Pope Beloved, but Criticized, by Many
His was a papacy of triumph and bitter disappointment. Pope John Paul II was embraced by multitudes, like college sophomore Henry Shea.
“In many ways, I think he re-invigorated the church,” says Shea.
But he also alienated others: Life-long Catholic Serra Sippel was so angered by his teachings, she quit going to Mass.
“I am profoundly disappointed,” says Sippel, a member of Catholics for a Free Choice.
She’s outraged even now that the Vatican didn’t do more to stop sexual abuse by priests and because the late pope refused to ordain — or even consider ordaining — women, as priests.
“Especially as a woman, I feel marginalized in this church, marginalized by the late pope,” says Sippel.
“This pope didn’t care to learn from the likes of women,” agrees Rea Howarth, spokeswoman for Catholics Speak Out.
Howarth’s left-of-center Catholic group also complains that John Paul, rather than affirming life, actually affirmed death when he refused to permit the use of condoms to fight the spread of AIDS.
“That teaching is — death dealing,” says Howarth.
Criticism like that roiled his papacy, during which the shortage of priests grew, many practicing Catholics ignored his ban on contraceptives and, in the Third World, Catholicism lost ground to Pentecostals.
But all that ferment — fostered, ironically, by John Paul — will, say traditionalists, ultimately benefit the church.
“I think the pope has encouraged that sort of love for all people, for human dignity, that does bring everyone in, regardless of those hot-button issues,” says Georgetown University student Ben Cote.
His then is a curious legacy: A church divided — and hopeful.
“I hope the church will change,” says Serra Sippel. “I expect it to change, maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually it will. And I will be there to go back to church.”
If she does, it will be to a church long-led by a shepherd whose staff was also a lightning rod.
This story aired on 6 April 2005 and is available online at NBC News.