Pope John Paul II is dead. He was the Pope that reigned throughout most of my life, the Pope that I remember the most. He is the Pope that was head of the Catholic Church when I decided that I wasn't sure if I really wanted to belong. He was a learned, intelligent and compassionate man, but he did not speak to me.
I don't know much about other religions, and can only speak from my own experience as to how Catholics view the Pope. He is basically seen as God's chosen representative. He is revered and followed closely by Catholics as their Holy Father on earth. At every Catholic Mass, a blessing is said for the Pope. A lot of Catholics would never dream of speaking ill of the Pope, or if they thought something not so complimentary, they would keep it in their head. To disagree with the Pope somehow makes a Catholic uncomfortable and guilty.
That is how I have felt for probably at least a decade. Guilty that this obviously devout and holy man made me angry with some of his edicts. Uncomfortable that God was aware that I did not like what His right hand on earth was doing.
So, how to reconcile those feelings? I felt that to be a part of the Church would be hypocrisy. I snorted aloud with disgust when the Vatican made the proclamation that Catholics should not read or buy "The Da Vinci Code." Since when has the Church told people that they were not allowed to read works of fiction? Try centuries ago.
I am not sure how many are aware of the dark past of the Catholic Church, the Church of the Inquisition in which horrible things were done in the name of God. I am sure quite a few are aware of the grave mishandling of the allegations of child molestation among Church priests. In some ways, I feel that the Vatican, which is the business end of the Church, is an institution like any other. One that has people that are greedy and misguided, one that hides wrongdoing and rewards people for loyalty even when that loyalty was misplaced. But then the Catholic in me kicks in, chiding myself for impugning holy men.
With John Paul's papacy over, the Church has a chance to breathe a bit of progressiveness into itself. People have been deserting the Church for various reasons, and they need to be aware of them. Will the Cardinals choose to go boldly, or will there just be more of the same? When the Cardinals send up their ritual white smoke to signal that a new Pope has been chosen, I'll be watching and waiting.