Opinion: The Pope Continues to Provoke | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.03.2005
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Opinion: The Pope Continues to Provoke

In a dramatic display, the fatally ill pope silently delivered the "Urbi et Orbi" Easter blessing on Sunday. The appearance raises a question: why does the Vatican want the world to share in John Paul II's suffering?

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The Catholic Church's leader is still in charge

For years journalists have published stories entitled "Twilight of the Gods in the Vatican" about the late -- or rather final -- phase of this papacy. This phase certainly reached a new level in recent weeks. In an act of extreme exertion, the clearly suffering 84-year old showed himself at a window on Easter Sunday -- the pope delivered his blessing silently.

The Vatican is keeping mum on whether the pope's inability to speak is only a temporary result of his throat operation or a permanent feature of his illness. In the same vein, the Curia too has been tightlipped in its information policy over the last few weeks. Details about the pope's health were only apportioned bit by bit, which, one the one hand fanned speculation, and, on the other, guaranteed public attention.

The images from Easter have again raised the same old questions. Do the media really have to transport the pope's suffering into our living rooms? Does he have to fight his affliction to the very end before the eyes of the world? What the one camp views as unbearable cheek, elicits admiration from the other side. Now, the images of the pope stem from Vatican television, not from voyeuristic private broadcasters.


A last message for the world


John Paul II has always used the media for his own purposes. His television presence in recent weeks is exactly what he wants. He's not being used by the media. Instead, he's using the cameras to ensure that his final message reaches people: that illness, pain and suffering are part of human nature. It's a message that diametrically opposes today's zeitgeist, and with which he holds up a mirror for mainly western societies that repress old age and death. Up to the very end, John Paul II is a pope of provocation -- bowed by age, but unbowed in his cause.

Debates about whether he will resign, which have again surfaced in the media, are futile. He himself has consistently ruled out such a move. Jesus Christ's deputy doesn't just hand in his resignation; after all, Jesus didn't climb down from his cross.

Too late to resign?

In recent years, high-level cardinals haven't ruled out the possibility that John Paul II would resign if he was unable to lead the church. Meanwhile, insiders believe the time for such a step has come and gone. Besides, it would likely be confronted by resistance from the Vatican leadership's hard core. For, when a pope dies or resigns, all important cardinals at the highest echelons of the Vatican's various departments and business ventures lose their positions.

As long as John Paul II can express his wishes, even if he can only do so through gestures, the Vatican's business will continue as before. But that doesn't mean nothing will change. The pope will increasingly retire from the public eye, which will present the Vatican's directors with an entirely new challenge.

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