John Paul the Honest
In the world of men and women, there are many famous names. Consider these: The great commoner, William Pitt, the elder. The grand old man, William Ewart Gladstone. The wisest fool in Christendom, King James I of England. The bard of Avon, William Shakespeare. The black Napoleon, Jean Jacques Dessalines of Haiti. The Dickens of France, Honore de Balzac. Others are the first gentleman in Europe, King George IV of England. The lady of the lamp, Florence Nightingale. The laughing philosopher, Democritus. The faultless painter, Andrea del Sarto. The learned Blacksmith, Elihu Burrit, an American linguist. The young pretender, Charles Edward Stuart. The Semiramis of the North, Catherine II, Empress of Russia. The inspired idiot, Oliver Goldsmith.
Enter another world. There are many infamous popes in the annals of the papacy. Sample this list: The “monster” and “terrorizing criminal,” Pope Sergius III. The grand adulterer, Pope John XII. The “antichrist,” Pope Boniface VII. The simonists Popes John XV, John XIX, and Benedict VIII. The robber of “pilgrims on the graves of the martyrs,” Pope Benedict IX. Others are the exterminator, Pope Innocent III. The professed atheist who called Christ a “hypocrite,” Pope Boniface VIII. The violator of “three hundred nuns” and “two hundred girls” called the “Devil incarnate,” Pope John XXIII. The fathers of illegitimate children and keepers of concubines, Popes Pius II and Paul II. The amusement seeker, Pope Leo X. The most corrupt Renaissance pope who had sex with his sisters and daughter and conducted a sex orgy in the Vatican, Pope Alexander VI.
But fame or infamy is not the exclusive preserve of men and popes. Because some countries have joined the list. Examine Poland. That nation is better known for wars and pogroms, communism and concentration camps—not for the simile, as honest as a Pole. Or rather as honest as John Paul. I did not affix pope to that name because honesty seems to be a strange quality in the history of popedom. Holiness is an anathema to the vicars of Christ!
But Pope John Paul II did separate himself from the infamous list before he died. Not when he goofed and said that the Bible book of Genesis is compatible with the theory of evolution. For evolution and creation are two opposite things. The pope proved that he was in another class when he apologized for the sins of the Roman Catholic Church. It takes a lot of courage to do so and many dyed in the wool Catholics were opposed to the “mea culpa.” But John Paul could not be deterred. He was a honest pope.
His Holiness was not however specific about those iniquities. Perhaps the confession did not include “small” sins. Like Pope Stephen VI who dug up Pope Formosus after he was dead for eight years, tried him, found him guilty, yanked off his fingers, dragged him on the streets of Rome and finally threw him into the River Tiber. Like Pope Vigilius who after condemning certain books, removed his condemnation, then condemned them again and afterward retracted his condemnation, and later condemned them again! Like Pope Benedict IV who declared Joan of Arc to be a “saint” after she was condemned by Pope Eugene IV for witchcraft.
Yet there are other “little” sins that the Pope might not have had in mind during the confession. Like the three or four popes who every morning were cursing and calling one another antichrist, demons, adulterers, sodomists, and enemies of God and man, during the Council of Constance. Like the papal court being served at supper by twelve naked girls. Like the female pope (call her a popess) who having been impregnated by one of her trusted attendants, gave birth to a child during a procession from St. Peter’s to the Lateran.
The pope might have had the “big” sins in mind. Such as the Catholic support for Nazism and Fascism. Or the introduction of slave trade by the Church through the Spanish monk Las Casas—the apostle of the Indians. Or the thousands that were crushed, burnt, choked to death or hanged on trees during the notorious Inquisition. (No thanks to the papal Bull “Ad exstirpanda.”) Then the innumerable people that were slaughtered in the crusades or the five hundred helpless women that were burnt alive in a barn in Merindol, or of the pitilessly murdered children. Or the 10,000 Protestants massacred in Paris on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572 and of Pope Gregory XIII attending a thanksgiving service in the Church of St. Louis and minting a coin with the words “Ugonotorum Stranges 1572” (The slaughter of the Huguenots 1572), to commemorate the “great” event. Of course, there was the Church’s active support for the two world wars where millions of “Christian” soldiers were blessed to fight and die for fatherland.
On the other hand, the pope might have had both the “small” and the “big” sins in mind when he made the “mea culpa.” As to whom he made the confession, is another matter. Suffice it to say that the pope said sorry.
So, even if the new pope after Pope John Paul, were to attempt some reformation in the irreformable Roman Catholic Church; or if he were to exhume Pope Formosus again and give him a papal burial, he has already been undone. For he did not say “forgive us our trespasses.”
In the world of religion, there are some famous titles. Check these: The beloved disciple, Apostle John. The light of Asia, Siddhartha Gautama Budda. The seraphic doctor, St. Bonaventura. Defender of The Holy Sepulcher, Godfrey of Bouillon. The apostle of Northumbria, St. Aidan. Madonna, the “Virgin” Mary. The lone voice crying in the wilderness, John the baptizer. And the Great Teacher, Jesus Christ. To this list, we would add the honest pope. His name? John Paul.
Now, to the honest pope: goodbye!
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Arthur Zulu is an editor, book reviewer, and published writer.