sterilization is one of the most popular methods of birth control in the United States. Yet it is still hard to obtain in many parts of the country that are served only by Catholic hospitals or in which public hospitals have entered into unethical partnerships with Catholic institutions.

Gay rights and gay marriage. In 2003, the Vatican launched a vicious global campaign against civil recognition of gay unions. The Pope, in his 12-page July 2003 guidelines, referred to gay rights as the “new ideology of evil,” and said it would do “violence” to allow a gay couple to adopt. This head of a sect which has engaged in conspiracy and collusion to shield predator priests accused of pedophilia, dared to call homosexuality a “grave depravity,” and said that it is gays who are in need of psychiatric treatment. He ordered Catholic politicians to oppose any legal recognition of “homosexual unions.”

Church sex scandal. This pope, who was incessantly publishing lengthy scribes and books, strangely issued only one real statement on the scandal of predator priests, a short homily on April 23, 2002. He indicated the Church’s continued belief in “salvation” and “forgiveness” as the way to treat priestly pedophilia and said, breathtakingly, of criminal priests: “A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains.” The Vatican had previously issued secret rules ordering that accused priests be tried in secret church courts overseen from Rome, without advising whether civil authorities should be informed if a priest was found guilty.The Vatican continually deflects blame from the church by mis-equating homosexuality with pedophilia.

Spiritual extortion. The Vatican stranglehold over Catholics greatly increased under John Paul’s sway. The Vatican recently told Catholic politicians worldwide that they may not vote contrary to any Catholic dogma, such as for abortion, for death with dignity or for gay rights. Some US bishops have told Catholic politicians they will be denied communion if they vote against papal line. This power grab is a menace to American civil liberties, since Roman Catholicism is the single largest U.S. denomination, and Catholics dominate Congress and many statehouses.

Women’s rights. Year after tiresome year since 1978, the Pope has told women that men only are made in the image of Christ and women were made to be breeders. Despite a shortage of priests, women may not become priests, and are such polluters of piety that male priests may not marry them. The media universally have treated these demeaning bromides as significant “news.” Even now, as men in skirts plot the course of the church, where is the outrage by media, not to mention Catholic women, over the church’s “male only” doctrines and other papal bull?

Divorce. Still not allowed, however ignored by the faithful in the parts of the world lucky enough not to be under Catholic dictates over civil law.

Stem cell research. Evil–even though the only hope of medical breakthroughs to help people (such as the Pope) suffering from ailments such as Parkinson’s disease, is via such research. Ironically, the World’s Number One Celibate also condemned in vitro fertilization, at the same time condemning married couples who decide to stay childfree.

Death with dignity. That, too is an official “crime.” The Pope himself was spared the kind of slow death or endless limbo he wished upon people such as Terri Schaivo. Just last year (in a speech before the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, March 20, 2004), the pope proclaimed that feeding tubes should never be removed, regardless of hope of recovery or the patient’s wishes. Food and water, he said, must be forced upon terminal or hopeless cases. Just a few weeks ago, he had the temerity to label as “murderers” those who sought to remove Schiavo’s feeding tube. The Pope lucked out, and died–before he could become a victim of his own pronunciamento.

The pope’s reversal of hundreds of years of church doctrine on dying places at jeopardy our rights. Might the rest of us be denied our last wishes by Catholic healthcare providers–or by institutions or politicians fearful of challenging the power of the Catholic Church?

How will our civilization ever advance when the media and politicians, not to mention the manipulatable masses, insist on whitewashing history and revering a frontispiece for one of the planet’s most regressive, despotic, corrupt, autocratic, undemocratic, inegalitarian and superstitious religions?

The best to be said about Pope John Paul II is that his successor will likely be worse.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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