Monday, September 20, 2004

Parallel Lives

One of the celebrated ironies of the age is how Osama Ben Laden, a cherished ally in our proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, became our deadly enemy once the tanks rolled out of Kabul and we became the intolerable occupier of sacred lands. In fact, though the ironies are more muted, the end of the Cold War made plenty of other heroes into problematic characters. Consider the case of Karol Jozef Wojtyla, a Polish patriot who became Pope John Paul II and whose leadership probably really did have something to do with the success of Solidarity in his native land—Polish nationalism has been inseparable from Catholicism since the incursions of Lutheran Swedes back in the 17th Century. With the fall of the Soviets, the same intellectual and moral characteristics that made the Pope such a force against Communism may well turn out to be harmful to his church in the sequel. John Paul has proven himself to be a very effective reactionary, reinforcing the arbitrary authority of the hierarchy and briskly rolling back the Vatican II reforms. These victories, however, have had a cost as the corruption inevitable in a rigid and secretive system has inspired a lay revolt in the United States and elsewhere that almost amounts to a new Reformation.

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