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Catholics for a Free Choice’s Statement on the Death of Pope John Paul II

April 2, 2005

Frances Kissling, President, Catholics for a Free Choice

WASHINGTON, DC—Like many Catholics, I have found Pope John Paul II’s last year or so of public suffering more profoundly moving than any other aspect of his papacy. The example of humility in one who is powerful, one whose power has partly been his charisma and communication skills, has triggered a spiritual reflection on the meaning of my own life. For the pope to remain in public when that power had largely left him and to allow the world to see him struggle physically while maintaining both dignity and passion was a great gift.

To be pope is ultimately to be the spiritual director of the world’s Catholics. As a Catholic who disagreed with the pope on many aspects of theology, I am grateful that he has given me something spiritual I can remember and learn from.

On the temporal level, this papacy was a profound disappointment for those who believe that Christ’s message of liberation, human freedom and more democracy should apply not just to the world, but to the church itself. In the light of the pope’s personal embrace of suffering, it is hard to reconcile his seeming lack of compassion for those in the church who have suffered so much at the hands of his administration: for married priests, for women who have lost their lives and fertility and health in botched abortions, for women who cannot feed the children they have, for theologians who struggle with many aspects of church teaching, for those who minister to people with AIDS, for gay Catholics who long to be welcomed at the altar, for those sexually abused by priests, for women who are called to ordination…. The list is almost endless.

These blind spots, where charity, compassion and justice are concerned, were not overshadowed by his public commitment to the transformation of unjust systems in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, nor by his episodic and selective commitments to human rights throughout the world.

He was a pope, but he was a man. He was human; he did good things and bad things. He had glorious achievements and abject failures. God has finally taken him home and, I am sure, welcomed him with love and compassion.