By Harry Welty
Is the Pope Polish?
I lost my favorite catch phrase to signal that I mean, "Yes," when
Pope John Paul II died. Right away it occurred to me that I could use it one
last time as a title for a column. But that would mean writing a paean to the
late Pope and I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that because John Paul vexed me
so often during his papacy.
Besides, there were other tempting targets for my column. One was Republican
Senator Cornyn who seemed to be appealing for an Eric Rudolph to shoot bad
judges or James Dobson of Focus on Families who equated our black robed Supreme
Court justices with white robed Klu Klux Klanners. But last night I got a
heavenly sign to pontificate about the Pope.
The sign (and that's surely what it was) was in a thirteen year old movie that
I'd never seen. My wife and daughter had raved about it and I always felt bad
that I didn't watch it with them. I rented it from a movie store a few years ago
but returned it unwatched. A year ago I put the movie on my Netflix queue and
three weeks ago a DVD of the movie turned up in my mail box. I watched it last
night just before I had to crank out a column and surprise, surprise, John Paul
was one of the main characters.
"Sister Act" is about a lounge singer who witnesses a mafia execution
and has to hide out in a San Francisco convent. After turning the convent on its
head Goldberg takes over the nun's choir and gives it Las Vegas pizzazz, so
much so, that John Paul II pays a call to the convent. Well, don't you agree
that that was a pretty strong hint to write about John Paul? Ah come on! Is the
pope Polish? (Well, not anymore but I think you see what I mean about the
One of my chief vexations about the Pope was his elevation in Republican circles
to that of a near divinity. George Bush hurried off to Rome last year to kiss
his ring during the election and he rushed over again to bury the Pope. The
issue that brought Catholicism into the Republican Party was abortion which
accounts for another of my vexations. (I am pro-choice)
Abortion politics helped put an end to a long standing division between the GOP
and Catholics. In the old days, Catholics were urban laborers and thus Democrats. Republicans were
rural farmers and small businessmen. After the Civil War a popular Republican
wrote: "We are Republicans, and don't . . . identify ourselves with the
party whose antecedents have been rum, Romanism, and rebellion."
Romanism, of course, meant Roman Catholicism.
The American Church historian, Martin Marty, wrote that for much of our history
Catholics were America's Jews. There have been almost as many anti-Catholic
riots in America as Old World pogroms. American Protestants used to talk about
the Pope as though he were Satan.
It took several generations, a Depression, a Second World War and the charisma
of a millionaire war hero to overturn this ancient prejudice but still it did
not die. My Mother's Aunt Susie sourly told the family after John Kennedy's
election that the Pope would be running America.
But the conservative revolt against the 1960's helped unite fundamentalist
Protestants and pro-life Catholics especially in the fight to overturn Roe vs.
Wade. Following the tentative Republican embrace of pro-life Catholics
the stridently anti-communist Ronald Reagan was elected President. Reagan's Cold
War rhetoric melded perfectly with the new Catholic pontiff's desire to free
Poland from the Iron Curtain.
It's been truly thrilling to watch John Paul for the past twenty five years.
While he did not single-handedly end the Cold War, he was one of a half-dozen
figures to bring it to its knees after a seventy-five year global rampage.
Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev, Lech Welesa were some of the other players in the
Cold War's last act but none of these was more critical than the Pope. Had the
College of Cardinals elected anyone other than Karol Wojtyla as Pope in 1978 I
suspect the Soviet Union would still be with us.
And John Paul could not be bought. As soon as communism fell the Pope turned
from his critique of communism to a critique of capitalism much to the
Republican Party's chagrin. He also nettled the Republican Party over its
support for the death penalty, the war in Iraq and its worship of conspicuous
As I write this God may be grilling the Pope at St. Peter's gates about the
cover-up of sin in his Church. Still, I doubt that God will keep John Paul in
purgatory for very long.
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com