Pope John Paul II: Another Public Death


A day after Terri Schiavo’s death, the media was again providing comprehensive coverage of a life’s end. This time it’s the Pope.

Earlier this week there was the news that a nasal feeding tube had been inserted. Then came word of a urinary tract infection, and a high fever. Heart failure was reported Friday morning, then kidney failure and shallow breathing.

Some news outlets reported the pope was comatose, which the Vatican denied. The Italian media couldn’t agree on whether his heart and brain had stopped working.

It’s also unclear who is actually administering the Church, with the BBC reporting that “the Vatican announced that the Pope had approved the appointment of 17 new bishops and archbishops and accepted the resignation of six others” at some point in the past day, despite his deteriorating condition.

Since the Pope has not been hospitalized, it appears the end is very near. Most news agencies, networks and newspapers have had Pope obits ready and waiting for years. Whenever the Pope does pass away—whether it’s in a few hours or longer—it will be interesting to see how they deal with his legacy.

They’re sure to mention his courageous work for peace and against communism, his personal courage in traveling so often despite his failing health, and his gesture of forgiving the guy who shot him.

But how will they handle his impact on church doctrine, his stance on condoms in Africa, U.N. conferences on population control and gay rights?

There are two possibilities: The press will either follow the Yasir Arafat model and acknowledge the man’s successes and failings, or it will lionize the pontiff like it did Ronald Reagan (not that John Paul bears any particular resemblance to either Yasir or Ron). The pope was never shy about how he felt about women in the church, gays, abortion, condoms, etc. Hopefully the press won’t be either.