REGARDING the death of Pope John Paul II and the accession of Benedict XVI:
1. JPII will be remembered with Ronald Reagan as one of two men most responsible for the fall of communism in Europe. That's what the history books will say 40 years from now. You heard it hear first.
2. JPII was also a medieval mystic. I don't mean that as a slam. We need more medieval mystics. They are better than a lot of other things.
3. JPII was a conservative. He was conservative in two ways: matters of morals and in matters of traditional Catholicism. There was no "paradox" in him in that way.
4. JPII reminds Protestants of two things: (1) we can and should make strategic alliances with all those with whom we have common interests in matters of morals and public policy. That includes conservative Catholics, observant Jews and Mormons. (2) There is still a reason we had a Reformation! JPII's devotion to Mary and other Catholic distortions of theology means that there is still a VAST gulf of doctrine which separates us.
5. JPII and B XVI are both children of Vatican II. That great conclave is widely misunderstood. Because it introduced the mass in the vernacular, many (both Protestant and Catholic) interpreted Vatican II as making the Catholic church more Protestant. That exactly half right. It made Catholicism more like liberal Protestantisn, not evangelical Protestantism.
Before Vatican II, the Catholic church saw itself as the only way to God. It was as if there was a dot marked GOD surrounded only by the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Elsewhere there was another dot marked DEVIL. Atheists were the closest to that dot, while non-Catholic Christians occupied the place farthest from the dot, but still they would be in Satan's orbit, along with all other religions.
Post Vatican II, the Catholic church revisualized itself as the planet in closest orbit to God, followed by non-Catholic Christians, then non-Christian monotheists, then all other religions, then non-religious, even atheists. (Although atheists are out at the distance of Pluto.) The devil dot simply ceased to exist in Vatican II theology.
That's why JP II could visit synagogues. Jews are just Catholics in a more distant orbit.
6. JP II cemented the Catholic church as functionally pacifist. Yes, the Just War theory was still official doctrine, but it's hard to imagine a war the Vatican could sign off on. This is the legacy of paying the debt of the Crusades as well as the liberal Protestant infusion, which is stridently, militantly pacifist.
7. Finally, on Benedict XVI. In hindsight, it seems so inevitable. I thought the smart move would have been a Latin American. I'm glad they didn't do the smart move; I want to see the Protestantization of Latin America accelerate. Maybe B XVI is the last European pope.