Friday, April 01, 2005

The April Fish and the Holy See

Earlier today the Pope had died, according to the Italian press, but the Vatican denied it and the Italian news services now report that he is barely hanging on. Since none of the headlines backing away from the reports of his death mention a Pesce d'Aprile I assume that, despite today being April 1st, he is very ill.

It has been suggested that the Vatican can sometimes detect signs of life for a brief period after medical doctors have lost them -- a bit of extra time that is used to prepare statements to the faithful. But John-Paul II has been very ill for weeks and I expect that, at least from a logistics point of view, the Vatican is ready and we will know fairly quickly if he passes.

From a rational point of view it makes little sense to grieve for his death. He has had a good run as Pope, by anyone's accounting. He is vastly admired, both within the Catholic Church and in the world at large. One of the most influencial figures of the end of the 20th century, he has seen, and been a part of, monumental changes in the world. Recent evidence suggests that the KGB paid him the great compliment of trying to assasinate him in 1981 and he has had the satisfaction of outliving the regime that attacked him. Finally, if these are his last days the timing of his dying, only days after Terry Shiavo, gives him an opportunity to put lie to the false dichotomy of suffering and dignity.

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