Vital Signs

Oriental Fumin'

It was not what we have come to expectwhen John Paul II arrives in a Christian country—or in any country, for that matter. In place of adoring crowds lining the streets along which the popemobile made its stately progress, there were scattered groups of demonstrators hurling imprecations both angry and somewhat bizarre: "arch-heretic, two-horned, grotesque monster of Rome." Was something lost in the translation?

These words, often quoted in the Western media, were those of a parish priest, presumably more moderate than the monastic zealots who constituted the core of the antipapal reaction to John Paul's historic pilgrimage to Greece. Some Roman Catholics—particularly conservatives who, like John Paul himself, are generally favorable toward the Orthodox East—were at least as puzzled as they were offended. All right, they figured, we could understand protests from the usual bunch of communists, feminists, and sodomites. But monks? And he even apologized! What more do you people want?

To begin with, let's get the part about the apology out of the way. Frankly, I wish he hadn't extended it, and not only because apologies to every group with an ax to grind have become the order of the day, with Bill Clinton the universally recognized master emeritus. (By contrast, John Paul, we can be sure, was sincere.) Saying "I'm sorry" for something he did not personally do not only...

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