My friend Udo Schuklenk has an opinion piece on why “John Paul II day” is a very bad idea.
Looking back at this pope’s legacy, John Paul II was a highly conservative head of the Roman Catholic Church. Under his leadership, pedophilia in the church was not addressed seriously, and repeat offenders were busily shuffled through the worldwide church empire. He invariably made the noises about this behaviour being bad, but he did little to follow through as the man in charge.
His views on artificial insemination, abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality are considered offensive by the overwhelming majority of Canadians. This did not stop him from proactively lobbying Jean Chretien at the time against marriage equality, because the thought of providing equal rights to gay and lesbian Canadians was something this Catholic pontiff was not prepared to tolerate, not even in a country that was not his own. Well, that is if you accept that all-male Vatican as a country, of sorts.
John Paul II has rightly been criticized by public health and reproductive health experts for his absolute prohibition on condoms. He did not care that it could reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, and he certainly did not like the idea of preventing the birth of unwanted children. Under his leadership his clergy campaigned in many developing countries relentlessly against sex-education campaigns involving the use of condoms. Deliberate misinformation, in the name of God, was not beneath many of these campaigners.
So even if you wanted to have a “Cleric day” this particular cleric would be a terrible choice.
But you wouldn’t want to have a “Cleric day” anyway.
The inevitable question this “honouring” business gives rise to is this: Where should we draw the line? What other religious figurehead is next? How about the founder of the Church of Scientology, the deceased science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard? Or perhaps we should next honour a Muslim cleric for good balance?
The bottom line is this: Religion is a private and typically highly divisive issue. The truth of religious beliefs cannot be established. It is bad public policy in modern, multicultural societies to honour religious figureheads.
That sentence about the impossibility of establishing the truth of religious beliefs is one that almost always gets left out when people defend secularism. I’m glad Udo put it in. It makes a difference, after all; it’s basic; it shouldn’t be left out.