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A failed pope?

Am I the only one who's annoyed by the growing number of critics (like Andrew Sullivan) who regard JP2's papacy as a "failure" because of decreased church attendance (primarily) in Western Europe?

The subtext is clear. The pope was just too darn "conservative" and "rigid." Had he been more liberal and moved to "modernize" the church, this wouldn't be a problem. Had he merely been enlightened enough to incorporate strippers and lapdances into Catholic liturgy, the church might actually be popular again.

Yeah, I know that only 10% of French people attend mass, but France's long slide into secularism has endured for a century, and I suspect it has much more to do with the evolving mores of the French than with our recently departed pope.

Look, let's just forget for a moment about the enormous role he played in ending Communist tyrrany in Eastern Europe, his struggle to end apartheid, and his efforts to build bridges with the Jewish and Muslim communities. He was the first pope to reach out to the third world in a meaningful way. His tenure at the Vatican has seen explosive growth in the Catholic Church in Africa and South America. Since 1900, for example, Christianity in Africa has experienced a 4,400 percent increase. Doesn't ignoring all that to focus exclusively on the doldrums of the Western church seem a bit... Eurocentric?

Yeah, that's a polite way to put it. I think I'll call it that.


I don't personally criticize the Pope for his conservatism, nor do I criticize his (understandable, in my view) hard line regarding abortion, euthenasia, the death penalty, and what defines a just war. On the other hand, the Catholic church continues to condemn homosexuality and does not allow women into the priesthood, both positions of which I believe can be questioned in light of Christ's golden rule. So I do understand how gays and women might question this Pope, because on both those issues, the Episcopal Church, as one example, has taken steps that this Pope has chosen not to take.

The Pope, of course, has a right, as do all Catholics, of reading the Bible and Christ's teachings as not embracing the practice of homosexuality, allowing priests to marry or allowing women to become priests.

In this country, however, gays and women are also allowed to question the Pope, even if they themselves are not Catholics.

I say that while I personally believe that the Pope was one of the great men of the 20th century. I greatly admire the man, while at the same time I choose not to be one of his followers.

Yeah, my church has indeed addressed those issues, PE.

And here is what happened:

CBS/AP) In one of the biggest independent meetings of Episcopalians in years, 2,600 clergy and lay members are gathered to protest the denomination's liberal steps on homosexuality, with the possibility of a church split in the air.

The meeting, set to begin Tuesday, was originally planned as a strategy session for a few hundred leaders. But it mushroomed in scope as conservatives reacted against two actions by the Episcopal Church's midsummer convention: confirmation of a gay bishop living with his partner, and a vote to recognize though not endorse or condemn that bishops are allowing blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The presence in Dallas of 45 of the church's 300 bishops underscores the gravity of the situation.

Episcopal Bishops voted 62-45 in early August to approve the election of their first openly gay bishop, Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Robinson had been cleared of sexual misconduct accusations a few hours before the vote was taken.

"We have two to three weeks to see the future of the Episcopal Church in America," says the Rev. David Roseberry, whose 4,000-member Christ Church in suburban Plano organized the event.

He refers not only to the Dallas meeting but, more importantly, an Oct. 15-16 emergency summit in London for leaders of the international Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch.

That session involves the Anglicans' spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and the 37 other heads of world Anglican branches. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of the Episcopal Church also is a member of that group and defends the decisions reached this summer in Minneapolis.

The American Anglican Council, sponsor of the Dallas meeting, says that U.S. conservatives are loyal to Anglican beliefs and the Christian tradition, so it's the Episcopal Church majority that has broken away into schism.

Griswold had tried to send four observers to the meeting but they were turned away. Bruce Mason, a council spokesman, said observers were not allowed at the meeting and registration was limited to those who signed the organization's statement of faith, called "A Place to Stand."

Founded in 1996, the AAC has emerged as the most important conservative Episcopal caucus. It reports a mailing list of 50,000 and support from about 500 congregations and 50 bishops. Spokesman Bruce Mason says "we probably represent a minority within the Episcopal Church but are part of the vast majority worldwide."

Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Diocese of Washington, D.C., and part of that liberal majority, estimates that, at most, 14 percent of the 2.3 million Episcopalians favor traditionalist protests. Naughton is part of a team in Dallas observing the meeting, which concludes Thursday.

Any Episcopal split would presumably be the biggest in the United States since 1976, when 100,000 members quit the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The Episcopal Church also suffered 1970s walkouts, over women priests and revisions in liturgy, but they were minor by comparison.

The election of the gay bishop is affecting Anglican relations with other Christian denominations. When Williams met Pope John Paul II, head of the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics, the pontiff referred to elevating the gay bishop when he warned: "We must also recognize the new and serious difficulties that have arisen on the path to unity."

"These difficulties are not all of a merely disciplinary nature; some extend to essential matters of faith and morals," John Paul said. "Faced with the increasing secularism of today's world, the Church must ensure that the deposit of faith is proclaimed in its integrity and preserved from erroneous and misguided interpretations."

The Dallas meeting's major action will be a petition to the London summit that's likely to ask the world leaders to provide special bishops to minister to conservatives within liberal U.S. dioceses, instead of their regular bishops.

The petition could also repeat an idea approved by recent conventions of the Fort Worth and Pittsburgh Dioceses, asking the London summit to declare the traditionalists to be the authentic U.S. branch of Anglicanism, in effect suspending or expelling the Episcopal Church.

Whatever emerges, "we need a safe place to be, safe from theological and spiritual harassment, harassment to careers, and danger to our property," says Canon David C. Anderson of Stone Mountain, Ga., AAC president.

He says AAC leaders will be holding a follow-up meeting sometime after the London summit.

A split is implied in such program topics here as "Talking Points for Answering Difficult Questions" and the legalistic "Constitutions, Canons, Pensions, Properties and Jurisdictions."

Who gets church property in a split could be among the toughest problems discussed in Dallas. The most radical position came from the Pittsburgh diocesan convention: a declaration that buildings now belong to each congregation, denying the national denomination's claim to control all property under 1979 legislation.

Roseberry says, "we are prepared, and preparing, for what God is going to do next."

Amen Barry, I agree whole-heartedly. As to the late Holy Father's position on homosexuality and women ordination, this is a rather unreasonable criticism. The Church's position on these two issues is deeply founded in doctrine and Scripture, and to reverse the position would require remarkable doctrinal and theological alterations. John Paul's coonservatism is not indicated by his position on these issues, because his position is that of the overwhelming majority of Cardinals.

I am consistently shocked that so many people seem to think the Church's positions are merely on-the-spot opinions. While you or I may spend even several years considering what we belief, the Church has literally hundreds of years of theological study and devote prayer which govern the Church's positions. Perhaps we should be a little less eager to apply American political correctness to these positions.

First, throughout history, there have been splits within churches. Many of what we now consider to be mainstream churches are less than 200 years old. Before that, churches were founded over the issue of divorce or the teachings of a heretic.

I understand that the changes within the Episcopal Church are controversial. A woman I attended high school with is now an Episcopal priest. She also is married with three children and she has been attacked, sometimes threatened, by those who don't agree with her being in the priesthood. When she attended the Union Theological Seminary in New York, there was an acceptance of homosexuality that I have not found in other religions. I find this in accordance with the golden rule. Others do not.

When the Pope spoke of "essential matters of faith and morals," I agree with him there, but I feel that it is he that is misguided in his refusal to accept homosexuality as I believe that Jesus would accept homosexuals as they are. While indeed most churchgoers would agree with John Paul that I was harboring an "erroneous and misguided interpretation", part of the reason I could never be a Catholic is that I could never accept the idea of any one man being infallible. Certainly, I can be wrong. My defense, however, of homosexuals is not a matter of convenience; it is something that I believe is morally right and I believe on this matter the Pope was mistaken.

When I say that I purposely believe that the Pope is "misguided", I am not saying that he ever was wrong for himself and the believers in the Catholic faith. I can disagree with him and still honor his consistency, his bravery, and his pure heart. I am just saying that I can not be his follower. I am also saying how I understand how gays and women might criticize the Pope for his stands.

I can understand PE's point. In Exodus, it claims any man engaging in "homosexual acts" should be put to death. This could include straight men. God never condoned thought crime, and never said homosexuals are evil, just homosexual acts. I think something of an abstinent homosexual could possibly be a priest, bishop, etc...

However, the Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, etc.. should have moved past this whole "no women in charge" crap years ago.

Well, speaking of gay priests, who remembers Father Judd, who died in the World Trade Center?

And it's funny you said that about Pentecostals and women. I was raised in a Baptist church, and we often thought ourselves more liberal-minded than our Pentecostal friends. It was true to an extent, but with one rather notable exception. The Pentecostals always had female preachers, which would have been anathema in a Baptist church.

The Pope is not always infallible. It doesn't work that way. The Pope is infallible if and only if he is Speaking from the Chair of Saint Peter, and this has only been used very rarely. For example, when the Church declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary, two or three lines in that declaration were infallible. Not the whole thing. Papal infallibility doesn't mean anything a Pope says or does is infallible.

Let me get this straight: the Pope can sit in a chair, and whatever he says while sitting there is considered infallible? Cool! Does this work for anyone who sits in the chair, or do you have to be the Pope?

(If the answer is 'anyone', I'm off to Rome to sit in that chair and bust some infallible rhymes.)

Well, you can try to sit in the chair, but you might end up with a halberd inserted into your colon.

Also, the chair is figurative, so you might have trouble finding it.

For Roger's info:

A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 14th and 15th centuries, conisting of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. The insertion of a figurative halberd is known to be especially painful.

"Let me get this straight: the Pope can sit in a chair, and whatever he says while sitting there is considered infallible? Cool! Does this work for anyone who sits in the chair, or do you have to be the Pope?"

It's the same theory as the Captain's chair on Star Trek.

Not to detract from John Paul II's monumental achievements, but could it be that the "explosion" of Third-World Catholicism might be attributable to the parallel population explosion (indirectly created by the pope's unwillingness to endorse birth control)??

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