Billmon has a generally positive post up about the Catholic Church, and the current, if not for much longer, Pope. In a grand old tradition of getting your retaliation in first, before the predictable wave of popular beatification starts, I'd like to draw your attention to this Terry Eagleton piece from the LRB, and these general points he makes.
The Pope is authoritarian and cannot tolerate dissent:
Not for nothing was the priest who taught him theology in Rome known as ‘The Rigid’. As a Polish bishop newly arrived in the city to take part in Pope John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council, he was appalled by the sight of his fellow bishops quarrelling, lobbying and criticising. This was not the custom of the traditionalist Polish hierarchy, assured in their monopoly of absolute truth.
The Polish Catholic Church was one of the most conservative institutions on the planet, awash with maudlin Mariolatry and ferociously anti-Communist. A pope from this embattled neck of the woods would soon put paid to pluralism, moral relativism, way-out Masses with Coke and hamburgers, and Catholic fellow-travelling with the far left.
He undermined internal Church democracy and centralized power, creating a cult of personality:
As the 1980s wore on, John Paul rolled back one Vatican Council agenda after another. To do so, however, he needed to smash the Council doctrine of collegiality, which in impeccably orthodox fashion saw the Church as governed by the bishops as a whole, with the bishop of Rome taking priority among them. ‘The bishops with the pope’, rather like ‘the queen in Parliament’, was the vital brake on autocracy.
[he] has scuppered collegiality even further by encouraging the growth of maverick groups, among them unsavoury outfits like Opus Dei, which operate outside episcopal structures and declare allegiance directly to himself.
[he has] a taste for statuesque postures and grandiloquent bardic monologues ... [and] ... it is not surprising that he should have become the pope of public spectaculars, a kind of spiritual rock star.
A Polish journalist has remarked that only Stalin had more public statues erected to him in his lifetime than John Paul.
He has lied about contraception:
Probably the greatest crime of John Paul’s papacy is his insistence that condoms are inherently evil even when used to forestall fatal infection – a position which, as Cornwell bravely acknowledges, has condemned untold numbers of Catholics to almost certain death. In what must surely count as one of the most grotesque ironies of the age, John Paul has called condoms part of a ‘culture of death’. In any case, so some of his advisers solemnly assert, they cannot prevent infection.
He is socially reactionary:
The pope has shut his ears to pleas for a married clergy, and treated priests who have left the ministry to get married with a brutal lack of charity. Astonishingly, the Vatican has declared his ban on women priests to be ‘of the deposit of faith’ (code for infallible), though he is said to have been argued out of making his condemnation of contraception an infallible pronouncement as well. Men and women who get divorced thereby treat their former spouse as a ‘thing’.
[He has] preserved bits of the scaffolding of the progressive-minded theology he inherited, while resolutely demolishing the bricks and mortar beneath. Edward Schillebeeckx, one of the Council’s most eminent theologians, was summoned to Rome to be cross-examined no less than three times in the first year of the new papacy. Hans Küng, Vatican 2’s other great luminary, had his teaching licence revoked.
Freedom was for the pope’s compatriots in Soviet Poland ... but not for the oppressed Latinos who had taken to liberation theology in their struggle against CIA-sponsored murder. In a notorious encounter with Ernesto Cardenal, poet, priest and Sandinista, John Paul shook an angry finger at him and gave him a public tongue-lashing. It was one’s Christian duty to love the poor, not to take steps that might radically transform their conditions. The pope canonised Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, at least nine of whose members sat in Franco’s cabinet; but he did not canonise Archbishop Oscar Romero, champion of the El Salvador poor, who was gunned down by soldiers while saying Mass.
And none of this is to say anything about his policies towards the child abuse scandals which have dogged the Catholic Church, particularly in the US, recently.
Eagleton does have some good things to say about the Pope: he is anti-capitalist, in a Tory way, spoke against communism, has not opposed legal equality for women, and has spoken against quasi-imperialist adventures abroad. But his conclusion is that
[i]n the most enduring global institution in history, the high hopes of the Vatican Council – the Catholic version of 1960s social euphoria – have given way to a brutal right-wing backlash. As John Paul came into power, so too did Margaret Thatcher, who when asked what the New Testament meant to her, replied ‘freedom of choice’. There are many acolytes of John Paul who would reply ‘chastity, abstinence and obedience’.
Postscript: Body and Soul has the best obituary type thing I've seen so far, which makes some of the same kinds of critiques about the centralization of authority and intolerance of dissent that Eagleton raises.