An Evenhanded Political Legacy


You may disagree, but it always seemed to me as a journalist that—despite some glib descriptions of him in the press as a “conservative”—the pope never allowed himself to be the captive or mascot of any particular party in the church internationally or in this country.

For example, liberal Catholics pointed approvingly to his overtures to Judaism and his ecumenical gathering at Assisi, his qualms about unfettered market capitalism and his encyclical as suggesting that the papacy might be restructured to further Christian unity, whereas conservative Catholics had hopes of enlisting him in the culture wars, not to mention last year’s American presidential campaign. But the pope simply didn’t seem to me to be what Anglicans call a “party bishop”—a leader whose strongest attachment is to a church within a church. For example, during the crisis over sexually abusive priests in the United States, liberal Catholics said the problem was celibacy, and conservatives said it was softness on homosexuality and cafeteria Catholicism, but I never got the sense that the pope would be pigeonholed on that issue or on liturgical controversies (though Cardinal Ratzinger and others might be counted upon to take a more pointed stance).

Because of the admiration in which this pope has been held, I wonder if with his death we will see an unseemly attempt by “Crisis” Catholics and “Commonweal” Catholics and everyone in between to try to do what they couldn’t do during the pope’s life: recruit him to a “party” within the church.