Readers continue to sound off on Pope John Paul II's legacy and the state of the church.

Published April 8, 2005 9:03PM (EDT)

[Read "Why I Can't Mourn the Pope," by Joan Walsh.]

I am also a progressive Catholic and I can certainly understand Ms. Walsh's concerns about the Catholic Church and how it betrayed her mother. I have too often attended Mass only to hear abortion and birth control considered "evil" and "sins," when I am thinking of true evils like war and rape.

However, I remain Catholic because the church is more than a conservative pope, as America is more than our neoconservative president.

I am fortunate that I have had some wonderful priests in my life: in college, our Catholic chaplain openly said that masturbation was OK. And recently, in my own community, I went to our local pastor for counseling when my IVF attempt failed. That was how I found out that the Catholic Church disagrees with artificial reproduction, but this priest admitted that his own brother had to go through this process and he had empathy for my dilemma.

When I go to church, I focus on what I love about this church: the ceremony, the fact that I can go to any country in the world and follow along with the Mass because it is so standard, the saints, the mysteries, the Virgin Mary. This pope, who angers me so much with his archconservatism, also wins my praise for standing up to the Bush administration and saying that war is evil, that the poor have rights too. About once every couple of months I think about converting to Episcopalianism, but then the core of Catholicism comes through: the saints, the sacraments, the care for the needy, the globalism. And I remain a homosexual-friendly, birth-control-using, abortion-advocating, artificial-reproduction-using, communion-receiving Catholic. An American Catholic who believes celibacy is optional, pedophilia is always wrong, and women can be priests.

-- Adrienne Eng

While I am not and never have been a Catholic, I can completely understand the feelings of the author.

I was raised a Protestant girl in a neighborhood that was predominantly Catholic. John Kennedy was my hero. I even considered converting to Catholicism, much to my parents' dismay.

I didn't, in the end, convert. But I have watched the Catholic Church regress 20 years for every year of John Paul's "reign." I have watched friends who are Catholic slowly stop going to Mass because it was a political platform and not a spiritual one.

While I realize that the world considers the pope a "head of state" and he is being buried with all the trappings of that status, I for one am glad that he is no longer head of the church. But I am also convinced, as is the author, that the church will continue on this road that John Paul chose. And more disenfranchised Catholics and agnostics will be born.

-- Sharon Lake

I have to commend Joan Walsh for her bravery, for speaking out and speaking her mind. She has summed up all the things I've thought about the church since I left in the mid-'70s. I assume we grew up about the same time, saw the same things. She is right on target about the results of this pope's actions within the church. I felt driven away by all the reversals, felt slapped in the face with the removal of altar girls and the return of the "Keep 'em barefoot and pregnant" mentality. Being in the church became unbearable, like being in a room with the air being sucked out of it. Who could stay?

-- Cheryl Hadden

I find Ms. Walsh's diatribe against the Catholic Church somewhat baffling. Since she was raised Catholic, and so was her mother, they both should have known that the Catholic Church has never supported abortion, yet both seemed surprised by this.

Ms. Walsh calls anyone in the Catholic Church that is against abortion an antiabortion zealot, but fails to realize that she is just as much of a zealot for killing innocent human life.

While I sympathize with Ms. Walsh over the death of her mother, she and her mother have no sympathy over the death of a human baby. An unborn baby is just as much a viable human life as Ms. Walsh and her mother.

I doubt Ms. Walsh does mourn the pope. It's hard to mourn when your heart is so cold that you would willingly approve of the taking of human life.

-- C.R. Roland

Joan, I just want to say that I feel similarly about the pope's death and the pomp and ceremony going on now for the world to see. I spent some time in the convent and came out on a leave of absence. I got married and have two grown sons. I became a Eucharistic minister and certified bereavement counselor for the church. One day I decided that I could no longer support the pope and his rules on no condoms, etc. So know that you are not alone in your feelings.

-- Connie Lipnick

I found your article about your inability to mourn the pope to be very articulate and thoughtful.

Rather than blindly embracing a dogma, a questioning faith more accurately reflects the human experience. Few things in this world are black and white.

While Pope John Paul was undoubtedly a man of compassion, he was ultimately bound by the intransigence and anachronisms of the church he represented. Ultimately, those positions frequently create huge anxiety and extract an emotional toll on the very people who need the solace of the church, like your dear mother.

I hope that your article will serve to open some minds and help people engage in some honest reflection on the Catholic Church and its policies, rather than succumbing to the wildly reverential media circus that is now taking place over this man's death.

-- Carol Overman

I am not a Roman Catholic. But without prejudice to my own beliefs, I think the writer is being unfair to her church and to her mother, and perhaps to herself.

Her mother surely could not have expected that every sermon she ever heard would be addressed directly to her own needs; and no doubt she was aware that her church had forbidden abortion for its entire history and was hardly likely to stop now -- and that no priest (of any faith) addressing her in person would initiate any discussion of abortion in the face of her impending death. She was angry with her parish priest because he said something she didn't like, and she died a few months later before the quarrel was resolved; and would that it were otherwise. But if she were alive today I think she would counsel her daughter to lay down the cudgels on her mom's behalf in order to be clearer about the nature of her own quarrel with that same church.

-- David Beierl

Please thank Joan Walsh for me following her very moving article about her mother. My God is all about unconditional love and a totally inclusive church. And I think we both have similar views. Please keep up the good work.

-- Brian Quinn

I am always amazed by the ignorance of so many American Catholics about the history of their own church. A case in point is the letter writer who claims that "Catholics are a pro-life people. That is all life, all the time, under all circumstances." How, in her view, do martyrdom, the Crusades and the Inquisition -- all of which, in one way or another, have glorified death -- fit into Catholicism?

And to those who would hail John Paul II as a champion of freedom I would like to point out that Karol Wojtyla was above all a Polish nationalist and the freedom that he championed was primarily that of Poland (and, by extension, of other countries in the communist bloc) from Soviet domination. I have no recollection of his speaking out against the (often church-backed) dictatorships of Latin America.

-- Coby Lubliner

I think that John Paul II's legacy is the rolling back of the liberalizations instituted by the ecumenical council. Conservative elements in the church's hierarchy have been clamoring for this ever since the council had finished its work.

Notwithstanding that he stood with the "revolutionaries" against communism in Eastern Europe, he felt the church had no place in the cauldron of South American politics. Fighting for freedom is only "Catholic" if it is fighting against "godless" oppressors (or perhaps more specifically, non-Catholic oppressors).

His obsession with the cult of the Mary only emphasizes his complete lack of understanding of the role of sex in the church. Nowhere in the gospels does it say only unmarried celibate men shall be priests. Such "rules" were created during medieval times. Where the current church seems at the ready to condemn and vilify those who espouse a more enlightened approach to sexual issues, this pope clung to outmoded traditions spawned during a time of corruption for the church. His lack of any substantive response to the sexual abuse cases only highlights the real crisis in the Catholic Church, which is its inability to set forth any sort of coherent, principled and Christian morality of sexuality.

-- Charles Caldarola

I just read Joan Walsh's piece about her mother and the Catholic Church. One thing strikes me -- Ms. Walsh's ongoing anger toward... the church? the loss of her mother? some nutjob priest?

I am a very liberal, church-going Catholic. And I was by no means a John Paul II fan.

For a long time I stopped going to church -- 18 years. How and why I returned is immaterial here. The essential point for me is that I realized that I belonged at the table and chose to return and remain.

These are the choices we all make. I guess I believe, foolishly or not, that I can do more from the inside rather than be on the outs. Ms. Walsh, I am sorry for what you have endured, but I think what you have written is a real stretch.

-- Fran Rossi

I live in France, where the press, as in the United States, has been relentless in its orgiastic praise of the late pope. But many of us remember his virulent opposition to birth control -- not just abortion -- his crushing of liberation theology in Latin America, and his violent opposition to any accommodation with homosexuals -- while remaining basically silent, as you point out, on the subject of pedophile priests.

Where was this "courageous" man during the years preceding WWII? He was raised in a small town in Poland which was, during his childhood, one-third Jewish. What did he do to save, protect or even to speak out for his childhood playmates? According to the press, he "prayed fervently": Perhaps this "courageous man" might more relevantly have joined the millions of his fellow Catholic Poles who "acted" to protect their fellow citizens.

To me, this pope was a hard-line reactionary, a defender of all that is backward, rigid and inhuman in the Catholic Church.

-- Michael Padnos

Like Joan Walsh, I find it difficult to mourn the pope, but I appreciate the good things about his papacy. Among those good things were his overtures to the Jews and his diplomatic recognition of the state of Israel. John Paul II was the most pro-Jewish pope in history. I hope Ms. Walsh finds that something to applaud.

-- Miriam Weiss

By Salon Staff

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