Sunday, April 03, 2005

He was a great man, but...

No doubt, the late Pope has in many respects been a positive influence in the world. However, when Corriere della Sera (Italy's largest daily) dedicates fully the first 25 pages of the Saturday (April 2nd) edition (before he even passed away!) and the first 15 pages of the Sunday (April 3rd) edition exclusively to fawning and hyperbolic commentary on his life and accomplishments, this Christopher Hitchens article comes as a breath of fresh air.
It is not that I consider myself a critic of the late Pope, although I often disagreed with his positions. I just find it remarkable that (no doubt by popular consent, and possibly only in Italy) absolutely no criticism is anywhere to be heard, when criticism is certainly due. I point out a few of them off the top of my head, only in an attempt to counterbalance the excessive (I think) sugar-coating of the coverage I have seen.
  • I am reluctant to comment on the internal theological questions of a religion that is not my own, but it can hardly be argued that this Pope was even marginally progressive (in his positions; in method he was actually very progressive).
  • Furthermore there is the issue, mentioned by Chritopher Hitchens, of the sexual abuse scandals.
  • In the 80's the Vatican was involved in an obscure banking scandal (the "Calvi case," in which a former Chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano, was apparently murdered). This has yet to be resolved.
  • The Vatican, a sovereign and foreign State, has had an inordinate influence on the internal affairs of Italy, which was governed for over 40 years of the post-War period by literal minded Christian Democrats basically at the Vatican's behest (not that the other two parties, the Communists and Socialists, were any better, mind). For instance, in Italy it was impossible to divorce, even from a civil marriage, until the mid-seventies because of opposition from the Vatican, and even then it was not approved by Parliament, but through a process similar to a California ballot initiative.

After hearing ad nauseam that Bush and the Americans are religious fanatics I can only chuckle when the President of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, says that in difficult times he would rely on the late Pope's advice.
Tomorrow I am going back to Brussels: maybe the discussion there will be less monolithic.

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