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Paper Tiber: How Pope John Paul's Critics Would Tame the Church of Rome

David Mills

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Perhaps the most interesting of the responses to the death of John Paul II were those of critics who used his death to offer their vision for the Catholic Church, and by extension for Christianity in general. It may be useful to look at what they said, because they followed a pattern used whenever a major orthodox religious figure needs taking down a peg.

The treatment of Pope John Paul II is especially revealing because he was so important and substantial that his critics--the more thoughtful ones--could not dismiss him with the contempt they show for American "fundamentalists." The critic must work at bringing him down.

Two articles published in the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph offer good examples, partly because it is politically the most conservative of the major English newspapers (it has run pro-life editorials, for example). The editors chose two learned critics: Ferdinand Mount, former editor of The Times Literary Supplement, and Geza Vermes, Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Oxford.

Mount describes himself as "only an occasional churchgoer" in the Church of England. Vermes is, though the article does not tell you this, a former Catholic priest who had renounced his orders and then his church. Though they are only on the fringe of the Christian religion, they are not secularists.

And are therefore the more effective critics. The average reader will assume the purely secular writer to be arguing a case, but think the somewhat religious writer to be in general sympathy with the thing he is attacking. He may in fact be even more hostile to orthodox Christianity than the secularist, because he cares more about it and wants it to be something else, but the naive reader (and most readers will be naive) will read him as a friend of Christianity.

Read this article on the Touchstone website (new window will open).

Posted: 23 Jun 05



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