Two men in their eighties have passed away now in the first half of 2005 and let's pause for a moment to consider their similarities and differences, their legacies and impact upon the world. Both were born in the turbulent years following World War I. Both were well-educated but even so, chose to work in the theater. One went on to become one of the most accomplished playwrights of his generation, the other forsook the footlights to head an organization with members in possibly every nation and every continent on earth. Both of their works will be remembered five hundred years hence: playwright Arthur Miller and Pope John-Paul II.
Of the two, I know the work of Arthur Miller better. Miller was an artist who understood religion and its impact on society. In his forward to The Crucible, Miller explained that religion, as practiced in the West, had a long history of demonizing sexuality; to the point that sexuality itself has been considered so sinful and unclean that only the narrowest of circumstances permitted its expression.
Pope John-Paul II was the enforcer of those sensibilities. I loved the image of the Pope schussing down alpine ski slopes, but it has been decades since he was physically able to do that. In his pastoral capacity he was gentle, kind, and loving. But in his sanctimonious moral screed, he echoed millennia of sublimated fears about human sexuality, from birth control to homosexuality. In his most recent book he called gay marriage part of a "culture of evil." Homosexuals have replaced witches and heretics in the modern church.
We hope that the cardinals will choose a more moderate and embracing figure for their next leader. However, this papacy was so lengthy that most of these cardinals were themselves elevated by John-Paul II, and presumably share his views, so that is unlikely.
I recently read that the composer Schubert, when writing the credo for one of his masses, omitted the words, "I believe in one holy catholic church." Because he didn't. I concur with his sentiment.