Whitewashing the pope

The media's obsessive coverage of the pope's death does not include a discussion of the tragic failures of his reign.

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Paint the last month black. It’s been an orgy of mourning, a cornucopia of death. We’ve had Terri Schiavo, Pope John Paul II, Prince Rainier, and Charles and Camilla’s wedding — which felt as grim as any funeral. All brought to us in no-longer-living color. If nothing else, the media have outed themselves as the ultimate necrophiliacs. I expect CNN and Forest Lawn to announce a sponsorship agreement any day now.

The pope’s interminable interment was the magenta-colored cherry on the death sundae. The TV coverage was so over-the-top and utterly uncritical, it was as if John Paul had been, well, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Or, at least, Jim Caviezel.

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that the last week should have been spent trashing the late pontiff. His many achievements — taking on communism, embracing the Third World, speaking out for the poor, and standing up against war — surely deserved recognition and praise. But you’d think the wall-to-wall coverage would have included some serious discussion of the two tragic failures of his reign: his woeful mishandling of the church’s child-molestation scandal, and how his archaic position on condoms contributed to the deaths of millions of people, especially in Africa.

The molestation outrage is a black mark that can’t be whitewashed.

Over 11,000 children were sexually abused and close to $1 billion in settlement money has been paid out, but the pope did not go much beyond decrying “the sins of some of our brothers.” He never met with any victims, he never offered practical solutions to dealing with the problem, he never addressed the decades-long coverup of the abuse. He even rejected a “zero tolerance” policy calling for the immediate removal of molester priests, concerned that it was too harsh.

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Too harsh?! This is a man who wouldn’t allow priests to become bishops unless they were unequivocally opposed to masturbation, premarital sex and condoms. So in his perverse pecking order, you had to be dead-set against “self-love,” but when it came to buggering little kids, there was some wiggle room.

And let’s not forget that the pope appointed Cardinal Bernard Law, who was one of the architects of the sex scandal coverup and who even faced potential criminal prosecution for his role in the concealment. But instead of making an example out of Law, the pope gave him a cushy sinecure in the Vatican. Adding insult to the grievous injury suffered by the abuse victims, Law was one of the nine cardinals specially chosen to preside over the pope’s funeral Masses. It is a disgrace — and an indication of how detached the Vatican became under this pope.

The other stain on the pope’s legacy is his tireless opposition to the use of condoms — even in places like Africa, where AIDS killed 2.3 million people last year alone, and where the disease has driven life expectancy below 40 years in many countries.

But even in the face of that kind of suffering, he fought tooth and nail against condoms. Anytime a church official even suggested that people infected with HIV should use condoms, they were either removed from office or censured by the Vatican. We were told again and again last week about how committed John Paul was to promoting a culture of life. I guess the 20 million people who have died from AIDS are the exception that proves the rule.

On the other hand, the pope’s passing might have saved the political skin of one of his “culture of life” cohorts, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. If you have a series of looming ethics scandals about to come crashing down on your head, having the media focused 24/7 on something else is a very lucky break indeed. But, in the end, it’s going to take a huge celebrity dying every three days for the next few months to keep the Hammer from going down.

The presence of DeLay at the pope’s funeral in Rome, along with the attendance of George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and the elder Bush, was a stark reminder of our perverted priorities. The pope dies and it’s Must Holy See TV; 1,547 American soldiers die in Iraq and President Bush and Laura have yet to attend a single funeral. Not a single one. Maybe the president only goes to the funerals of people whose death he wasn’t involved in.

Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist, the co-host of the National Public Radio program "Left, Right, and Center," and the author of 10 books. Her latest is "Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America."

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